Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alien 3 (1992)

It happens to everyone. You dislike a film, then rewatch it years later and discover it wasn’t as bad as you thought. Perhaps you initial response was marred by the events in your life. Or maybe a few years more of life experiences allowed you to see something in the film you missed in your previous viewing.

In the spirit of such misguided opinions, I’m starting a new feature entitled Is It Really That Bad? Each month, I’ll pick a film I disliked/hated/had issues with when I first watched it and see if time has changed my opinion. For my first film, I decided to watch both the theatrical and director’s version of Alien 3, to see if the original wasn’t as bad as I thought, or if the studio mandated re-edits and re-shoots ruined the director’s version.

In truth, neither film is horrid, but both are misguided and show that Hollywood just didn’t know how to handle a strong female lead back in the early 1990s (not that the studios have a clue even now).

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Proceed with caution or, better yet, watch the movie first!

The film opens with the survivors of Aliens in suspended animation aboard the Sulaco. The ship’s hull is breached after a facehugger is injured trying to get into one of the pods and the survivors are ejected into an escape pod. The vessel crashes into an ocean on Fiornia ‘Fury’ 161, close to a penal colony/work camp for “double Y chromosome offenders.”
Right away, the two versions significantly differ. In the Theatrical Release, the inmates explore the craft and find Ripley to be the only survivor. Hicks was reduced to hamburger by a falling support beam, Newt appears to have drowned and Bishop suffers more damage in the crash and is tossed into the trash heap. In the Director’s Version, Ripley washes ashore at the feet of Clemans (Charles Dance), the colony medical officer. The escape pod is pulled ashore by a team of ox and the others suffer the same fate as in the Theatrical Cut. This version of the story makes more sense, at least concerning Ripley’s survival. The cover of both Ripley and Newt’s pods were damaged (presumably by the facehugger). And as both pods were submerged after the crash, Ripley would have drowned alongside Newt. But I doubt sensibility was a concern during the reshoot. Instead, it feels like an attempt to link the opening of Alien 3 to the beginning moments of Aliens, only without the use of a robotic arm.

A lot of criticism was leveled at the script for killing off most of the survivors from Cameron’s sequel while they slept. 20th Century Fox’s response was that too many years had passed and actor Carrie Henn could no longer portray a young Newt. But, in truth, by starting the movie up just moments after the ending of it’s predecessor, the script avoids the problems of re-introducing the xenomorphs and figuring out a way to get the characters involved several years after the events on LV-426. And while the studios were right about Henn’s age being a problem with her continuing in the roll in this instance, I suspect fans would not have minded another age appropriate actress taking up the role, or a replacement actor taking up the role of Hick, had Michael Biehn not wanted to continue in the series. While it’s possible that the studio execs were not willing to be edgy enough to maroon a young girl in a colony of sex offenders, such a move would have re-enforced the family dynamic introduced in the second film.

Though both versions allow the fans to say goodbye to both Hicks and Newt during a rather elaborate cremation, it’s obvious the script was intent on isolating Ripley once again. But one wonders why the script placed her in a male penal colony. It can be argued that she is truly isolated, and the environment adds an element of danger other than the xenomorph. Others might argue the script is punishing Ripley for being a strong women and too much of a hero in the other films (the script does punish Ripley, but we’ll talk about that later). But I think that’s a rather shallow reading of a film so ripe with religious symbolism.

The remaining inmates have created a religious sect and, isolated from the temptations of society (possessions and, most important, women), these men decided to stay on and are celibate followers of Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), who acts as leader and priest. It’s a shame the script doesn’t use this set up to explore the idea of hiding from one’s temptation as a path to salvation. Instead, the script devolves into the expected stereotypical pattern. Of course, a small group attempt to rape Ripley and Dillon intervenes, but the script could have gone deeper. Dillon is adamant that Ripley be taken off the planet, as she’s a threat to his flock’s spiritual wellbeing. So it’s quite possible that he wasn’t saving Ripley, but, rather, his followers. And, though he admits to being a murderer and rapist, Dillon never exhibits signs of inner temptation himself. And it’s never addressed why he doesn’t consider killing Ripley, thus removing the threat to his flock.

But the script really has no interest in developing such ideas. Instead, all the religious trappings are only used to convert Ripley to a Christ-like figure. She falls from the heavens into a den of sinners, only to be beaten, humiliated and berated by both convicts and authority figures. Yet, despite such mistreatment, she is willing to sacrifice herself to save them and the rest of humanity. In case you haven’t got the message, the script has her assume the position of the crucifix twice in the final act.

David Fincher, making his big budget debut, was besieged with problems during production, including the lack of finished script before production started. It should be no surprise that the religious symbology doesn’t gel into a solid part of the narrative. But at the end of the film, as the fiery furnaces of the lead smelting plant are shut down and a brilliant sunrise graces the surface of the planet, it quite obvious that the filmmakers were aiming to make Ripley a martyr, with her sacrifice closing down the film’s version of Hell and offering humanity a new lease on life by eliminating the xenomorph threat.

But the script’s jumbled mess, while not quite fleshing out Ripley’s role as martyr, also destroys her character arc over the past two films. In Alien 3, she is less of a leader, waiting for the inmates to ask for her help before taking charge. Perhaps it’s connected to the film’s religious tones, where the sinners must ask for salvation. Or maybe she knows they won’t listen to her and bides her time until they ask for her help. Whatever the reason, the script never explains why Ripley, who took control of a group of space Marines in the last film, would decide to fall silent now.
Were that the only flaw in the script’s treatment of the character, one could forgive such a minor transgression. But the screenwriters muck things up further. To start, Ripley pressures Clemans to perform an autopsy on Newt (in a very well done scene) to look for signs of an infectious disease. For some reason, she won’t explain to anyone about the xenomorph, not even Clemans, whom she trusts enough to sleep with the night after Newt and Hicks are cremated.

Okay, Ripley might have been looking for solace in someone’s arms. Or, as Clemans suggests, her affections might have been a way to keep him from asking questions about her suspicious behavior concerning the bodies of Newt and Hicks. But the script doesn’t bother to give us any motivation for her actions, making Ripley’s behavior rather sluttish. After all, she’s just lost her surrogate family, so if she’s going to sleep with some stranger in a male prison colony, the script needs to give her some motivation.

Worse still, after spending most of the film complaining about a sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pains, Ripley is surprised to discover she is carrying an Alien inside her chest (I warned you about spoilers). The creature is discovered after Ripley becomes concern that her symptoms might not be the after affects of suspended animation, but the result of an internal hemorrhage suffered during the crash. Yet she forgets the fact that a snarling Alien was ready to put its extendable jaw through her head, only to back away and let her live. It’s implausible that this woman, who was smart enough to defeat the Alien threat twice, could be so stupid. In fact, it’s only possible if the screenwriters wanted to surprise the audience in the third act and didn’t care if they had to drop their main character’s IQ level by a few dozen points to achieve it.

The Alien itself is another problem, as the creature skips the worm-like chest bursting stage, now emerging from its victims in a near adult state. While one convict comes across a shed skin, the creature’s appearance doesn’t change as dramatically as in the previous films. And though Ripley says it doesn’t move like the others she’s encountered, which suggests that Alien physiology is altered by the organism it gestates within, the end result is too feline to have come from an ox or dog.

On the plus side, the acting is solid and the sequences of the convicts hunting down the Alien are suspenseful. But neither compensate for a directionless script that sends Ripley adrift, subject to the whims of the screenwriters. Had the production waited until the script was finished, the film might have been a solid addition to the series. But, as it stands, Alien 3 is a vivid example that even a talented filmmaker can’t seem to capture the essence of the first two installments. The future doesn’t look good for Prometheus.
My opinion stands: I still don’t like it.

Next month, I tackle a movie that had me shouting in a crowded theater when the final twist is reveled. I haven't seen The Lost Boys since 1987, so let's find out if my anger at the big twist ending has cooled since then.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011)

Okay, let’s get one thing clear. Mega Python vs. Gatoroid is a bad movie. The film contains glaring continuity errors, the acting gets pretty wooden at times, the script is just as lazy as you’d expect and the CGI is pretty bad (though not as bad as Lake Placid 3). In short, it’s everything you’d expect from The Asylum, but that’s not to say the film isn’t a lot of fun. While it doesn’t reach the inspired heights of unintentional lunacy in Mega Piranha, director Mary Lambert keeps things moving with very little drag time and refuses to take things too seriously.
The movie opens with Dr. Nikki Riley (Debbie Gibson), an environment activist, breaking into a building to steal a bunch of exotic pythons. With her are Gia and Ben, who are either grad students or fellow activists in training (we all know they’ll be fodder for some giant reptile; the fun is guessing which critter gets them), and aren’t too happy to be involved in criminal activities.
It’s also never clear if they are breaking into a warehouse, a pet store or a private home. But none of that matters, as the story simply requires them to snag a bunch of pythons and release them back into the wild.
Of course, Riley doesn’t release the snakes into a suitable ecosystem, like the wilds of the Amazon. Instead, she settles for the nearest swamp, which is part of the Florida Everglades. Sure, the snakes don’t belong there, but Riley brushes that problem off, saying the snakes need to be in the wild and that nature will even things out. Unfortunately, nature is taking its sweet time and the pythons start killing off the gators at an alarming rate.
The declining gator population forces Park Ranger Terry O’Hara (Tiffany) to take some drastic action. Having denied the local hunters licenses to kill gators, as the population was rather low to begin with, she starts handing out permits for python season. What she doesn’t know is the snakes have had time to increase both in size and numbers, which results in the death of her fiancé, Justin, and several other hunters.
Vowing to avenge Justin, Terry decides they need “bigger gators” to combat the snakes. Her assistant Angie (Kathryn Joosten) helps her score boxes of anabolic steroids, along with an experimental muscle growth formula, and the two spend an evening feeding juiced raw chicken to the gators, unaware of the hidden cameras set up by Riley.
This makes you wonder what kind of an environmentalist Riley is. First, she releases an invasive species into a foreign ecosystem, than screws a bunch of cameras into trees. She acts like a Republican scientist, convinced that anything man does to the environment can’t be too bad and nature is the ultimate free market.
Anyway, Riley goes into the swamp after discovering her pythons are being destroyed and finds the gator population is growing to gigantic size. Before becoming a Gatoroid snack, she’s rescued by Dr. Diego Ortiz (A. Martinez), an outside scientist sent in to investigate the giant pythons. He’s found giant gator eggs and knows the gators are growing bigger, yet his pleas to call in the National Guard are ignored by O’Hara, who’s too focused on her upcoming charity ball to investigate Ortiz’s claims. What no one knows is that the pythons have decided that gator eggs are a perfect substitute for gator meat, and they’ve started growing due to the steroid cocktail in the gator fetuses. Sure, it’s impractical, but at this point, why let science get in the way of a giant monster movie.
Riley goes back to her lab, finds the footage of O’Hara feeding the gators, then dons an evening gown and prepares to crash O’Hara’s party. Okay, maybe evening gown is a bit of an exaggeration, unless you consider a slutty strapless tube dress to be proper evening wear. You know the dress I’m talking about, as you’ve likely seen the pop star fight scene on YouTube.
While the two former rivals slap cream pies over each other and roll into a swamp, Ortiz arrives just in time to warn the partiers to arm up, as a herd of Gatoroids and Mega Pythons also plan to crash the party. Yep, the two reptiles have put aside eating each other and decided that humans are the new red meat. Ortiz, O’Hara, Riley and Angie manage to escape and head for Miami to deliver the bad news about the impending reptile apocalypse in person. But the creatures beat them there, so now our heroes have to figure out how to lure the giant beasts to a quarry (in the Everglades?) that has enough explosives stored nearby to blow the monsters into bits, and not be eaten in the process.
Okay, if that summation didn’t tell you how stupid this movie is, well, they you’re likely to believe that the Everglades contains a mountain range (which it does in this movie). But the plot isn’t designed to make sense, only to deliver giant monsters on a regular basis and the movie scores on that note. Director Lambert makes the right decision to keep the film moving along at a good pace, explaining the story with the camera rather than stall the plot with a dull exposition scene. So instead of a static talking head shot, we see a giant python eating a Gatoroid egg, and the CGI effects let us know the steroids are being passed on to the snakes (Yea, I know, IT MAKES NO SENSE! Just get over it!!). By using the visuals to tell part of the story, Lambert keeps the film from tripping over dialog scenes or, worse yet, ignoring explanations of any type (both of which sank Mega Shark vs. Crococaurus).
Lambert also attacks the humor in the script with gusto. As Ortiz calls out for anyone at the fund raiser who’s packing to arm themselves, the film pokes a not to subtle joke about how much they love their guns down South. We get a recycled joke from Jurrasic Park that still might make you chuckle and the script injects a groan inducing line from a Tiffany song into a tense moment. But the most gut busting moment is when a Mega Python bites into a blimp. It was like the channel just switched over to a Looney Tunes cartoon and will make you blow beer out your nose if you’re not careful.
But how does it score as a drive-in movie, or on Joe Bob’s triple B scale. Well, the blood is rather tame, even for a SyFy feature. But the beasts make numerous appearances, spending most of their screen time gobbling up human victims before taking out the city of Miami. As with Mega Piranha, showing the creatures interacting with humans doesn’t require extensive CGI work on buildings and such, allowing the filmmaker to deliver more monster action before the effects budget gives out.
As for the second B on the Joe Bob scale, well, the film contains no nudity (or extras of a Gibson wardrobe malfunction, as she’s constantly pulling up the top of her white tube dress), but it delivers plenty of what was once called “jiggle.” Gibson’s white dress aside, she spends most of the movie stomping through the swamps in either shorts or tight jeans, with accompanying halter tops (and quite frankly, she’s looking pretty skinny. I mean supermodel skinny. Debbie, please buy a few cheeseburgers with your Asylum salary.) As for Tiffany, her Park Ranger outfit appears to have been designed by Daisy Duke, while her evening gown is designed to remind you that she has some major cleavage. It felt like I was watching Charlie’s Angels all over again.
But the ladies don’t fare too bad on this one either. While none of the actors compare to Paul Logan’s brickhouse physique in Mega Piranha, the film is full of attractive guys. O’Hara’s fiancé Justin is quite the Southern gentleman, talking about dinner with the wedding planner like it’s the highlight of his week. And his dying wish is for O’Hara to remind him how beautiful their wedding will be. It’s hard not to like the guy after that. Other men in the cast include O’Hara’s steroid supplier, who sports a cut off tank top accentuating the fact that he does a lot of bicep work. Finally, Martinez has a grizzly Tommy Lee Jones look going for him, but without the growing jowls. Not too bad for a studio who’s last offering as a leading man was the actor formerly known as Urkel.
Come to think of it, The Asylum seemed to address every point I made about Mega Shark vs. Crocasaurus. Did the studio happen to read my review or, better yet, did Mary Lambert? Well, if any of them are reading now, I have three things to say. Tawny Kitaen. Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart. Mega Barracuda. You know we want it.
Throw a surprise cameo (probably spoiled by now) into the mix and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid ends up being a great Saturday night creature feature. Just add in a bit of your favorite boozy beverage and I think you’ll enjoy this one. It’s not as “good” as Mega Piranha, which was more organically batshit crazy than calculated camp. Still, it’s a lot of fun for fans of giant monsters and pop stars duking it out in evening gowns, with a steady supply of cream pies.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Doghouse (2009)

I watched Doghouse twice, hoping to find one brief moment where the filmmakers delivered more of a message than boys will be boys and women will be bitches. Yet, despite a few opportunities, that moment of salvation never arrived. And while I don’t think the film is misogynistic, it’s obvious the script presents women as the cause of all men’s problems.
The story focuses on Vince, devastated by his upcoming divorce, and his six friends who have chartered a bus to the village of Moodley. Not only do they have access to a house for the evening, but three quarters of the village’s population are women. The guys hope a night of drinking and debauchery with not only cheer up Vince, but give them a break from the overbearing women in their lives.
Things get a bit tense when their driver, Ruth, arrives. Neil, considered the misogynist of the bunch, is upset that a woman is accompanying them for even a fraction of the trip. Vince steps in to smooth things over and everyone heads out to Moodley (except for Banksey, who’s always late).
While driving through the forest surrounding Moodley, the bus is forced to stop by a slaughtered ram blocking the road. While Vince helps Ruth remove the carcass, cell phones start ringing as angry spouses and partners start calling. Neil, determined not to let the women spoil their fun, collects everyone’s phones and tosses them into the back of the bus.
(It should be evident that our boys are following every cliché from the Stereotypical Horror Screenwriting Guide. First, they ignore the ominous warning on the road. Second, any contact with the surrounding area is eliminated. And we’ll get to Number Three real soon.)
But it’s the deserted town of Moodley that might ruin the night. Ruth agrees to wait 30 minutes before leaving for the night, while applying drops to her suddenly irritated eyes. And, leaving their cell phones in the back of the bus, the group splits up, with Mickey checking on the house while everyone else hits the nearest pub (I told you Number Three was coming).
Mickey finds the house keys and a zombified woman, dressed like a bride from the Victoria’s Secret catalog, munching on a dog. She spots him, grabs an axe and starts chasing him. The rest of the group have abandoned the deserted pub and witness a soldier attempting to kill a woman on the street. After knocking the soldier unconscious, the men find themselves on the run as the woman, and a growing horde of zombified females, start attacking. Making their way back to the bus, the guys discover Ruth is now a zombie. Following Mickey, they carry the unconscious soldier to the house where, once they are hidden inside, the women wander away.
The revived soldier explains that an airborne virus, which affects only women, has turned them homicidal, bent on ripping men apart. Fortunately, the virus has also affected the women’s brains, making them less intelligent and focused, which is why they left once the group entered the house.
Without any form of communication, and unable to walk out with the horde of infected women roaming the woods, the men sjould stay hidden until daylight and see if the army shows up to find out why the troops haven’t reported in. Nope, they decide to make another attempt to board the bus (Cliché Number Four, leave a safe environment for some stupid reason). The women have other ideas and the group is soon running for their lives.
On the plus side, the practical gore effects are great, including a great split head and lots of random mayhem. The cast is quite good and director Jake West (Razor Blade Smile, Evil Aliens) delivers a fast paced film filled with some humorous moments. It’s too bad they all wasted their time on this rather annoying piece of male propaganda.
Be forewarned, I will spoil the ending of the film later in the review. One can’t avoid talking about the movie’s overall theme without discussing the final scene, but I will post a warning. And while some might accuse me of reading too much into a simple zombie comedy, you can’t avoid messages when your film involves one gender becoming homicidal towards the other. The very concept will force the scriptwriter to take a stance on the battle of the sexes and this is where Doghouse fails.
Okay, I still consider the women to be zombies, though the script clarifies that they are “infected.” But the women of Moodley look like a horde of zombies straight out of a George Romero film and a couple even spend some time munching guts. While the changes are never explained, it’s implied that the mutations occur later in the infection, as Ruth doesn’t look as zombie-like when the disease take hold of her. I suspect the zombie-like facial features are used to imply that the virus is incurable, thus justifying the use of violence by the men as they attempt to protect themselves. After all, they’re beating up zombies, not sick women. And as the women don’t seem to die, things get pretty brutal.
One could accept such violence as a part of the men’s fight for survival, had the script not portrayed women as harpies before the opening credits. As we are introduced to the men, each is dealing with their shrewish, emotionally abusive partners (even the sole gay character, who tells his partner that wives aren’t allowed on the boy’s night out). Whether left at the altar or criticized for not being more of a success in the financial world, every man in this film is under continual assault by a woman. Well, except for Matt, who works at a comic shop, and as we all know, movie nerds never have girlfriends. And Neil, who’s first seen pissing off a woman he’d spent the previous evening with.
As the men seek to escape from the zombie horde, some find their inner guy while others are symbolically castrated. The most blatant example of this happens to Neil, who’s captured by a morbidly obese, stereotypical housewife that amputates, and eats, one of his fingers. Such an act could be considered a simple gross out moment, but as most of the women are projections of the men’s desires and fears concerning the opposite sex, it becomes obvious the script is designed to appeal to fans of Maxim and other lad mags.
(This is your SPOILER WARNING. Feel free to skip the next 5 paragraphs. Or, if you want, catch the film on Netflix streaming, then come back and finish reading the review.)
Matt and Vince, on the other hand, end up hiding in a nerdy toyshop and start using RCVs and super soakers against the women. In effect, they use big boy toys to get the better of the women, who (if you subscribe to the movie’s point of view) would object to grown men playing with such things. But even in this sanctuary, Vince is cut down by the size of Matt’s squirt gun, which makes Matt no better than the castrating women, whether back in the city or in Moodley. So it’s no surprise that one of them doesn’t see the sun rise.
The final misstep occurs during the film’s climax, as Vince confides to his fellow survivors that he’s having a midlife crisis. He realizes that he, and his friends, became “domesticated” by acting as they think women want them to behave. And it was only a matter of time before the women became bored with them. “If they’d wanted a pet,” he wonders, “why didn’t they just get a golden retriever?”
Up to this point, the film could have worked. In fact, the groundwork had been laid to explore the dynamics between the sexes earlier in the film. In one scene, a zombified barber comes up behind Matt and gently snips off an errant lock of hair before acting homicidal again. Later, Ruth is ready to attack Neil, only to lose her rage when confronted by Vince. These scenes suggest the virus simply enrages the women and, perhaps, they act out at the model of male behavior they abhor. And Vince’s monolog is not without a kernel of truth. Men and women often conform to their partner’s expectations, or what they perceive to be their partner’s expectations, with disastrous results. For a horror film to allow a character to have a moment of clarity, resolving to never again fall in the same trap, is commendable. It’s too bad scriptwriter Dan Schaffer didn’t use these moments to comment on the behavior of men towards women and give the film a bit more balanced tone.
The closing scene destroys any good will the film generated to this point. Had the story ending with a moment indicated that Vince had moved on, acting on the monolog he’d delivered with such conviction, I might not have felt so disappointed and angry at the script. Not that we needed to see him (or the others) in another relationship, but just doing something he’d suppressed during his marriage. Like painting or poetry, anything showing he used that moment to come to peace with himself and become a better man. Instead, we are treated to the sight of him and his fellow survivors gleefully running away from an ever-growing horde, as if continual escape from screeching, man-eating women is the only response men have left.
(Okay, SPOILER OVER. You can read the final paragraph.)
As we all know, the best zombie films aren’t about the undead/infected, but human reactions to the situation. We expect the characters to argue and fall apart, allowing for the expected mayhem in the final reel, and we know it’s possible that no one will survive the final battle. Yet when Doghouse proclaims that men will always be forced to run from the collective horde of man-hating women or risk being eaten alive, I found it a more depressing ending than the original Romero film that spawned the zombie craze.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sharktopus (2010)

In my review of Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurous (reviewed earlier this year for FanGirlTastic), I suggested the folks in charge of The Asylum watch some of Roger Corman’s older films and take a few notes on how to make a great monster flick. I hope they had pen and paper handy when Sharktopus hit the Syfy Network, as their chief competition just showed them how it’s done. A gleeful mix of one part monster, one part bathing suit clad victims, and a lot of “how can we top the last scene” effort shaken into the mix, the film became one of Syfy’s biggest successes. All I can say is, I told you so, Asylum.
The film opens in California, with a young swimmer about to become a white shark snack. Before it can attack, the predator is taken down by SS-11, AKA Sharktopus, under the control of the Bluewater Corporation. CEO Nathan Sands (Eric Roberts), along with his daughter Nicole (Sara Malakul Lane), developed this hybrid as the Navy’s latest weapon in the war on terrorists, pirates and drug smugglers. Seriously, sending a perfect killing weapon after a boatload of pot dealers seems pretty extreme, but I guess the Navy believes a joint is as dangerous to this country as a dirty bomb.
Despite showing how Bluewater can control the behavior of SS-11, the Navy wants the beast to stalk a speedboat and demonstrate its stealth capabilities. This proves to be a very bad idea, as weekend water enthusiasts are not known for maintaining a straight path. One hard left turn and the boat damages the control harness for Sharktopus before (in typical Corman fashion) running into some rocks and exploding. Freed of his electronic harness, Sharktopus gobbles up some Californian bathers before making a beeline south to Mexico, with the Bluewater team in hot pursuit.
So, why Mexico, you might ask. Well, Nathan offers up some theory about migratory patterns, but we all know the real reason for Sharktopus to depart the shores of sunny California. This is a Roger Corman production, and it’s cheaper to shoot in Mexico. Duh.
Once in Mexico, Sands recruits Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin) a former employee who’d been fired for demanding too high a salary. With orders to take Sharktopus alive at all costs, Andy, his friend Santos (Julian Gonzalez Esparza) and Nichole set off, along with a couple of disposable employees, to track the creature. But Sharktopus isn’t behaving like a shark (or octopus), leading Andy to suspect that Nathan did a lot more tweaking with the monster’s brain chemistry then Nicole realizes.
Top it all off with an aggressive reporter chasing her big story, a drunken captain, a pirate DJ and his bikini clad assistant, then sprinkle with enough sun worshipers to provide Sharktopus with tasty treats every twenty or so minutes, and it all adds up to the perfect cinematic cheese pizza. Sure, it’s bad for you, but it tastes great and won’t give you indigestion the next day.
Okay, I won’t disagree that the effects are bad. At times, Sharktopus grabs a sunbather from what appears to be a thirty-foot trench mere inches from the beach. But the laws of perception have never applied to giant monsters. Many beloved kaiju films contain scenes where the monster appears to be rampaging in a ditch, allowing it to fit into a matte shot with a panicked crowd. Besides, such precipices are a longstanding Corman beach tradition (just check out Attack of the Crab Monsters if you don’t believe me).
And speaking of kaiju films, people need to accept the fact that CGI is replacing the rubber-suited actor as a monster. For one thing, CGI can be less expensive than particle effects, the same reason the original Godzilla was a guy in a suit rather than a stop motion creation. And, to be honest, a rubber suit can look pretty bad. Just check out The Attack of the Giant Leeches, War of the Gargantuas or King Kong vs. Godzilla if you need a few noteworthy examples.
But one unacknowledged advantage is that CGI can deliver a beast that has no human qualities, an ability matched only by stop motion. And while my brain melts at the idea of Ray Harryhausen delivering an animated Sharktopus, I know the expense of such a production condemns it to the realm of a geek’s fevered wet dream.
As for The Asylum’s creature features, Corman schools them in how to make a monster movie with this film. First, we get plenty of Sharktopus sightings and attacks. While a few feel repetitive, the film provides enough variety to keep things interesting, especially as Sharktopus slithers out of the water. And by keeping the size of the monster rather small, it allows the mayhem to focus on humans and avoiding the costly effects work involving the destruction of an entire city. This is one of the reasons that Mega Piranha worked so well. The creatures slowly grew gigantic, allowing a lot of attacks on humans before the fish started jumping into beachfront condos. Corman and director Declan O’Brien know the audience wants to see the monster, not the actors, and Sharktopus is onscreen as often as possible.
Second, whether you call it titillation or added production value (as Corman puts it), the second unit scores by keeping the beaches are full of potential Sharktopus victims. And most of them look great in a bathing suit, including the guys. Flynn even gets keeps his shirt unbuttoned after the movie’s midpoint, and though he’s not build like Paul Logan (Mega Piranha), it’s still an attempt to acknowledge a demographic not interested in the female form and it’s about time.
And while I’m sure Sharktopus recycles effects shots like The Asylum’s giant monster movies, at least the foreground is changed, so the audience won’t immediately notice the similarities. It’s a wise decision and one that shows Corman has a lot to teach The Asylum, if they’d only pay attention.
My only real complaint with the film is the casting of Kerem Bursin. While he’s at the same level as costar Lane (and I forgive low budget features for their lack of polished actors), he just looks too much like a fratboy than an experienced military veteran. Someone a bit older would have pulled off the role better, but as the film hits it’s stride, you might find yourself not caring that a 20-something guy is considered the only one who stands a chance of bringing Sharktopus down.
As for the DVD, don’t expect much in the way of special features. You get an expanded Sharktopus trailer (I suggest you don’t watch if you haven’t seen the film) and little else. Come on, do you really thing Roger Corman would waste money and time on a documentary or additional footage?
But the commentary with Roger and Julie Corman is great. Roger talks about why he almost didn’t make Sharktopus (he felt it crossed the line of insanity that would lose an audience, while admitting he was wrong), why he didn’t film any nude scenes and how making a film for Syfy is different than shooting for a theatrical release. It’s a priceless look into shooting for your audience and how demonstrates how Corman has stayed on top of low budget cinema for so long.
Look, I’m not saying this is a good film. If you want something to simulate your intellect, don’t bother. But if you loved giant monster flicks as a kid, and are willing to let your inner child run wild for about 90 minutes, you’ll have a terrific time with Sharktopus.

Just a quick note: My review of Sharktopus appeared on the website FanGirlTastic last week. The DVD was not a screener copy sent to me by the site, but one I purchased from an online retailer.