They're on Syfy Channel all this week! And they have plenty of interesting female characters. Giant monsters and strong, sexy broads, why do they go together so fiercely? Roger Corman set the trend back in the 50s, fusing capable and cool female characters and engaging tropical scenery (where film crews were non-union and the dollar went far). And hey- all week Syfy is unleashing a ton of his offshoot label Asylum's shark movies in advance of their new "last" Sharknado film (This Sunday!). They also have some other new ones like DEEP BLUE SEA 2, which I'll be covering in the next installment.
Sure, this feminism doesn't happen all the time (especially not with certain strip club loyalists directing who shall be nameless) but, well, if you have it on in the background while taking an after work nap, who knows... some great little oases of cool and Bechdel brilliance might surprise you yet, or at the very least, keep your chair gently rocking in the ocean as you doze off (as always, put some cocoanut suntan oil on your nose to trick your sense of smell that you're at the beach).
For looks at the previous Sharknado Movies go here:
EMPIRE OF THE SHARKS
(2017) Music by Heather Schmidt
Written and directed by Mark Atkin, it's one of two films on SyFy that imagine the inevitable WATERWORLD future after global warming had put our whole planet underwater; the few humans hold on via floating villages and sharks getting very good at leaping up through the air and biting of people's heads as they stand on the shaky floating platforms. Unfortunately, other than these delights, the EMPIRE depicted here isn't very nice, as it's run brutally by a ruthless thug played by John Savage who keeps demanding huger tributes of.... I'm guessing fish oil? From the villagers, who keep clamoring for more fresh water.
The pussy attitude of the villagers reminds me of the very clear difference between a well-armed populace like America's red states vs. the average Kramer-esque idealized 'small town' mentality. Wild roaming bandits would have a devil of a time in certain regions of the Southwest for example but could really raise the ruckus if the cops were gone from Connecticut, for example. Anyway, we get it - these guys who work for Saxon are bad - you don't have to rub it in with tired scenes culled from other movies depicting abuses of power--the flogging 'round the wheel of woe, the demanding twice the usual tribute in half the time, etc.--it's too much like our 9-5 weekday job man. Shark movies should be like vacations, where--by the end--we're fine with staying home. But EMPIRE isn't like a vacation, more like being dragged to one too many sadistic gladiator movies by a man who you're beginning to suspect isn't really your uncle.
Eventually a boatload of capable good guys show up --they're a nice mix of age, gender and race with weathered tans that look like they actually do live on the water and things perk up, but their attack on Savage's compound fails, and soon they're all being fed to the sharks again. There's an innocent girl (Ashley De Lange) named Willow with a mysterious stone who can control the sharks so we get a lot of the old 'make the sharks kill this woman or I'll destroy your village! You have ten seconds!" suspense generator (known in screenwriter circles as 'lazy hack trick #4, right after the "Don't you die on me!" mouth-to-mouth bit) As a concept it's not well thought out (you mean she can make hungry sharks trapped in a pool attack terrified unwashed humans with her mind!), but suspense grinds on with these Savage-Willow countdowns anyway, thanks to Saxon's chops. Willow stares blankly at the water going "I can't" over and over and Saxon--right in her face--goes "you must! you must!" and somehow almost makes it work. Of course inevitably one's attention turns to one's drink or the newspaper, if those still exist in your satellite world, hopefully before lazy hack trick #1 occurs (the sudden cavalry rescue that saves the innocent girl having to get blood on her hands).
Pros: the pirate ship manned by the well-named Mason Scrimm (Jonathan Pienar) is coolly outfitted with human bone railings, and Saxon's compound has a nifty catapult - why didn't the villagers think of one of those? Another perk: some nice blonde hair- good to know there's still peroxide in the future. The scenery--clearly the oceans around South Africa---is de-lovely, despite the dour trappings..
PLANET OF THE SHARKS
(2016) Starring Lindsay Sullivan
***1/2 / Bechdel - A+
***1/2 / Bechdel - A+
In the pic above--center-- is Lindsay Sullivan as the no-nonsense leader, Dr. Roy Shaw (!); over the course of an almost real time afternoon she coordinates a) the launch window for both a HARP blast down into the magma under the shark zone, and b) the rocket that will launch co2 scrubbers into the upper atmosphere and refreeze the caps. Christa Vissar stars as Dr. Caroline Munroe (!) who a) works on launching the HARP device and then fucking up the ampullae of Lorenzini of the lead alpha shark -- all of it coordinated via her boat's CB radio. There's lots of white knuckle suspense too as her colleague Dr. Shayne Nichols (Stephanie Baran) parasails a few leagues ahead of the badass alpha sharks to move a target dingy for the HARP (a very well done scene, with her riding of the wind to leap as sharks jump up at her superbly done; and then when the boat sails right into an oncoming tidal wave, hoping to roll over it before it reaches megalithic heights.)
Another female highlight comes earlier: Angie Teodoro Dick as the wild neopagan shamaness with the spear (top image) leader of the rogue New Orleans voodoo style outpost who deals with the advancing shark issue by a kind of savage Stomp performance on the floating docks as they draw the sharks in to stab them with their mighty lances. Their growling and chanting and thumping goes on about three minutes too long, but the initial bad vibe created by their eventual senseless shark slaughter is interesting in context, as is the dimly lesbian look she shares with the incredulous Shaw.
All in all it's a noted step up from most Asylum productions, with some craft, focus, and money clearly invested - somebody really put it in the mix and tried to one of these films look good. It understands the being serious doesn't mean not being witty - and above all, the sunny and clear water vibe really works and the feminist stance is invigorating without being didactic. After all, if both sides of the divide can't cheer at the sight of a badass lady jumpstarting a Co2 scrubber rocket by jabbing two insulated leads into the electro-magnetic ampullae of a hyper alpha mutant shark, then we deserve extinction.
TRAILER PARK SHARK
(2017) co-writer Marcy Holland
An unscrupulous big game hunting property owner tries to clear out his hick trailer park (they're all squatters) by flooding it from the nearby river. In comes a shark... not just any shark either. As the crafty lead Rob (Thomas Ian Nicholas) notes "this shark has issues... electrical ones." The landlord's a bitch of a monster "you need someone killed.... do it your damned self." Rob and his foxy girlfriend Jolene (Lulu Jovovich) and together they work to rally the scrappy residents.
Pros: We meet the residents in a great tracking shot running all through the camp/park, which is almost more like the elaborate junk art paradise of Street Trash without all the bodily discomforts (more of a kind of utopian togetherness). Some good dopey humor and strong female characters: they may be slightly trashy but they're smart and courageous. Though she has only a minor role, Tara Reid is a joy as a trash collecting trader who barely notices the trailer park's been flooded "One man's tragedy is another man's treasure," she notes before trying to sell the local scamp his watch back. When asked if she's seen his girl she notes "I aint seen a soul since thing's got biblical." Her accent sounds kind of like TANK GIRL's Lori Petty. Her laugh's fake as hell but she's clearly having fun in her new role as the SyFy channel's go-to shark celeb, though I still place my heart with Cassie Scerbo in SHARKNADO, even though the site of Reid throwing pink flamingos at the passing shark then charing it with a chainsaw is pretty pleasant.
What I also like about this one is that keeps it simple -one shark - one day in the life - real time practically as events unfold; and the score is just right for the situation, playing things up just slightly awry, deadpan straight but in on the joke (big orchestral swells when one good old boy finds another alive), and if the sight of the bad guys zipping around the trees and trailers on their camouflage netting-covered jet-skis, faces hidden in Xtreme Sportz helmets and masks, hunting the most dangerous game, doesn't make you want to drink Mountain Dew in slow motion while draped in an American flag, then the blue state eco-terrorists win.
Cons: The sight of full beer kegs getting drained (not drunk, just drained into the water) for use as flotation devices -- what a tragic waste.
But hey, "This is for my big brown Dookie," says Rufus.
And you believe him.
|Allisyn Ashley Arm as Molly|
|you won't find it down there, Columbus|
(2016) - Directed by Misty Talley
Pros: there's a cool/hot MILF at the river party I wish to have seen more of. I think someone saves her little baby. Tons of varied female characters to go with the usual bimbo snacks (this beach party seems to be largely girls, which is totally cool with me). The score has some of those classic Jerry Goldsmith Alien woodwind quarter notes. Keep 'em comin'!
Cons: her boyfriend who follows her down there on vacation, is a tool. But hey, he dies.
MISSISSIPI RIVER SHARKS
(2017) Dir Misty Talley
The plot for this one centers around an annual river fishing contest that's the big event of the season for some, like a redneck caricature of the fishing nut who cheats by planting a big cooler with a pre-caught monster catfish in it deep in the marshes; and various boats full of hopeful fishermen, like the sad-eyed bearded hardware store owner and his daughter, a science major home from college who--to his chagrin--wants to take over the hardware store rather than become some fancy doctor. There's lot of attractive beards floating around, and some good gags.
When I'm nitpicking like this it lets you know it's pretty good, as the comb has to be finer-toothed to catch snags, so to speak. Like, in this case one must ask not just why the spastic idiot comic relief fanboy would insist on throwing their last bomb, but even so, why Cassie Steele as the level-headed daughter would let him, passeth understanding. Naturally he screws up and shrugs it off and the world almost ends, and Steele plays things way too intense for us to merely shrug off apocalypse -- but anyway, it also seems way too easy (and poorly edited) that they bagged all dem sharks in one fell swoop of a net in the first place (and the protruding fins look super fake).
Cool moments: A redneck who shrugs off being swallowed down to the ankles by a shark, after he's hit walking across the road by the local cop and run over (which gets the shark off him); the macho redneck just spits out some teeth and waves them on - now that's why the Red States must never be maligned - badass shit like that! Another cool moment comes when London finally mans up, another when a drunk redneck is sizing up a shark with a harpoon gun in a small motor boat while the deputy is trying to wave him in and the shark knocks the boat so the drunk redneck misfires and nails the deputy square in the chest. Hey, nobody's perfekt. My country right or wronged!
(2015) Dir. Misty Talley
Ross Britz is Jenner, the dopey softboy, appetizer snack love interest. Cassie Steele is the lead sister, Amber. Steele also takes the lead in MISSISSIPPI SHARKS and a side role in OZARK, so would definitely move from here to become a recurring Misty Talley favorite, it would seem. She's a fine actress -- blah blah ---but almost too good for the part, she explodes it outwards, like a depth charge. Sloane Coe is her kid sister Sophie --who's not a kid anymore, Amber! Her parents love her more than Amber, because Amber was a rebel. Jason London is the tough CIA guy with the family he never sees. The shark that's a zombie keeps coming back from the dead, infects other sharks, and all those who get bit or roughed up become zombies too. Time is running out for the mature lady doctor working more or less alone at the ubiquitous 'thought-long-closed-down' experimental clinic.
Pros: A cool shot has two dudes standing too close to a hottie getting sunned and she thinks (and so do we) that she's being ogled - but it's a dead shark behind her. There's lots of well-acted backstory with the two sisters and over-protective parents -- we feel that dad's frustration he can't get a boat to go out to the island in the middle of the storm, but also the daughters' frustration their parents are so over-protective. There's a few great sudden attack moments.
Meta moment - another tight cut to a Pizza Hut pizza sliding onto the table as a severed flying shark head takes out the hottie in her one fatal moment of altruism. The whole storm thing is going on in the Syfy broadcast I'm watching right as a massive storm is going on outside with an amber alert flood warning lighting up my phone.
(2017) - Written by Ashley O'Neill
Pros: This one relies heavily on the gorgeous scenery and people - all of whom are - as per the needs of the health spa--young, gorgeous, toned or otherwise in peak physical health and fertility. The comedy tries not to overflow the banks of horror and 'MTV Singles' satire and the eco-awareness tragedy is all the more biting for being so downplayed. The place looks like paradise on earth, so the idea that the water is toxic and no fish survive only an arsenic-infused toxic shark, a situation well summed up by one of them: "All those years of polluting the ocean has finally come back to bite us, literally!" There's a pretty funny wipe-out off a four-wheeler along the shore, with a couple getting believably swept out in the crashing tide.
Big plus: Your mileage may vary but for me the pinnacle hottie in all these films is Kabby Borders (what a name!) as Eden (top in above row, lower left), who wears a fetching navy blue bikini with pink and aquamarine trim that matches her sandy blonde hair, sparkly blue eyes and dim trace of freckles and nary a trace of the busted weather-beaten look of so many broads in these films who can't seem to go gentle into their late thirties. All the girls here are young and hot but naturally so--they radiate health! Sie sind heimiche! -and even the boys are unobjectionable relative to... you know, its ilk. And best of all, if you're old and experienced, you have no wish to join them. Kale salad and sexual obsession - you can keep it! I'll just loll in the surfy rhythms and keep myself preserved for furtive generations.
Pros: The director generously gives us long shots that catch Eden's whole gorgeous physique in that suit (as opposed to either leering or cropping or relying on tired Amicus-style close-ups.) I could watch her test the sea water for arsenic all the live long day. Though there's no conspicuous feminist strides, Angie O'Neill's script regularly surprises: one girl doesn't understand the word 'vapid' but it's not the one you'd think. The girls all talk mainly about getting laid but it's for Eden to get over her ex (who then shows up, unaware she's there--he's trying to get over her) and in the end she still pushes him away to take it slow! He agrees! The shocks keep coming! "Take a hike in the rainforest and take some samples of whatever..." One of the hotties is a bookworm but doesn't wear glasses, etc. Eric Etabari is pretty hilarious as Reese, trying to play down the emergency as just bad vibes, especially after one of the girls gets rabid from the toxic sludge and tries to bite him. Until it gets wet, the hair on Eden's go-to chatty compadre, Audra (Christina Masterson) is long and lustrous, sparkling in the glittery sun. As she sits with Eden, their white teeth blazing and hair rolling and shining--as the surf rolls in --we may begin to finally, on some pleasant level, feel relaxed and attuned to a higher power. Then of course, shit hits the fan, but slowly, over real-time tracking shots from the infirmary down along the balcony to the beach, and the ocean, as staff worried walking conferences and guests hoping each other will be okay overlap. And then, of course, all hell breaks loose. Lots of gaping and struggling to get out of the water and slow motion moments of processing grief and overwhelmed staff freaking out.
Cons: The ugly ass shark itself is great, lunging and snapping like a muthuh - but the toxic sludge spew is ridiculously bad CGI. A real low - it's not even shaded (there's only one sort of flat food coloring green). The bickering between Eden and her ex gets old almost as quick as it would in real life -- as if O'Neill is exploring the relationship side of 'toxic' as well as the literal (shark) side.
Meta-Bonus Round: When I first saw it, the commercial breaks were pretty well times, do there were some nice jump cuts the munching sharks to mouth-watering close-ups of Burger King double whoppers (I think it was Whoppers).
FIVE-HEADED SHARK ATTACK
(2017) Starring Nikki Howard
Pros? Since there's five heads to our shark this time, there's lots of young people and/or tourists and/or fishermen in the beautiful blue waters of Puerto Rico all lining up in rows of five while looking out from the lip of the boat - which is very obliging. You don't want to get only four in one go, and leave one head sulky. Ah well, at least the film has the temerity to spend most of the film out in the clear gorgeous blue waters, with Howard looking especially smart.
Cons: Though the two main 'final dudes' never stop wearing their baseball backwards, like a pair of real douchebag tools, the bad guy aquarium owner is worse. He tries to sound tough as he does his song and dance about how it's okay to put his team in danger since if they don't capture a five-headed shark alive for the aquarium then everyone's losing their job. On and on his rants go, fishtailing out into apologies once the team starts getting eaten. His high little voice makes Bruce Dern sound like Orson Welles. I eventually had to FF to get past his scenes, figuring I'd check back in after he's eaten, but he keeps hanging around until almost the bitter end.
Ah well, at least the other boys (with the cap issue) don't otherwise irk, but slide conveniently in their slots (the weathered manly slightly salty and dissolute ex-boyfriend charter captain, the cute scruffy tech nerd) and let the girls work the emotional high wire, as nature intented. And if anyone's lucky enough to marry Dr. Angie, it's with the caveat they'll have to eat vegan. Our jealousy trails off to a dull splash.
|A simple counting of the row of obliging meals ahead lets you know this is a still from 5-Headed Shark Attack. |
If these sequels keep mounting they're gonna need a wider boat.