Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Friday, August 02, 2019

Sharktopi vs. Various Things: Best of Syfy Shark Movies Part 2


Summer always brings three old familiar film re-binges back to casa de Acidemic: Marlene Dietrich-Von Sternberg films, Val Lewton horrors, and bad shark movies. For reasons known only to them, Syfy isn't deluging us with their Asylum and Offshoot giant and mutant shark movies this summer. Maybe because they don't have a Deep Blue Sea 3- Blewing Deeper, or an Arctic Sharktadon vs. Lobsterdamus (the visionary lobster who predicts a grim future of hot butter)or Sharknado 7 - Drowning Around. to debut. It doesn't matter, as no fan of this genre would remember having seen all their back catalogue, even if they had (cuz, you know). And most are still either Syfy 'on demand' or Amazon Prime. So just play catch up and leave it to me to make the notes, together we'll remember everything, and won't that be fun?

Last summer I wrote startling capsule reviews for: EMPIRE OF THE SHARKS, PLANET OF THE SHARKS, OZARK SHARKS, ZOMBIE SHARK, TOXIC SHARK, TRAILER PARK SHARK, MISSISSIPPI RIVER SHARKS, 5-HEADED SHARK ATTACK. In case you want to see any of those. This year we have seven more: 6-HEADED SHARK ATTACK, 2-HEADED SHARK ATTACK, SHARKTOPUS VS. PTERACUDA, SHARKTOPUS VS. WHALEWOLF, DEEP BLUE SEA 2, DAM SHARKS, and ATOMIC SHARK!

And believe me, like oceanographers themselves, I've only plumbed about 10% of what's down there, so am likely to be 'swimming' in the CGI depths for Julys to come.
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As before, ratings are all relative to a certain level of badness and audience indulgence. And though sure, the effects are usually bad CGI, it's not always the case. For example take a close look at the shot above, a screenshot, mind you, and the excellent shadows cast on the beach, and the heads on each other, the glistening shark skin reflection off the unseen (lighthouse?) light source at right. Details like that take some amount of care and patience to get right. And it looks great, regardless of what you may want to think. Sneer away! These sharks were made with some amount of love and you can feel it - there's effort and low-key talent afoot!

Still, the criteria for quality here is how well the film fits in with the Platonic ideal of the lazy Saturday afternoon half-nap, the kind of thing you want on during a rainy Saturday afternoot after a strenuous week, where you really earned a day of total indolence. There should be a certain level of dry wit (i.e. deadpan cool rather than doofus clowning), good pacing, a game cast, beachy vibes and Bechdel professionalism, i.e. women (as per the Corman tradition) capably playing professionals--sheriffs, scientists, grizzled shark hunters, unscrupulous corporate mongers--as well as the usual lifeguards and screaming bathers. The ideal ratio, as per baking (literally and figuratively) is just enough thrills to keep you watching but not enough to bum or stress one out. It should be witty without getting puerile and sexy without being tawdry or vulgar. Tough order? Not for (most of) these Syfy/Asylum shark bytes!

SHARKTOPUS VS. WHALEWOLF
(2015) Starring Catherine Oxenburg
***

The third best Casper Van Dien movie (after Starship Troopers and Modern Vampires), it's further proof he is on his own joke and knows to play a hungover charter boat captain, operating out of the scenic and tropical Dominican Republic, dead straight. His first mate and drinking partner Pablo (Jorge Eduardo De Los Santos) at his side, and one left-field fast ball after another beaning them square on the sconce, Casper becomes the hero by sheer chance But hey! This here is the kind of drinking movie when Casper might get his leg bitten down to the bone, but his main concern is whether or not he spilled his beverage.

We here at Acidemic salute such dogged concern!

Casper's troubles begin when he wakes up after a deep bender to find his boat is hosting a funeral at sea. One of the bereaved mourners is grabbed and sucked under by a malicious clawed tentacle, and Van Dien is blamed and jailed by his ex flaca, Inspector Nita Morales (Asylum regular Akari Endo). But what Casper mainly worries about is that the other prisoners stay quiet long enough to sleep off some of his whale of a hangover.

As we say in AA, I really related.

In a refreshing (and very Corman) gender update, the divine Catherine Oxenburg is a mysterious and unscrupulous doctor in genetics (i.e. a mad scientist) named Dr. Reinhardt, who runs an unlicensed genetic 'undetectable' doping clinic, illegal even for the DR. Fans will remember Oxenberg as the girl who was almost sacrificed to Dionyn 30 years ago in Ken Russell's Lair of the White Worm. Here she is doing the sacrificing - on the altar of science! It's a great piece of ironic casting as her face bears the traces of having been subject to sad array of anti-aging processes over the past. She can really deliver science-flecked lines like "I merely inquire so I can coordinate the correct gene sequence for your physiology" as if they trip off her tongue. Oxenberg's flat Arianna Huffington-impression German accent, however, quickly wears on the nerves.

Still, seeing this decade-spanning horor cult semi-icon turn a has-been Dominican baseball player (Mario Arturo Hernández) into a 'whalewolf' via radical gene therapy, just to improve his swing, is pretty rewarding. It gets sadder though when she feeds her devoted and very sexy nurse (Jennifer Wenger) to the ensuing monster, especially after she rocks a very groovy slow-mo walk to through the DR streets and into the office (poor Reinhardt doesn't live much longer, after Whalewolf overhears her trying to pawn him off on a pet adoption agency.)

Pros: Caspar Van Dien and De Los Santos' drunken rapport as Pablo and Ray is very lived-in and dryly hilarious. I love that their approach to finding the sharktopus (in order to please the local voodoo priest who demands they deliver its heart for his juju): just hide out and get drunk. Genius! It's a great affront to the MO in these movies where, for some reason, it's up to one or two attractive B-list actors to save the world from some massive threat, even as that world remains totally unaware of it. Meanwhile his ex-novia shoots at both the wolf and the sharktopus; a local live dating competition show is compromised by monster attacks right onscreen, but it's all up to these two drunks and a lady cop to save the whole island, leading Whalewolf on a mad car chase tour through all sunny DR has to offer, from their state-of-the-art docks and shopping malls to their brand new baseball stadium. That the pedestrians crowding the streets don't even look up from the phones while these giant monsters race past them makes it all extra surreal.

Cons: As usual, the quality of the CGI seems to steadily devolve as the film goes on, as if the animator's wrist is getting tired. Once the climactic fight supplants Dien and Ray's drunkenness and the crazy juju priest, we're like 'okay, what's next?'

Extra Props: Casper recognizes who the Whalewolf is (or used to be) by his baseball swing!

SHARKTOPUS VS. PTERACUDA
(2014) Starring Katie Savoy
**1/2

Naturalist Lorena Christmas (Katie Savoy) has a tight relationship with Sharktopus, having raised it from a pup at a local indoor/outdoor Sea World-style aquarium. But Sharktopus isn't ready to see the general public despite the naggings of Christmas' cash-strapped boss. Sharktopus especially gets irritable when CIA handler tough guy and black budget spook Robert Carradine puts a chip in its brain and lets it loose in the ocean to fight their already loose genetic weapon test creature Pteracuda (what a great plan!). But they don't even have control of that one for very long, since a snarky Russian spy has hijacked the signal and also the Pteracuda rips the chip out of Sharktopus during one of their tussles. Who could have predicted that?

Pros: Robert Carradine seems to be having fun here in B-movie central. I was never a fan of him in things like The Big Red One - way too ordinary, but here his ease and comfort in this slippery agent role is very refreshing. Naturally the three of them--Carradine, his muscle, and Lorena, will have to work together to reign in the collateral damage - which is ever worsening by the fact that the Dominican Republic's approach to monster control is to just go about their business. After all, it's just a giant shark with stinging tentacles. Akari Endo (the cop in Whalewolf) is the TV newswoman who disseminates information in case anyone's watching who's actually engaged in the affair. As with all the best DR movies, there's never a thought of calling in any national guard or riot squad - leaving it all to either a single cop car or a CIA analyst and his hostage. In this case it's all very current events as the real enemy is an evil Russian hacker is trying to hack into the chips and program one or more of the monsters to attack the nuclear reactor.


Pros: The first thing one notices is the animation is a slight but notable step above the normal (for Asylum, that is) with extra care taken to get the lighting right in both the fuzzy underwater and breeching action, as all the tentacles and fluttering wings send water beading out in all directions, glinting in the sunlight and so forth. There's a lot of moving parts when the two behemoths guys go at it, and they can make it from the depths of the ocean to high in the sky no problem, which leads to a lot of lighting changes, the water beading out in all directions, hitting the sunlight as all the tentacles and flapping wings furiously interact. Harryhausen would be proud!

Cons: By the time they're both on land, the animators, nearly exhausted, are phoning it in. Who can blame them?

Cameo: Conan O'Brien appears as a jerky yachtsman, clearly dressed in a nod to Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot while he's in disguise as a Shell Oil scion. His head is bit off and used as a volleyball. That never stopped Conan before!

Cons: Almost no women except in major roles, except Katie Savoy, who is ignored in her pleas for this or that but at least has a keen level of intelligence.

It makes me pretty mad when Robert and his man get the drop on the KGB spy but then turn their back on him so he can get the jump on them. Oy mios dios! 

SIX-HEADED SHARK ATTACK
(2018) Dir. Mark Atkins
**1/2

A lot of the South African lunatic fringe Mark Atkins cast from EMPIRE OF THE SHARKS and PLANET OF THE SHARKS are back - including the bad guy #2 in EMPIRE, now Jonathan Pienar (the marvelous "Mason Scrimm" in EMPIRE) steals the show during his short early reign, evoking the holy power of Timothy Carey as the maniacal guy who gets to blow off one of the shark's heads with a 'boom stick' (a tribute to Hemingway) before he's ripped apart.  Sexy-ugly gutter-voiced Brandon Auret is William, a scruffy islander in the midst of a divorce but nonetheless hosting  a couple's therapy action vacation. His credibility is bound to suffer, but even worse in the credibility dept is the CGI of the shark, aside from some good deadness in the eyes (top image). He's the only one who doesn't really hide his South African accent. For the most part.

Pros: There's an interesting side project with a 40 year-old floating lab that no doubt is responsible for the mutation. Megan Oberholzer is a cute meteorologist who lets them all know a huge hurricane is coming their way and the whole island is about to be underwater. Her boyfriend is another beautiful South Africa blonde named Chris Fisher. "You're the smartest guy I know" she tells him. "That this has SIX heads, we have EIGHT heads! We ought to be able to outsmart it" -- "That's your reasoning?" says the smart freaked out black comic relief. Yes, there's time for hilariously over the top acting - Atkins gives most of the actors a chance to really lose their shit before they're eaten. The Timothy Carey lunacy of Jonathan Pienar; the crazy "I make good decisions!" shouting of the blonde couple, lapsing into Dutch, working each other up ("we got this!" / "we got this! It's GONNA BE OKAY!" Great stuff.

Cons - James, the redhaired bearded idiot is ridiculously miscast - it's unbelievable that this dipshit middle-aged ginger would be with a Strong Black Woman or that she would put up with his mess one bit. The idiot hero, after chopping off a head with a giant threshing blade, sending the rest of the shark/s running back to sea, immediately drops the blade on the ground. Nothing like getting rid of your one effective weapon in the midst of an all-out battle.

Meta - the weird sight of this tween in glasses talking about looking for his forever soulmate on eharmony. If you can't find a girl at that age you should just keep your virginity, or worse - that you'd want to find a soulmate so young. Jesus Christ! Sew some goddamned oats. He doesn't even the good sense to be gay. That this kid has found his soulmate already is disturbing - so is the idea that some of these couples are together - James -good lord, the idea he could get any kind of girl who wasn't a forty year old grandmother of five is not a pleasant one.

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Conclusion- The shark animation eventually grows on one, especially when it gets out of the water and starts walking around on its heads like a scorpion (the sunlight glistening and reflective shadow work is pretty good and--rare for a shark movie--the animated sharks seem to incorporate real shark film into their movement - it's pretty close in rare moments to crossing the Uncanny Valley of sharkiness. In South Africa, they give a shit. And as the body count mounts and the survivors get crazy desperate. The music is always in on the deadpan joke and if you can handle suspension of disbelief that lets you imagine one of the heads ripping off another and throwing it up at the top of a lighthouse to knock out a jealous raging ginger sniper, then you're in the right place.



ATOMIC SHARK
(aka SALTWATER)
(2016) Dir. A.B. Stone 
***

Weirdly there's another Atomic Shark movie out there (I wish there a dozen more!), also from 2016 - so this one was changed in some markets to SALTWATER which is what imdb calls it. But to me it's SIN JAWS, unless the nifty poster above is probably for the other Atomic Shark flick. Whatever it's called, it's a cheeky web-savvy thrill ride that centers around a cadre of lifeguards who use drones to rescue bathers and track mutant sharks. The boss of the lifeguards is a douchebag who makes the hottie lifeguard go swimming to encourage bathers to go in the water, as if the ocean demands a percentage. He also doesn't approve of the use of drones, and so is made fun of by the smartass who can't swim but uses his drone to keep an eye way out and bring lifejackets out to people who've drifted out on riptides. Meanwhile the irradiated great white comes rolling in, setting people on fire if they swim within range. It glows rather nicely, if generically.

In addition to the use of drones, this very environmentalist and social media savvy employs all sorts of web based communication. ("We're nowhere near where we need to be yet - we're not even at four million viewers!") Jessica Kemejuk as a vain lifeguard selfie enthusiast with "87,000 followers and counting" and the silvery-gray eyed Maria Bonner as Felice, the camerawoman for the edgy environmentalist channel in scenic San Diego.

Pros: When he finally does go in the water, the drone nerd gets creamed by a pair of literally flaming parasailers after the hot shark belly flops up on their boat - practically setting the water on fire as it does so. The sight of a lip of flame shooting slowly up the rope to a parasailer, before turning the chute itself into a flaming radioactive meteor is pretty badass. 

And who amongst us doesn't love seeing the piercing blue eyes and hearing the centering growl of Jeff Fahey? Here he's driving around and drinking and trying to get cops to believe him about an atomic shark. He's only in the film three minutes but he still helps bump the score up 1/2 a star. Another half goes to the well-showcased abs of Rachel Brooke Smith (far left) as the environmentalist lifeguard Gina (the 'cute but doesn't know it' environmentalist is by now, I'm sure you've noticed, o patient reader, an Asylum SyFy shark movie staple.) "What would radiation do to a shark? Make it glow?" asks the far-left underground environmentalist TV host. "This shark would be radioactive - and emit very intense heat," notes Gina. They rendezvous a restaurant (with the great name of "Tales from the Dockside") where they're either extras or the next guests for a different (?) host, the bratty food critic Skip Forte eats a radioactive fish and bursts into mutant flame - as does everyone else who ordered the catch of the day - or handled it - it seems. Uh oh. Lots of funny throwaway gags meanwhile help keep the suspense and laughs evenly mixed.

Cons: the effects are terrible - folks vaporize right as the shark eats them in clouds of laughable FX. As with 5-HEADED SHARK ATTACK, there's way too much time spent with the tool - these tools need to get eaten faster. The pervy slob they steal the drone from, for example, should be fed unto it stat.

TWO-HEADED SHARK ATTACK
(2012) Dir. Christopher Ray
**

There's a certain artless schlock director who long befouled the lines of Corman's libsploitation trawler, named Fred Olen Ray. But this is made by his son Christopher, and for Asylum, so it's paradoxically more mature, slightly less tawdry, less 'augmented' and relatively less puerile. It's got bad editing but enough bikini clad heroines (young and natural rather than artificially augmented -as far as one can tell) in professional jobs to make it almost worthwhile.

As with dad's work, theres's way too much shouting and douche baggery-- but unlike dad's work, the scenery is nice, the photography is good. The story involves a large schooner hosting n semester-at-sea college  (though they're more like some shanghaied community college) who winds up crashed at an ever-shrinking island menaced by a two-headed shark. Carmen Electra meanwhile, earns a day's pay for lounging around on a yacht, pausing to help some of the kids on board when they're hurt.

Pros: As Kate, Brooke Hogan conveys a vividly realized characterization of a slightly 'out of her element' shy girl, the sort able to fix a boat and be courageous while the buff boys whinny and wave their limbs in panic, or snicker and try to hit each other in the nuts all day and one thinks hmmm the apple falls not far from the tree.

Cons: As with so many films (such as  5-HEADED SHARK ATTACK), we spend a lot of time waiting for the douche/s to get eaten. Eat 'em sooner!

DEEP BLUE SEA 2
(2018) Starring Daniel Savre
**
"Tradin' dreams for nightmares" / "drownin' in the deep blue sea" goes the interesting (low bottom synths) coupled score. "Fallin' from the light," and holding long vowels in a style seldom heard outside out of Fast and Furious end credits, though sans late inning rap beatz. Danielle Savre is " Misty Calhoun" - a sanctimonious sharkitecht hired by eccentric billionaire Michael Beach (doing his best Denzel impersonation) to wrangle the sharks he's using for underwater brain boost tests.

Everything else seems CGI - even, hilariously, and sadly enough, the dressing room.

The eccentric Denzel drinks some unnamed nootropics and they make him see geometry problems (is he stepping on the shark's supply? Scientifically that's not cool.) Jeremy Boado and Kim Syster) are (sort of black-Asian) married science partners also hired on for the trials ("Durant has a shady reputation" / "we'll be rich."/ "we didn't go into science to get rich"). Throughout the girls are the idealists and the boys are the practical ones, but at least these two do have a certain newlywed cuteness and do seem like actual scientists vs. the one-channel bitchy shark conservationist with the dubious name Misty Calhoun whose sole expertise seems to be acting all bitchy because "bull sharks are not lab mice!" I tell you, Misty, I don't think they feel the same way about you. Savre is very pretty but terribly one note. It's like she read that her character was idealistic and forgot to make her anything else, i.e interesting or appealing. What she really needs is better lighting as her complexion/make-up scheme seems to be straining against some long digitally-removed blemish. Her hair tells the story of a stressful shoot as does her lifeless performance at least when squaring against the suspiciously yellow tie-wearing big pharma recruiter. Meanwhile the Scott Walker (RIP - you beautiful himbo soul) role is filled Rob Mayes, a kind of hybrid of Mark Wahlberg and Collin Ferell (I think he's the guy who pushed around Scott Walker in a few Furiouses back)

Pros: Always good to see illegal 'finners' get eaten. There's A memorable death in the flooded phone booth slowly filling with water and blood, screaming, while his buddy watches horrified from atop a bunk bed that's right at the water line.

Smart Tip: Never threaten the boss when you're trying to escape a flooding complex with him.

DAM SHARKS
(2016) Directed by a pair of Kondeliks
**1/2

When a pair of nature photographers dive to check out a beaver dam, it turns out it's not a beaver damn at all, but a shark dam chock full of human corpses. Janelle Beaudry pulls up her partner, his whole lower half is gone. It all takes place in a single long day along the long river, which works very well for its 'flow' as everyone farther upstream is heading right towards this climactic corpse pile.  Jessica Blackmore is Kate, the game warden who teams up with her longstanding river nemesis, an irascible fisher outdoorsy poacher type named Carl played by the familiar-seeming Robert Craighead (he "saw a one armed man fist-fighting a hare krishna one time") to investigate the happenings. Meanwhile even farther upriver comes an outdoorsy team-building software company's best and palest. Jason London as a smarmy stereotype software CEO, the type whose whole company seems to be an excuse for him to make people be his friends until, finally, one of them learns he's run out of money and everyone else in the company is being fired while these guys are all away on the trip.  Most of the employees all are eaten in fairly short order no matter how much we like them, though. We hope he'll be first on the menu; he is not. The never are.

Pros: My favorite new (to me!) sharkstar, Kabby Borders (as seen starring so very nicely in 2017's TOXIC SHARK) is here as London's eager beaver assistant, fluttering behind and alongside him with clipboard, indulgent smile, and sublime mix of the outdoorsy and executive assistant garb in black power suit with an open midriff displaying her magnificent abs. She livens the whole film up. Though playing a cretin, London seems very comfortable. And it's nice having a woman game warden who is no nonsense without being a dick about it. Kate's begrudging rapport with her longstanding old salt nemesis is pretty endearing in its gruff way. I also like the sheer grim spectacle of a dam made of human corpses, though it's hard to believe those sharks wouldn't just wolf down all that meat. Then again, why would anyone suspect 'believability' with a title like "Dam Sharks"? Because bull sharks can survive in fresh water, that's why.

Cons:  When the game warden girl lets out a scream of rage after having to shoot a man getting ripped up by sharks, it's this week high-pitched scream like she done seen a mouse in the kitchen. It gets pretty gross when Kabby has to endure the sweaty come-ons of the limpid uber-nerd (who won't be swayed in his ardent wooing, despite a buddy warning him off with a frank talk about staying in his league). I've hung out with girls of that same hotness level over the years who've had to endure the same thing, as if their beauty requires them to endure one lame stuttering amateurish overture after another, which is why I hate John Hughes and Cameron Crowe movies (1).  Worse though is a pale, smarmy Jim and Pam type of passive-aggressive smart alecks (Matt Beyond the Gates Mercer and Neka Zang), will they ever get over their shyness to become more than close work buddies? Of course they will, but their passive-aggressive smirks and overly-indoor pallors are not comely. Why can't they be eaten first and Kabby live to fight another day?

Moral: When a hungry shark is in the water and you're safe on land - stay there. Then again, would there even be a movie if they did? Kabby! Kabby I loves ya.


See Also:
+
The Old Man and the Feminist and the Sea: ORCA (1977)
Blu Summer: BLUE CRUSH, INTO THE BLUE, MIAMI VICE (7/10)
Great Acid Movies 1/300: MOBY DICK (1956)
Prime Post-JAWS finds (up from the Amazon): SCREAMERS, GREAT ALLIGATOR, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, UP FROM THE DEPTHS, PIRHANA

PLUS:
Part 1: EMPIRE OF THE SHARKS, PLANET OF THE SHARKS, OZARK SHARKS, ZOMBIE SHARK, TOXIC SHARK, TRAILER PARK SHARK, MISSISSIPPI RIVER SHARKS, 5-HEADED SHARK ATTACK


NOTE:
1. Hughes teaches geeks that if you really love the prettiest girl in school (i.e. your naive enough to mistake your crush over her beauty for something unique to yourself) of course you'll get her, because you are special! So there is a constant parade of dumbass dorks and wallies, totally unconscious of their stepping out of their own class, hitting on her day and night, hoping their stuttering imbecile awkwardness will charm her with its mealy-mouthed sincerity, as John Hughes and Cameron Crowe promised. 

5 comments:

  1. Is there such a thing as a GOOD shark movie? Including Jaws? Yes I said it. Apart from Robert Shaw (an accomplished novelist by the way) it tanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Has there ever been a GOOD shark movie? And YES,I include Jaws. Except for Robert Shaw ( an accomplished novelist as well as actor) The film is an annoyance. The tales of Shaw's irritation with Richard Dreyfuss are quite believable. if only we had footage of Quint bashing the little punks skull in before tossing him overboard.

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    1. Dale my lad, you are dreadfully mistooken. There at least three salty classics of the shark genre: PLANET OF THE SHARKS, SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALADON, and JAWS - watching it today it's vital to put yourself in the headspace of being a kid at the beach in the summers of 75-79 - a kind of national hysteria gripped us in the most enjoyable way. Now it's the scene where Brody reads the shark book while camped out in his study overlooking the bay, seeing the bite marks and jaw sets. The world hadn't quite allowed sharks as a major force of unconscious menace into the mainstream - they were more like any other hazard of being a sailor but normal beachgoers were more worried about jellyfish. His sudden alarm over that book was shared all across the nation and the world - seen today it's still a brilliantly filmed adventure, marred only by John Williams' insufferably jaunty pirate motifs in the second half. (and don't forget Scheider's moment of manly great 70s dadhood

      Delete
  3. Sorry,Erich. I believe I tried to comment twice here but nothing stuck. Perhaps I did something wrong or you didn't care for whatever it was. Maybe I wore out my welcome? If so,OK. I can fade out here. I enjoyed discovering the site and interacting while it lasted. Thanks for the ride.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Dale - weird - it was stuck as suddenly these all popped through at once. You can comment on everything as far as I am concerned!

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