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This has nothing to do with Asian movies, so if that’s your thing then turn back now. However, as everyone who has cable knows, this week is “Shark Week” on Discovery, their annual programming event where for one whole week all they show are documentaries about sharks. Why sharks? Because, as the director of the direct-to-video movie RAGING SHARKS says, “People have been asked what is the most feared subject in the world, including terrorism, and the number one answer is the shark.” This is true, and the only thing scarier than a shark is possibly a shark riding another shark. The directors of DTV shark movies understand your fear, they just can’t do much about it. All they have to work with is stock footage of sharks taken from nature films and, occasionally, a plastic shark head they can poke at people for variety. They generate fear and suspense with fast cutting, unusual angles, and…oh, let’s face it – they don’t generate much fear or suspense at all. To celebrate Shark Week, let’s take a look at three DTV shark movies.
BLUE DEMON (2004)
BLUE DEMON, the first shark flick to go on the table, does answer the question of whatever happened to Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister, DeeDee since she appeared in 2000’s Meat Loaf biopic, TO HELL AND BACK. In BLUE DEMON she’s Marla Collins, a marine biologist bickering with her soon-to-be-ex-husband and fellow marine biologist, Nathan Collins (Nathan Batinkoff) while they toil in a lab that looks like PeeWee’s Playhouse, working on a top secret project. I can’t tell you what the project is, but it’s spelt: genetically engineered, giant, killer, super sharks…TO BE USED FOR PEACEFUL PURPOSES ONLY. Do you hear that, Military Industrial Complex? PEACEFUL PURPOSES. They are going to help the Department of Homeland Security defend our coastline from terrorists. If you’ve watched any movies at all, you know that the Military Industrial Complex can be a slippery bunch, but in BLUE DEMON they are more slippery than usual because they have found a way to somehow twist peaceful, genetically-engineered, super sharks into dangerous weapons.
The super sharks, led by Red Dog (who is also a super shark, despite his name) escape through a hole in the fence around their underwater fun park and go on an almost killing spree: they almost eat a father and daughter on a fishing trip, they nearly chow down on a young couple, and they come awfully close to chewing up some surfers. The military goons sit back and do nothing while Team Collins try to use their laptop to email the sharks messages of peace that sound like high-pitched whoops and whistles, but if you could understand shark they would be saying things like, “You do not want to eat those surfers. Stop biting them. People are not candy. No.”
BLUE DEMON is a movie that chooses to focus on character development and lowbrow comedy at the expense of sharky thrills, and that, in a nutshell, is why it’s a bad movie. The stock footage is particularly poor, and it’s reused to such a degree that some of the shots have started to wear out, like an old sneaker. The character development is by the book and pretty harmless, but the lowbrow comedy is painful, and has been know to cause stomach pains, constipation and drowsiness. All I can say is, the boss of the shark lab is a midget. I thought I’d just put that out there. It’s that kind of movie. You’ve been warned.
RAGING SHARKS (2005)
If someone came up to me while I was swimming and told me a shark was right behind me, I would be so terrified that I’d fly out of the water faster than the speed of light. If someone came up to me while I was swimming and told me an angry shark was right behind me, I would probably just explode from fear, leaving little more than a red stain to mark my passing. If someone came up to me while I was swimming and told me a raging shark was right behind me, I would implode from fear, opening up a wormhole in the time-space continuum causing me to travel back in time and die before I was even born, thus negating my existence completely.
Danny Lerner, the director of RAGING SHARKS, understands this. Not only has he titled his shark movie RAGING SHARKS, thus causing video store browsers everywhere to pass out from shock and terror, but he has raised the bar. Sure, Danny has produced movies like SHARK ZONE and SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALODON and he’s produced movies like ALIEN HUNTER and CYBORG COP 3 but now he’s realized that these are two good tastes that go great together. As a crew member says in the Making-Of featurette, “We’re not just giving the audience sharks or aliens, but bringing sharks and aliens together.” Knowing that such a historic effort might kill lesser men, Lerner has taken the director’s chair himself.
Corin Nemec (of STARGATE SG-1) plays an asshead scientist living on OSHONA, an underwater research base. OSHONA is nothing to brag about. Within 15 minutes of the opening credits, the sharks are not only raging, but they’ve cut all of OSHONA’s life-support lines, electricity, water, cable television, DSL, everything. On top of that, the computers in OSHONA are about as stable as a Pinto – if you even put a stack of papers on top of one it will immediately start to spark followed by bursting into flames. Realizing that the undersea station is a death trap, Corin orders an evacuation, but the raging of the sharks keeps them from leaving. Trapped!
Then Ben Stiles shows up, playing the designated Burke. For those not in the know, a “Burke” is the dude in movies who shows up and represents The Man. He always has a secret agenda involving sacrificing everyone on board the spaceship/ocean liner/oil rig/undersea research facility in order to protect the dastardly corporate interests of his string-pullers back home. The name “Burke” comes from “Carter Burke”, Paul Reiser’s character in ALIENS who set the bar high for all Burkes to come. Soon, gun fights are breaking out, the technicians are being eaten, a submarine has parked outside the front door but it’s having electronics problems, and the sharks are raging, raging, raging.
It turns out that an alien prop has fallen into the ocean and the cold fusion it generates is what’s driving the sharks bananas. The raging sharks are mostly stock footage, but the filmmakers make generous use of their plastic shark head, poking mini-subs with it until they fall apart. But it’s mostly stock footage, leading to some tense moments when a barge almost gets taken down by shark attack; “Scary close-ups of sharks off the port bow, Captain!” cries the lookout. Arrgh, people fall into the water! Roooar, they get eaten by stock footage of sharks eating chum.
Roar? Yes, these sharks growl. This is stupid for a lot of reasons, but give Danny Lerner a break: the man needs some artistic license. He has spent the entire movie shooting incredibly realistic scenes of sharks eating mini-subs, machine gun battles in the kitchen of an underwater research station, sharks getting punched in the face, submarines torpedoing sharks, and other mundane occurrences that take place on deep-sea research stations every day. If the man wants to indulge his creative side a little bit and have growling sharks I don’t feel comfortable criticizing him, do you?
At the end of the movie we find out the sharks were actually just PROTECTING the cold fusion reactor and not really raging at all, so it was all just a big misunderstanding. Maybe they were growling because they felt misunderstood? I can see their point, but would you have rented a movie called OVERLY PROTECTIVE SHARKS? No, you wanted RAGING SHARKS. So it’s your fault for having low standards in the first place.
RAGING SHARKS is extra special because, like a secret sauce, it contains some classic DTV dialogue that will live on forever. Fearing that Asshead and his wife are dead, the good submarine, USS Roosevelt, prepares to depart. But Asshead taps out a message in Morse code against the hull of the exploding OSHONA and the Roosevelt’s sonar operator signals the captain who says:
“Are you sure it wasn’t whales? Or dolphins?”
The sonar operator shakes his head.
“Whales can’t spell, sir.”
Whales. Can’t. Spell. Ladies and gentlemen, good night. Drive safely.
HAMMERHEAD: SHARK FRENZY (2005)
The Sci Fi Network has been invading video store shelves for years with their cheesy original monster movies. I find it kind of cocky and condescending of the Sci Fi Network to butt into everybody’s business and tell people how to make crummy horror movies. Look, guys, the DTV market was getting along just fine without you, so go back to driving “Farscape” fans nuts or something. For me, they really crossed the line when they changed the name of their movie MANSQUITO to MOSQUITO MAN. What’s next, changing the name of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to “Beethoven’s Pretty Music with Some Loud Parts”? It’s this kind of boneheaded literalism that causes syndicated columnists to write articles about the dumbing down of America, and I hate giving those people ammunition.
However, Sci Fi has now given me HAMMERHEAD: SHARK FRENZY and that’s gone some way towards building bridges. This movie delivers on all fronts: there’s stock footage, but just enough; there’s a man dressed in a shark suit; there’s Jeffrey Combs from RE-ANIMATOR playing a mad scientist; and there’s a tragic love story between woman and shark. On the negative side, there’s a weird obsession with hammerhead sharks. In fact, the writers (Monty Featherstone and Howard Zemski) go so far as to say that most sharks are stupid and that hammerhead sharks are the best sharks around. What?!? I’m hoping that after insulting the intelligence of sharks Mr. Featherstone and Mr. Zemski don’t plan on going swimming anytime soon because despite what they say, sharks have pretty long memories and they do carry grudges (witness JAWS IV: THE REVENGE wherein the lead shark swims all the way to Jamaica to put the bite on Lorraine Gray because her husband killed his dad.)
In HAMMERHEAD: SHARK FRENZY “All My Children” actress, Hunter Tylo, plays a marine biologist (them again) who used to be in love with a guy named Paul whose dad is a mad scientist (Jeffrey Combs). There are pros and cons to having a mad scientist for a dad. On the plus side of the equation, when you die of kidney cancer like Paul does, your dad can bring you back to life. On the minus side, he’ll probably bring you back to life as a half-human/half-hammerhead-shark monster.
So Hunter Tylo and some corporate types are invited to Jeffrey Combs’ private island where he wants to show them the cure he’s developed for cancer. It turns out that the cure involves turning cancer patients into human/hammerhead hybrids with “all the advantages of the sea” and a craving for human flesh. Somehow I don’t see the American Institute for Cancer Research endorsing that. To add complications to the complications it turns out that the whole “come over to my private island and see what I’ve been up to” ploy is a revenge plot. Can you believe it? No wonder mad scientists live isolated, bitter lives: no one wants to go visit them because mad scientists like Jeffrey Combs ruin it for everyone else.
“Do you want to come over to my island?”
“No, Klaus, you’re going to try to kill me.”
“Nein, that is Jeffrey Combs you are thinking of.”
“Whatever. I think it’s better if you don’t call me anymore.”
“Damn you, Jeffrey Combs.”
Things turn ooky when Combs reveals that he’s got special plans for Hunter Tylo: he’s going to breed her with his son, Sharkboy. The idea of a soap star having to rut with a horny shark hurts my tummy, but I have to say that the awkward, slimy latex sharkboy in HAMMERHEAD: SHARK FRENZY is a lot more physically attractive than Tylo’s ostensible love interest, William Forsythe. Forsythe looks awful here, like a craggy, lumpy, recently microwaved wart that got scraped up out of the “Discard” pile in Heaven and zapped with hard radiation until he grew to approximate human form. I think the Sci Fi Network should be forced to have a label on the front of all copies of HAMMERHEAD: SHARK FRENZY that reads, “Warning: Contains Extremely Rough Looking William Forsythe. Viewer discretion is advised.”
HAMMERHEAD does prove a couple of points, though, and I’d like to just run through them in bullet form so they really stick with you:
- don’t accept invitations to private islands from mad scientists who may blame you for the death of their son.
- it’s easy to cheer up a sick friend: just ask them if they would rather be transformed into a half-human/half-hammerhead monster and then they’ll get a sense of perspective and realize how fortunate they are,
- Elise Muller is the best actor in Hollywood right now: she’s in HAMMERHEAD: SHARK FRENZY and she was also in RAGING SHARKS – both made in the same year! Take that, Scarlett Johansson,
- and, finally, while you can have love between man and man, and you can have love between man and dog, you cannot have love between man and shark. Even if by “man” you mean Hunter Tylo and by “shark” you mean Paul, the hammerhead/human hybrid mutant monster with “all the advantages of the sea.” As Wu Ma says in A CHINESE GHOST STORY, “You can’t have love between man and ghost, sonny.” He said ghost, but he was probably thinking “shark.”
Comments (3) Jul 20 2008