Tag Aquatic Monsters

Beneath (2013)

Beneath (2013)

They’re only friends on the surface

Six high school friends celebrating graduation with trip to a remote lake find themselves stranded in a rowboat after being attacked by a man-eating fish. With their options for reaching land beginning to dwindle, they start to consider more extreme measures of survival, they must decide who must be sacrificed as they fight their way back to shore.

 

One quick glance and you’d mistake Beneath for yet another Jaws-style clone featuring an aquatic monster. That’s how it looks like it is being sold with the front cover of the blu-ray showcasing the monster in its toothy glory. For a little part of Beneath, that’s the type of film you’ll get. In fact, Beneath reminded me a lot of one of the segments from Creepshow II entitled ‘The Raft’ where a group of college friends are stuck on a platform in the middle of a lake with a dangerous monster preventing their escape. But, pardon the expression, beneath the surface there is something else at work here. The monster is only half of the problem. Hence why Beneath……

The killer fish is simply a catalyst for events. Like many a horror film, the monster is there simply to turn up the pressure on the humans and get them to start making decisions that sees us revert back to type: primitive, savage and generally bloodthirsty creatures. Strip back away all of the domesticated and moralised gloss and we’re animals, capable of amazing acts of barbarism and cruelty (one only needs to watch one or two daily news reports to see the sort of things we, as a race, are capable of). Thrown into some life-or-death scenario like this and we would forget the ‘rules’ that keep us in check. Survival of the fittest comes back into play. Romero’s zombie films were perfect examples of this: look at Day of the Dead for instance and see how little zombie interaction there is for the middle third of the film. Beneath follows the same idea.

The fish does do a fair bit of damage throughout the film and it’s always lurking around for its next meal. But as the situation worsens, the characters begin to turn on each other, realising that the only way to survive is to sacrifice someone to keep the fish ‘occupied’ whilst they continue to paddle to shore. The fish becomes second nature to the evils of humanity. However, there is a problem I have with Beneath and the direction it suddenly takes here: it doesn’t take long for the characters to turn on each other. Like literally within the space of a few hours. And not even just arguing or bickering like you’d see elsewhere. This is full on murder – throwing people overboard to an inevitable and gory death. I know their situation is perilous but seriously, how could they call these people friends if they could stab you in the back at the first chance they got?

The fish looks as good/bad as it needs to be. It’s got massive bug-eyes, long razor-sharp teeth and isn’t the biggest fish to grace the Earth. The film never explains the fish or why no one is really trying to decipher where something that looks like it came from the time of dinosaurs is living and swimming and eating in this lake. It’s just taken for matter of fact. It’s brought to life with an animatronic model so there’s a nice sense of realism to the effects. You never get a look at it for more than a few seconds at a time but it swims around realistically, surfaces when you least expect it and has plenty of jaw movement so kudos to the prop makers for having the guts to make something practical rather than CGI it. But as I’ve said, the fish isn’t the real focus and it works much the better for it.

The cast of characters are well-rounded and though they do fall into teenage stereotypes, the film isn’t one to play upon genre tropes for too long. In fact there are a few scenes in which these stereotypes are played to, particularly some of the tense decision moments where the survivors are making cases for who should stay on the boat and who should go for help (i.e. try and swim and be eaten), and the strengths and weaknesses of each token role are laid bare. The characters also have a fair bit of back story to them and a lot of this dirty linen is dragged up as they plead and beg for their lives. The dialogue can seem a little clunky at times but the performances on the whole are very good. Mark Margolis, famous for his portrayal of mute drug lord Tito Salamanca (the ‘ding ding ding ding’ guy) from TV’s Breaking Bad, pops up in a brief role as the ‘Crazy Ralph’ character who warns the kids not to go out onto the lake and whom no one listens to.

 

Beneath was a pleasant surprise. I went in expecting a low budget Jaws clone and was met with something more thought-provoking which didn’t pander to the genre norms and actually had an interesting take on the usual creature feature film. It does have its flaws and it’s by far from being completely watchable but Beneath is worth a look if there’s nothing else that takes your interest.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

DeepStar Six (1989)

DeepStar Six (1989)

Not All Aliens Come From Space. Save Your Last Breath… To Scream.

A US naval engineering team is completing work on an underwater nuclear missile base when they accidentally split open the ocean floor during an excavation mission, revealing a huge cave underneath. Contact with the excavation team is lost and after a rescue mission goes wrong, the crew are given the go-ahead for extraction from above. Before they can leave, they must secure the missiles but a mishap with the process cripples the base, trapping everyone at the bottom of the sea. To add to their problems, something deadly has been let loose from the previously-hidden cave and it makes its way into the base, killing the crew off one-by-one.

 

Whilst James Cameron’s The Abyss was in production, other studios assumed that it was going to be some ‘monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-space’ flick like Aliens but only underwater instead of space. Cameron was a rising star after Aliens and The Terminator and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Being ones to try and jump on the bandwagon, a handful of similar-themed films each featuring aquatic monsters were rushed into production in order to capitalise on the inevitable popularity, the most notable of which being Leviathan featuring Peter Weller. However, The Abyss was nothing like people expected it to be and so these films floundered a little bit, trying to out-jump the other into the pool only to find the pool had moved.

DeepStar Six finds itself with one of the most recognisable horror directors of the 80s, Sean S. Cunningham (the man behind Friday the 13th), at the helm and along with him Harry Manfredini, the composer from the earlier Friday the 13th films. You’d very much expect better from Mr Cunningham – sort of like an underwater Friday the 13th – but the film never really threatens to turn into anything more than throwaway sci-fi horror.

DeepStar Six should have worked a lot better and could have done had it stuck to the monster movie formula. However it’s far, far too long before the monster shows up for the first time (about an hour) and before then, the film runs like an underwater disaster film with all manner of mishaps and deadly accidents happening to the crew that they need to overcome. Depressurisation, flooding compartments, doors that won’t open, doors that won’t seal, power shortages, etc. I came to see an underwater Alien knock-off, not another The Poseidon Adventure! You get the sense that they wanted to play down the horror elements and keep the adventure and suspense elements high but they’re preaching to the wrong genre crowd if that was the case. The rather convoluted plot has a script that is peppered with coincidences and bad luck in order to further the story and it seems as though the characters go from one catastrophe to the next – and that’s before the monster even turns up.

To his credit, Cunningham does use the first hour to good effect in building the characters and, when they are allowed to breathe life into their stereotypical characters, they do a decent job of making us care about them. Black guys, Russian, South African, annoying moaner character, the hero and heroine, etc. They’re all the usual stock characters but the majority of them (i.e. the ones who make it past the twenty minute mark) are well-rounded and will elicit empathy of some kind, from the guy who has a mental breakdown to the loved-up couple who want to survive for the sake of her unborn baby (that’s almost the complete opposite of being a black character in a film like this!). They’re a step up from the normal one-dimensional planks of wood that these films usually throw out way.

The cast is made up of former TV stars and minor actors who have cropped up in an odd horror or sci-fi film since then (Matt McCoy in the enjoyable Abominable being the one I remembered straight away). Arguably the big recognisable star on show is Miguel Ferrer, he of Robocop fame who made the mistake of crossing Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones character. Ferrer plays a miserable character who must go down as the ‘World’s Worst Crewmate to Have During a Disaster’ – not only does he cause the station to suffer catastrophe but he’s also responsible for a number of other horrendous mishaps during the running time which inflict more suffering upon not only himself but the rest of the crew. Ferrer’s departure is probably the highlight of the film as his character suffers from a really fatal case of depressurisation.

With so much time spent on the characters and the disaster film-style elements of the film, you’ll wonder whether they’ve got enough time to squeeze some monster action in and they almost don’t bother. It’s no surprise to see that the film picks up once the crew become aware of the existence of the monster (and very unfortunate for a chap in a diving suit, a fact spoiled by the poster rather my spoiler) though it hardly does anything and is responsible for directly killing three characters which is a tragedy considering how many characters started the film. When the creature does show up, it doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as you’d expect but someone had little confidence in how it appeared because you’ll hardly get a good look at it. It’s like some giant crab, only described as a prehistoric arthropod in the film and never really given any sort of scientific explanation. It’s blatantly a puppet with limited movement and just threshes backwards and forwards in the water. But in an old school way, it’s effective enough in what it does – you’d just wish it would have done a lot more of it.

 

Whenever DeepStar Six threatens to get good, it halts dead in its tracks again. Whether this is down to the script, the direction or another matter remains to be seen but there was a decent underwater Alien film waiting to come out here. Unfortunately we don’t get it in the final version. It’s too patchy and sporadic to make any long-lasting impression.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Loch Ness Horror, The (1981)

The Loch Ness Horror (1981)

It IS alive!

Two rival expeditions head to Loch Ness in Scotland to use sonar in order to prove that the mythical Nessie is real. When one of the expeditions finds a giant egg at the bottom of the loch, things look promising. But it isn’t long before people begin to disappear around the loch as the real monster comes hunting for its stolen egg.

 

The Loch Ness Horror is about obscure as it gets here on Popcorn Pictures. After first hearing the plot synopsis many years ago, I’ve been trying to track down this elusive lake monster movie for nearly a decade. It’s never shown on TV, never been released on DVD and with VHS dead it was impossible for me to even watch a dodgy taped copy. Thankfully Youtube has been a goldmine of long-forgotten films of late and, copyright violations aside on behalf of the uploader, The Loch Ness Horror was there in all of its glory.

Sometimes the chase is more exciting than the eventual catch and that’s the case with The Loch Ness Horror. There’s most likely a good reason why it’s been so hard to find over the years – it’s atrocious. It would be no surprise to find out that the director had every single copy of the film rounded up and dumped at the bottom of the loch itself. However that would involve actually travelling to Loch Ness, something that director Larry Buchanan didn’t do when he filmed this. Shot on a lake in California, the film paints an uneducated, Americanised view of the Scots. With a cast filled with actors trying their best to sound incomprehensible with pathetic Scottish accents (rrrrrrrolling theirrrrrrr rrrrrs a lot!), dialogue that might as well have just said “See you Jimmy” (look it up if you don’t get the reference) and with whisky and kilts in good supply, The Loch Ness Horror could have worked better as a stereotypical tourist guide to Scotland rather than a monster flick.

The Loch Ness Horror tries desperately to craft itself into the standard monster movie where a monster runs amok in a small town, only without the money or the talent to become so…and the story as well. In fact at some point during the film, the monster and the egg are forgotten about and the film shifts into some thriller-style story about an old German spy plane that is lying at the bottom of the loch. By this point, you won’t care what happens in the story. The promise of some good old fashioned Nessie rampaging has long faded into memory. It shouldn’t be too hard to stick to the story of a lake monster hunting down people that stole its egg – it’s a common staple in monster films and works, for the most.

Maybe I just don’t get it but when I settle down to watch a film called The Loch Ness Horror, it should be pretty evident what I am expecting to see. It’s pretty funny realising that within the film’s reality, this Nessie has never killed anyone before yet that the film has begun, it decides that it likes the taste of humans. How very convenient for plot’s sake. The painstaking scenes of the human characters trying to pad out as much time as possible in between the riveting monster moments are pathetic too. There’s no atmosphere, suspense or tension. You don’t even look forward to Nessie’s next appearance. You’ll be clock-watching from the opening scene and hoping that things get better but they don’t. I can’t even say that the scenery looks nice because the copy I was watching was pretty fuzzy.

There’s precious little monster action during the film as the fabled monster only makes sporadic appearances and you can count the kills on one hand. But as phony as the monster looks, it’s the best thing on display which is a sad indictment of the rest of the film. Clearly hampered by budgetary constraints, only the monster’s head and neck are shown. That’s enough to go on (as many of the infamous ‘sightings’ of Nessie have only consisted of the head and neck). But then you realise that the monster looks to be made of the same material as a giant inflatable pool toy and any sort of illusion is crushed. For a film in which the monster is supposed to be a scary man-eater, the eventual prop looks rather cute and cuddly and more likely to give you a little loving nudge with its head rather than a chomp down with its teeth.

 

Is The Loch Ness Horror fun to watch? No. Is it even Mystery Science Theater 3000 levels of awful? I think you’d be pushing it there. The Loch Ness Horror would make for an awful double bill with The Crater Lake Monster and will serve as long-term proof that lake monsters don’t make for the greatest horror films. The longer it remains as obscure as possible, the better the human race will be. It’s films like this that are the reason why aliens won’t reveals themselves to us! A travesty.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Crater Lake Monster, The (1977)

The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

A beast more frightening than your most terrifying nightmare!

The heat of a meteor crashing into Crater Lake causes a dormant dinosaur egg at the bottom of the lake to hatch, unleashing a giant aquatic dinosaur which soon develops a taste for human flesh.

 

Cited as one of the worst monster movies ever made, The Crater Lake Monster comes with a hefty reputation to maintain. It does sound like one of those old school sci-fi ‘atomic monster’ flicks that were all the rage in the 1950s but this one was made in 1977, no doubt as some kind of throwback during a time when interest in the Loch Ness Monster had been revived thanks to the exploits of Robert H. Rines’s expeditions. If only The Crater Lake Monster had proven as captivating an attraction as the myth of Nessie.

Make no mistake about it – The Crater Lake Monster lives up to its reputation. With a shoestring budget and unpolished production values, it’s the sort of 70s film that would have played well in drive-ins. Utter tripe from beginning to end, the film does at least have one redeeming factor in the form of the monster. But in order to get to the sporadic and brief highlights, you’ve got to slug it out with one of the genre’s most awful creature feature films.

A lot of the flak comes from the film’s unnecessary focus on Arnie and Mitch, a couple of country bumpkins who live near the lake and provide the film’s copious amount of comic relief. Glenn Roberts and Mark Siegel seem friendly and innocent enough but their characters should have had background roles. I’m not sure whether director William R. Stromberg was the only one who found their antics hilarious but no one else will. It’s padding and blatant padding at that. The two men live up to numerous backwoods stereotypes as the dim-witted handymen who work for beer and each other’s monotonous company. Desperate to stretch out it’s running time to be classed as a full feature film, The Crater Lake Monster also features lots of random zooms and close-ups of the nice scenery. It sure looks like a nice place to visit but this is meant to be a film not a promotional video.

It’s not like anyone in the cast is any better though. Richard Cardella as Sheriff Hanson and Bob Hyman as Doc Calkins are both horrendous in their roles. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to believe that both men were the local sheriff and doctor respectively and got roped into shooting the film when the director turned up at the lake with a few crew members and asked them to star in a film. Cardella has no other screen credits to his name whilst Calkins only had a prior credit. Based on this evidence, cinema has not missed out on any tricks with either man.

With all of these ‘actors’ running around the lake and local town and doing anything and everything but encountering the monster, the film never gets going. I would say that the pace is off but there is no pace at all. Stromberg doesn’t have any grasp of narrative or structure and just lets things pan out as slowly and as dully as possible. Coincidentally he also co-wrote and produced the film and has never directed, produced or written a film since. I guess that’s all you need to know about the quality on display. Characters are introduced and then dropped. Minor characters become the main focus. There’s no sense of urgency with anyone despite there being a monster on the rampage.

So the film itself is total rubbish but the actual monster looks fantastic. Brought to life with glorious stop motion to give it a realistic feel, the monster is a class above others in its genre and something more akin to a lesser Harryhausen creation. The man responsible, David Allen, went on to have a fantastic career creating the visual effects for such films as Q, the Winged Serpent (also featuring a stop motion dinosaur-like monster), Batteries Not Included and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It just proves everyone has to start somewhere in the film business and it is clear from this film that Allen had talent.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly given the practicality of stop motion, the monster isn’t allotted anywhere near enough screen time and does little more than waddle about on its flippers and roar. The finale involving the monster battling the sheriff in a bulldozer is a big let down too. However in plenty of other scenes, the monster is simply represented with an oversized head floating around underwater. This looks nothing like the monster in stop motion form. But I suppose that is the least of the film’s problems.

 

The Crater Lake Monster is nearly as bad as its reputation claims but the brief stop motion special effects are worth one look and I’m sure you could find a highlight reel lurking on Youtube to save you the ordeal of sitting through the full film. It’s just a shame that these effects are wasted in this hokey micro budget film and are not displayed in something bigger budgeted and more professional.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Demon of Paradise (1987)

Demon of Paradise (1987)

It waits underwater…to skin you alive!

Illegal dynamite fishing off the coast of a Hawaiian holiday resort awakens an ancient underwater reptilian creature that then begins killing off the tourists.

 

Part Jaws, part The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Demon of Paradise desperately wishes it were a quarter as good as either of them. It is a rather obscure 80s film which has only recently seen the light of day on DVD, making an unfortunate double-header with fellow aquatic terror Up From the Depths. But after watching, you’ll realise why the film has remained obscure for so long.

That’s because, unsurprisingly, Demon of Paradise is a bit naff. There’s potential to be had in a jokey Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way but those looking for serious sea monster action best look elsewhere. The film runs more like Jaws than The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There’s the owner of the local holiday resort desperate to keep it open for business, the scientist who know one will believe and the sheriff tasked with destroying the creature. The presence of a Gill Man substituting for a shark is the only difference but this one seems less interested in carrying off nubile females than it does standing around in the sea growling at passers-by.

Though it’s supposed to be set on the sunny, tropical island of Hawaii, the muddy jungle rivers of the Philippines never allow for that illusion to take place and this ‘paradise’ turns out to be little more than a few shanty huts alongside some pretty sickly-looking water where there are more gangsters doing dodgy dealings in boats than there are water skiers or surfers. Ironically, the best scenes are the night time ones when the fog machine is worked into overdrive. Whilst they could have been filmed anywhere as location in the pitch black is irrelevant, they’re at least effective in trying to do something to generate a bit of atmosphere which is sorely lacking in the rest of the film.

Director Cirio H. Santiago handles proceedings with a general lack of interest in how the final product turns out. The pacing is dreadful, the dialogue is inept, the narrative wanders all over the place and the acting leaves a lot to be desired (they virtually shout at each other all of the time instead of showing any range). In between the infrequent and poorly-staged creature attacks, the film drifts all over the place with a variety of non-characters we have no interest in getting to know. You’ll be bored out of your skull and even the allure of some potential genre requisites (naked chicks and copious gore) will fail to stimulate the pulse.

The second half of the film is the best and I use that word generously. Once the film turns from the main characters trying to persuade the resort owner that there is a problem and shifts into man-against-beast mode as they hunt it down , the pace quickens a bit and there’s a few more action sequences. But these are amusingly silly in the trashy sense rather than memorable for the right reasons. A scene in which the creature leaps up out of the water and attacks a helicopter pretty much sums up the film – ropey and dopey.

The creature is some form of humanoid that looks every bit like the man-in-a-suit it is. It doesn’t do an awful lot either – the creature never seems to interact with its victims whenever it attacks, simply pawing at thin air on many occasions or popping its head in and out of the water, growling at its victim and then submerging itself. No doubt any physical contact with anything other than the water and the two-bit costume would have dropped to bits. The gorgon-like head of the creature gives it a unique appearance amongst it’s numerous mermen counterparts.

In fact the creature causes more explosions than anything else, as various characters suddenly make mistakes in the grip of fear from seeing it and accidentally blow up their boats or huts. When it leaves the water and stays on land for a prolonged period during the finale, the film seems to find its niche. Whilst the scenes of it trying to bash its way through a barricaded hut and chasing people through the jungle are goofy, they’re at least entertaining. Being inexplicably bullet proof adds further levels of absurdity to the film as a platoon of soldiers attempt to hold it at bay with round after round of machine gun fire.

 

Demon of Paradise is trashy 80s exploitation at its dullest and most lifeless. Santiago seems to be as bored making it as the audience will be watching it. Even die-hard lovers of low grade monster movies would be hard-pressed to find something worthwhile here, despite the odd promise of unintentional entertainment.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Deep Shock (2003)

Deep Shock (2003)

The end of the world is just an eel’s length away. Get ready to squirm.

A nuclear-powered attack submarine is attacked by a mysterious underwater object which disables it with a powerful electromagnetic pulse. The Hubris, an underwater Arctic research station, witnesses the attack and reports an alarming rise in the temperature of the ice cap in the process. Shortly afterwards, the station is also attacked and so an expedition is sent to find out what happened. Once there the expedition finds that though the station is still intact, the personal have been incinerated. It isn’t long before they find out what attacked the Hubris – giant electric eels – and why.

 

With the prospect of giant electric eels doing some underwater damage making for a slight change to the usual sharks-crocodiles-snakes-spiders routine, it comes as no surprise to know that Deep Shock plays out like the majority of the Sy Fy TV movies: stock actors picked from the usual Sy Fy roster; a script that fills itself with loads of techno, military and political jargon to sound credible; action scenes which are anything but rousing and exciting; and creatures that sound alright on paper but look like cartoon monsters when rendered in CGI.

Actually I’m being a bit harsh on Deep Shock. Whilst the film does look and feel like the usual cheap-and-nasty drivel from the Sy Fy Channel and every cliché in the book is played out to full effect, the script doesn’t go down the route I expected it to and instead tries to turn itself into a credible, thought-provoking story about humans encountering other intelligence on Earth. Far from being the deadly threats that you’ll expect them to be, electrifying stock characters in underwater facilities in some form of Leviathan / Deep Star Six style sci-fi horror, the eels are supposed to be preparing the planet for its original inhabitants to return (space eels then?) and can be communicated with and made to listen. Whilst the ending to the film hardly gives resolution to the eels’ overriding purposes (after all they still want to wipe humanity from the planet), it at least gives the creatures a bit more function than just generic monsters-on-the-loose.

It’s a shame then that the eels look so poor when they are shown on screen. Blasting bolts of electricity from their foreheads and having big bulging red eyes, the fish could have been so much more had a bit of effort gone into their creation. But this is a film where concern for detail is eschewed in favour of bluster and a desire to make itself exciting, on which it fails. Deep Shock enjoys flashing off its limited budget with lots of copious special effects scenes and overly ‘futuristic-looking’ sets. The underwater research centre, the Hubris, looks like a knock-off set from The Abyss, complete with a pool for the eels to appear from (well they can’t walk around the facility so they’re kind of restricted to the places they can make contact with the humans in). Lots of dimly-lit sets with flashing lights and shaky cameras attempt to make everything look so exciting and cutting edge when in reality it just shows up the film for lacking decent production values. The underwater action scenes involving mini-subs and exterior shots of the Hubris look like cut-scenes from a computer game and a bad one at that. It’s always hard to get into something when every two minutes you’re reminded of how inferior it is to similar big budgeted films.

The sense of international scope that the film tries to convey just don’t work either. According to Deep Shock, the United Nations consists of a bunch of Eastern Europeans sitting around a computer desk in what looks like a school gymnasium with a few flags draped in the background. You never get the sense that this is anything global, especially when the film continually deals with one Eastern European guy (Velizar Binev, who crops up in loads of these films) who apparently speaks on behalf of everyone. I guess with the small cast they were required to recycle.

Low budget schlock flick rent-a-bad-guy Mark Sheppard pops up as the usual dodgy-looking slime ball he plays in all of these TV movies (see New Alcatraz, Xtinction, plus a ton of TV shows like 24 and The X-Files). David Keith gets to act all hard and ‘edgy’ as the squared-jawed action hero whilst Simmone Jade Mackinnon does nothing but smile throughout the film, even though the world is supposed to be facing a crisis, and the two are given a token romantic sub-plot. With Sy Fy re-using these actors time and time again, it gets a little predictable knowing how each character arc is going to pan out. Why not give Sheppard the hero role for a change and turn Keith into the psycho? See that’s lazy writing – Sheppard being cast as the bad guy instantly plays on our preconceptions of the character he is going to play and does a lot of the hard work of building a solid character…….ah I’ll save that rant for another time.

 

I’m sure that this would have made for a riveting forty-five minute long episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea back in the 60s but as a full blown 2002 TV movie, Deep Shock strings along its limited idea as long as it can without any real pay-off. Apart from the ambitiously novel background to the electric eels, it’s business as usual as far as Sy Fy goes. And business is bad.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Piranha 3DD (2012)

Piranha 3DD (2012)

Double the action. Double the terror. Double the D’s.

Marine biology student Maddy returns home to find that her stepfather, Chet, has turned the friendly water park that they both inherited from their late mother into a seedy resort called Big Wet which features strippers as lifeguards, wet t-shirt contests and topless pools. In order to provide cheap water for the park, Chet illegally drilled into an underwater lake. Unfortunately for everyone, the underwater lake is home to the prehistoric piranha which attacked nearby Lake Victoria. On the opening day of Big Wet, the piranhas swim up the drilling pipes and into the pools.

 

Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3-D was one of the highlights of 2010: a delightfully gratuitous middle-fingered salute to the bastions of cinematic good taste with its unhealthy array of fishy violence, a year’s supply of fake blood in just one shoot, more boobs than a porn convention, not to mention a strong cast who weren’t afraid to send themselves up and a story which finely balanced itself between parody and serious. A definitive B-movie with a big budget and even bigger promotional juggernaut behind it, Piranha 3-D was the rare instance where everything seemed to align perfectly for the ultimate success story against all of the odds. With a strong box office performance, even better DVD/Blu-Ray sales and more importantly, pretty resounding critical acclaim, the film was a shoe-in to receive a sequel.

Only Alexandre Aja wouldn’t be back at the helm and, leaving with him that real sense of perverse violence. If you’ve seen any of his serious horror films, then you’ll know that he can deliver the grim and the intense in equal measure and for all of its cartoon comedy and overblown excess, Piranha 3-D still had a warped sense of the extreme flowing beneath where you knew that you shouldn’t laugh and smile at the violence and gore but it was a nervous laugh because of the underlying cruelty. And that was why Piranha 3-D worked better than it had any right to do.

John Gulager, fresh off the Feast trilogy, was handed the reins to direct this sequel and if you’re familiar with those films, specifically the two junky sequels, then you’ll know exactly the sort of direction that Piranha 3DD is heading. Going into overdrive with the absurdity and ridiculousness, Piranha 3DD is quite possibly one of the worst sequels of all time and easily one of the biggest disappointments of the year. How hard was it for Gulager to mess up the key ingredients that made the original work?

Virtually a lower budget, scaling down of the original, the film’s first mistake is confining the bulk of its action to a small, self-contained water park as opposed to the rivers and lakes of the original. Not only does this lead to incredulous plot devices of how the piranha manage to infiltrate the park in the first place, but it shortens the life span of any tension that may come from the attack scenes. Having piranha attack a flotilla of partying teenagers in a deep-water lake is one thing – having them swim around in small, man-made ankle-deep pools is just not scary in the slightest.

The film barely comes home with a time of eighty-three minutes as well, a disgrace when you consider that there are ten minutes of outtakes and bloopers tagged on to an overlong credits sequence. With such a short running time, you’d think that the rest of the film would go at it like a bull in a china shop to make sure not a second is wasted but there’s plenty of filler throughout. I think it’s simply a case that someone had a couple of clever ideas about the piranha in a water park and then built up an entire film around them.

The main problem with Piranha 3DD is that it tries way too hard to be hilarious and outrageous. In trying to out-do the original’s tongue-in-cheek approach, Gulager is guilty of making throwaway moments a major deal. Take for instance Jerry O’Connell’s severed penis from the original, a scene which provoked laughter (and a great deal of seat-shuffling and leg crossing from the male audience) and terror at the same time. That scene is rehashed here with more focus on the deadpan and comedy instead of the horror of male castration, with the resultant scene providing one of the  worst lines of all time. The majority of the film’s comedy just falls flat on its face because it is too stupid to laugh at – funny to drunken frat boys maybe, not to anyone else watching. Piranha 3DD almost turns into a parody, something that the original was always keen to keep away at arm’s length.

There is a well-cast line-up of characters to bring life to this story though. Christopher Lloyd and Vang Rhames add continuity by reprising their roles from the first one and it’s a shame that some of the others couldn’t return. Rhames’ role is somewhat pointless (didn’t he die in the original?) but at least Lloyd is able to get a few more minutes screen time than he did before. It’s still a criminal waste of his talent to be shoehorned into a five minute cameo but at least he’s back. As far as the newcomers go, David Koechner makes for a particularly unpleasant loudmouth and is perfectly cast in the role of the slimy Chet. He gets one of the film’s best and most distasteful scenes as he tries to make a getaway from the chaos at the park. The younger cast aren’t particularly impressive, with the majority of them filling the usual token teenager roles. Danielle Panabaker is likeable enough in the lead role but the gorgeous Katrina Bowden steals the show with a line of dialogue that would make John Barrowman’s infamous line from Shark Attack 3: Megalodon sound like Macbeth (Youtube it if you don’t know).

The main star of the film is the turn by David Hasselhoff. So often the butt of jokes about his acting ability, ‘The Hoff’ has now gone full circle and embraced his deficiencies, playing up on these jokes and becoming self-aware of his own limitations as an actor. His self-mocking performance is a riot, tearing apart his Baywatch role as a lifeguard completely out of his depth when the piranhas attack the water park. Worth sitting through the rest of the film for? Not quite, but those who have stuck through the rest of the film will at least find themselves finally being entertained.

 

Piranha 3DD is a catastrophic flop. The decision to debut it in less than 100 theatres in its opening weekend in the US (a travesty considering that the original made $83m in the box office) shows that little faith was instilled in it from the start by the suits in the boardroom and this is reflected in the final product – a shallow, shameless rehashing of the original. Good-natured gratuity has been replaced by ill-fated juvenility and no doubt sounding a death knell to a possible resurgence of big budget splatter comedies.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenfish (2004)

Frankenfish (2004)

Welcome to the bottom of the food chain.

A brutal attack in the Louisiana swamps leaves local police mystified so they call in outside help. A coroner and a biologist travel to the swamp where they find that a group of genetically engineered Chinese snakeheads are munching their way downstream towards a houseboat community. Meanwhile the big game hunter responsible for breeding them is in hot pursuit of his prey.

 

Based on a real life incident in 2002 where a bunch of snakehead fish were found to be breeding in a pond in Maryland, Sy-Fy decided to churn out two snakehead-themed horror films for their regular Saturday night creature feature slot. I’m not sure whether there was enough material to stretch over one film, let alone two almost identical films but that’s Sy-Fy for you. Between this and Snakehead Terror, I think all bases have been covered.

Frankenfish isn’t a complete bore and is one of the better monster-on-the-films I’ve seen in recent years. Think Tremors but only replace the desert with the swamp, houses for houseboats and the Graboids with the snakehead fish. Only this sorely lacks the wit of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, replacing them with the usual array of token characters and cutting out any of the off-beat humour. A huge chunk of the film takes place aboard three houseboats in a remote lagoon where the characters stranded aboard the boats are unable to get to proper dry land because of the fish in the water. So you can get a gist of the sort of set pieces you’re going to be confronted with – people making attempts to flee the boats, sometimes falling into the water and being killed off and other times being rescued in the nick of time. Even though the set pieces reek of familiarity, they are still directed with a competent flair to make them seem fresher than they have any right to be.

Frankenfish is a film which is highly unpredictable too and puts it cast through the ringer. Though the film is populated by a largely-unsympathetic bunch of characters, there are a few likeable characters in there but the film shows no mercy to whether the audience wants to see them live or die. If you think you know who is going to get it next, then you’re mistaken. Sadly it’s this unpredictability that, at times, gives the film somewhat of a bumpy pace as the shock of some character departures sometimes causes the film to grind to a halt. The cinematography looks great too, with the shots of the swamp really hammering home the fact that this is in the middle of nowhere and adding to this notion that these characters are facing an uncertain future. Generally speaking, Frankenfish certainly comes off a professional effort, not some cheap second-rate straight-to-video flick – when stuff like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid gets released in the cinema, you’re grateful that these so called second-rate flicks are more polished at a fraction of the cost.

The snakeheads themselves are pretty deadly – they’re nasty, aggressive fish in real life and so make the perfect foil for such a film like this. CGI is mixed in well with animatronics to create the illusion that these creatures do actually exist in the same physical universe as the characters – a trait which many of its ilk have often failed to convey. Not only content with using some model fish, there’s a nice old school vibe to the gore as well with plenty of blood and limbs thrown around. The finale in particular is a gruesome explosion of fish guts as the fish problem is dealt with in devastating fashion.

There is a reasonable cast of “you’ll know the face, not the name” actors including Muse Watson (the fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer), Reggie Lee (probably more famous for his role in TV’s Prison Break) and Thomas Arana (as Russell Crowe’s second-in-command in Gladiator) on hand to portray the usual array of businessman assholes, backwoods rednecks, dumb fishermen and the like.

 

As far as films about man-eating genetically engineered monsters go, Frankenfish is no better than all of the rest, nor is it any worse. It sits about middle ground. It’s not overly satisfying yet once it’s finished, you get the feeling that it could have been a lot worse. Is that how low my expectations have become for Sy-Fy Originals? It seems so.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Piranha 3-D (2010)

Piranha 3-D (2010)

This Summer 3D Shows Its Teeth

An underground earthquake sets free scores of man-eating prehistoric piranha fish which swim down river towards a small town on the shore of Lake Victoria, a popular spring break destination for college students. With hundreds of booze-fuelled and horny teenagers in the water, can the piranha be stopped in time?

 

Do you want a thought-provoking film which challenges the meaning of life, gives rise to question our existence and will make you change the way you live your life? If you do then clear off now. If you want boobs, blood, boobs, low brow humour, boobs, more blood, killer fish and then more boobs, you’ve come to the right place. Piranha 3-D is a silly, moronic and extremely juvenile horror flick which wears it’s exploitation heart on it’s sleeve…..and I loved every single minute of it. The film is pitched squarely towards fan boys – actually males of any demographic – with its focus on hot young females shedding their clothes at every opportunity. Sort of like a horror film crossed with one of those MTV shows in which they pitch a DJ and stage on a beach somewhere and just let chicks dance for an hour. Piranha 3-D is gloriously self-aware and self-indulgent. I can’t remember the last time I was this entertained in the cinema.

Alexandre Aja has helmed some pretty serious and brutal films during his directorial time including the remake of The Hills Have Eyes so it’s nice to see him ‘relax’ and go for something more light-hearted and trashy. The first two Piranha films back in the 70s were helmed by Joe Dante and James Cameron no less, two men who’ve got on to much bigger and better things (more so Cameron). So Aja is in good company. He knows what modern horror fans want to see and delivers. Let’s face it – 3-D is a gimmick, pure and simple. It’s not meant to be the next coming of cinema. It’s meant to add enjoyment to your viewing experience. Aja knows that and puts the 3-D to uses that James Cameron would never have considered for Avatar. The 3-D is used effectively throughout the film with all manner of things popping, erupting, exploding and jiggling on the screen. Memorable moments include a piranha emerging from someone’s mouth, Ving Rhames’ defiant stand with a detached outboard motor and, well, I’d never thought I’d say this but the 3-D severed penis probably got the biggest laugh from the cinema audience I was sat in with. There’s plenty of 3-D blood and 3-D boobs too. I actually think there were more boobs here than fish.

The flick keeps its promise of blood and delivers it in buckets during the gruesome attack scene in which the piranhas finally get to chomp down on some drunken teenagers. Bodies with flesh-stripped limbs try to drag themselves out of the water. People are ripped in two. Some young woman even has the skin ripped clean off her face. The cameras get right up close and personal during the attack scenes, thrusting you straight into the heart of the action as if you’re almost stuck in the water waiting to be devoured. The deaths are played mainly for laughs (check out Eli Roth’s hilarious cameo), adding to the absurdity of the sheer amount of gore on display. But you can tell that Aja is used to gore flicks and loves the red stuff. He knows how to milk the blood for all of its worth and the camera lingers on each moment with childish glee. The tone of the film is never in question from the opening scene and a nice rich vein of humour flows through the film. Be it funny dialogue or simply the perverse situations that the characters find themselves in, a laugh or chuckle is never more than a few minutes away (tucked in nicely between boobs and blood!)

Its official – 3-D wasn’t designed so that James Cameron could bring to life the world of Pandora in Avatar. It wasn’t to show My Bloody Valentine’s copious amounts of gore in a new and disgusting way. It wasn’t so that kids could gawp at Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 3. 3-D was designed purely for heterosexual males the world over to enjoy the absolutely glorious sight of Kelly Brook’s 32-E chest the way that God intended it to be enjoyed. And enjoy it we shall. Funnily enough she’s not that bad an actress here although her role is to cavort naked and look good and she does both with aplomb.

This is hardly a character-driven film though and the flimsy plot does little to make us care about most of the characters but the main cast do fine in their roles. Elizabeth Shue gets to act tough as the female sheriff, Jerry O’Connell is hilarious as the sleazy porn producer and steals every scene he’s in, Ving Rhames does his typical bad ass persona as the deputy and there’s a welcome cameo part for Christopher Lloyd, channelling some of his Doc Brown character from Back to the Future into his role as the marine biologist. Richard Dreyfuss spoofs his appearance in Jaws with the film’s most throwaway scene and will bring an instant grin to the face of any fan. Spot how many times Jaws can be referenced within the few minutes that Dreyfuss is on screen.

 

Piranha 3-D is unashamedly cinematic trash but it’s proud of it and hard to resist it’s simple charm. Those who adore high-brow subtitled French art house flicks will no doubt be disgusted at what’s on display here but this film isn’t aimed at you. Inception may be a lot of critic’s choice for best film of 2010 but Piranha 3-D can’t be too far behind for pure unadulterated entertainment.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Piranha (1995)

Piranha (1995)

Lost River Lake was a thriving resort… Until they discovered…

A girl and her boyfriend go missing so a private investigator is hired to find them. So enlists the help of a local mountain man to help her search near to the old army test base where they believe the teenagers to have headed. Assuming them drawn in a large pool, they drain the water into the river, accidentally releasing a horde of flesh-eating piranhas which escape into the river system. The fish proceed to munch their way down stream, heading towards a kid’s holiday camp and a newly opened holiday resort.

 

In my view, remakes are generally pointless exercises in milking cash from an established film. I don’t buy the ‘we need to update it for a new audience’ rubbish because if a film is that good, it doesn’t need an update because it will stand the test of time (The Godfather, case in point). If it could use a remake, then is the film that good enough to deserve one in the first place? When you remake a film, what route do you take? Do you change everything, contemporising it for a new time period? What elements of the original do you save? What do you pay homage to? Or do you simply follow it almost shot-for-shot, word-for-word? We could ask ourselves these questions when we witness big budget remakes of classics like Psycho and Dawn of the Dead. But who in their right mind ever thought about remaking Piranha, a decent but forgettable parody of Jaws from the late 70s?

Roger Corman – that’s who! The legendary producer oversaw a handful of remakes of his old films for cable TV and Piranha was one of them. But somewhere along the line, the writers made substantial changes to tone and content of the original. The screenplay is still virtually the same, with minor alterations to characters and story, and the film runs exactly the same as it did in 1978. Where the problem lies is that they have substituted the wit and humour of the original with more emphasis on gore and violence. This serious tone doesn’t help because at its core, Piranha was a parody and needed this light-hearted tone to make it work. Without the humour, it turns into another generic monster flick with something on the loose in the water.

The pacing of the film isn’t too bad. There’s not a lot of waste in the running time and the piranhas don’t usually go too long between meals. It’s not just semi-naked blondes who the piranhas tend to feast on either because it’s open season here so kids and dogs are also on the menu. Footage of the piranhas from the 1978 version is re-used here despite the obvious improvements in technical advancement. Rather than shoot new footage, they’ve simply ‘recycled’ footage from the archive and it shows. There also seems to be a few more breasts thrown around here than there was in the original which is a good thing. The increased focus in these two elements would be taken to the extreme in Alexandre Aja’s infinitely superior remake Piranha 3-D.

William Katt and Alexandra Paul share little chemistry as the two leads but on their own, they’re more than capable of handling themselves. Katt, in particular, at least keeps things ticking over with a likeable character you can get behind. Monte Markham has his turn as the businessman who refuses to believe that there’s a problem and won’t close his resort for fear of losing business…….you know the score by now with this stereotype. Mila Kunis makes her debut in this but you’ll be hard pressed to recognise the sweet little girl here as the stunning young woman she’s is now. Cast-wise, the film is no better or worse off than the original, though Kevin McCarthy’s barmy scientist was sorely lacking from this one.

 

Piranha is an unneeded remake which hardly breaks any new ground but at least it doesn’t damage the original too much. It’s hard to really sum up: if you’ve seen the original, you’ll have already watched this. But out of curiosity, you’ll watch it anyway. If you haven’t seen it, you’re better off with the original. But then you’ll watch this as well out of curiosity. So yeah, just watch this as well. It’s pretty solid on its own two legs.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆