Tag Sharks

Planet of the Sharks (2016)

Planet of the Sharks (2016)

When the world sinks underwater, one predator rises to the top.

In the near future, glacial melting has covered ninety-eight percent of Earth’s landmass in water and the human survivors are forced to live in floating shanty towns on the surface. Sharks have flourished, and now dominate the planet, operating as one massive school led by a mutated alpha shark.

 

I knew this one would be trouble when I read the synopsis and boy, was I right. Even worse, this was another of the unholy unions between The Asylum and Sy Fy, the two biggest sinners when it comes to the sheer number of ridiculous killer shark flicks that have been rolled out over the past ten years. It’s probably their most high-concept film to date but the underlying problems of their previous films are still evident here – the shark stuff is just woeful. They’re all trying to be as stupid and silly as they can to try and capture the lightning-in-a-bottle frenzy that Sharknado created – and they even did that to death. I’m still waiting for the day that The Asylum or Sy Fy make the inevitable ‘Sharks with Frickin’ Laser Beams Attached to their Heads’ schlock fest.

Planet of the Sharks is basically Waterworld with sharks. No Kevin Costner or Dennis Hopper. And about 0.001% of the budget (remember Waterworld was the most expensive film ever made at the time). It plays heavily on this fact and offers little else in the way of a plot. There’s a distinct lack of a story and I’m sat watching and trying to piece together the little bones the characters throw the way of the audience every once and a while. I’m guessing the script thought the audience would just sit and assume this is the end of the world as humans are all living on floating cities and wearing bedraggled clothes, and so avoid the necessary plot exposition usually delivered by a character. There’s some half-baked story about trying to refreeze the polar caps to reverse what has happened but this is really second nature to the novelty factor of sharks looking like becoming the dominant species on the planet – though Planet of the Apes (with sharks) this definitely is not!

Despite doing it’s best to try and immerse the audience in its post-apocalyptic future, during one scene, it appeared that two holidaymakers wearing Bermuda shorts were standing by idly in the background watching the costumed-up actors spear fish imaginary sharks (which would have been added in post-production). Talk about completely taking you out of the film. There’s little attempt to sell this post-apocalyptic world and establish any sort of rules or logic that we can recognise. For all we care, we’re watching some marooned tourists on a makeshift island who are trying to survive, rather than the remnants of the human race slowly dying off.

Shock of horrors, none of the sharks actually look or feel real in any scene they’re in. There’s no sense of realism or of actual physical presence, just bland computer sprites floating across the screen. I know there’s only so much you can do with killer sharks but considering the number of shark films over the past twenty years, there’s literally nothing new you can do with them. Even the recent big budget The Meg had the same problems with how they can feature this giant shark without regurgitating the same old tropes. And because there’s only so much you can realistically do with killer sharks, filmmakers are now getting them doing highly unrealistic stuff to keep the material fresh. Remember the shark jumping into the air and snatching a plane in Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus? Well there’s a lesser version here, with one of the sharks jumping up to attack a microlite.

There’s stuff about an alpha shark controlling the rest but it’s rather vague and how the sharks came to be like this is never fully developed – again it’s expected that the audience will just sit and buy it without questioning it. Planet of the Sharks also features the obligatory shot of a CGI shark cleanly biting the head off someone with hardly a flinch by the victim – this now-common death scene annoys me more than anything in the world. Sharks can’t just slice off body parts like they’re a Samurai sword, they have serrated teeth which saw bits of flesh off as the shark violently shakes its prey in its mouth. But hey, people think this looks cooler, so filmmakers are just throwing this into every killer shark film out there (and it’s even crept into killer snake and crocodile films too).

 

I’ve spent way too much time writing this review than the film deserved. The worst film I’ve seen this year by a long way, Planet of the Sharks is truly atrocious filmmaking. Sharksploitation has reached the ultimate low. I fear there is no return from this.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018)

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018)

Stronger. Wiser. Deadlier.

Brilliant billionaire Carl Durant has been experimenting on making bull shark more intelligent in his high-tech ocean research facility but is unsure as to why the main test shark is behaving so erratically. He drafts in a team of scientists to help him finish his experiments but shortly after they arrive, the super-intelligent sharks create an emergency which begins to destabilise the facility and it starts to flood. The survivors must then try to escape from the flooding facility whilst dealing with the sharks who have found a way to get inside.

 

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the original Deep Blue Sea is a guilty pleasure. It’s got obvious faults but director Renny Harlin doesn’t dwell on them, opting to sail ahead at full steam and deliver thrills and spills at a regular pace and with a fair amount of suspense. LL Cool J tossing a lighter at a gas-filled room to blow up a shark. Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous out-of-the-blue death scene. Some impressive animatronic sharks. There’s a lot to love and it seems that people agreed, becoming a moderate success in the cinema. Now, nineteen years later (Why 2018? Oh yeah – the cinematic release of The Meg might have something to do with someone wanting to cash in on another killer shark bonanza) along comes a sequel that no one asked for and featuring none of the people behind the camera or any of survivors from in front of it.

Quite simply summed up, Deep Blue Sea 2 is a tragic, lower budgeted remake of the original, despite the ‘2’ in the title. It virtually follows the same story: a group of scientists on board a multi-million-dollar oceanic facility have been experimenting on sharks and making them super-intelligent (this time bulls instead of makos) when something goes wrong and the facility begins to flood. There’s a whole swathe of identikit characters, just this time portrayed by lesser-known actors. And a lot of the same set pieces are used, with lesser results. It just begs the question of why – surely the writers could have come up with something a little bit different?

In ripping off so much of the original, Deep Blue Sea 2 completely does away with any potential suspense it may have during certain scenes which have been directly copied. The audience is aware of where the sequence is heading, and this kills off any surprise. Only on occasion, does the script veer off and throw a curve ball to the audience – false set-ups including the shark in the plunge pool, one character attempting to make a swim to safety and an admittedly-decent jolt in the finale are too few and far between. This is where the script works best, taking the elements of the original that the audience would be familiar with and trying to keep them guessing. Let’s face it, most of the audience watching this will have seen the original so it was important to keep the surprises coming.

Surprises coming is the least of your worries with Deep Blue Sea 2 as it commits one of the biggest crimes known to a film – it’s boring. The pace is slow, there’s too much exposition at the beginning with little end product, and even when the facility begins to flood, there’s still too much eulogising and arguing amongst the characters who clearly seem less concerned with the fact that they’re trapped in a sinking structure and more about the villain’s intentions. Get out, then argue! The sharks kind of take a back seat for a large chunk of the film, particularly the first half, and whilst I can understand this from a budget point-of-view, it makes for dull viewing. Things do pick up somewhat in the second half but as I’ve already stated, too few surprises and too much familiarity stop this from ever gathering any steam whatsoever.

There is something a plot spoiler coming up so if you don’t what to know what it is, read on from the next paragraph. One of my major gripes here is with the serious lack of shark action. Deep Blue Sea 2 ends up coming off more like Piranha from the second act as it’s revealed that the big momma shark, Bella, has given birth to a whole brood of baby sharks who like to attack in a pack fashion akin to a shoal of piranha fish. So, whilst you’d be expecting a lot of the film to feature the big grown-up sharks, it’s the babies who are front and centre. This is highly convenient as they’re small enough to swim along in the flooded corridors without being seen, saving the need for expensive special effects shots of a bigger shark swimming along with some cheap bubbling water effects.

The Thomas Jane ‘shark wrangler ´role from the original is this time played by Rob Mayes, in a clear case of downsizing if ever I saw it. Michael Beach, as the billionaire Durant, is probably the only one who makes any sort of impression from the cast but that’s purely down to the ‘How long are we going to have put up with this guy spewing nonsense about some Terminator-style doomsday scenario before he gets eaten?’ There’s even room for the lead actress to get down to her underwear much like Saffron Burrows did in the original. Not content with the camera lingering over her whilst she undresses (the scene is literally her undressing, no one else there, no dialogue, etc), actress Danielle Savre then spends the rest of the film in a cleavage-revealing wet suit. She’s easy on the eyes but in an age of the #MeToo movement, to see such blatant exploitation is a little uncomfortable. And those wasted few minutes of ogling could quite easily have been devoted to more shark action.

Speaking of which, you’ll notice I haven’t really talked about the sharks much. That’s because there’s not a lot to really talk about. They don’t as much as you’d expect or hope, the little ones are hardly seen at all and the big ones look terrible whenever they have to do something. The gore is CGI and also looks terrible. For a film with such a ‘pedigree’ legacy as this, you’d expect special effects which are above par with the usual Sy Fy/Asylum dross.

 

Deep Blue Sea 2 is marginally better than the usual ridiculous killer shark stuff floating around over the past couple of years (Zombie Shark, Toxic Shark, Ghost Shark…) but it’s a sad waste of a licence which could have continued to make some serious money had Warner been more committed to a sequel. If you’re going to waste ninety-minutes, just re-watch the original!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shallows, The (2016)

The Shallows (2016)

Not just another day at the beach.

Whilst surfing at a remote beach, Nancy is attacked by a great white shark. Unable to make the 200 yards back to shore, she finds herself trapped upon an outcrop of rocks in the middle of the bay. Whilst she is safe for now, the incoming tide will soon render her defenceless against the mercy of the shark.

 

It’s about time there was a more sensible approach to a killer shark film than Sy Fy and The Asylum have been using over the last few years with their never-ending supply of madcap mutated sharks with five heads, spewing toxic waste or simply being ghosts. I had been wishing for a return to normality and a return to the days when a killer shark film was actually scary and not stupidly juvenile. Thankfully, that day has come with The Shallows, a film which takes its cue from more realistic survivalist films like Open Water and 127 Hours and is far the better for it.

There’s not a whole lot of story involved in The Shallows, which keeps things nice and simple, and the focus on the situation at hand. However, it does take a while to get going as Nancy’s character is fleshed out a little. This is essential as the audience is going to spend the entire duration alongside her and so the better she’s developed, the more we’ll come to root for her. Blake Lively can act and manages to hold the film together on her own. She’s literally the only real character on show and hardly interacts with anyone else. The way she acts with her body, her facial expressions and some of her sound as she struggles through her ordeal speaks louder than any dialogue does. The pain, the stress, the exhaustion and the emotional torment that her character must endure is conveyed through non-verbal communication and it’s an impressive display. It doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly attractive and looks amazing in a bikini, something which the camera does play on a fair bit.

Like a lot of these survival films where one character is rooted to a specific location, The Shallows needs to find new ways to keep the character in peril. After all, if she just sat and waited on the rocks for as long as possible, there wouldn’t really be much of a narrative to follow, would there? Right up until the finale, the script does a decent job of providing these new challenges, be it Nancy stitching up a wound on her leg, trying to reach a buoy or finding a way to climb aboard a dead whale carcass. Every new scenario poses new problems, and with the shark ever present there is constant sense of danger. Given that she’s the only real character, there’s a fair chance that she survives and so each of these different challenges, whilst difficult for her, amount to little more than extra pain and suffering rather than instant death. It does kind of take you out of the film from time to time, particularly towards the finale.

Her co-star, if you can call it that, is the killer shark. There’s no question that any killer shark in any film released post-1975 is immediately compared to the classic shark from Jaws. Most have failed to improve upon Bruce’s shock value the first time you fully see the shark, but some have tried. The shark here itself is a mixed bag of CGI. The best scenes of it are the brief but violent attacks it mounts when it breaches the surface – here, the shark looks scary. Particularly effective is the jaw and gum motion that great white sharks have when they bite, which is something pretty much all films featuring killer sharks have failed to replicate. There are some truly awesome shots of the shark which don’t involve a full body shot – the eerie shot of its silhouette gliding through the crest of a wave towards Nancy is not only chillingly realistic but reminiscent of some real-life photographs taken on an Australian beach a few years back involving a surfer and a shark hiding in the wave. Google them and you’ll see what I mean. The scenes of the shark swimming underwater, particularly during the finale, are less impressive. This is where CGI still needs to improve and become more realistic. I’d argue that the shark here is one of the most impressive put to film, third behind Bruce himself and the animatronic mako shark from Deep Blue Sea (that thing is magnificent). The fact you don’t see as much of it as you’d expect is a bonus.

If there is a problem with The Shallows, it’s in the final. The writers do such a good job in keeping things fresh that they seem to have written themselves into a box – how do you keep the same tone and low-key approach amidst a finale which, by the letter of the law in today’s movies, must be bigger and louder than everything else that has preceded it? The script resorts to cheap Hollywood tactics to increase the excitement and add in more high-octane action sequences which don’t exactly fit in well with the rest of the film and, to be honest, ruin the film.

 

The Shallows goes back to basics with it’s material and works well for the majority of it’s running time, using well-crafted set pieces and a sharp script to keep the main character in peril and the audience on the edge of their seat, effectively making the viewer scared of venturing back into water too deep. That’s a compliment too few films since 1975 have managed to attain.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Toxic Shark (2017)

Toxic Shark (2017)

This vacation really bites

A tropical singles retreat takes a terrifying turn when guests realize a poisonous shark is infesting the surrounding water. Not only will it rip apart its victims, but it also uses projectile acid to hunt – in and out of the water.

 

I’m pretty sure someone is just sat wading through the dictionary, looking for random words to stick in front of the word ‘shark’ and then sell the ensuing title to The Asylum or Sy Fy to then turn into their latest killer shark flick. Toxic Shark is the next one on my watchlist, following hot on the heels of Ice Sharks, Ghost Shark, Swamp Shark, Avalanche Sharks, Sand Sharks, Dinoshark, Jurassic Shark …. need I go on? Oh wait, at the time of writing this review I’ve also got Zombie Shark and Atomic Shark still in reserve.

Now let me try it. Five random words to stick in front of the word ‘shark’ to come up with the latest and greatest killer shark extravaganza:

Doctor Shark – the shark heals you before it eats you. Or it doubles up as a cardiovascular surgeon during the winter months.

Perpendicular Shark – the novelty of this shark is that it can only swim vertical pointing to the zenith at right angles to the plane of the horizon extending in a right line from any point toward the centre of the earth (I have no idea what that means, just copied it from the dictionary!)

Epilepsy Shark – the sight of the shark makes swimmers have an epileptic fit, incapacitating them in the sea so the shark can eat them easier.

Melancholy Shark – the shark eats people to try and make itself feel better.

Discriminatory Shark – the shark only eats people of a certain colour/age/gender/religion.

I think I’m getting the hang of this lark. Let’s face it, the majority of the films above are so carbon copy that it takes a unique selling point like some extra special superhero power in order to make the films relevant. Take the ‘toxic’ element out of this one and you have yet another routine killer shark flick, which rehashes every single cliché of this woeful sub-genre. The shark roars. The shark swims very quickly. The shark acrobatically leaps out of the water on a number of occasions to attack people standing on beaches or boats. There’s no sense of threat or suspense, not considering the giant shark can seemingly sneak up on people in shallow water without even a ripple or wave. Non-characters are introduced into a scene only seconds before being eaten. Even some of the main characters get rarely anything more than a few token nods to their personality before they’re killed off. Everything gets resolved fairly easily because humans in these films, particularly teenagers, all turn into shark-hunting specialists when faced with an immense threat like this.

The added ‘bonus’ factor in Toxic Shark is that when humans are exposed to the shark’s toxic spray, they eventually turn into some sort of half-assed zombies. That’s it. The token novelty value to separate this shark from one with two heads, ones that can swim through sand or ones that are ghosts. Swap these novelty skills around between the specific films and you’d barely notice the difference in the narrative. So if you’ve read any reviews for some of Sy Fy’s previous shark films, then go back and re-read them as I’m done wasting my time!

 

These shark films are so ridiculously played out that Sy Fy really need to give it a rest – there are so many other creatures out there that they could turn into killers yet continue to churn out literally the same abominable dreck time after time. Toxic Shark isn’t the bottom of the barrel, but its about as low as you can get before you really start to scratch the wood.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ice Sharks (2016)

Ice Sharks (2016)

Just when you thought it was safe in the Arctic

A team of scientists are studying the effects of climate change on marine life at a research station deep in the Arctic. Responding to reports of missing hunters in the area, the scientists discover that a new breed of aggressive, ravenous Greenland sharks have begun to crack through the thinning frozen ocean floor of the Artic, devouring all who fall through. As the ice breaks apart and the station sinks into glacial waters, those alive must band together, and fight off the killer beasts before it’s too late.

 

OK, so I totally knew what I was getting myself in for here with a title like Ice Sharks, especially coming from an unholy alliance between The Asylum and the Sy Fy Channel. Yet another absurd killer shark flick which sticks to a bog-standard formula of having a bunch of young actors being terrorised by a group of abnormal sharks. Sharks with two/three/five heads. Sharks that live in sand. Ghost sharks. Zombie sharks. Flying sharks. You name it. This time they’re not so much abnormal, just hungrier and bigger than usual. And Greenland sharks? They’re really scraping the barrel, but I guess when great whites, makos, hammerheads, bulls, blues, goblins and tiger sharks have all had their horror outings, they need to keep working their way through the list of shark species. It’s only a matter of time before dwarf sharks are given their own Sy Fy flick.

As per usual, an ethnically-diverse group of individuals, most of whom look way too young and inexperienced to be scientists, are subject to a horrific ordeal at the hands of some breed of shark not quite like anything we’ve seen before. The science is questionable. The physics are all amiss. The improbability of the situation is just immense. Your tongue won’t just be in your cheek, it will have forced a gaping hole in the side! The worst thing is that Ice Sharks is played totally straight and at 100 miles-per-hour so you’ll not get much of a chance to sit back and take it all in until the very end. There’s practically no set-up or slow-build and the sharks start doing their thing within the first five minutes, quickly making it to the station and cutting it loose from the ice. What follows is a number of scientifically-preposterous scenes in which the characters try to escape from the sinking building and make it back to the main ice sheet. Only you won’t really care about anything that is going on because the characters are sketchy and barely register on any level of emotive response – I couldn’t even remember the names of any of them, let alone care when one of them is killed off.

I don’t think too many people will watch the film, so spoilers aren’t exactly going to end the world. But a few random musings from watching: If the ice is thin enough for a shark to break through with a fin, then why is a big building still standing in the middle? With the research station being located deep in the Arctic, how come so many people swim in the ice-cold water yet don’t suffer from immediate cold water shock? Sharks can growl? Research stations are built like submarines in the off-chance that they end up 90ft below the water? I could go on but Ice Sharks is too easy a target.

CGI sharks were the worst thing that ever happened to this sub-genre. Give me a cheap-looking rubber shark any day of the week. With CGI sharks doing their CGI thing, you need CGI backgrounds and environments for them to interact with. So the ice breaking looks terrible, the shots of the research station floating off on the ice and then sinking look terrible, and the scenes of the station sat at the bottom of the ocean with the sharks circling look terrible. At no point did I feel threatened or scared or anything when the sharks were around – they’re such anonymous monsters that I was more worried about the rising water than anything.

 

I know that they’ve actually made a low-grade sequel to Deep Blue Sea but Ice Sharks desperately tries to capture some of that same ‘sinking building under siege’ mentality with absolutely no success whatsoever. Despite all of the on-screen carnage, I was bored silly throughout and kept pausing to see how long was left – never a good sign. I know it has been a while since I subjected myself to one of these killer shark flicks but I’ve now got to try and regroup for Zombie Shark, Five-Headed Shark Attack and Planet of the Sharks. I sincerely hope things don’t get any worse…

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy (2005)

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy (2005)

Half man. Half shark. Total terror.

A scientist tries to save his dying son from cancer by developing a way to isolate and specialise human stem cells by mixing in shark DNA. However, his experiments turn his son into a deadly man-shark hybrid. A group of people from a pharmaceutical corporation are lured to the scientist’s island to investigate his activities but he has something far worse planned for them when they arrive.

 

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy, or now apparently referred to as Sharkman, was one of my earliest forays into SyFy Original movies (then known as The Sci-Fi Channel). Many of you long-term readers will know my love-hate relationship with these films. You know exactly what you’re getting and for every nine awful ones, there’s always one gem that stands out. Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy is not such a case, though it’s not entirely awful. I’m a sucker for killer shark flicks no matter how bad they are (Shark Zone anyone?) so when I read the synopsis for this, I was a little curious as to how things would pan out. And boy was I not expecting something as trashy as this – although on further reflection after many, many years of watching SyFy Films, I was far too naïve! On reflection, the story for Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy is perfect for the type of rubbish Sy Fy churn out. In fact, if they produced more of this type of over-the-top cheese than their attempts to be straight and serious, I wouldn’t give them such a hard time.

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy starts off inconspicuously like any killer shark film does, as a couple of innocent swimmers are taken care of in quick fashion. But then things start to get a little crazier as the pseudo-science nonsense kicks in and the plot starts to morph into something that Roger Corman would have been proud of back in the 1980s – all this needed was plenty of gratuitous nudity and some sleazier gore effects. The characters are quick to arrive on the island and the purpose for them being there is revealed fairly early in the film, giving us plenty of time to sit and watch them struggle to survive amidst the multitude of dangers that await them.

I get the logic of making the monster half-man/half-shark but surely taking the shark out of it’s element and having it amphibious and being able to survive on land just weakens the whole novelty of the idea. Who wants to watch a land shark which could be any other mutated monster? Oh, that’s right, I forgot – the characters in this film actually have half a brain for a change. They deduce that by staying away from the water, they can avoid the shark and stay safe! The shark has human intelligence, looks like it’s been talking bodybuilding tips from Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime and runs as fast as Usain Bolt over 100m. This is literally the perfect killing machine. It’s a pity we hardly see it on-screen. The monster gets little screen time and then when you are finally treated to an attack, the camera cuts and shakes all over the place, leaving a small pool of red water behind where the victim had just been. Aside from a few brief CGI shots, there’s no grand unveiling of the monster. In fact, you’ll see more of it, and for longer, by Googling some production screen shots.

Like many of Sy Fy’s later films, a large swathe of screen time is devoted to the human bad guys. Not only has Dr King created this abomination but he’s got a small army of mercenaries at his beckoning call. So, the characters spend much of their time trying to fight off this gang who are that well-equipped, they could take down a small South American country with no hassle. If the shark man and the mercenaries weren’t bad enough, there’s also the small matter of the number of killer plants that King has been cultivating on his island. If this was an episode of the original Star Trek, the majority of the cast would be wearing red shirts!

 

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy just about manages to survive on its decent cast. The always-reliable Jeffrey Combs stars as Dr King and hams it up massively, ranting about his son’s intellect growing as he hunts down his victims. Combs can play mad scientists in his sleep (the Re-Animator series) and this one is no exception. William Forsythe pops up as the hero of the day in a rare change of direction for him – the guy likes playing tough guy/heavy roles and he’s got a bit of a gut on him which doesn’t make him your bog-standard action man. However, the unusual step of casting him in the hero role is different but makes a nice change of pace from the genre conventions of having a twenty/thirty-something save the day.

 

Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy is a mixed bag. You have a preposterously-plotted but perfectly watchable B-movie which, sadly, is let down by a number of clichés and a sense of being too self-conscious to embrace its ridiculousness and go all-out. Not enough of the titular character hurts matters greatly too.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mega Shark Vs Kolossus (2015)

Mega Shark Vs Kolossus (2015)

Nature’s deadliest creature against mankind’s deadliest weapon!

In search of a new energy source, Russia accidentally reawakens the Kolossus – a giant robot doomsday device from the Cold War – which goes on a destructive rampage. At the same time, a new Mega Shark appears, threatening global security.

 

The fourth instalment in the Mega Shark series (and that’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say) sees The Asylum return to their crazy nonsensical shenanigans, devising the most ludicrous films out of the most preposterous ideas and throwing them out there, knowing that their outlandish titles will always generate some buzz. Granted, the first Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus did garner a lot of undeserved media attention when the trailer was released, only for people to realise how truly awful it actually was when the full film hit. It wasn’t just the silly concept, it was everything about the production. Despite critical scorn, The Asylum have gone on to make an ever-increasing number of these type of films ranging from Mega Python vs. Gatoroid to the Sharknado films.

With Mega Shark Vs Kolossus, it doesn’t look like The Asylum are going to change their ways any time soon. Cue the usual cardinal sins: ridiculously fast editing where scenes literally last no more than ten seconds before another cut hits; incidental music which attempts to make the film more exciting than it is; a couple of ‘famous faces’ who have been lured in to starring in such low budget nonsense (Illeana Douglas and Patrick Bachau this time around) where you see them and say “I remember their face but not their name” before going onto IMDB to find out; lots of scenes of military types standing around talking about the shark; lots of scenes of people looking into computer screens in small rooms (presumably the only set); lots of scenes of science-type character talking a lot of science fiction gobbledegook; ropey CGI graphics which don’t even appear to be at PlayStation One level yet; and plenty of camera shaking. I could go on but if you’ve seen one Asylum film, you’ve seen them all.

The major issue, and an obvious one, with Mega Shark Vs Kolossus is that it is clearly the unification of two separate films or ideas. Kolossus was obviously designed for its own film but Mega Shark got slapped in to add some name recognition to proceedings in the faint hope of selling more copies. It’s clear to see because the two monsters exist almost in their own little films for the majority of the running time, with Kolossus being reawakened with all manner of Soviet spies and mercenaries chasing it around and Mega Shark reacquainting itself with the American navy. It’s only in the final third where the two plots begin to crossover and even then the linking material is sketchy at best.

Mega Shark doesn’t actually get to tussle with Kolossus until the end of the film, though this is nothing new as the majority of these big ‘VS’ films rarely deliver until the finale (this goes all the way back to the early Godzilla films where the Big G would spend most of the film travelling to fight the monster-of-the-moment before engaging with it at the end). The fight is as pitiful as you’d expect given that one monster is organic, the other one is a robot with a big-ass laser beam weapon.

It’s a scant consolation prize for someone who has had to sit through the mind-numbingly painful scenes of the human cast emitting what seems to be dialogue from their mouths. But I thought dialogue was meant to develop characters and add something to the story, rather than just seemingly pass the time between these inane sequences of characters talking about the shark or Kolossus. They’re not engaging characters who you want to see prevail. You’ll not remember any of their names at the end. You’ll not see any of them develop as a character from the opening to the ending. They’re literally talking clichés, designed to act as a transition between the frames of footage. It’s awful filmmaking and that’s not a criticism of just Mega Shark Vs Kolossus but of The Asylum films as a whole. I know that few people go into these films hoping for an Oscar-winning performance but isn’t it funny how the most memorable monster movies are those with decent casts, decent scripts and identifiable characters who make the monstrous threat appear more realistic and more threatening (Tremors, Jaws, The Fly, King Kong, The Thing, Aliens, An American Werewolf in London, Predator, etc. – I could go on).

 

Like sitting and watching your best mate play a rubbish computer game for hours upon end, Mega Shark Vs Kolossus is a terrible way to pass the time. Best to hop onto Youtube, search for the best bit and watch it without having to endure the torment of the journey there. Please stop this franchise. Stop it right now!

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

A love story

Scientist Rico Symes has crafted the latest predatory super-weapon for the military by splicing together DNA strands from a pterodactyl and a barracuda, creating a creature known as Pteracuda. During a routine test mission, the creature goes rogue after a terrorist hijacks the computer controls. Capable of flight or swimming, Symes knows that Pteracuda poses a massive problem and so tracks down the surviving offspring of the original Sharktopus, now in a sanctuary in a local aquarium. Fitting it with a transmitter, Symes gives Sharktopus a simple command: to find and destroy Pteracuda.

 

I was a little generous in my review for Sharktopus, stating it was ‘everything a cheap, goofy and enjoyable monster movie should be about’ but I could clearly see where the enjoyment was coming from and with such a ridiculous premise, it ran with it as best as it had any right to do. A few years later and Roger Corman is back with even more bizarreness but far less originality. A sequel to both Sharktopus and Piranhaconda (though I don’t get the connection with the latter film), Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda continues the trend of combing the names of two random creatures to make a new monster. Pteracuda was the dumbest name I’d ever heard – well until the sequel Sharktopus Vs Whalewolf went into production! Apparently, a bunch of combi-names was tossed around on Twitter with fans voting for the one they wanted. At least Corman is giving in to people power.

Do you expect anything remotely resembling a plot? No? Good, didn’t think so. You won’t find that here. Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda gives us the bare minimum story of military experiments, terrorists, innocent civilians who get wound up in the mayhem and plenty of unnecessary characters to throw into the way of the monsters every few minutes. Honestly, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda doesn’t even run like clockwork – the clock has well and truly stopped here and the nonsensical plot developments would only be surprising to an unborn baby and that’s about it. Top secret government weapon that goes haywire and the people responsible attempt to bring it back and cover it up. That’s it. Let’s see what else the film has to offer.

Unlike many other giant monster showdowns of late, particularly the awful Mega Shark Vs … films, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda does feature a lot of lengthy tussles between the titular creatures, so much so that it actually gets boring watching them. I know, I know, it appears I’m far too hard to please when I complain that there wasn’t enough in Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and now there is too much in this one. Usually the creatures fight off in a titanic battle at the end of the film akin to the old Godzilla films but Sharktopus and Pteracuda cross paths a lot throughout the film, which was pleasantly surprising as it meant a lot more CGI effects which would have driven up the cost of this film significantly.

Like pretty much all of these CGI slugfests from Sy Fy or The Asylum, the eventual fight scenes fail to connect with the audience. You know that what you’re watching is just two computer-generated monsters fighting off because there’s literally no sense of gravity or weight to them. Don’t get me wrong, the fights do go on for a few minutes a piece but whilst they’re scrapping, the motions and movement are just too fast: tentacles flying across the screen, wings flapping all over the place, teeth gnashing and so on. Real creatures wouldn’t be able to react like that and so in trying to crank up the excitement of the film, the fights just become frenzied free-for-alls in which your eyes and ears are bombarded with as much as possible within the time frame.

Continuing on another irritating trend, both Sharktopus and Pteracuda have a tendency to kill humans by biting their heads off. Most likely because it’s a cheap and easy special effect to pull off in post-production, literally every giant monster of the past few years has killed its human prey like that. Since when did carnivores become so picky and just go for the human head? It’s so annoying, especially when I think of some classic monsters movies and the memorable ways in which people were killed and eaten alive (Quint’s graphic swallowing in Jaws always springs to mind). Having said that, the bulk of the kills are for non-characters who may say a handful of words at best before they’re fed to the fish. People die all too often in this and it becomes a chore. So when someone with a meatier role falls victim to the monsters, there’s no shock value.

That would assume you’d give a toss about any of the characters in this film. Robert Carradine has a bit of a blast as the sort-of-slimy scientist, only he doesn’t really do anything truly evil. Rib Hillis is the stock mercenary tasked with leading the mission to stop the weapon. Hillis doesn’t really get much chance to shine in the role until the end but comes off little better than your generic hero. If there is one saving grace from Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda, it’s in the form of the lovely Katie Savoy. Though her weakly-written marine biologist role is an awful character who serves little to no purpose, she’s one of the most naturally attractive women I’ve ever seen in a film like this. I’m smitten! There’s also a really random cameo from TV talk show host Conan O’Brian, who I’m sure owed Corman a favour to appear in this. Maybe he was a big fan of the original Sharktopus?

 

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda is a cheap sequel to a cheap film, where special effects seem to revert back in time and all sense of what a film should be has been thrown out of the window. Though I guess when you see two giant hybrid monsters pummeling each other in the air and underwater every ten minutes or so, it’s kind of irrelevant how bad everything else is.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

3-Headed Shark Attack (2015)

3-Headed Shark Attack (2015)

More heads, more deads

A group of scientists are attacked in their underwater lab by a killer 3-headed shark. Then the shark moves on to attack a cruise ship full of partying teenagers. The survivors must band together to try and stop it.

 

I really can’t be bothered wasting my time trying to make the plot sound more exciting than it was because it’s just a mess of appalling writing. OK, so 2-Headed Shark Attack was hardly a high art concept and sold itself on the ludicrous premise alone with predictably dire results. How do you top something so silly? Just add an extra head of course! 3-Headed Shark Attack is somehow even worse than its predecessor. It’s a film which exists solely based upon its premise and where the makers of the film clearly thought “we don’t need to bother with making a coherent narrative which logically moves from A to B because there’s a 3-headed shark in it.” Whilst 2-Headed Shark Attack revelled in its absurdity, treating proceedings with tongue firmly in cheek, this one tries to be too serious.

3-Headed Shark Attack falls straight into The Asylum’s typical formulaic approach – no real plot exposition, gets right into the thick of the action from the opening scene, throws a load of characters with no development into the mix and then just attempts to butcher it together with some awfully choppy editing. There’s literally something going on in every frame of film and it’s a constant assault on the eyes, with some frames lasting seconds before the next edit kicks in. In Asylum films, there’s little room to take time out, get to know characters or build plot – it’s just full steam ahead and it’s so annoying. All you see are people on the screen running away or swimming away from something that’s so badly rendered in CGI that it isn’t even funny. Names? Backgrounds? Relationships to other characters? Nope. Forget that. They’re just faces on film. All they have to do is look into the camera, pretend to stare at something off-screen and then attempt to emote when the time dictates…and they even fail at that.

There are almost three separate films crammed in here and all could have been expanded further. There’s the opening twenty or so minutes with the shark destroying the underwater lab (again, there’s no real point in introducing a load of these one-note victims to kill them off a few minutes later) and forcing the characters to leave the safety of dry land and into a boat (I know, it makes no sense). It’s almost like watching Deep Blue Sea but rushed through in a quarter of the time. Then the few survivors from this end up on a boat full of partying teenagers and the next ‘mini-film’ commences. Finally the survivors from this part then meet up with Danny Trejo’s fisherman character for the last ‘mini-film.’ But that’s what you get with the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach from The Asylum. Just take a chill pill and stretch things out a little more to generate some suspense or tension. At no point during this film did I feel remotely scared, tense or even worried because there’s so much going on, and so much that doesn’t make sense, that it’s hard for your brain to compute. Films need to retain some element of realism in them to allow the audience to comprehend even the silliest of storylines, characters or special effects yet 3-Headed Shark Attack is devoid of realism.

The shark just turns up in the opening scene with no explanation or build-up and then just wreaks havoc, smashing up the lab and eating as many people as possible over the course of the film. It gets to the point of overkill because the shark is always killing people. Remember when only four people (on-screen that is) were killed in Jaws? You don’t need to keep feeding the shark to make it a threat. In fact the opposite happens and it becomes almost a drinking game to see how many people the shark will eat within the next ten minutes of film. The shark looks reasonably good when it’s swimming around doing nothing – the heads are pretty scary and it does look freakish. However as soon as it’s required to do something like breach the water, bite someone or flip into the air, the ropey CGI kicks in. Coupled to this is a soundtrack which doesn’t fit the action and is just there to artificially generate tension and excitement.

Danny Trejo and professional wrestler Rob Van Dam are the two ‘names’ in the film. Trejo is seemingly on a quest to star in every single low budget straight-to-DVD film made in the last two years and has clearly been cast in this for one particular sight gag involving the shark and a machete. RVD proves he should stick to wrestling.

 

It’s like pulling teeth trying to enjoy 3-Headed Shark Attack and considering that there are a lot of teeth on display, that’s a lot of pain to suffer. Those who like The Asylum’s specific ‘brand’ of filmmaking will find more of the same here but for those who want something a little more down-to-Earth, realistic and generally better made, the hunt for a decent killer shark flick continues.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jaws 2 (1978)

Jaws 2 (1978)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water

Four years after having to battle the monstrous Great White shark, a few unexplained events including the explosion of a skiing boat and the disappearance of a pair of divers prompt Chief Brody to suspect that another Great White shark has staked claim to the waters. But no one else on Amity Island believes him and Brody begins to wonder whether he is just being paranoid. However his theory ends up coming true and he must go out to sea once again to face the terror from the deep.

 

It was always going to be impossible to top one of the greatest films ever made so Jaws 2 was up against it from the moment it was given the green light. Jaws was a brilliant film, a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, where a coming together of quality and talent coupled with problems, mistakes and enforced changes, ended up in the film’s favour to create the masterpiece that we have come to know and love today. The problem with any sequel was going to be simply: how do you even get close to matching the greatness of Jaws?

Jaws 2 gets an unfair rap as a sequel, mainly because the following sequels were atrocious. Jaws 2 seemingly gets lumbered in with them when people talk about the follow-ups but it’s actually a rather decent sequel which is far better than it has any right to be. Though still a troubled production like its predecessor, Jaws 2 manages to deliver decent suspense, another solid performance (if better) by Roy Scheider and, of course, some plentiful shark action. The main problem is that it tries to replicate the original but without the best parts.

Case in point #1: Roy Scheider makes this film. He’s excellent as Chief Brody once again, bringing a little more to the role than he did in the original. Here, the character has been visibly affected by the events that transpired and he’s not as laid back and prepared to sit back and take orders like he once was. The film is quite interesting as it explores Brody’s paranoia about the shark threat and the scenes both on the beach where he’s in the shark tower and later in the town hall where he confronts the council are highlights.

However what is sorely lacking, and what Scheider clearly misses, is having another great character to spark off. The camaraderie that the second half of the original shared between Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw aboard the boat was one of the main reasons why it worked so well. Seemingly surrounded by a cast of teenagers, Scheider even gets short-shifted for a lot of this half as the main focus is on the youngsters and their ever-sinking flotilla of wrecked sail boats. They’re not the worst teenage bunch ever to grace film but they’re so weakly written that it’s hard to distinguish between most of them and even hard to show any interest in their survival.

Case in point #2: The shark itself. Director Jeannot Szwarc realised that the audience knew what the shark was going to look like so it was pointless in having a slow reveal as in the first one. Here, the shark is pretty much seen from the first major attack on the skiing boat and you get to see a lot of it during the course of the film. The threat just isn’t there though and Szwarc just fails to get any major sequences of tension going. Apart from a nervy moment where Chief Brody wades out to check some driftwood and another in which the shark closes in a teenager who has fallen overboard, there’s little to match the original in terms of dramatic tension. Instead of going for the subtle build-ups, Szwarc is more than happily going straight in for the kill.

Kept in the shadows again, the shark may have posed more of a threat but now we really get the feeling this is a mechanical monster, such so that the shark’s head actually bends during one collision with the side of a boat. In a nice touch, the shark is scarred by an early encounter with fire and as a result, sports this cool signature burn mark across its snout for the duration. It gives the shark a menacing look.

Case in point #3: I am sure if you saw a shark attack in real life, it would be a bloody affair. Though the body count is upped significantly in Jaws 2, the gore quota has been toned down a lot. You won’t get to see any floating heads, severed legs or people bitten in two. That is disappointing because there are some great kills in here which screamed for a little something extra. The attack on the skiers is suspenseful, the shark looks like it swallows another victim hole and the helicopter attack was aching for a limb or fountain of blood. Part of the fear of being attacked by a shark is the unrelenting damage that it could do whilst it rips you apart with its teeth. We never get any of the sense of the ferocity or the damage that the shark can do. Everything has been toned down.

John Williams returns to score the film. The signature Jaws motif is still lurking around here but the score is a broader selection of more upbeat tunes. Since much of the tension and suspense had been lost from keeping the shark hidden, it was easy to make the film’s soundtrack a lot more vibrant, adventurous and exciting.

On a last note, the tag line for Jaws 2 is one of the most famous I’ve ever heard of. ‘Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water’ sends an ominous message out to those people who were petrified to go swimming after the original’s release. The shark is back and it’s hungrier than ever so make sure you don’t go out too far!

 

 

Jaws 2 is a hugely underrated sequel which suffered from the fact that there was no way any film would match that of the original. That is the main thing which holds it back. It’s got some fantastic moments, does a great job of keeping the story as fresh as possible and is entertaining from start to finish. Arguably the second greatest shark film ever made.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆