Tag Sy Fy Channel

Flying Monkeys (2013)

Flying Monkeys (2013)

Something bat-winged and bloodthirsty has arrived in Kansas…

Teenager Joan is constantly being let down by her workaholic father so, to make things up to her, he buys her a cute pet monkey which has been illegally smuggled into the country from China. However, it turns out that the monkey is one of only two remaining Xsigo monkeys, mythical monsters which were used by the emperor to kill everyone.  Upon nightfall, the monkey transforms into a horrific winged creature, killing everything in its path. Furthermore, it can’t be killed by conventional weapons and killing the monkey any other way causes it to multiply. It isn’t long before there are dozens of the monkeys terrorising the town in which Joan lives.

 

As soon as I saw the title for this one, I immediately thought of The Wizard of Oz. Surely that’s where Sy Fy got the idea for this ridiculous creature feature? Couple that with the underlying plot for Gremlins and you have Sy Fy’s most ‘original’ monster idea for some time – well it beats a mutated killer shark or giant crocodile flick! Just the thought of how Sy Fy would try and turn monkeys into insatiable killing machines with a thirst for blood was enough to pique my interest. Whilst they went with a fairly simple approach, rather than some genetically-engineered Frankenstein creations, it would at least be something different. And this is the key to Flying Monkeys – for all of the usual Sy Fy tropes present, it at least feels different.

The narrative runs like clockwork, with the monsters being introduced early on in a seemingly-unrelated scene which will be bridged into later, before we meet our main characters. The film introduces a typical dysfunctional father-daughter relationship at the beginning – what is the betting that a life-threatening confrontation with flying monkeys will repair this damaged dynamic by the film’s resolution? Yawn. It isn’t long before the pair get possession of the monkey and not long after that when the first transformation occurs. Flying Monkeys sets up as much character development as is needed before unleashing the monsters.

Once you get over the fact that you’re going to see lots of badly animated flying monkeys, then the film isn’t so bad – the fact the monkeys only turn into these killing machines at night at least allows a lot of the poor CGI to be masked by the dark. The flying monkeys are quite aggressive and do a lot of damage, much of which is not shown, only the bloody aftermath. There’s also a flying monkey Predator-like vision shot which is used to show when the monkeys are zooming in on a target. Yeah, it’s every bit as daft as it sounds. The real monkey used for the daytime scenes is pretty adorable, though I still wouldn’t like to have one as a pet. The nice Gremlins-like twist about them multiplying if attacked by conventional weapons poses a nice problem to the trigger-happy townspeople and gives the monsters a dangerous pack-like mentality. They get reasonably well-fed throughout and are given enough to do to make them appear a serious threat.

To make the mythology of the monkeys seem legit, the film parachutes in two Chinese demon hunters who have weapons to kill the monsters and have been hunting them down for years. They serve little purpose other than to pad out the running time with some footage of them hunting the monkeys in China before arriving in the States to assist. But this is an American-made TV-movie so the teenage lead must be the one to sort out the problem, not the experienced experts, and their purpose is null and void (well the body count needs victims).

Maika Monroe and Vincent Ventresca star as the daughter and father and both are ok in their roles – let’s face it, you could cast the best actors in Hollywood in something like this, yet the weak, rehashed scripts won’t give them anything to work with. Ventresca has starred in a couple of previous Sy Fy outings (Larva and Mammoth) which were both ‘different’ to the norm so at least he appears to choose his crazy monster outings a little more carefully than some of the other Sy Fy regulars.

 

Flying Monkeys isn’t going to blow anyone away, and quite frankly it’s so generic that it’s hard to remember much about it shortly afterwards, but the fact that Sy Sy actually tried something a little different makes it stand out a mile away. Maybe because my expectations of Sy Fy have fallen that low that a film like Flying Monkeys can appear greater than it clearer is, is not a good sign.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Robocroc (2013)

Robocroc (2013)

The world’s most lethal weapon

When a top secret unmanned spacecraft disintegrates on re-entry, it crash-lands in the crocodile habitat of Adventure Land, a large tourist attraction with a waterpark, amusements and world-famous crocodile exhibit. The crash releases a load of nanotech-based combat drones which find a host in the rather large shape of a twenty-foot Australian saltwater crocodile called Stella. With a new found aggression and determination to kill everything in sight, Stella breaks out of her enclosure and begins hunting down anyone roaming loose in Adventure Land.

 

A film like Robocroc needs no grandiose introduction from me. If you’re a long-time reader on the site, you’ll immediately recognise it as another ridiculous creature feature movie made for Sy Fy. I just shake my head whenever I read the synopsis for any new Sy Fy flick – there’s got to be a saturation point where people will turn off and say “hang on, even this is too far-fetched” although if they haven’t by now, they most likely never will.

If you’ve seen a) any killer crocodile film over the last twenty years or b) any Sy Fy film over the last fifteen years, then you’ve already seen Robocroc. It’s just a sad attempt to put a new twist on the same formula. The Eastern European shoot, featuring a whole host of Bulgarian (I’m assuming since that’s the usual haunt for Sy Fy) bit-part actors with the token sprinkling of American and British ‘faces’ to anchor the film, just smacks of every single Sy Fy film ever made. You wouldn’t bat an eyelid if the crocodiles or snakes from Lake Place Vs Anaconda slithered onto the screen. The extras all look the same. The locations all look the same. The style looks the same.

Even though some of the film was shot in Bulgaria, it’s clear the majority was shot in a backlot in the States somewhere as a lot of the ‘action’ takes place inside a black tent. It’s the generic military HQ set-up, where the scientists and commanders stand around talking about the monster with some laptops and fancy-looking flashing lights distracting the extras in the background. Lots of exposition and talking about the crocodile takes place and for every second the film spends in here, it means less screen time for the crocodile and those costly special effects. Having said that, the CGI is awful, particularly when the crocodile loses its regular skin and becomes all-robot. Even more ridiculous is the POV shots we get from the robot’s eyes, complete with Terminator-style HUD which flashes red stating ‘prey detected’ – as if the crocodile can actually read the words.

The sad thing about Robocroc, and something problematic with a lot of these Sy Fy films over the past three years, is that they’re just spinning their wheels. They seem to be stuck in a rut, re-treading old ground over and over again because the writing teams can’t seem to find a way to make them original and fresh. Come on! You’ve got a robotic crocodile and you just throw it inside an empty waterpark and feed it a bunch of soldiers and teenagers? It’s dull, uneventful and sorely lacking any decent excitement, even when the crocodile is on the screen. Though the crocodile does things like take out helicopters, it’s not exactly pulse-racing material and you’ll never really feel that the main characters are in any danger whatsoever. There is a little CGI gore splattered around but the film backs out of showing too much carnage which is disappointing.

Regular Sy Fy mainstay Corin Nemec shows up as the hero and sleepwalks his way through proceedings. He’s already faced troglodytes, the Mosquito Man and sand sharks to name a few in these type of films so adding a T1000-like crocodile to his list isn’t going to be much of a stretch. Keith Duffy, formerly of Irish boyband Boyzone, makes an appearance as the hunter character who turns up, does a feeble Quint-like impression, and then is promptly taken out of proceedings. Thanks for coming. Dee Wallace, a big genre star back in the 80s with the likes of Cujo and The Howling, must be wondering just what her agent is getting her into these days. She looks incredibly bored with everything going on, though she’s not the only one. Even at a lean seventy-seven minutes long, Robocroc is a tough slog.

 

Robocroc is a drab, non-event of a silly premise. Why bother wasting time turning the crocodile into a killer robot if you’re just going to let it do the same things that a normal crocodile horror flick would do? A waste of a ludicrous idea but also a terrible film.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Goblin (2010)

Goblin (2010)

He wants you badly

Every Halloween, Hollowglen, a small hamlet in the deep woods, is visited by a fierce goblin, intent on capturing infants and brutally murdering anyone in its path as part of a curse put on the town in 1831. When Neil Perkins and his family move to Hollowglen, the townspeople react with concern at the arrival of a new baby so close to Halloween. Soon, the goblin returns for its annual visit and sets its sights on the Perkins baby.

 

Sy Fy conjure up another straight-to-TV creature feature with Goblin, a middling strictly by-the-numbers affair which promises little and delivers just as much. Having said that, it makes a change to watch a Sy Fy film that doesn’t involve a twenty-headed shark do battle with a three-hundred-tentacle octopus whilst an eight-foot giant robot attempts to blow them both up with laser beams!

Replace the goblin of the title with any other mythical creature horror-themed flick and you’d get pretty much the same film. Anyone could come along and direct this by picking up the traditional template notes: small rural town in the middle of nowhere; a curse which plagues them; a newcomer with a teenage son/daughter arriving in town with a connection to the curse; said son/daughter falling in with the local teenagers who then start to die; some crazy old townsperson who warns every one of the dangers but is ignored; etc. There is just no ambition right from the start to make this anything but by-the-book. No flair. No imagination. No want to create something a little bit different.

The story runs like clockwork, with predictable plot developments, characters who add nothing except extra bodies to the running count and a finale where things conveniently sort themselves out and the equilibrium is restored. Goblin plays it safe in this respect, with a bunch of haphazard scenes that could have been lifted out of another similarly-themed horror flick, though there is sometimes enjoyment with the familiarity of certain tropes. At least the cast all seem to be putting in as good a shift as possible, despite the lame script, and make the material seem more fresh and original than it is. Gil Bellows, in particular, does what he can to enliven proceedings.

The goblin remains cloaked in black for the majority of the film. Looking like some relic from a ghost train, the hooded monster is large – I always imagined goblins to small, mischievous creatures rather than gigantic ogre-like brutes. The cloak keeps the monster’s real face hidden for a large portion of the film. Conveniently this also means that the filmmakers don’t have to rely on costly make-up effects or the usual Sy Fy standard CGI to create a hideous face. We do get to see it at the end of the film and the CGI-rendered face looks every bit as silly and as daft as you’d expect.

Without any real monstrous elements on show for the bulk of the running time however, the seven-foot tall goblin plays out more like an intimidating, hooded slasher villain. In fact, save for the odd supernatural elements scattered around, the film does play out more like a slasher film, with the goblin’s claws acting pretty handily as a weapon-of-choice. Chasing teenagers through the woods wearing a black cloak…this is a goblin we’re talking about. Anyone could have been wearing that cloak and we’d be none the wiser so why go to the lengths of making it a goblin? This creature was supposed to be out baby-snatching, not teen-slashing.

Surprisingly, Goblin is set mainly during the day, which kind of renders the goblin wearing a black cloak to be something like the single worst mistake ever in horror as you can see it coming for you a mile away. The opening prologue and the ending take place at night and it’s in these scenes where the film has its strongest atmosphere. As soon as the sun comes up, the atmosphere dies off and the film has little to offer. There’s no skulking around the in the shadows, no ominous lighting or anything of the sort – broad daylight kills off any potential mood this supernatural tale had. There’s not even a selection of cheap boo scares to get you going. If this is a horror film, I’d be puzzled to see what the director would consider Halloween.

 

Goblin isn’t a total dud but the fact is that you’ll have seen this clone a million times before, only with a different monster in the human-killing role. At least Sy Fy seem to do better with this type of horror flick than their ever-increasing array of bizarre monster movies, keeping the material on the ground and as convincing as possible to generate some atmosphere and sense of realism.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Larva (2005)

Larva (2005)

A terror that gets under your skin

Host, Missouri is a quiet ranching community where almost everyone earns their living from meat-processing company Huge Tender Meats. The company is secretly testing experimental new feed on the local livestock that is designed to make the meat healthier for consumption. But when local rancher Jacob Long calls out the new vet in town, Eli Rudkus, to come and check on some of his cattle that are behaving strangely, a strange mutant parasite is uncovered inside them that has been eating the feed. His attempts to warn the local community are thwarted by the owner of the company. But things are made worse when the parasitic organisms mutate further into bat-like creatures which deem human hosts as the new stage in the food chain.

 

I promised myself a while back that I would stop watching Sy Fy Originals for a short period of time, just to allow my brain the chance to let go of the resistance that I had built up to their overly repetitive and formulaic selves. I didn’t realise Larva was one when I sat down to watch but as soon as the title credits hit, I knew I had duped myself and had no one else to blame. One of Sy Fy’s earlier films, Larva plays out more like one of those ‘monster-of-the-week’ episodes of The X-Files but it never quite shakes free of its TV shackles.

Unsurprisingly, Larva runs like clockwork as per the Sy Fy norm. If it isn’t snakes which break free of laboratories, its mythical monsters suddenly appearing on Earth or beach resorts being attacked by new species of sharks. Flying parasitic blood-sucking bat monsters make little different to the overall narrative. The chain of events is still the same. The stock characters are still the same. The set pieces are more less the same. And the end result is the same: wafer-thin entertainment for an hour and a half. So let’s see what we have:

New doctor/teacher/sheriff arrives in a small town. Something sinister is on the loose. Random non-characters who appear in a scene only to be killed off at the end of the scene (or in the next scene) begin to disappear. New person is viewed with paranoia and mistrust. Evil corporate types refuse to believe there’s a problem until it’s too late (and usually end up on the receiving end of such problem). Cue some big local event which the evil corporate type had not wanted to cancel (town fete/fair/gala/celebration) but ends up regretting not cancelling as the ‘something sinister’ finally reveals itself to all of the doubters. Then new person takes it upon themselves to sort out the problem (usually after a close friend has been killed off in preceding town celebration). This leads to the inevitable confrontation between man and monster. All ends well for the humans…until a final plot twist where monster has laid eggs/survived/reformed and threatens sequel.

It’s been done to death so much that you could literally copy and paste that narrative into the majority of these Sy Fy films, given or take one or two minor alterations. At least Larva manages to tick off all the boxes without being overly generic and, despite me watching it after having seen dozens of more recent Sy Fy Films first, the material doesn’t feel as forced or stale as it does now. It appears that the cast and crew were at least trying with this one!

Larva features its fair share of splatter, though mainly in the form of mangled animal corpses at first. But then there’s a gory Alien-style chest bursting moment as the parasites finally decide to exit one unlucky human host via his stomach. It’s hardly x-rated stuff but at least there’s enough feeding on show. The monsters themselves are at least different to what you’re used to seeing in this type of film and are presented in a number of different forms. The earlier worm-like creatures are more skin-crawling than anything but the final bat-like form is too heavily reliant on CGI to really be scary.

Leading man Vincent Ventresca makes for a bland and weak hero, certainly not an inspirational figurehead for the film to base itself around. Rachel Hunter (more famous for being Rod Stewart’s ex than anything cinematic) co-stars as the token love interest/blonde heroine/pointless damsel-in-distress. Only she doesn’t become the love interest. She doesn’t save the day. She doesn’t even need rescuing. It’s a pointless part, presumably designed to put a ‘star name’ in the publicity campaign.

 

Larva is solid, if overly generic, entertainment which doesn’t really take too many missteps with its TV movie budget. It’s just that you’ve seen it all before. And, considering this was one of the earlier Sy Fy Originals, it’s a shame to see how cheap and tacky they have become.

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Lake Placid Vs Anaconda (2015)

Lake Placid Vs Anaconda (2015)

Crocs on the dock. Snakes on the lake.

Wexel Pharmaceuticals enlists the help of local poacher Jim Bickerman in obtaining a giant crocodile from the famous Lake Placid nature reserve. During a procedure to extract blood, the crocodile awakens in the lab and causes havoc, unleashing a special variety of giant anaconda snake. With both the crocodile and snake on the loose in the wild, it poses further problems for the previously-besieged community.

 

The fifth film in the Anaconda series, and the first to be made since 2008, as well as the fifth film in the Lake Placid series, Lake Placid Vs Anaconda is just about the sort of film you’d expect to get when you combine two fading franchises whose attraction faded long ago. Did anyone really care about either series after the originals? I’m amazed that either series lasted as long as it did, though in reality they’ve been on life-support on the Sy Fy Channel for so long that it’s hard to remember they were originally both big hits in the late 90s.

Lake Placid Vs Anaconda is exactly the same sort of nonsense that both respective franchises have been churning out for a few years – only now that they’ve merged into one crossover universe, I’d hope that we are saved from individual sequels from now on. It’s virtually a Lake Placid film with a giant snake added into the mix as the narrative runs almost like the previous few films in that specific franchise. The plot is flimsy at best and I’m not even sure I got why the pharmaceutical company was desperate to obtain a giant crocodile when their snakes were gigantic. I’m not daft and realise it was just an excuse to allow the snake to get loose but I’d rather see writers attempt to give me a convincing reason for all of the carnage.

This isn’t well-written, if written at all – it almost runs like someone just slapped together a load of deleted scenes from the aforementioned franchises and I struggled to really care about anything on show. Predictable death scenes are set-up a mile away. The creatures do damage that they shouldn’t physically be able to do. Apart from a few main characters, the rest are just non-characters who show up only to die in the same scene. Even the main characters have very little to do and rely almost solely on your knowledge of their characters from the previous Lake Placid films. Again, the film is so heavily one-sided with the Lake Placid stuff that you forget there is supposed to be a giant anaconda in there somewhere. Sy Fy has been churning out almost the same film for the last ten years or so across various ‘monster of the week’ guises and it’s all so, so, so, stale now.

Featuring an all-star line-up of Sy Fy regulars including Corin Nemec, Yancy Butler and Robert Englund, Lake Placid Vs Anaconda delivers the expected star power and a sense that at least some effort went into the film. In a rare bit of continuity with Lake Placid: The Final Chapter, both Butler and Englund reprise their roles. Englund’s character is a particular delight to welcome back, with a few less body parts after his last ordeal with the crocodiles, and he hams up proceedings with a typically enjoyable performance. The three of them have clearly been cast to add some names to the front cover, Englund especially trading on his past glories as Freddy. The other members of the cast, particularly the sorority girls, are awful actresses designed to provide mild titillation to the male audience before being eaten (and mild titillation just means they parade around in bikinis).

The film isn’t even that gory. Yes, there is some blood on show but the vast majority is the cheap CGI variety. It’s pretty rare to get anything as nasty as a leftover limb as the crocs and the snake swallow everything they see up. The CGI for both the snake and crocodiles is a marked step down in quality from their previous outings, which isn’t saying much as they were awful then and are even worse now. The crocs fair a little better, presumably because it’s easier to give the skin and scales some form and shape, rather than the long, slender and smooth snake skin that is on show. The creatures are well-fed, though as previously stated, the death scenes are set-up from a mile away and far too predictable. The worst problem is that they’re dull – you’ll not find any excitement or cheap thrills from the attack scenes.

 

Just because two franchises are owned by the same company doesn’t mean to say that a crossover film should happen. To quote Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm character from Jurassic Park, the studio was “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Lake Placid Vs Anaconda is a painful attempt to milk the last few drops of money out of the respective franchises before both animals are finally sent to that big pet shop in the sky. One can only hope.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Morlocks (2011)

Morlocks (2011)

A top secret time travel project leaves some U.S. marines stranded in the distant future in which human civilization no longer exists and the Earth is overrun by a vicious species of creatures known as Morlocks. A team headed by the scientist responsible for the project is sent to rescue them and retrieve the time travel device that become trapped with them.

 

You may know the name but you might not be able to place the film when I say Morlocks. One of the most infamous fictional species ever put to paper, they first appeared in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine as one of the two future offshoots of the human race, hundreds of thousands of years after Earth had been ravaged by nuclear war. A cannibalistic species who lived underground, kept the peaceful, docile Eloi who lived in the surface fed and clothed, and in turn treat the Eloi like cattle and ate them, the Morlocks were blue creatures with white hair and big, glowing eyes. Wells’ metaphor for Victorian society where a huge underclass toiled and grafted for a privileged few to live a life of luxury (which still resonates in most developed countries today), the Morlocks became iconic cinematic monsters after their appearance in 1960’s The Time Machine, less so after the 2002 remake. With a hefty literate and cinematic reputation behind them, it is sad to see that Sy Fy has decided to wheel them out in one of their monster movies.

The rights to The Time Machine are in the public domain so anyone is free to use the work and anything written within without permission or the payment of royalties. Trust Sy Fy to find that out! In reality, Morlocks is just another generic Sy Fy Channel monster movie which has simply used the Morlocks as their ‘monster of the week’ and just gone through the usual motions of CGI nonsense, lots of gun-fire and very little story. Take away the name ‘Morlocks’ and call them anything else and the film would work exactly the same. The use of the name simply attaches a greater weight of expectation: people will watch this expecting some sort of link to The Time Machine. How wrong they would be! More Stargate SG-1 or Primeval with a dash of Aliens thrown in, Morlocks sees the usual ragtag bunch of nameless, non-entity marines fed to a monstrous threat with lots of guns, explosions and creature carnage ensuing.

There’s not a lot of story to go with this one and that which is left doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For every minute of ‘plot’ there are about ten minutes of action. I’m usually fine with this approach as long as every second of the plot makes a difference. But it doesn’t. Nearly every scene involves some sort of action and this gets tiresome after a while. Morlocks has a big fight scene early on in its running time and seemingly spends the rest of its running time trying to outdo that. I’d use the term ‘breathless’ to describe the film but the action won’t leave you gasping for air like, say the remake of Mad Max did after it’s amazing pursuit sequence. Most of these action sequences consist of horribly-animated Morlocks jumping through the air and tossing the nameless marines around like toys. A cut-scene from a computer game has more life and energy than this.

The Morlocks are given the CGI treatment here and look awful, more like some prehistoric-alien hybrid than any of the incarnations we’ve come to know them by so far in other media. They’re rendered poorly, with animation that looks about fifteen years older than it actually is. In fact almost every CGI shot in this film is awful, from the monsters to the splatters of blood to the explosions right down to the tanks and the time machine being activated and emitting light beams. Sy Fy really need to pick up their act when it comes to providing either the cash or the time for the animators to work on projects like this because the special effects borderline on embarrassing. They completely disconnect you from the action as you’re too busy laughing rather than being engrossed and entertained in the sights on-screen.

Ironically, the Stargate SG-1/Stargate: Atlantis comparison I made earlier was deliberate as David Hewlett, who played Dr Rodney McKay in the TV series, stars as the lead scientist here and Robert Picardo, who played Richard Woolsey in a couple of the Stargate spin-offs (also Star Trek: Voyager alumni), appears as a generic gung-ho military colonel. Picardo has taken a lot of these stern authority figure roles of late and it’s no stretch to see him doing the same thing again. I don’t remember too much about the other characters or actors in the film, save for the fact that they’re so badly written they won’t make any impression on you whatsoever.

 

If you were expecting Sy Fy to do any justice to H. G. Wells’ original story, then more the fool you. Morlocks is a shoddy, sloppy affair which goes for broke with the guns and explosions but forgets everything else that makes the guns and explosions necessary in the first place. Forget traveling into the future, you’ll want a trip back to the past before you even considered giving Morlocks the time of day.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆