I decided to make myself scarce this week and give Gort some privacy to... 'interface' with his girlfriend, Helen Cox of New Empress magazine. After a great deal of time cruising around the solar system in a shuttle, I thought I'd given them enough personal space. As such, I panicked a little when I returned to the Mothership to walk in on them on the couch in the dark. Far more concerning, they appeared to be watching some footage of a shark attack on the big screen.
I stuttered out my apologies and began to back out of the room. "Listen, what you two do in the privacy of your own..." I began, when it occurred to me that Helen was fully clothed. "What are you doing?" I asked.
"We wanted to do something for Valentine's Day," Gort explained.
"So we're having a when-sea-creatures-attack B-movie marathon. What could be more romantic?" Helen continued.
"That may well be weirder..." I muttered.
"Weirder than what?" Gort asked, "What did you think we were doing?"
"Nothing... nothing..." I answered as I took a seat and some popcorn.
Peter Benchley has a lot to answer for.
The author's novel, Jaws had its movie rights bought up before it was even published. The slightly-different-from-the-book story was brought to the screen through a fraught production of endless SNAFUs. Somehow, it turned into a classic, due to Spielberg's Herculean ability to single-handedly suspend the audience's disbelief from his mighty beard. In his hands, a silly monster movie became one of the most celebrated works of cinema ever, beloved of film school graduates and the general public alike.
Jaws was quickly followed up by Roger Corman's parody Piranha, a silly horror that poked gentle and gory fun at Spielberg's triumph, replacing the shark with a swarm of mutated piranha fish created by the military to fight the Viet Cong. John Sayles, (now a highly respected writer and director) and new director Joe Dante (now a living legend) took the smart route of sticking their tongues firmly in their cheeks, creating a delightful spoof of the whole creature feature genre. With knowing references scattered like bread for ducks, a guest appearance from cult icon Barbara Steel, and comedy and bloody horror mixed together with élan, Piranha makes for a refreshing poolside cocktail. Still, this was a knowing satire of a one-off movie and, despite spawning a sequel, the sea monster movie trend dried up thereafter.
Then, sneaking in from the night air, a phantom menace appeared to cast the arcane spells required to resurrect a zombified, incomplete version of the once-great ouvre. The real villain here is the mighty Asylum. In 2009, they rejuvenated the sea monster genre with the elegantly titled Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus. This environmental parable sees a poorly animated megalodon and a dodgy-looking kraken-sized octopus awoken from cryogenic suspension in the polar ice caps by global warming and general humanoid stupidity. Will you people ever learn?
The two seem able to alter their size at will and are compelled to attack all humans they come across by the dark powers of B-cinema. A group of super scientists team up and try to take the two beasts out by luring them into combat with each other, bumping uglies in more ways than one along the way.
The acting is terrible, the effects are awful and the submarine interior sets all appear to be the same empty office with grey curtains covering the walls... and none of it matters one jot as the whole affair is hysterical fun. Do you really care that both the actors and some of the scenes appear to be lifted from censored soft porn when you get to see a gargantuan shark leap out of the ocean and take a bite out of a passing passenger jet? Copies of the DVD should really come with vouchers for beer and pizza.
All this money flying around inspired Hollywood to follow suit. The year after MSvGO, Piranha 3D appeared in cinemas, cashing in on The Asylum's success and exploiting Dante's movie's good name without taking on any of the concepts or plot.
The newer film is really just an exercise in exploitation; from the 3D to the ridiculously extended scenes of Kelly Brook swimming around butt naked with former porn actress Riley Steele like a sapphic version of Walkabout. It actually takes the political incorrectness to painful levels and is far from enjoyable. Thankfully, Alexandre Aja of Switchblade Romance fame helmed the film so, when it moves away from the XXXploitation, it redeems itself somewhat.
Elisabeth Shue's local sheriff teaming up with good old Adam Scott from Torque's marine biologist to take on the furious fish would have been a much better main plotline than the teen shenanigans that take the limelight, particularly when Ving Rhames provides the muscle. This subplot culminates in a glorious orgy of carnage as the piranhas attack Spring Break in a scene that could well be the best single setpiece from a horror movie filmed in the last decade. That, the final cliffhanger and the slumming-it A-list cast - including Chrisopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss, who donated his pay to charity - actually do overcome the early yawn porn and make this worth seeing.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the cringeworthy sequel Piranha 3DD (*sigh*). None of the cast (aside from Lloyd and Rhames, briefly) or the director return and the plot doesn't follow on from the aforementioned brilliant finale. Instead we get an endless stream of painfully unfunny gags crowned by a cameo from The Hoff himself, who is no longer funny now we know he is actually like that. A piranha exiting a woman's genitalia mid-coitus and the conceit of the carnivorous cods learning to walk is more than enough to drown a film that was already treading cheese sauce.
Not to be outdone, however, Roger Corman appeared from the mists of B-movie obscurity to take his revenge. The legendary schlock producer refused to allow Aja to take his crown and commissioned not one, but two shark-attack movies that surfaced the very same year that Piranha 3D came out. As ever, Corman could be relied on to up the silly factor just that one extra notch.
In Sharktopus, the navy decides to create a super-aggressive half shark, half octopus to take on smugglers because... well... yeah... When it goes out of control, an uptight scientist girl and a maverick guy whose job is apparently being a maverick have to stop it; but none of that really matters so much as a string of setpieces where a series of couples on a romantic vacation get eaten by the rampaging sharktopus.
The effects are below par even for TV and the cast barely even qualify as more than extras, but the film has a wonderful vein of lunacy powering it. Few things will fill you with greater giddy confusion than when sharktopus lifts itself up on its tentacles and starts chasing its victims up the beach. Unfortunately, they can't keep up the momentum and the film descends into repetitive, non-gory death scenes. So much so, in fact that we wouldn't even recommend watching the film through to the end.
What a shame that the film couldn't be combined with Dinoshark, for all its faults. While Sharktopus had the star clout of Eric Roberts in the villainous role, all Dinoshark can manage is Eric Balfour. We would tell you the plot, but there isn't one. It's almost half an hour before we even get a good look at the prehistoric predator and, when we do, it's a terrible design. An hour or so of boredom passes when, suddenly, we find ourselves woken from our stupor by a couple of actually decent jump-scares. From there, it rapidly builds into an actually-impressive climax involving a jet ski and lobbing grenades into Dinoshark's mouth.
Were we to stick the end of Dinoshark on the beginning of Sharktopus, we might end up with a halfway watchable B-movie. As it is, Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus remains the benchmark by which all modern intentionally-bad movies should be judged, but it still can't compete with what an auteur can create when given a shot at a fun B-movie concept. Jaws remains the king of the oceans.
Tremendous thanks to Admiral Moon for his contribution to the above article