Tuesday, 12 May 2015


Director: Declan O’Brien
Writer: Mike MacLean
Producers: Roger Corman, Julie Corman
Cast: Eric Roberts, Sara Malakul Lane, Kerem Bursin
Country: USA
Year of release: 2010
Reviewed from: screener (Anchor Bay)

I really wanted to enjoy Sharktopus more than I did, which was ‘not very much’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that this is a bad film. Well, let me qualify that slightly. Sharktopus is indeed a bad film but it’s not an insultingly stupid, lazy and inept film. This screener turned up in the same post as Stonehenge Apocalypse and, while I confidently expect that I will never, ever watch either film again, I know which I would plump for if offered this limited choice while strapped into a chair with my eyes held open like Malcolm McDowell.

Although that is partly because, in such a situation, sleep would be difficult but I could reasonably count on Sharktopus to make me nod off, even with eyelid braces in place. I fell asleep twice while trying to sit through this film, and it’s not particularly long. It’s just not gripping at all. I didn’t at any point care what was happening or worry about what might happen next. And call me Mr Fussy-Socks but when I sit down to watch a film about a monster with rows of teeth, lots of tentacles and a list of favourite foods which starts ‘1. People standing next to hot women in bikinis. 2. Hot women in bikinis.’ then I expect to find myself taking an interest in proceedings. Is that too much to ask?

I may be speculating wildly here - actually there’s no ‘may’, this is just pure speculation - but I envisage Sharktopus as Roger Corman’s answer to The Asylum. Corman was the King of the Bs for so long; folk like Charlie Band and Uncle Lloyd established their own distinctive niches but never came close to challenging for the throne. Then those rootin’ tootin’ Asylum boys moseyed into town and swiftly staked out a claim as purveyors of finest grade, hugely enjoyable, cut-price cinematic tat.

After making their name - establishing their brand identity, if you will - with a series of insane (and sometime insanely cheeky) ‘mockbusters’, The Asylum really announced their entry into the original creature feature market with the utterly bonkers, utterly brilliant Mega-Shark vs Giant Octopus.

I can just imagine Corman, sat in his office, looking at how many hits the Mega-Shark vs trailer had received on YouTube, and plotting his counter-attack. If people want a film about a shark and an octopus, how about a film about something which is both shark and octopus? An, if you will, sharktopus? Not only would this be something new and original, something unique and distinctive, but it also saves money by requiring only one piss-poor CGI creature instead of two. ‘Ker-ching’ go the dollar-signs in the producer’s eyes.

Or maybe he just had a bad dream. Or maybe he was doodling during a dull conference call and found he had sketched a shark with octopus tentacles. Who knows?

I just wish that, having conceived this absolutely insane, loopily brilliant idea, Corman and co. had done something with it. But no. It’s half-shark, half-octopus and it kills people. That’s pretty much the extent of the plot.

In the opening scene, two young women in bikinis are sunbathing on the beach at Santa Monica. Actually, before we get to them there is a good minute or two of establishing stock footage of attractive young people in beachwear doing beach things like sunbathing, swimming, playing volleyball, eating ice creams etc. This is a recurring motif throughout the film. Excepting the bits of the film which actually take place out at sea on boats, no scene is allowed to start without a chunk of bikini-packed stock beach footage.

Fred Olen Ray once famously observed that “nudity is the cheapest special effect” but actually I think that - assuming this stuff was sitting on a shelf in Corman’s offices and not specially shot by sending an intern down to the beach with a domestic camcorder - the cheapest special effect can now be officially recognised as stock footage of women in bikinis. I don’t know how long Sharktopus would be without all this padding but it might have difficulty making feature-length.

Anyway, one of these women goes swimming and is chased by the world’s least realistic shark fin in a scene which steals everything from the equivalent bit of Jaws except the music, the quality and the technical and artistic skill. Her friend screams quite half-heartedly to look out but no-one else on the beach pays attention because they are all stock footage, and there’s no-one else in the water either (except in all the establishing shots).

Just as the shark (it looks like it’s supposed to be a mako, but that’s more likely coincidence than planned detail) is about to grab the girl, it is itself grabbed by a thing which is basically the front half of a great white and the back half of an abnormally large giant pacific octopus (with some extra spiky-quill things sticking out of its gill slits because obviously just a run-of-the-mill shark/octopus hybrid wouldn’t be scary enough). Oh, and it has a sort of electronic doodad strapped to its back like the sort of frickin’ laser beam that Dr Evil insisted on attaching to his own sharks.

Except that this is not a frickin’ laser beam but some sort of control unit. For this is S11 (constantly pronounced “essleven”) a bioengineered weapon created by a company called Bluewater which consists of mad scientist Nathan Sands (the ever-reliable Eric Roberts: Sanctimony, Raptor, Endangered Species, The Shadow Men and of course the Doctor Who telemovie) and his sexy-nerdette daughter Nicole (Sara Malakul Lane, a British actress/model born and raised in Thailand, who was in a Steven Seagal film). They are, naturally, testing this highly dangerous creation not in a tank at some ocean research institute but in the surf off California’s most popular beach.

Sands is demonstrating S11 to Commander Cox (Calvin Persson) of the US Navy who seems to think that it is generally a good idea to employ tiny family businesses to somehow develop dangerous new breeds of marine life in the never-ending war against drug-runners and terrorists. Tragically, a further attempt to test S11 by nearly crashing it into some random dude’s motorboat causes the frickin’ laser beam box to get knocked off the creature’s back. And from then on it’s up to the Bluewater team to find and capture the creature as it makes its way down the coast to Mexico, where life is cheap and filming permits are cheaper.

Although the current Bluewater employee roster has only two names on it, there was a previous member of the team, Andy Flynn (Turkish-born Kerem Bursin making his feature debut after a few shorts) who helped to develop S11 but then left to put his scientific knowledge to better use by partying South of the Border. We meet him in a swimming pool, wearing a sombrero, playing drinking games with two non-speaking bit-part bimbos. Sands offers Flynn enough money to join the hunt for S11 and also gets along Flynn’s best buddy Santos (Julian Gonzalez, a prolific Spanish actor) who may or may not have previously worked for Bluewater.

Flynn was previously an item with Nicole and still fancies his chances but her heart belongs to Daddy - and to bioengineering. Santos, as a substantial supporting character with lots of dialogue but no significant character flaws, no romantic interest and no full name is instantly marked out as sharktopus-bait, though he does survive for most of the film.

So Nicole, Flynn and Santos set out on a small boat to track down the creature using Nicole’s laptop - somehow - while Sands Sr stays on a much larger boat, knocking back G&Ts provided by his one-man crew/staff and taking occasional video calls from Commander Cox. And now we have a succession of cameos in which we meet someone, they do something or say something - and then they get grabbed and eaten by S11. Repeat to fade. We’re never asked to care about or know these people - they’re just anonymous, one-note plot-fodder. It’s like watching a B-movie version of Casualty.

Actually the first taste of this is back in California where two guys painting the side of the Queen Mary discuss how they would prefer to die before being grabbed by CG tentacles. Then down Mexico way we have a guy on a yacht, a guy on a jet-ski... Sharktopus is an equal-opportunities carnivore and sometimes a woman gets it too. There’s a bikini-clad beachcomber whose metal detecting uncovers a massive gold medallion - moments before she is randomly grabbed and dragged into the sea, screamingly mildly. And there a bungee-jumping scene which seems to be there primarily in order to be included in the trailer.

Now, a word about the screaming. Back in the 1980s there were ladies called ‘scream queens’ - Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer et al - and throughout the 1990s the term persisted, consistently devalued as more and more actresses, further and further down the sub-Hollywood ladder, started brandishing it about. I mention this because Sharktopus really, really needs some scream queens. I’ve never before watched a film where so many women screamed so half-heartedly. Oh dear, my boyfriend is being devoured by a hideous mutant creature right in front of my eyes and in all probability I’m next. Oh goodness, oh hellup, oh my.

One of the more interesting pieces of sharktopus-bait is a pirate radio DJ named Captain Jack (Ralph Garman, who does voices for Family Guy) who broadcasts from his yacht, assisted by a lithe but stand-off-ish babe called Stephie (Shandi Finnessey, who was Miss USA 2004) who, like almost all the women in this film, wears nothing except a string bikini and sunglasses. We meet these two a couple of times as Captain Jack reports disbelievingly on breaking stories of a shark-octopus monster attacking people up and down the Mexican coast.

The closest we actually get to a real supporting character (and the only woman apart from Nicole to not wear the otherwise obligatory four triangles and a few bits of string, is TV reporter Stacy Everheart (Liv Boughn, also in Corman’s Dinoshark!) who is desperate for a report that will not only make her career but save her job and thinks she might have found it. She is accompanied everywhere by her long-suffering cameraman Bones (the unconventionally alliterative Hector Jimenez, who was in environmentalist fantasy Christmas comedy Navidad SA) and finds her information source in a world-weary drunk named Pez (Blake Lindsey, who played a serial killing Johann Sebastian Bach in a very odd 2009 short) who claims to have seen the monster in all its gory glory.

In terms of a story, what we get is Nicole, Flynn and Santos looking for (and occasionally finding) the monster; Stacy, Bones and Pez looking for (and occasionally finding) the monster; and assorted, mostly nameless bit-parts not looking for (but invariably being found by) the monster. All those scenes have been put into a multi-disc DVD player and then someone, possibly Corman himself, has pressed the ‘shuffle’ button and called it a movie.

That’s actually truer than you might think because although there is some narrative progression in both the Nicole/Flynn/Santos storyline and the Stacy/Bones/Pez B-story, the movie has a typically Corman-esque attitude to continuity which is so cavalier that it wears a big floppy hat and lots of lace while fighting a losing battle against Parliamentary forces. There’s a sequence where Nicole, Flynn and Santos are joined by two other unnamed divers so that these two extras (who might as well wear red Star Fleet uniforms for all the hope they have of surviving) can join Flynn in an underwater battle against the beast.

But about ten minutes beforehand, when there is no-one in this (really very small) boat except the three regulars, a long-shot of the vessel skimming across the waves clearly shows five people on board.

The thing is: Roger Corman doesn’t care. Roger Corman already has your money (or at least, the distributor/broadcaster’s money) and he knows that there is an exact level of crappiness to aim for: no higher, no lower. Provided a film meets a minimum requirement (and regular followers of this site will realise that this is a low, low baseline) it can be as crappy as it wants in other ways. All sorts of corners can be cut without losing sales. And every dollar saved is an extra dollar of profit. That’s the Corman way.

Certainly no unnecessary money has been spent on the CGI creature which is desperately awful, not just in the tentacles which rise from the ocean waves, but also when seen in its entirety on land. (Did I mention that S11 can climb out of the sea and crawl around on land in exactly the way that neither sharks not octopuses can? No? Neither did the film-makers. It seems to be just an idea that they had halfway through production when they realised that they might need something with the approximate shape of a third act.)

Ooh, and that reminds me of another point. Everyone in this film uses the term ‘octopi’ in an attempt to sound clever and all scientific and shit. But the plural of octopus is octopodes, as any fule kno. (Yes, some dictionaries also list ‘octopi’ but that is because dictionaries record usage, they don’t dictate it. The suffix of the word is the Greek ‘-pus’ not the Latin ‘-us’ so it doesn’t pluralise like nautili, omnibi or diplodoci.)

There’s not a lot more to say about the plot of Sharktopus and certainly nothing more to be said about its characters, apart from the revelation that Sands Sr had somehow tampered with his daughter’s bioengineering software to make S11 even more deadly than planned and this is why it is attacking innocent Americans in Mexico. And not because, you know, it is an artificially created killing machine with rows of teeth, huge tentacles (which vary in length from scene to scene and have hard stabbing points just like octopus tentacles don’t) and a voracious appetite.

At this stage in the review I would normally list other cast members and what they have been in but hardly anyone in this film has any other credits. The only notable name is Mike Gaglio, a veteran of Fred Olen Ray movies and many other DTV titles who managed, within the space of about 18 months, to appear (uncredited) in this, in Asylum sequel Mega-Shark vs Crocosaurus and in Fred’s own Super Shark. Corman himself makes a cameo as a beach bum who calmly watches the metal-detecting babe get dragged into the sea and devoured.

Let’s instead take a look at director Declan O’Brien who started out as a stage actor in New York but switched to producing and directing when he moved out to Hollywood. He seems to be contentedly carving out a career shooting these Happy Shopper horrors, having written and/or directed Snakeman, Savage Planet, Harpies, Rock Monster, Monster Ark and Corman’s Roman epic Cyclops, also starring Eric Roberts. In 2009 he made Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead and is now helming another entry in that franchise (which should really be called Wrong Turn 4: Why Don’t We Stop and Ask Someone, although it probably won’t be).

The idea for Sharktopus originated with the SyFy Channel (so my theory about Corman reacting to The Asylum is completely wrong, but who cares?). The script was written by Mike MacLean, a High School teacher in Arizona who was approached by Corman based on some of his published crime fiction. Initially asked to work on Jim Wynorski’s Dinocroc vs Supergator script, MacLean also contributed to Road Raiders, the final film by Filipino legend Cirio Santiago which Wynorski completed before it fell into rights hell. MacLean, Wynorski and Corman are, as I type, collaborating on Piranhaconda, a creature which will probably have razor sharp pincers on its fins because a run-of-the-mill piranha/anaconda hybrid just wouldn’t be scary enough.

Tom Hiel composed the score, a gig he probably got because he worked with O’Brien on Rock Monster and Cyclops, rather than because he scored the mid-1990s crime caper Swimming with Sharks (although that may have helped...). He also contributed to Scary Movie 2, Christina Ricci werewolf bomb Cursed and the second and third Rugrats movies. The Sharktopus soundtrack also features a song by a band called the Cheater Whores who are the director’s nieces.

Cinematographer Santiago Navarrete was camera operator on Mexican-shot Hollywood pictures like The Mask of Zorro and Vampires: Los Muertos and also DPed a 1980 Mexican version of Jack the Ripper. Editor Vikram Kale has a portmanteau-named-monster-heavy CV that includes Dinoshark, Dinocroc and Supergator!

The VFX are credited to Dilated Pixels, whose other work includes giant bug movie Infestation and a Lord of the Rings video game. They do their best but the budget is small and the monster is dumb. At its heart, Sharktopus is an idea in search of a plot. Films like this often rip off the plots of bigger, better films so Sharktopus is to be commended for not being a blatant clone of something. On the other hand, a ripped-off plot might have given it more structure, form and interesting content.

As mentioned, Corman has also made Dinoshark and is working on Piranhaconda. Coming soon, no doubt, will be Dinoconda, Piranhopus, Crococonda, Piranhoshark, Octoconda...

Repeat to fade.

MJS rating: C
Review originally posted 5th April 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment