By Lucy Ahern
We’re all sick of vampire movies by now (probably attributable to Stephanie Meyers). And zombie films, while deliciously enjoyable, are becoming increasingly predictable. But monster movies always seem to strike a chord with audiences, with the masses consistently flocking to cinemas for another dose of sci-fi goodness – even if they know it’s going to be damn awful. I must admit I’m definitely a sucker for a “so bad, it’s good” style film.
Maybe because, unlike ghosts and ghoulies, these situations are remotely possible – even if very remotely. Anaconda? The snakes are an actual Amazon native, and maybe they don’t normally grow quite that large but it could happen (and clearly it has – four times). Same goes for Snakes on a Plane, Birdemic, Arachnophobia, and a range of other super-sized fauna flicks. Also Sharktopus. Kinda.
And this brings me to the latest nature-gone-wild flick that’s got everyone talking, or at least taking to Twitter (it got more tweets than Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding episode). Sharknado is a ‘mockbuster’ originally screened on America’s SyFy channel in July and has arguably garnered more attention than some recent Hollywood attempts. Okay, so it’s got a 3.9 star rating on IMDb, and the only cast member you’ve probably ever heard of is Tara Reid, but dayum. The close ups. The sound effects. The bit in the first five minutes where the European guy gets his face ripped off. This is what has audiences clamouring for more – in fact, Sharknado 2 has just been confirmed.
I’ll give you a quick synopsis (no real spoilers, I promise): so super giant Hurricane David is rushing towards the Californian coastline. Scary and possible, yes, but the situation worsens when we find out that thousands of bloodthirsty sharks have been swept up into the watery spiral, to be dumped all over L.A. And they’re angry – as you would be. (This is the also bit where we realise that as the frenzied fish are in a hurricane, not a tornado, the name should really be something like Sharkane…but that’s just not as catchy is it?) After a coastal bar is flooded during the storm, the rag tag staff who work there get into their trusty 4WD to head for higher ground.
Like Anaconda, the team also vaguely culturally inclusive, with gruff bar owner Fin (former 90210 kid Ian Ziering) who still cares about estranged wife (Tara Reid) and kids, a bangin’ bartender with a bad history with sharks, and a Tasmanian surfer called Baz repping his girt-by-sea home land. We get some typical Aussie quips to really drive home his nationality (although he is legitimately from Tassie), including “bloody hell” and my favourite, “sharks don’t like Vegemite”. Not one to cave to tropes, bikini babe Nova can also wield a pool cue (girl power)! So we follow this crew as they blow up, chainsaw and helicopter their way through the shark storm.
It’s stunningly unrealistic, features awful CGI, and goes through an impressive amount of fake arterial blood. It also completely disregards science, nature and common sense (see chainsaw-related last scene). However, this B-grade movie is entertaining and even witty in parts. Also it’s one of those films that you can walk away from to fix yourself a snack or for a quick toilet break, and still totally know what’s going on when you return. Yeah it’s mindless, gory and painfully corny at a few points – but that’s the point.
TIME magazine review James Poniewozik summed it up perfectly:
“Really, it’s a deceptively tough feat that the makers of Sharknado pulled off: making a movie that’s shlockily and campily hilarious without seeming to try too hard to make something shlockily and campily hilarious.”
He’s mainly my new fave reviewer because he used both “shlockily” and “campily” twice in one sentence. Linguistic brilliance.
Other excellent things about Sharknado: educational resource. (See here)
The point of all my Sharnako praise is that there’s both a market and a place for B-grade films in contemporary film-making. Think movies like Bad Taste, and the exploitation movies of previous decades, which many are trying to replicate now. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up for Grindhouse, two feature length schlock horror films back-to-back (with fake trailers in between), aiming to replicate the exploitation double billed shows of the 1970s. Both Planet Terror and Death Proof are grainy excellence, and one of the trailers, Machete, has now spawned two guns’n’babes flicks in the exploitation style.
These films are often much more loved than Hollywood blockbusters, which are too often taken in over a bucket sized frozen Coke and inedibly salty popcorn, then promptly discarded by our brains. Movies like Sharknado are the ones we remember, the ones that get talked about at wine-drenched dinner parties in 15 years time, the ones we’re going to re-watch. We connect with them – whether they’re linked to cheap and nasty films enjoyed in childhood, or whether they’re just out and out fun to behold.
So I say relax, grab your significant other and sink your teeth into some sweet, sweet sci-fi – maybe skip the snacks though.
P.S. Just a quick mention of this list from Mental Floss, which recommends 10 more mash-up monster flicks to try if you loved Sharknado – why have I not seen Anonymous Rex or Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid?