It's no secret that I'm a fan of giant monster movies. I grew up on them back when there was a such a thing as UHF TV, and while I marinated myself in Godzilla and Gamera, I have always had a special place in my heart reserved for cheapy b-picture American giant monster stuff. Back in the 1950s it was all about giant insects, you know, grasshoppers (courtesy of Bert I. Gorton) or ants (thanks to Gordon Douglas) or preying mantids, spiders, leeches, crab monsters, gila monster, you name it.
Well, over the last five years or so, with the vast increases in cheap computer power to render 3D imagery and animation, cheap HD camera gear, and cheap and powerful editing software there's been a boom of what we can today call B-picture giant monster films hitting the direct to DVD shelf, and in many cases finding a home on SyFy Channel's Friday night lineup. Titles like Mega Piranha, or Dinoshark, or Dinocrock, or Gateroid vs Mega Python, and even Sharktopus. All of these films follow the same formula established back in the late 1950s, drop in a few minutes of talky-talky then scare the balcony, repeat for 90 minutes. SyFy Channel, when they aren't running stuff from some of the other cheapo-producers who shall remain nameless for this review, have begun running a series of good B-picture crap like, for examplel Sharktopus.
In fact, that is exactly where I first watched Sharktopus this autumn and now our friends at Anchor Bay are offering Sharktopus on BluRay DVD.
Sharktopus is a product of New Horizons, the production company owned by none other than Roger Corman, king of the high concept $2 B-movie, so you know he's got more than a passing familiarity with what makes a successful B-picture work, and that knowledge is full-on display here. Director Declan O'Brien gets it too, and structures Sharktopus as a sort of chase movie pulsing with one attack scene just about every 5 minutes for the full 90 minute running time. The script by Mike McClean is streamlined but never manages to be idiotic (a definite probability with movies like this) or so self-aware that you want to punch the TV, but rather just plays straight enough to keep the audience in semi-rapt attention.
On a side note, Mike McClean is also the writer of my favorite of the recent spate of Corman giant monster flicks, Dinocroc vs. Supergator, which is exactly as awesome as it sounds.
What we get in Sharktopus are two competing story lines that will inevitably converge in a bloody crescendo. The first is of the biological weapon, Sharktopus, a giant half-shark/half-octobpus hybrid fitted with special wavey-arms-science remote controls. Sharktopus was created at the behest of the US navy by the Blue Water Corporation owned by none other than Eric Roberts. While Roberts shows off the beast to his Navy contact, Commander Cox, the remote control unit is damaged and Sharktopus embarks on a two-country five beachside amusement slaughterfest. Chasing the beast down are Eric Roberts (Naturally) his beautiful and brilliant daughter Nicole (Sara Malakul Lake) and former Blue Water employee Andy Flynn (Karem Bursin). Nicole's plan is to tranquilize the "S-11" (that's the military project name for sharktopus) and reattach a new remote control unit.
The second storyline is that of cub reporter Stacy Everheart (Liv Boughn) and her intrepid cameraman Bones (Hector Jiminez) and boozy shell-shocked fisherman Pez (Blake Lindsey) as they hit the trail of the Sharktopus killings. Will Stacy get enough footage to keep her job at CNE News? Will Pez overcome his fear of being eaten by a CGI sharktopus? Will Bones say something in English that the audience can understand?
O'Brien pulls out all the usual goofiness here, the Sharktopus changes scale in nearly every scene, he develops un-described superpowers half way through the movie – walking on land and being impervious to bullets – it also roars and leaps and snatches people off jet skis and boats and beach rocks and from bungie jumping platforms and all manner of other deaths. And in keeping with making the most of your speaking cast, just about everyone who has a line in this movie gets eaten including a smartass DJ Captain Jack Ralph Garman) and his stunningly beautiful on-air cohort Stephanie (Sandi Finnessey).
With a fun, breezy script, fun dialogue, and ample blood, the only way you can really tell this was made for TV and not direct to DVD was the lack of nudity and swearing, usually a staple in these kinds of movies. But there is gore aplenty, easily enough to keep even the most boob and swear deprived monster fan watching. Besides, Sharktopus climbs into the ROOF of a stage and eats a troupe of fire dancers. Who can't smile when that happens?
Corman doesn't screw around with acting either, Declan O'Brien has pulled together a cast that is way better than this material should have required, especially from Sara Malakul Lake and Liv Boughn who bring believability and flair to the almost stereotypical science girl and reporter girl roles. They shine agains their male costars too, and they aren't bad either. Eric Roberts is again playing a character who seems to be unaware that he's in a Roger Corman movie, much like his role as the confused sheriff in Raptor, he's here running Blue Water on increasingly frequent shots of scotch until his CGI Sharktopus ending.
The Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay comes with only a few extras, a commentary track with Roger and Julie Corman about the film's production, the TV trailer for the film, and some subtitle options (English and Spanish). The picture is very nice for almost all of the film, but at some point in the production the scenes on the little boat chasing the Sharktopus from point to point where Andy and Nicole spend most of the film are a little blurry, enough so that I noticed, especially visible when it changes scenes between that boat and Pez's boat, or Captain Jack's radio show boat. I don't remember if the film quality suffered like that when it aired on SyFy, or if this was an error in the encoding process.
That said, like the B-movies of the past, and no doubt the B-movies of the future, these are meant to be cheap thrills for 90 minutes shared with your friends and family, preferably over pizza and popcorn.