Film Feature: Sharknado Season

Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda is a film about a half-shark, half-octopus engaged in a bloody conflict with a half-barracuda, half-pterodactyl. It is the sequel to 2010’s Sharktopus, in which an ill-conceived attempt to curb the Mexican-American illegal drug trade leads to the titular mollusc-fish hybrid terrorising a Mexican resort town, and it will be followed later this year by Sharktopus vs. Mermantula, in which Sharktopus will battle a half-tarantula, half-merman, taking the concept of hybrid animals to a whole new level by having one of Mermantula’s constituent parts be a hybrid animal already. Maybe the next film could be Sharktopus vs. Pteracudamermantula. Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda is related to a couple of the studio’s other films, Piranhaconda and the upcoming Cobragator, which are billed as Sharktopus sequels despite not featuring Sharktopus.

All these films really exist.

The entire Sharktopus family is executively produced by Roger Corman, who has worked as a producer on an impressive 400+ films over the course of a career spanning six decades. During this time he has been credited with producing and/or directing a number of cult-classics (including the original Little Shop of Horrors); helping launch the careers of actors (including Jack Nicholson and Sandra Bullock) and directors (including Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola); and with introducing the work of foreign-language film-makers such as Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa to the English-speaking public.

He has also produced a lot of crap, which is what happens when you regularly produce upwards of ten films in a year for as little money as possible. Throughout his career he has cared primarily about making whatever low-budget films can be made profitable, and right now films about giant CGI animals attacking other giant CGI animals (and bystanders in swim-wear) make money.

But why is this? While films like the Sharktopus franchise (and from other studios, offerings such as Sand Sharks, Two-Headed Shark Attack, and Sharknado) aren’t exactly drawing viewers in droves, they’re clearly profitable enough that this genre of film keeps being made, and keeps finding its way onto our screens via super-market shelves and Syfy (née ‘The Sci-Fi Channel’) which airs such z-grade schlock as ‘Syfy Original Movies’.

Although terrible low-budget shark movies have existed ever since people realised you could film a rubber shark for a week and call it a Jaws rip-off, this particular brand of low-budget shark movie could only exist in the 21st century due to the one thing the 21st century has that the 20th mostly didn’t: computers. Computers are to blame for Sharktopus for two reasons: the first is that CGI technology allows studios to create scenes of giant animal mayhem far more easily and cheaply than they were previously able to, and the second is that the vast majority of the marketing and hype for these films comes through the internet.

Crazy shark movies first made their breakthrough around 2009 with Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, which became famous because of just one scene. It’s a scene that starts with an airline steward requesting passengers return their seat backs to the upright position, and ends with a giant shark leaping several thousand feet into the air to eat the plane out of the sky. A clip of it posted on YouTube under the title “The greatest movie scene ever? – Mega Shark VS Giant Octopus!” went viral, getting over 3.5 million views. Since then these films seem to have been constructed to replicate that effect, from their titles to their trailers to their taglines, in an attempt to intentionally invoke and cash in on the ‘so bad its good’ craze generated by a genuine bad movie like The Room.

But too often, there’s not much else to them. At their worst, they’re a funny title and maybe two minutes of YouTube-worthy insanity, sandwiched in 88 minutes of filler. And this is the main problem with Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda: like too many of these films, Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda is just a little too aware of what it is. By consciously trying to replicate that bad-movie charm, you miss a huge chunk of what makes the sort of film they show at Glasgow University’s Bad Movie Society so endearing: the sincerity.

The problem is, the idea that you could watch Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda is more entertaining than actually sitting down with it for an hour and a half. I love the fact that the Sharktopus franchise is a thing that exists. I love poking about on IMDb and finding that there is a film called Arachnoquake, or that the company behind Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus also makes rip-offs of major Hollywood films with titles like Transmorphers, The Da-Vinci Treasure, and Snakes on a Train. I even love watching the trailers. It’s just a shame that watching the whole film isn’t as fun as it should be.

[Neil Weaving]

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