Sharknado – The Spinning Terror

Brendan tried to avoid the treacherous waters, but no luck, they came to land to find him.  

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Jaws is correctly revered as a classic of the disaster/horror movie genre and rightly credited as the first high concept blockbuster movie. Jaws’ singular premise – a giant monster shark – that neatly translated into one single marketing image, and transformed the way in which films were made and sold in Hollywood to this day.

No one who was certifiably sane would say that Sharknado is destined to have the same homunculus impact on the world of modern filmmaking. However, it is undoubtedly a high concept project (sharks meet tornadoes), it is undoubtedly a disaster film and it has undoubtedly achieved a new and very modern type of success with contemporary audiences.

After amassing several million views on YouTube for it’s trailer, Sharknado’s premier on the Syfy channel accomplished something unprecedented for a made for TV movie by becoming a trending topic on Twitter. Websites and blogs have since collated the best and most amusing of Sharknado’s tweets, while the wave of social media interest in the film secured a limited US theatrical run, again another first for a “Syfy original film”.

Sharknado is a slick example of how low budget filmmaking can leverage social media platforms to generate positive word of mouth and reach new, incremental audiences. The problem for some critics with Sharknado, however, is the nature of the film itself.

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The premise of Sharknado doesn’t require much in the way of thought or explanation. A waterspout brings all manner of man eating sharks in-land to downtown LA, where they wreak all kind of havoc on an assorted cast of b-movie actors. Interestingly this ensemble includes the semi-credible presence of John Heard, he of The Sopranos (Ed: or for our purposes – Cutter’s Way, CHUD and Cat People etc)  and other far more legitimate screen roles. One can only assume John badly needs a paycheck right now.

It is willfully silly, escapist nonsense that pays homage to a host of cheesy pop culture references. The issue and where Sharknado proves to be so divisive, is that it is a project that is designed to be mocked. Unlike say the efforts of Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau or even some of the movies distributed by Lloyd Kaufman, the makers of Sharknado certainly have no artistic hubris about the highfalutin merit of their work.

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That’s not to say Sharknado is a bad film as such. For my sins I actually enjoyed it. Honest. Production values are better than expected, pacing and narrative move quickly enough and among its truly memorable sequences is the sight of Ian Ziering first being swallowed whole by a badly rendered, flying CGI shark only to then see him cut himself out with a chainsaw and simultaneously rescue his love interest (Cassie Scerbo) from inside the same creature! Wow. Intense.

Sharknado is terrible, self consciously cheesy, deliberately camp fun brought to life purely for the commercial gain of the backers and producers at the Syfi channel. It’s safe to say that with Sharknado, the sharks of this film are not just limited to those in front of the camera lens.

DVD

Sharknado is out on 7th October

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The Vineyard – Intoxicating Life!

Out today on DVD is cult horror The Vineyard, released by Arrow Video on their ArrowDrome imprint. If you’ve never seen the film, you’re in for a tacky treat. Co-directed and written by actor James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China, Bladerunner, Wayne’s World 2), The Vineyard is the story of prolific wine-maker Dr Elson Po (played by Hong) and his mystical and grisly secret to staying young…

Here’s the deal. Po has made a pact with an ancient God who, in return for human sacrifices and a signature wine made out of blood, keeps him alive and eternally young. The only problem is that Po is ageing faster than before and needs more beautiful bodies to keep in his basement so that when his true age starts to show (in some terrific scenes in which Hong hams it up and has some great facial prosthetics) he can appease his idol. Cue a group of young, nubile actors heading to the island for an ‘audition’ only to become a bunch of grapes.

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The Vineyard is one of those ‘so-bad-its-good’ films which manages to be both nonsensical and coherent at the same time. The small subplot which see’s Po trying to make a young actress (Playboy Playmate Karen Witter) his bride seems a little out-of-place, as does the odd bit of kung-fu fighting (never enough and staged far too many feet away from the opposing actors) and the part where it sort of wants to become a zombie film but gives up when it decides it doesn’t want to. Bad points aside (of which there are rather a few), it still manages to be entertaining and incredibly cheesy in a nostalgic way that only 80s movies could be. The special effects are fairly neat (especially the zombie’s half buried in the vineyard which were hideously underused), Hong is a lot of fun and it has a genuinely scary scene which sees a girl throw up spiders.

Arrow have done a good job on the DVD, released with a reversible sleeve of original artwork and a booklet on the film written by Calum Wadell. If you’re after a film for Halloween or your next film marathon at your mates, this is one to buy. Trashy, fun and slightly bizarre.

Tangled in the tentacles of Monstro!

Grumpy Mr. Patterson has a wander along the beach with the rock n roll wenches from hell who take on the mythical Kraken in Monstro, but do the tentacles grab him?

Monster Pictures – DVD Release Date October 22nd

It’s just a shame that acclaimed French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard is dead. I’ve got a feeling that he would have enjoyed Monstro! That’s not to say that it is an astounding film, or exhibits any special, highfalutin qualities as a work of art or anything. Come to think of it, I have no idea what JB’s taste in entertainment was during his lifetime. It could have been anything for all I know.

But regardless, Stuart Simpson’s debut indie horror flick is so heavy on the pastiche, so deliberately engaged in over the top campiness and hyper-real caricatures, that I like to imagine that everyone’s favourite Gallic poststructuralist would have had a thing or two to say about it.

Monstro!’s grindhouse influences are written large from the outset, when we are introduced to three buxom femme fatales: Beretta, Blondie and Snowball. As it transpires they like nothing more than “jiggling about” and “whooping it up” to rockabilly music, killing dimwitted men and going to the seaside in their classic roadster.

They do like to be beside the seaside, they do like to be beside the sea, as here they can play rounds of Gin Rummy with beers and fags and jump in the sea for a paddle and more bouts of “whooping it up”.

Unfortunately, splashing around in shallow water is a plot contrivance that inevitably triggers the interest of that multi tentacled, murderous sea beast: the Kraken. Obvious comparisons to 50’s creature features are invited at this juncture, as are references to Jaws and any number of its imitators.

I don’t think it was a conscious decision in Stuart Simpson’s semi logical interplay of movie references (how’s that for pretentious? I bet you enjoyed it!) but for me the strongest moment of intertextuality (there I go again) in Monstro! was delivered by the presence of one Norman Yemm.

Here he plays a grizzled, wheelchair bound sea dog called Joseph, but to anyone familiar with 1980’s UK terrestrial TV scheduling, Norman is the unforgettable face of “Norman Baker” from the Sullivans.

The Sullivans was the lens through which I first observed and came to understand antipodean culture. That it was all set in “olden days”, lacking as they did modern technology or consumer items. A really miserable place in fact, that induced feelings of depression, due in no short part to the fact that they were locked forever in an eternal conflict with the Axis-powers. A bit like a Mobius loop or something. But I digress …

Norman and his granddaughter, Hannah, are forced into an unlikely alliance with our all girl gang when collectively they are forced to do battle with the Kraken.While more exciting than an episode of the Sullivans, the denouement (another one for you) of Monstro! is not completely satisfying to a miserable “genre enthusiast” such as myself.

It seems churlish to criticize a micro-budget movie for it’s lack of technical excellence, but the mise-en-scene (yeah, you heard) doesn’t look good. The monster effects are extremely hokey, the coastal setting looks blustery, dark and cold and putting on my misogynist hat for a second, the female cast when bikini clad are equally unappetizing.

By my estimations though, why Monstro! doesn’t quite deliver against the very best of Oz-sploitation movies is that it’s too derivative of it’s source materials. It’s too self-conscious in doffing its cap and delivering a deferential nod to the ghost of Russ Meyer or the influence of the despicable Death Proof. Overall, think less Bad Taste or Evil Dead and more a Dead Next Door as the caliber of this new entry in the horror canon.

It’s not all bad news, however, Monstro! punches well above its weight for a film shot in roughly 15 days. Stuart Simpson and co.’s love for their genre landmarks is palpable and the treatment of this release from Monster Pictures is best in class.

Jean Baudrillard never went on record on whether or not he liked monster movies or burlesque, psychotic lesbians in his choice of DVDs. Sadly, whether Monstro! Would be at the top of his rental list or not, is something we will simply never know the answer to. But I think there’s a fair chance it would be.

The charming Monstro is out on the 22nd of October and you can pick it up here

The Day Time Ended, is around the corner.

CB hero, Brendan Patterson is back with a look at The Day Time Ended from 88 Films‘ Grindhouse Collection.

The Future is bleak

Have you ever wondered where would you go and what would you do if you could travel through the space-time continuum?

I have.

I like to imagine that I would travel from Finsbury Park area of London to the Mojave Desert, California in the year 1979 and stop the production of The Day Time Ended.

The mind boggles at what consequences this could reap on our present day reality. In Ray Bradbury’s short story, A Sound of Thunder, a time traveller only very accidentally treads on a twig or something and ends up coming back to a modern day world that is well and truly fucked.

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A move as ballsy as putting a B picture out of commission could only have even greater, more calamitous repercussions, but somehow in the case of The Day Time Ended, I can’t help but feel it would be worth the risk.

This bargain basement Sci-Fi opus was an early production by one Charles Band (uh oh) and gives proof positive to the fact that you can’t re-create Close Encounters of the Third Kind without either a serviceable script or substantial effects budget.

In a nutshell the wafer thin plot is as follows:

Opening scene and we are somewhere in the depths of the cosmos. Out of nowhere a disembodied voice, that we will later learn belongs to Grant Williams (Jim Davis), blurts out that time as we know and understand it is non-sequential (!). In fact everything exists in a continuum and just to put the tin hat on it, he doesn’t know where he is or what century it is any more. Blah, blah, blah (hope you’re still with me).

From there we backtrack to the Williams family’s beige, solar powered ranch in the middle of the desert circa 1979. Their domestic idyll is inexplicably shattered one evening when Grant and his aged but MILF-like wife Ana (Dorothy Malone) witness a low flying UFO during their night time walk (in dressing gowns).

This is an early sign that their home is in the process of being sucked into a space/time vortex (!) and for the next 80 minutes or so the Williams clan will be subjected to all manner of “weird shit”.

At first this is all relatively low key i.e. flashing lights in the sky and mysterious green gas that wafts under the bedroom door of their granddaughter, leading to the appearance of a miniature, cavorting gremloid (my terminology). Like I said low key.

By the 60-minute mark, however, the proverbial shit has well and truly hit the space-time continuum fan as giant stop-motion monsters do battle in the Williams’ front yard. Later, Grant wanders out to see what’s going on and observes that the place has now been covered in cheap matte shots of dune buggies and other futuristic tat, etc., etc.

Watching, let alone trying to write something coherent about this movie is tough. The Day Time Ended basically makes little or no sense whatsoever and the closing act is almost as if the filmmakers said “well sod it then”.

Maybe, just maybe you could say that its open-ended narrative prefigures Prometheus by leaving so much unanswered and inviting viewers to ruminate on the bigger questions of existence. A more honest assessment would be that it’s nothing of the sort. Rather the last of the budget had been spunked on some special effect shots of futuristic bio-domes and it was time to call it a day – The Day the Budget Ended if you will.

What is most interesting about The Day Time Ended and the best reason for this new release from 88 Films, are the plentiful stop animation sequences. While not in the same superlative league as Ray Harryhausen, the work on display by Dave Allen, who would later receive some acclaim for Batteries Not Included, is chintzy and fun.

Also The Day Time Ended affords viewers the opportunity to witness the mega acting talents of the former Mrs. Shatner (Marcy Lafferty) and the son of Robert Mitchum, Christopher, who turns up in a pretty superfluous errant father role.

The Day Time Ended is not a film that I’ll be revisiting anytime soon, but maybe, just maybe if Grant Williams was right and we experience everything, past present and future simultaneously, then it’s not something I really have to worry about anyway.
Somewhere out in space-time I am still watching this cheesy film. Forever. For all time. What a frightening thought.

The Day Time Ended is out now – I’ll be honest, it sounds like a fantastic mess to me, not one to be missed.