This week marks “Shark Week” on Nat. Geo or one of those “Nature” TV channels… can we call them channels any more? Anyway, it’s popular every year, and since I haven’t had time to write a new column, I thought I’d fob you off… er, enlighten you with an old one, partially rewritten, this week.
A bit of history first, for those who may not be familiar with the “how and why” of the terminology. Back in The Day, when movies cost something like a dime or a quarter to get in (varying with the year and the economy), there was a Depression in the US of A. Attendance at movie theatres began falling off—this was after the invention of “talkies”—and studios and theatre owners started looking for ways to get more butts in theatre seats. Among the many things they tried were: a) live entertainment in the intermission or before the movie; b) giving away stuff, like dishware and glasses (this is where the term “Depression Glass” (Figure 2) came from; cheap coloured pressed glass was given out as door prizes or just for coming); and c) adding a second feature of cheaper (and sometimes dubious) quality. One could also argue that d) air conditioning was also a factor in some of the hotter summer months.
The main movie, with well-known stars and a reasonably big budget, became known as the “A” feature; the second movie, with actors who were either just getting known or who were past their prime, and usually cheap sets and scripts, etc., became known as the “B” feature. (This practice carried over into vinyl records—usually 45 r.p.m. records—which had an “A” side, which the record company hoped would be the blockbuster and sell zillions of copies, and a “B” side, which was just sort of thrown in to fill up the empty space. This practice pretty much changed with the advent of The Beatles, who began putting out 45s with two “A” sides—both sides often became hits, and record companies were ecstatic. (Like Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You in 1963.) Actors started being known in the trades as “A-list,” “B-list,” and so on. Comedian Kathy Griffin even had a TV series called, if memory serves, My Life on the D-List, from 2005-2010 on Bravo.
The various “lists” had a couple of strange effects over the years (especially after the Depression): for one, people started paying attention to B-List actors, some of whom went on to fame without ever getting major roles; and another effect was that some people—and I’m pleased to put my wife and myself in that category—started looking for the “best” of the B-, C- and D-list movies; something about the cheesy scripts, acting and “special” effects and sets made them either fun to watch or fascinating, in the same way some people find fascination in train wrecks (how else to explain the “reality” series on one of the “educational” channels about airplane crashes?). Suddenly directors like Roger Corman, who made cheap movies with unknown actors and scripts he often wrote in a couple of hours and budgets of ten to forty thousand dollars—or the now-famous Ed Wood—became in demand. Because some of these movies were so bad they were good.
Which brings us to made-for-TV movies. Nowadays they’ve mostly been replaced by reality shows, but in the ‘70s and ‘80s especially, the made-for-TV movie (sometimes made on video tape instead of film for budgetary reasons) with over-the-hill or unknown “stars” was a hot item. These days, made-for-TV series, on Bravo or AMC, Netflux or Showtime—like Breaking Bad, Deadwood, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and so on, have mostly replaced made-for-TV movies, and are garnering rave reviews for the most part. With one notable exception: SyFy (which was originally called the Sci-Fi Channel.) For the last few years, SyFy has kept up the Grand Ol’ Tradition, and maybe even improved on its cheesiness. Here’s their own list of what’s come out of them (note: this list is 6 years old):
Snakehead Swamp—The Big Easy gets a shake-up when snakehead fish terrorize Louisiana’s swamp land.
Sharknado—Super tornadoes suck sharks up from the ocean, hurling them at LA. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!
Vikingdom—A forgotten king battles Thor and his army for Odin’s Horn.
Big Ass Spider—Look out, Los Angeles, the title says it all!
Bermuda Tentacles—Air Force One goes down, shaking up the Eastern Seaboard with an angry monster in tow.
Beast of the Bering Sea—Sea vampires vant to suck your blood AND scare the Hell outta you!
Stonados—All hail breaks loose when tornadoes hurl large stones over Boston.
Scarecrow—An evil scarecrow scares the stuffing out of unsuspecting teens.
Grave Halloween—A deadly venture into the Suicide Forest.
Zombie Night—One town, two families and an army of zombies.
Robo Croc—A mega croc wreaks havoc on a water park.
Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Gators—Mutant gators take a bite out of the bayou.
Flying Monkeys—A teenage girl’s pet monkey turns out to be an evil shape-shifter. Oh snap!
Ghost Shark—It’s a shark that’s a ghost. Need anything else?
Invasion Roswell—Sixty-six years after the Roswell crash, aliens return to attack Earth.
Blast Vegas—Thieving Spring Breakers steal an ancient relic that unleashes a disastrous curse upon Las Vegas.
Independence DaySaster—When aliens attack, one man and a renegade scientist team up to take them down.
Battle Dogs—Humans turned werewolves spread their infection with each bite.
Chupacabra vs. The Alamo—Chupacabras attack with a vengeance and this time they’re taking on the Alamo!
Abominable Snowman—A group searching for their friends during a blizzard make a chilling discovery!
Tasmanian Devils—Tasmanian Devils go wild after a taste of human blood.
Heebie Jeebies—A supernatural creature gives the term scared to death a whole new meaning!
End of the World—The fate of the world lies in the hands of two sci-fi obsessed clerks. Uh-oh!
12 Disasters of Christmas—The Mayan 2012 prophecy is the gift that keeps on destroying this holiday season!
Ghost Storm—Sparks fly when angry souls wreak havoc with electrical storms.
Rise of the Zombies—When the odds are 4 billion to 4, the only thing to do is…..reload.
American Horror House—Pretty girls learn the ugly truth about their sorority house.
Big Foot—A DJ and a conservationist team up to fight against the deadly Bigfoot.
Boogeyman—Sometimes scary things do more than go bump in the night.
Jersey Shore Shark Attack—Albino bull sharks are no match for attitude, fist pumps and spray tans.
Lake Placid The Final Chapter—Hungry crocs try to turn innocent teens into lunch!
Aladdin and the Death Lamp—To save the world, Aladdin must wager everything to get an evil Jinn back into his lamp.
Pegasus vs. Chimera—The magical steed Pegasus goes head to head with the hellish Chimera.
Haunted High—Teens learn the ultimate lesson while trying to escape a ghost inside their high school.
Arachnoquake—Deadly fire breathing spiders are unearthed after a massive earthquake in New Orleans.
Piranhaconda—Life imitates art when a horror film crew encounters a half fish, half snake monster!
Philadelphia Experiment—Destruction washes in with a vanished ship that returns years after its disappearance.
Mega Pythton vs. Gatoroid—An animal activist and park ranger face off in the Everglades.
Zombie Apocalypse—One group battles zombies for humanity’s survival.
Sharktopus—A half-shark, half-octopus creature creates terror in Mexico.
Malibu Shark Attack—When a tsunami hits Malibu, you’re not safe from prehistoric sharks – even if you’re out of the water!
I had previously seen a couple of these—or parts of them, anyway—and was unimpressed with the acting, scripts, special effects; until I got it. These are deliberate B-movie fodder in the tradition of Ed Wood! Once I’d figured that out, it was obvious that I needed to watch Sharknado from beginning to end.
Sharknado has two “name” actors in its cast: John Heard and Tara Reid; Heard is arguably better known than Reid, having been in a few A-minor (hey, it’s a musical joke!) roles in such films as Between the Lines, Cutter’s Way, Cat People and Big, to name a few. Reid started off in The Big Lebowski (well, she was on a soap opera first), and has appeared in Urban Legend, American Pie, American Pie 2 and so on. Both actors seem to have mostly appeared in lower-class movies recently. The main actor is a guy named Ian (pronounced “Eye-an,” if you please!) Ziering, whose main claim to acting fame appears to be lots of appearances on TV series, like 90210, Biker Mice From Mars, Godzilla, Spiderman, etc. The majority of those appear to be as a voice actor, according to his IMDB profile. The character he plays is “Fin,” an aging has-been surfer, who owns a bar on the beach at Santa Monica, or Santa Barbara, or maybe Santo Domingo (who knows?).
The other actors you’ll see a lot of are Cassandra Scerbo and Jaason Simmons. She plays a 20-some-year-old waitress (“Nova”) at Fin’s bar, and is in love with him for no apparent reason; Jaason plays “Baz,” a man of no fixed ability and Fin’s best friend, I guess. Everyone’s playing around on the beach, ignoring the hurricane that’s about a hundred miles offshore near L.A. until all of a sudden the skies darken and several waterspouts are seen and they’re full of sharks of all kinds and sizes! And as everyone knows that sharks can not be near people without trying to eat them, they immediately start falling out of the waterspouts directly at people (apparently their fins are just like airplane fins and can allow the sharks to control how and where they fall). As well, they display amazing jumping ability—where people are concerned—and jump out of the water onto boats and Sea-Doos, life rafts and so on, always so they can eat—or at least bite—people. And they don’t need to breathe, either. Just bite.
Our actors are heavily involved with the sharks—John Heard even hits one with his barstool (he’s a barfly in this movie)—and Fin discovers that the sharknado (sounds better than waterspout full of sharks) is headed for Encino, or wherever the heck his family (ex-wife, daughter and son) lives; He and his motley crew—the ones that didn’t get eaten—head for the house he used to live in and his ex-wife April (Tara Reid), who’s returned to her maiden name. Along the way he stops to help a schoolbus full of children, proving himself a true hero. The acting, dialog and script in this movie are amazing, prompting one to wonder why there were no Academy Award nominations for it. And the CGI—whole books could be written on how this movie brings computer (personal computer, obviously) generated “special” effects to new levels.
Seriously—this movie is so bad it’s kind of a joy to watch; it is (it has to be), in some ways—though I confess I haven’t seen all of them—the high point among SyFy original movies. It is available on Netflix—that’s how I finally got up the courage to see it, and boy! I’m glad I did—and I will be waiting with bated (no “baited” pun here!) breath for Sharknado 2, which will bring the action to New York. Besides Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, the new Sharknado will bring such acting talent as Viveca A. Fox and Kari Wuhrer to improve the sequel. Now, from 6 years later, I’ve seen about 3 of them, but I can’t tell you off the top of my head which three. Figure 5 shows the poster from the putative “last” film, Sharknado 6: It’s About Time; I’d be willing to bet it’s not the last one coming.
Am I gonna watch ‘em all? Hmm… as I said, I’m several behind, and binge-watching them isn’t possible, at least while I’m a bit sane. I couldn’t guarantee I would still be so at the end if I did so.
CANADIANS: Don’t forget—as of today you have less than a week to vote for me… uh, vote for your choices for the Prix Aurora Award. Voting ends on the 23rd. For more information go to prixaurorawards.ca.
I’d appreciate a comment on this column if you can or feel like it. Comment here or on Facebook, or even send me an email: stevefah at hotmail dot com. All comments are welcome. Don’t feel you have to agree with me to post a comment; my opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!