Let’s Talk About Nightmare Shark (dir by Griff and Nathan Furst)


Right now, we’re in the middle of SyFy’s Sharknado week.  On Sunday night, SyFy will premiering what they say is going to be The Last Sharknado.  In the days leading up to that moment, they’ve been reshowing all of their classic shark films and premiering a new shark film each night!

Thursday night’s premiere was Nightmare Shark!

Nightmare Shark kind of swam out of nowhere on Thursday and it ended up impressing the Hell out of not only me but almost everyone that I was watching it with.  There’s a neat little twist to Nightmare Shark, one that will be appreciated and loved by anyone who watches SyFy shark films.  In fact, it’s such a wonderful twist that I don’t want to ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen the film yet.  At the same time, I really can’t review the movie without revealing the details of the twist.

So, consider this to be your SPOILER WARNING!  If you haven’t seen Nightmare Shark, just take my word for it that it’s a scary and effective SyFy shark film and stop reading.  Because what follows is going to spoil a huge part of the film for you.  Here, I’ll give you a few minutes to navigate away from the page before I continue.

Here’s a picture of a cute kitty that the rest of us can look at while you leave:

Okay, let’s continue.

Shared cinematic universes are all the rage right now.  In fact, SyFy already has one of its own.  Ian Ziering making a cameo appearance in Lavalantula established that both that film and its sequel took place in the same chaotic universe as Sharknado.  Well, Nightmare Shark established a second cinematic universe.

The film itself deals with a group of shark attack survivors who, having been plagued by shark-related nightmares, agree to take part in an experimental drug trial.  What they don’t suspect is that the outwardly benevolent Dr. Novak (Tony Amendola) actually worships a Hawaiian shark god and his plan is to use them and their nightmares as a way to bring the shark out of their dreams and into the real world.  Among the survivors are Jolene (Lulu Jovovich) and Rob (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Gina (Rachele Brooke Smith) and Kaplan (Bobby Campo).  Fans of SyFy shark movies will immediately recognize them as the protagonists of, respectively, Trailer Park Shark and Atomic Shark.

So, there you go.  All three of these films take place in the same universe and personally, I would toss Ghost Shark in there as well.  (The Hawaiian shark god definitely seemed to have a bit in common with the Ghost Shark.)  Just as there’s a Sharknado Cinematic Universe, there’s also a Griff Furst Cinematic Shark Universe.

That was a wonderful Easter egg for all of us longtime fans of SyFy shark week.  Since, with the Sharknado franchise wrapping up, this could be the final shark week, Nightmare Shark also gave us a final chance to spend some time with some of our favorite shark movie protagonists.  Unfortunately, not all of them survive their nightmares.

Compared to the whimsical tone that’s present in most SyFy shark movies, Nightmare Shark was a seriously dark film.  Make no mistake about it, this was definitely a horror film.  In fact, it featured some of the most effective jump scenes that I’ve seen in a SyFy film.  The nightmares were all nicely realized and properly surreal.  The film did a good job of keeping viewers off-balance.  You were never quite sure who was awake or asleep and you spent most of the film looking for little clues at to whether we were seeing the real world or the dream world.  Though the film’s influences were clear — A Nightmare on Elm Street was a big one — Nightmare Shark still did a great job of establishing its own wonderfully twisted identity.  Among the cast, the clear stand-out was Tony Amendola, who was enjoyably sinister as Dr. Novak.

Nightmare Shark was an effective horror film, one that proved that there’s still new twists and scares to found in shark week.

Let’s Talk About Frenzy (dir by Jose Montesinos)


Right now, we’re in the middle of SyFy’s Sharknado week.  On Sunday night, SyFy will premiering what they say is going to be The Last Sharknado.  In the days leading up to that moment, they’ve been reshowing all of their classic shark films and premiering a new shark film each night!

Wednesday night’s premiere was Frenzy.

Frenzy‘s a bit different from some of the other shark films that SyFy’s been showing this week.  Make no mistake, the film did feature sharks.  In fact, there were three very big sharks who swam through the ocean and ate just about anyone or anything that they could sink their teeth into.  Not only did they eat people who were unfortunate enough to be floating out in the water but they also bumped up against boats, the better to knock poachers overboard.  These were some mean sharks!

That said, they weren’t ghost sharks.  They weren’t zombie sharks.  None of them wore a little Santa cap on their fin, like Santa Jaws did.  They weren’t mutated by radiation or a Big Evil Corporation.  And certainly, they weren’t dropped into the ocean by a tornado.  No, these were just normal, very big sharks.

And while the sharks were undoubtedly important to the story that Frenzy was telling, the film really wasn’t about them.  Instead, at its heart, Frenzy is the story of two sisters, Paige (Gina Vitori) and Lindsey (Aubrey Reynolds).  Paige has always been the adventurous one while Lindsey has always been the one who rarely takes risks and who tries to play it safe.  Paige has found fame as a travel vlogger.  Along with Evan (Michael S. New), Kahia (Lanett Tachel) and Seb (Taylor Jorgensen), she travels around the world and she films herself doing dangerous things and having new experiences.  When Lindsey joins Paige for her latest adventure, it seems like a chance for Lindsey to not only break out for her shell but to also find romance with Seb as well…

Of course, things never go quite as smoothly as they’re supposed to.  In this case, things go downhill as soon as Paige, Lindsey, and everyone else gets aboard a less-than-reliable seaplane so that they can go scuba diving.  When the plane crashes into the middle of the ocean, Lindsey and a few survivors are left floating in the water.  There’s an island in the distance but can they reach it before the sharks reach them?

Frenzy was definitely a change-of-pace, as far as SyFy shark movies are concerned.  While I wouldn’t say that you necessarily have to have a sister to truly appreciate Frenzy‘s story, it undoubtedly helps.  The relationship between Paige and Lindsey — made up of equal parts love and rivalry — is at the heart of Frenzy and fortunately, both Aubrey Reynolds and Gina Vitori were totally believable as sisters.  Their relationship, with all of its complications, felt real and, on a personal level, there were many lines of dialogue and little actions to which I related.  For me, as I watched, this film could have just as easily been called “Lisa And Erin Go On Vacation And Try Not To Die.”

I also liked the way that the film used its flashback structure.  With Lindsey continually flashing back between the past and the present, we were kept off-balance as far as Lindsey’s current mental state was concerned.  It’s a structure that required us to consider what was real, what was dreamed, and what was just a hallucination.

Frenzy was a nice change-of-pace for Sharknado week.

Let’s Talk About Santa Jaws (dir by Misty Talley)


Last night, about twenty minutes into the latest SyFy shark movie, I declared the following on twitter:

51 favs and 15 retweets later, I stand by my declaration.  Sorry, Jaws.  Step aside, Deep Blue Sea.  It’s been fun, Sharknado 5.  Santa Jaws is officially the greatest shark movie ever made.

The scene in question took place on Christmas Eve.  Lovable Poppa (Ritchie Montgomery) is fishing out on the bayou and drinking from his thermos of eggnog when, suddenly, a shark jumps out of the water and eats him.  It happens rather suddenly, so suddenly in fact that you only barely notice the fact that the shark has red eyes.  It’s only as the shark is swimming away that we see that Santa’s hat is sitting on its fin.  And, if we listen really carefully, we can hear the sound of jingling bells.

From the minute that people learned that SyFy was going to be broadcasting a movie called Santa Jaws, the question became just how literally we should take the title.  Would Santa actually be a shark?  Or would it just be a shark movie that happened during the Christmas season?  And there was one question in particular that we were all wondering:

Well, the answer is yes.  Santa Jaws does take place during the Christmas season.  While Santa Jaws may not literally be Santa-turned-into-a-shark, he still brings a family together, just like any visit from Santa should.  And yes … the shark wears a Santa hat on his fin.

The film deals with Cody (Reid Miller), a teenage outcast and comic book artist.  Cody is not having a great holiday season.  Not only is there no snow on the ground (the film does take place in Louisiana, after all) but his family seems to be more proud of his athletic older brother, Josh (Arthur Marroquin), than of him.  On top of everything else, he’s been grounded because of a less-than flattering picture that he drew of his school’s principal.  Cody’s mood would probably improve if he knew that his next door neighbor, Jena (Courtney Lauren Collins), is also into comics but Cody can’t even work up the courage to speak to her.

Cody, however, has received one early Christmas present.  Poppa gives him a magic pen, which a frustrated Cody uses to draw a picture of Santa Jaws while complaining about how he wishes his family would just go away.  Cody, of course, doesn’t mean what he says.  Anyone who has ever been a teenager and who has ever had a bad day will immediately understand that.  However, the magic pen doesn’t understand that and soon, Santa Jaws has not only come to life but it’s after Cody’s family!

Now, you may be getting the feeling that Santa Jaws is not meant to be taken too seriously and, in that case, you would be correct.  As far as Misty Talley shark movies are concerned, Santa Jaws has more in common with the cheerful meta comedy of Mississippi River Sharks than the dark horror of Zombie Shark.  With the exception of one unfortunate elf who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, there’s not a lot of blood in Santa Jaws.  However, there are plenty of puns, courtesy of Cody’s best friend, Steve (Hawn Tran).  (My favorite was when Steve said that the shark was “gill-ty.”)  This is the type of film where, when the comic book store owner (Scott Allen Perry), gets his hands on the pen, he promptly draws a Russian girlfriend, a nice car, and several million dollars.  Though a lot of people are eaten over the course of Santa Jaws, neither the film nor the characters lose their sense of humor.

It’s a fun movie and on that delivers exactly what it promises and a whole lot more.  It’s a film that gives you a shark with a Santa hat on its fin but it also delivers clever dialogue and committed performances.  Reid Miller and Courtney Lauren Cummings are likable protagonists and Hawn Tran and Scott Allen Perry provide effective comedic relief.  Arthur Marroquin turns big brother Josh into a nicely rounded character while Jim Klock, Carrie Lazar, Miles Doleac, Haviland Stillwell, and Ritchie Montgomery all have a good moments as the members of Cody’s family.  In the end, you really do hope that the family will still manage to have a merry Christmas.

And, of course, there’s the shark.  The shark loves Christmas, as we all do.  The shark has glowing red eyes, the better to guide your sleigh at night.  And yes, the shark wears a Santa cap on its fin.

Santa Jaws was a lot of fun and I’m hoping SyFy will be smart enough to show it every Christmas.  At the very least, we need a sequel.  Santa Jaws Conquers The Martians, anyone?

Let’s Talk About Megalodon (dir by James Thomas)


Right now, the SyFy channel is counting down the days to the premiere of The Last Sharknado by not only rebroadcasting some classic shark films from the past but by also premiering a new movie each night.  Monday’s premiere was Megalodon and what can I say other than it was one of the most brilliant SyFy films of all time?

Produced by the Asylum (the same company behind the Sharknado franchise), Megalodon takes place out in the middle of the ocean.  An American military vessel is searching for the remains of a mysterious submarine.  In command of the mission is the tough and no-nonsense Captain Streeper (Dominic Pace).  Second-in-command to Streeper is Commander Lynch (Caroline Harris), who is literally fearless.  Observing is Streeper’s mentor, Admiral King and the fact that the Admiral is played by Michael Madsen is just one of the things that makes Megalodon one of the best Asylum films ever!

Anyway, the Americans eventually find the submarine, just to discover that it’s full of Russians!  Ivanov (Dimitry Rozental) and Popov (Aimee Stolte) may claim that they were just doing scientific research on sharks and whales but both Streeper and Lynch know better.  And when the Russians claim that there submarine was attacked by a giant shark, everyone laughs at them.

Until, of course, the giant shark shows up….

Now, you probably think that you know what’s going to happen.  If you think the shark is going to end up attacking the American vessel, you’re right.  If you think that a bunch of random fisherman are going to show up and get promptly swallowed by the shark, you’re right again.  And if you think those dastardly Russians have something up their nefarious sleeves, well again, you’re right…

But then there’s all the things that you don’t expect.  For instance, a good deal of the movie actually takes place inside of the shark as the crew of a diving bell try to figure out how to get back outside of it.  And then there’s the scenes of Streeper and the Russians debating global politics.  And, as I previously stated, there’s Michael Madsen as Admiral King.  Madsen only has a few minutes of screen time but he makes the most of them.  He delivers his lines with a self-mocking gravity, letting us know that he’s as in on the joke as we are.  He even gets a scene where he gets to talk to the shark while smoking a cigar and you better believe that he totally knocks it out of the park.  A lot of people on twitter pointed out that no admiral would have hair as long and unruly as Michael Madsen’s but they’re missing the point.  Michael Madsen’s job isn’t to convince us that he’s a career Naval officer.  In this film, Michael Madsen’s job is to be Michael Madsen and nobody does it better.

In the best tradition of the Asylum, Megalodon is a wonderfully self-aware movie.  It’s cheerfully and unapologetically over-the-top.  The entire cast seems to be having a blast and they’re all a lot of fun to watch.  Dominic Pace gets to deliver the Independence Day “We’ll Never Stop Fighting” speech towards the end of the film and he delivers it with just the right combination of sincerity and humor.  Caroline Harris brings a lot of authority to the role of the determined Lynch and both Dimitry Rozental and Aimee Stolte are wonderfully arrogant and villainous as the Russians.  And then there’s the shark, which is big and intimidating and who attacks boats and eats sailors with a panache all of its own.  Megalodon is pure entertainment and it all works wonderfully well.  Watch it with a group of your snarkiest friends and have a blast!

Megalodon gives us evil Russians, a giant shark, and Michael Madsen.  How can you not enjoy that?

Let’s Talk About Deep Blue Sea 2 (dir by Darin Scott)


So, today was the first day of SyFy’s final Sharknado week.  Leading up to next Sunday’s premiere of The Last Sharknado, SyFy is not only going to be rebroadcasting some of their classic shark films but they’re also going to be premiering a new film every night of the week.

(I’m in Killer Shark Heaven!  Yes, the real one…)

They got things started tonight with Deep Blue Sea 2.

Now, before anything else, I should clarify that Deep Blue Sea 2 made its television premiere tonight but the movie itself has actually been out for a while.  As opposed to the Sharknado films, Deep Blue Sea 2 was not specifically produced for or by the SyFy Network.  Instead, the production honors go to Warner Bros, the same company that distributed the first Deep Blue Sea.  Way back in April, Deep Blue Sea 2 was released on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, and VOD and it actually did quite well for a straight-to-video release.  There were enough fans of the original film that the sequel was able to rank in the top 10 of VOD releases for two straight weeks.

So, Deep Blue Sea 2 was not produced by the Asylum.  Perhaps it would have been better if it had been.

Deep Blue Sea 2 retells the basic story of Deep Blue Sea, just on a much smaller level.  Whereas Deep Blue Sea featured an army of big, scary sharks, the sequel features one really big shark and a bunch of baby sharks, all of which are cute but deadly.  Whereas the first film was distinguished by detailed set design that gave the underwater laboratory a lived-in feel, the sequel features a lab that is frequently so dark and underlit that I often had a hard time distinguishing one actor from another.  Whereas the first film features recognizable actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Stellan Skarsgard getting eaten by sharks, the sequel features a cast that, with the exception of Michael Beach, is largely unknown.

And while the entire cast is undeniably talented and does the best that they can with what they’ve been given to work with, everyone in the film is playing a type.  Michael Beach is Durant, the pharmaceutical billionaire who, despite what happened in the first film, is breeding super intelligent sharks and drinking their blood.  (You read that right.)  Danielle Savre is Misty Calhoun, the shark conservationist who thinks that mankind is to blame for all the troubles in the world.  Rob Mayes is Trent Slater, the Navy SEAL who knows how to fight sharks.  Nathan Lynn is Aaron, the nerdy virgin computer guy.  Kim Syster and Jeremy Jess Boado are the obviously doomed married couple.  Darron Myer is the guy who you know is going to die as soon as you notice that he doesn’t take off his tie, even when he’s in an underwater lab.  And then you have Cameron Robertson as the guy who sticks his arm down a shark’s throat and Adrian Collins as the diver who thinks it’s a good idea to taunt sharks that can literally jump out of the water and bite your head off.

Of course, as soon as everyone’s in the lab, the super smart sharks rebel and the majority of the cast ends up getting eaten.  There’s no big shock there.  Some of the gore effects are well-done.  Faces are ripped off with panache and one unfortunate victim falls apart as soon as he’s pulled out of the water.  Michael Beach has a lot of fun with the role of the ranting Durant and it was impossible not to smile whenever he would smirk off Misty’s outrage.  For the most part, though, Deep Blue Sea 2 moved too slowly and didn’t feature enough shark action.  That said, I think this is the first shark film that I’ve ever seen in which the sharks actually growl at people and that’s got to be worth something.

Film Review: Deep Blue Sea (1999, dir by Renny Harlin)


Since I’m going to be watching Deep Blue Sea 2 on the SyFy network later tonight, I figured that I should rewatch the first Deep Blue Sea beforehand.

This 1999 shark attack film takes place on a laboratory that’s floating out in the middle of the ocean.  It’s the weekend so the majority of the people who work at the lab are gone.  Only a skeleton crew, made up of recognizable actors, remains.  There’s Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) and Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard), two brilliant scientists.  (Susan is passionate and committed.  Jim is drunk and cynical.)  There’s a marine biologist named Jan (Jacqueline McKenzie), who is such a positive presence that, from the minute she first shows up, you know that there’s no way she’s going to be alive at the end of the movie.  Tom (Michael Rapaport) is an engineer.  Brenda (Aida Turturro) is in charge of communicating with the outside world.  Preacher (LL Cool J) is a chef who acts a lot like LL Cool J.  And then there’s Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), the shark wrangler with a past.  Carter is obviously going to be our hero because, with a name like Carter Blake, there’s no way that he couldn’t be.

Finally, there’s Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson).  Russell is the businessman who has been funding all of the research at the lab.  Even though he doesn’t quite understand what Susan and Jim are doing, he’s been very generous.  However, after a shark escapes and nearly eats four generic teens, Russell decides that he better find out what exactly is being done with his money.

Jim and Susan are trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s.  Susan says that, if their experiments are successful, one pill will be able to reverse the disease.  They’ve been running tests on sharks and … well, let’s just say that Susan and Jim haven’t exactly been honest or ethical about their experiments.  (Movie scientists always cut corners, don’t they?)  Basically, they’ve been genetically engineering the sharks to increase the size of their brain.

The end result?

SUPER SHARKS!

To paraphrase the film’s poster, these sharks are big, fast, smart, and mean!  And needless to say, they’re sick of being held captive.  Soon, the lab is besieged by angry sharks and no one is safe!

That includes Samuel L. Jackson.  Deep Blue Sea is best known for the scene where Samuel L. Jackson gives a rousing speech, in which he exhorts everyone to keep fighting and not give up, right before a shark jumps out of the water and eats him.  It’s a great scene, one that makes brilliant use of Samuel L. Jackson.  I mean, let’s be honest.  You don’t expect Samuel L. Jackson to get eaten by a shark and, as soon as he’s gone, you look at the survivors and you think to yourself, “So, now you’re depending on LL Cool J and Thomas Jane to save you?  Y’all are so screwed…”

And yet, it’s also significant that the only scene from Deep Blue Sea that people really remember is that shark eating Samuel L. Jackson.  With the exception of the one moment, Deep Blue Sea is an incredibly predictable movie.  From the minute you see that Jim is played by Stellan Skarsgard, you know that he’s doing something wrong with the sharks.  The dialogue is often cringe-worthy and the characters are all thinly drawn.  The sharks are occasionally impressive but the movie doesn’t really do enough with the idea of them of being super smart.  Was I hoping for scenes of the sharks talking to each other?  I guess I was.

That said, as I watched Deep Blue Sea, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten just how likable and efficient the movie was.  Director Renny Harlin doesn’t waste any time trying to convince us that we’re watching anything more than just a slightly silly shark movie.  Wisely, Harlin unapologetically embraces Deep Blue Sea’s B-movie roots and, with the help of a game cast, the end result is a film that is enjoyably unpretentious and straight forward.  Samuel L. Jackson was not devoured in vain.

Scenes That I Love: Happy Birthday, Sam Elliott!


Today is the 73rd birthday of the perennially underrated actor, Sam Elliott!

Sam’s been acting for longer than I’ve been alive.  He’s been in a ton of good movies and he’s given some truly iconic performances and yet, with all that in mind, he still seems to be strangely underrated.  At the very least, he deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance in last year’s The Hero.   There’s some speculation that he might get one this year for his role in A Star is Born.

With all that said, most people seem to know Sam Elliott best for playing The Stranger in 1998’s The Big Lebowski.  So, with that in mind, here’s a scene I love featuring Sam Elliott from that very film!

Sam Elliott abides.