Another feature of...
Plot: Nessie’s back…and she’s pissed.
First, let me acknowledge the opinion of Badmovie.org’s Andrew Borntreger towards this film. He loathed it. I…didn’t. I’m certainly not planning to throw it any parties. Yet at least it was an actual movie, unlike so many of those stitched-together piecemeal films I’ve seen lately. Your Raptor. Your Final Voyage. Stuff like that. On the whole, I found Beneath Loch Ness to be your basic one-and-a-half star timewaster. Still and all, it’s unlikely to become a cult favorite any time soon.
We open with two divers in Alien-esque scuba suits, complete with head-mounted spotlights. They’re supposed to be underwater, although I have my doubts. Anyway, they’re on the bottom of the Loch. A fissure opens up and Old Gus the Scientist falls to his demise. His horrified associate, Julie, is forced back to the surface. Meanwhile, we see a vague CGI something-or-other rising from the newly expose crevice. Not to be picky, but this – a tremor revealing a previously close-off cavern or the like -- is the exact same explanation for the appearance of prehistoric monsters in Boa and Megalodon. Somebody, please, a new idea.
Cut to California, specifically the headquarters of the Expedition Channel. This being the sponsor of the Loch Ness expedition. A newscast is being watched on the SBS cable station. Given the (horrible) accent of the newscaster, "SBS" presumably stands for the Scottish Broadcasting System. Leading one to wonder what kind of cable package gives you SBS.
There’s a fairly lame sequence featuring the Channel’s gruff owner and his programming chief, Elizabeth. (Lysette Anthony [!], still looking pretty good twenty years after Krull.) I’ll spare you the details. The upshot is that they determine to send Old Gus’s estranged protégé Case Howell to take over things. Elizabeth objects to this choice, because – are you ready? – Case is a hotshot rebel who doesn’t play by the rules. She’s overruled and Case is offered the job.
Case, sequestered on a dig in Afghanistan, is shocked to hear of Gus’s death. He reluctantly agrees to the assignment. Arriving at the Loch, he joins Gus’s team. Aside from Beauteous Scientist Julie this consists of resentful hothead Jake and stolid tech-guy Ron. Case had worked with them previously but kept butting heads with Gus, probably because Case is a hotshot rebel who doesn’t play by the rules. He eventually left the group, feeling that Gus was chasing "fairy tales." Now that he’s back they spend a few minutes blaming each other for Gus’s death. This is what scriptwriting classes would call ‘Character Conflict.’
We see Gus’s memorial service, complete with mournful music provided by a bagpiper. Because this is Scotland, you know. Then there’s some huggermugger involving some WB-esque kids who run a Loch Ness website. They plan a fake monster incident involving a fiberglass Nessie. This is propelled from underneath by one of their number wearing a scuba suit. However, an actual (if barely-glimpsed) CGI creature appears and kills the guy. I guess. Suddenly we cut back to the faux monster and it’s all smashed and the kid is gone. It’s like they forget to film the actual attack footage and didn’t realize it until they edited the film together.
Next there’s a scene with some local fishermen. This spotlights the ongoing parade of awful ‘Scottish’ accents we’re subjected to here. Man, I haven’t heard accents this bad since…well, last week, I guess. The Irish accent of the *cough, cough* IRA terrorist in Boa being just as laughable. Although that was one character, while here a dozen or more spout equally lame brogues. Just wait for the scene where two ‘Scottish’ women berate Case in a pub. Yikes! (Moreover, despite their at-length and acid appraisal of Case and his team, one of these women will later be seen chatting up Jake. Good continuity, dudes.)
Elizabeth shows up to check out their progress. Given her exaggeratedly negative reaction when Case’s name was raised earlier, I was less than amazed to learn that:
Still, I was pleasantly surprised that the nearly *gasp* 40 year-old Lysette Anthony turns out to be the hero’s romantic interest. I had assumed that the much younger Julie would fill this role. I’d like to think this reflected some slight maturity on the filmmakers’ part. Instead, I suspect that Anthony was merely the biggest ‘name’ they could get for their female lead. Had they a younger ‘star’ available, they probably would have used her.
About halfway through the film gives up and just starts nakedly aping (sharking?) Jaws. Most obvious in this regard is kooky old salt Blay (Patrick Bergin!), who should be wearing a T-Shirt with "QUINT SUBSTITUTE" written across it in large letters. He has a big Pathos Flashback where he relates an incident with the monster some seventeen years past. He was out dynamite fishing with a young lad when the monster attacked his skiff. Blay survived, the boy didn’t. "The boy that was killed…was my son!" Blay tearfully finishes. Given the way this is edited, it’s apparent this is meant to be a shocking and tragic revelation. However, since the kid actually calls Blay "Dad" during the flashback, I was less than flabbergasted.
Nor is this the end of it. As if concerned that we still won’t intuit the film’s fundamental Jaws-ishness, there’s a scene where the area’s Pointlessly Antagonistic Authority Figure, in this case the local Constable (Vernon Wells!!) actually says, "This is the tourist season. This is the busiest time of the year for us. It doubles our business. I will not be quarantining the Loch." Wow. Where do they get their ideas?
Another blatantly purloined element is the trope I’ve termed the Little Shark. In Jaws some fisherman catch a sizable shark. This allows the town leaders to delude themselves that the menace has been taken care of. Only the heroes argue that another shark, one much larger than the one killed, is responsible for the carnage. Of course they prove to be right and the town’s Mayor is forced to hire Quint to kill the real culprit.
Here the Little Shark is a more typically Nessie-esque dinosaur that is found lying dead on the beach. (This sequence provides one of the film’s laugh-out-loud bad CGI effects.) The Constable announces this to a handful of reporters. He then inevitably explains that everything in the Loch is now hunky-dory before shooing them off. However, the heroes later sneak in to examine the body. They find that a covered portion of the creature proves that it itself was attacked and partially eaten by something larger and rather more vicious. This is meant to make the cover-up more sinister. Instead, it makes it more stupid. Attracting more tourists to a lake you know contains a ravenous man-eating dinosaur does not seem a strategy for long-term success.
I also especially like how this plot point is introduced and then forgotten. Hilariously, the confirmed existence of a prehistoric beast in the Loch – one they have an actual dead specimen of – will fail to attract any further press attention as the film proceeds. Needless to say, one doubts this would be the case in real life.
The script starts out OK, if only that. Unfortunately, it becomes dumber as things move along. After a while I began to more fully appreciate Andrew Borntreger’s annoyance with the film. One obvious point is that half the time the locals are outlandishly hostile to visitors, while the rest of the time they are rabidly concerned about losing tourism dollars. Also fanciful is the notion that the announcement of a killer dinosaur in the lake would chase tourists away. After all, people come to Loch Ness because of the monster, not to enjoy the cold and famously murky waters. That doesn’t even take into account the bajillions of reporters, scientists and whatnot that would come swarming over there.
The screenplay isn’t the only problem. There’s the acting, which is all over the map. I thought the guy playing Case was actually pretty good. However, Lysette Anthony’s performance is entirely too mannered. (Although given her no doubt paltry recompense, in conjunction with a presumably rushed shooting schedule, I suppose I can’t really blame her lazy efforts.) Worse are Bergin and Wells. Both are saddled with Scottish accents beyond their thespians skills, especially in Well’s case. These results in viewer guffaws and eye rolling just about anytime they open their mouths.
Wells tries to project a menacing air, as he was no doubt hired to. He’s less than successful, though. This is at least partly because we never understand why his character is such a dick. Perhaps a better actor would have made the arbitrary nature of the role more believable, but probably not by much. Meanwhile, Bergin is obviously meant to provide an over-the-top performance here, ala his character’s model in Jaws. Unfortunately, Bergin quickly proves himself no Robert Shaw.
The film’s main pitfall, however, is the woeful nature of the CGI work. It’s the least accomplished I’ve can think of offhand, both in quantity and quality. They quite evidently could afford only a certain small amount of the stuff. Therefore any use of them tends to be brief at best. For instance, there’s a momentarily seen ‘corpse’ that pops up beneath a glass bottom boat. This image was so fleeting that I had to rewind and use slo-mo to see what the object was supposed to be. As well, a bit featuring actress Anthony computer composited onto an establishing shot of a train station is jaw-droppingly bad.
The Monster: Pretty lame, especially given that it’s the rationale for this movie existing. The beast is rarely and only elliptically seen, patently cartoonish and poorly designed. It sports the highly textured but lifeless aspect that characterizes most bad CGI-realized creatures. Worse, the thing has no discernible personality. It’s an inert presence, and that more than anything else sinks the film. Ironically, the old-fashioned ‘practical’, i.e., prosthetic body for the dead Little Shark monster remains by far the film’s most effective creature effect.
Summary: I’ve seen worse, but everyone other than completists can safely skip this one.
The Crater Lake
Plot: Beneath Loch Ness 1977
The Scene: A remote mountain community in California. Paleontologists Dan Turner and Susan Patterson hustle their friend Doc to a find they made while excavating an old mine shaft. This proves to be cave paintings, ones thousands of years old. More amazing is that one illustrates hunters battling a surprisingly well-represented plesiosaur. This proof of dinosaurs surviving millions of years after they were thought extinct is modestly referred to as "a major find." (I was surprised to learn that this rather extraordinary artifact would, in Dan’s estimation, secure them further funding for "months." I don’t know, I’d have thought it was worth more than that.)
Nearby, Sheriff Steve Hanson watches as a flaming meteorite crashes into the local deepwater lake. The impact causes an earth tremor that collapses the mine, burying the cave paintings. Dan and Susan will react this to with inspiring sangfroid, even nonchalance, throughout the rest of the picture. Meanwhile, the meteorite superheats part of the lake. The rise in temperature hatches a plesiosaur egg that’s lain in the frozen mud at the bottom of the waters all these years. Somehow this results – seemingly within hours -- in a full-grown carnivorous monster waddling around, one that moves on land as well as in the water. (Later one character will casually note that it's been six months since the meteorite landed. You'd think they could have communicated that fact earlier.)
Soon the monster is munching on a fairly large number of victims. These include some cattle in a sequence where the monster is so poorly composited onto the frame that you can only chuckle in delight. There's also a scene where a guy in a rowboat gets kacked that's supposed to take place during the afternoon of a sunny California day. However, the actual 'attack' was filmed in a tank, and somebody forget to mention that fact. So the guy rents the boat. He's told to return it before six o'clock that afternoon. We cut to him at 'night,' whereupon he's killed. Then we go back to the boat owners, who note the man had better have the craft back "before dark."
The owners of the boat are Arnie and Mitch. They provide the film with both its redneck comedy relief figures and, in the former, the guy who looks at the monster with a mercenary gleam in his eye. From there it's just stuff followed by more stuff until it's time to end the movie.
On the whole, the film’s surprisingly, well, not good, exactly, but competent. (Especially compared to the other films I’ve been watching all week.) The main cast is fairly believable, with the exception of the guy playing Doc. He’s not horrible, but he’s stiff and comes across false on camera. Most of the bit players also provide credible turns, although not all. Yes, tourist husband and wife, I’m looking at you. This is even more surprising in that practically no one appearing here was ever in anything else. The most impressive acting career amongst the cast belongs to Richard Garrison (Dan), whose résumé consists of bit parts in three other films and an episode of TV’s Hunter.
The film’s star, Richard Cardella (Steve), is a case in point. This remains his sole acting credit. In fact, he also wrote the movie’s unspectacular yet still serviceable screenplay. Scripting, too, was something he apparently never tried again. Most probably he and most of the others appearing here were local friends of William Stromberg, the picture’s producer/director. Despite making one of the better regional productions I’ve seen – not exactly high praise, since others include crapfests like Bog and Terror In The Swamp – Stromberg himself never worked in any capacity on another film. Perhaps he lost money on this and couldn’t afford to make another.
Oddly, the cast members who went on to major careers in film did so in the field of special effects. Mark Siegel (Mitch) typically never acted again. However, he worked on sculpting, puppets and models for such films as Men in Black, Armageddon, Ghostbusters, Dune, Big Trouble in Little China and Star Wars Episode I, among many others. Michael Hoover (Ross) also forsook acting to become a miniature and digital artist. He’s worked on many projects since, many of them featuring giant monsters: The Dune miniseries; Spiders I & II; DeepStar Six; Dragonworld; Skeeter and the inimitable Zarkorr! The Invader.
While decent for a first time attempt, the script does eventually start relying more heavily on rote plot devices. Dan and Susan want to save the monster for science; Arnie wants to capture the beast so as to make money off of it (guess which of the three will die by the end of the picture); Steve, meanwhile, wants to kill the creature before more lives are lost.
Other detriments include a too extended slapstick scene between Arnie and Mitch, a needlessly bloody robbery scene used to jack up the film’s violence quotient and pad out the running time (there's more bloodshed here in this older film than in our other three subjects combined), and a couple of scenes that were rather obviously shot on sets. These include a character being attacked in a rowboat and a couple ‘driving’ in a car.
Pluses include some very scenic imagery of the mountains and the lake. (In fact, the full frame presentation on the film's cheapo DVD is gorgeous.) Life in a small rural community is also well portrayed. I liked the scene where Steve sits at his desk with his feet up, reading a magazine, drinking a beer and keeping track of how many flies he swats. This little sequence provides some low-key humor while able suggesting the generally slow pace of life in this locale.
The Monster: The plesiosaur is brought to the screen with stop-motion animation, looking a lot like an early Jim Danforth effort. (Rather less successful are some rudimentary prop elements, including a woefully bogus monster head used to physically interact with the cast.) As I note again in the Octopus II piece below, practical effects tend to work for me better than CGI ones.
This is, I guess, the difference between mainstream audiences and the hardcore monster movie fan. Regular viewers place a far greater emphasis on whether the monsters look ‘real’ or not. For this, CGI, especially large budget CGI in films like Jurassic Park, usually has the edge. (Still, a continuing problem with CGI monsters is that their makers often have them move too quickly. Think Anaconda. This makes the monsters seem to lack mass and thus play falsely to the eye.)
Us fans, though, especially we old-timers, prefer a monster to have personality. For this, practical effects do a much better job. This film’s plesiosaur is a case in point. It’s never looks even remotely ‘realistic’ -- honestly compels me to note that the CGI menace in Shark Hunter (see below) is much more successfully frightening -- yet despite the evident cheesiness of its presentation, the Crater Lake Monster has a charm and personality that I’ve yet to see a CGI beastie possess. Maybe someday computer effects will give us a monster to rival a King Kong or Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Summary: A genial time-waster. Two and a half stars, at least if this sort of thing is up your alley.
River of Death
Plot: A giant octopus turns (cough, cough) New York’s East River into a, uh, waterway of mortal peril.
The good news is that this chapter in the ongoing Octopus saga is much less exasperating than its predecessor. The bad news is that this still leaves a lot of ground for sucking. Even so, the hero here is notably less annoying than the one in the first film. (Although still annoying.) The film is less outrageously stupid than the initial picture. (Although still stupid.) And they’ve managed to figure out that you can center a film around a rampaging giant octopus without needing to tack on a lame time-wasting subplot, like the earlier terrorist-on-the-loose deal. (Well, they figure this out until the end of the picture, at least.)
Oh, and they use more practical effects here. Yes, there is some CGI, including short bits stolen from the first movie. Still, most of the octopus’s appearances here are, well…realized isn’t quite the right word…facilitated with physical props. These include a big rubber octopus head with glowing eyes – what giant monster would be complete without them? – and the obligatory rubber tentacles. The use of the latter, by the way, proves that Flailing Rubber Tentacle technology hasn’t come very far since the days of Bride of the Monster.
The first thing likely to strike the eye is are the Twin Towers. These will appear in the myriad shots used to establish the film as occurring in New York City. (Anyone fooled into believing this might reconsider the assumption upon viewing the end credits. These consist of seemingly hundreds of patently Slavic names.) The appearance of the towers presumably explains why they bother to include the year, 2000 for those interested, in the dates occasionally flashed across the screen.
We open on a drunken couple stumbling towards a dock. The guy capers around in a rowboat, the woman becomes increasingly worried and the octopus shows up and kills them. I hope I didn’t blow the surprise for you. This is witnessed by a bum, thus providing the heroes with the obligatory witness whom no one else will believe. It’s here that we get our first real look at the rubber tentacles that will be the de facto stars of our movie. Seeing the actors try to wrap themselves in these cheesy props as they whipped around on wires made me sigh with contentment.
Next we meet our hero Nick. He’s a cop who plays by his own rules. The guy playing him bears a slight resemblance to Michael Keaton, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s based his acting style on Keaton’s too. Given the nature of the film -- you know, the octopus and all – Nick is a member of the Harbor Patrol. In this film the Harbor Patrol proves to have a jurisdictional breadth rivaled only by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black.
Nick and his squad are preparing for a nighttime narcotics raid. He and the other scuba guys dive from their boats and swim over to a small craft being used by a fellow Nick suspects to be running drugs. Then they lurch up from the water and arrest the guy. (Why this is more efficient than actually riding their patrol boats over there is left to our imaginations.) The guy is arrested, despite a dearth of evidence – no drugs are found – and turns out to be a judge. This proves that Nick is a Straight Shooting Rebel Who’s Unafraid To Challenge Those In Power etc., etc. Of course, the Judge will later prove to be guilty, and eaten by the octopus for good measure. That’ll learn him.
Nick’s partner and mentor is Walter. Walter, it turns out, is about to retire to a cushy desk job. So I think we can guess what’s going to happen to him. Anyway, they have a captain who’s tired of covering for Nick’s hotshot ways yada yada. (The Harbor Patrol precinct sure has a lot of criminals being paraded around, considering that it’s, you know, a Harbor Patrol precinct.) To keep the two out of trouble until the now released Judge cools off, he sends them on a dive to examine some underwater electrical cable damage. Because that’s the sort of thing Harbor Patrol guys do when they aren’t engaging in frogman narcotic arrests.
While looking for said damage they stumble across the body of the woman killed earlier, which is lodged under the dock. Thus does this join the long list of movies where seemingly carnivorous monsters kill a bunch of people but don’t bother eating them. Soon the two are topside, where they assume the investigation of her death. Because that’s the sort of thing Harbor Patrol guys do when they aren’t engaging in frogman narcotic arrests or searching for damaged electrical cables.
Nick and Walter believe that a regular killer is the culprit. This notion is sustainable because throughout the film the octopus will leave behind no forensic evidence to suggest it’s involvement. You know, like sucker marks on the victims it wraps its tentacles around. Admittedly, there’s some damage to a half dozen boards on the pier ("I’ve never seen a dock torn up like this before," Walter opines -- remember that line for later), but that’s shrugged off.
News of the killers brings Beauteous Young Mayor’s Aide Rachel Starbird (!) to the scene. Nick is antagonistic to her presence, because he’s a Straight Shooting Rebel Who’s Not Afraid To Challenge Those In Power. Or that’s the idea, anyway. The general concept is that the mayor is worried because he’s got a huge Fourth of July city celebration coming up. Such motives are meant to be sordid, thus making Nick’s Quest for Justice all the more admirable. Instead, Nick’s surly attitude towards Rachel only makes him seem a churlish ass. Not that this will keep the two from falling in love. (Oops, sorry.)
My favorite part is the notion that the Mayor having his staff check up on a murder investigation can only be motivated by the rankest political motives. Which, after all, is what’s supposed to make the bristly Nick’s pouting all commendable and stuff. However, this attitude is rather bizarre, in that it completely ignores what occurred during the recent Giuliani administration in New York. It’s exactly this sort of ‘interference’ by the Mayor that caused New York’s crime rates to plummet during his term in office. A mayor being concerned about the death of two tourists seems to me entirely justified. Of course, in this sort of movie politicians – including judges, of course -- are all immoral hacks and/or morons. Unsurprisingly, the Mayor will prove to be among this number.
Next we see Nick exhibit the sort of hunches that always define Super Cops in these things. He sees an empty bottle of "Mad Dog," complete with cartoony label, near the death scene. He asks a nearby uniform cop to hand it to him. The beat cop inserts a pen into the bottle’s neck, lifts it and places it in Nick’s bare hands. (!) Nick manhandles it a while and then tosses it into the hands of the cop who gave it to him. (!!) CSI this ain’t. Of course, we can be pretty sure Nick knows what he’s doing, since he is, after all, in the Harbor Patrol.
Nick feels that the Mad Dog bottle proves that the bum named, get this, "Mad Dog" was on the scene and might have seen the murders. Of course he’s right, despite Walter thinking it a long shot. So they go to some underground tunnels where a bunch of bums live, including one mournfully playing a violin. (!!) The point of this scene seems to be to remark on the tragedy of the homeless. Yet when the booze-addled Mad Dog is found, in his private room (!) yet, Nick and Walter proceed to smash up his meager possessions until he agrees to talk. (!!) I’m not Jane Fonda or anything, but I found his pretty appalling, as did my friend Andrew Muchoney. And he’s a guy who thought Emperor of the North was boring because it was about bums, and who could care? Mad Dog identifies the assailant as a giant octopus. Walter naturally dismisses the tale, but Nick is troubled by it.
Here we get the scene that every sea monster movie requires if it’s to meet the minimum qualifications for this sort of picture: The beastie sinking a tugboat. This involves some bad CGI – including an ill-matching shot from the first movie – and lots of rubber tentacle action. Shots of its tentacles tearing up the interior of the boat are lifted from the first movie, and don’t remotely match. Not that they really look like the interior of a nuclear submarine either, so I guess they might as well use them for a tugboat too.
The boat, per the nature of these things, catches fire, turns into an obvious toy and explodes so that there are no witnesses. Despite this, overhead footage of the explosion will soon be seen showing on TV broadcasts. Which is impossible, since there’s no way someone could have flown over in the short time the boat was under attack. And if they did, there’s no way they could not have seen the octopus. Still, this scene made me happy, no matter how ineptly executed, so I’m not about to bitch about it.
Nick is seen watching film footage of octopi on his computer. And no, not the kind the thing you get from an Internet connection. It’s like he’s getting a TV show on there. And for no reason he hits some keys while its running. Presumably for the same reason people driving cars in movies turn the wheel back and forth while heading down a straightaway. Later we’ll see Nick doing some sort of magical mapping thing on his PC. Does anyone in the movie business understand how these things work? And it’s not like I’m a computer expert or anything.
Hmm, this is dragging out more than I intended. So…Nick presents his octopus theory, and everyone thinks he’s nuts. With reason. And why not suggest the involvement of a giant squid? At least those are known to exist. Although…this is taking place in the same universe as the first movie, right? Or is it? If so, then wouldn’t people remember a gigantic octopus attacking a cruise ship and eating a bunch of passengers? Whatever.
Nick and Walter go back to the dock, with the latter diving back down for a look. Would you really do this after dark? Anyway. The octopus attacks Walter, resulting in a roughly five-minute struggle seemingly shot in slow-motion (because it’s happening underwater). During this Walter, attempting to escape, smashes his way up through the boards of the dock. He does a lot more damage to it than the octopus did earlier, when he had remarked on the extraordinary destruction it had sustained.
Nick dives in at this point and the battle banal resumes. This sequence is ludicrous, first because of the bit where Walter smashes through the dock (which at this point is obviously composed of quarter inch balsa wood planking). However, this is also the worst of many scenes wherein humans are able to wrestle with this multi-ton animal’s tentacles for moronically long periods of time. Later on, for instance, the octopus will have a tentacle wrapped around Rachel’s neck. Luckily she’s able to just more or less slip it off.
Anyway, Walter manages to keep from being dragged off for like five minutes, despite the fact that he’s underwater and doesn’t have much of anything to hand on to. Eventually, though, the beast forces Nick back up onto the pier and finally hauls his partner to his doom. Yawn. Nick escapes, by the way, because he has a dinky knife and stabs some tentacles with it. Which is a bit strange, since we’ll later see the creature shrug off some major explosions.
Again, I’m getting bogged down here. There’s a scene where it’s the Fourth, and the city’s (none-too) huge fireworks display is occurring. Nick is up in the crown of the Statue of Liberty, and the octopus appears and starts climbing it. The beast pulls the Statue’s head off and Nick falls to his death. This is a dream, of course – although Nick’s dreams must have budgetary restraints, considering the paucity of the ‘crowd’ – and probably was put in mostly because this scene was used on the film’s original poster art. Still, this sort of mass destruction is what we want from our giant monster movies.
Nick and his scuba team eventually bump into the monster. One guy here swims right into the octopus’ mouth – noticeably bending its rubber teeth -- reminding the veteran bad movie fans of the horde of similarly compliant victims in the classic killer rug-monster movie The Creeping Terror. Still, this allows the others to escape. Why, I’m not too sure, but that’s what happens.
Later Nick leads the guys back underwater to kill the monster. They are armed with spear guns sporting farcically powerful explosive headed spears. They also affix a bomb to the beast, although how they get it to stick remains a mystery. For instance, I don’t think octopi are magnetic. (The resulting explosion allows them to recycle more footage from the first movie.) The octopus strikes out and damages an underwater tunnel, allowing the film to use shots taken from the Sylvester Stallone disaster pic Daylight.
Those trapped in the tunnel include Rachel with, three guesses, a bus containing kids from the "International Children’s Coalition," here for the Mayor’s "Peace Conference." Before the disaster stuff Rachel was leading them in choruses of "Old McDonald Had a Farm" and, yes, "Row Your Boat," allowing me to make Dirty Harry jokes. One young girl is crippled, allowing for extra pathos and ‘suspense.’ (Right, like they’re going to kill her off.) Yes, that’s some sensitive filmmaking there.
Nick shows up and saves everyone. This sequence lasts like ten minutes or more, and really doesn’t fit with the film as a whole. Then the octopus inevitably pops back up (despite us seeing it being blown to pieces) – please, could some monsters just be allowed to die the first time? – and Nick hits it with some more explosive spears from a ridiculous distance and the beast is finally killed.
By the way, makes sure to hit the innocuous Lion’s Gate logo on the DVD menu. This starts a series of trailers for the first Octopus and fellow Nu Image sequels Crocodile II and Spiders II.
The Monster: As noted, an amusing mixture of crappy CGI and crappy prosthetics. The octopus alternates between being too powerful and not powerful enough, but not as much as the beast in the first film.
Summary: At this rate the fourth one of these should be pretty good.
Earlier this year I wrote an article on some of the cheesy films being offered up at this year’s American Film Market. The movie that stirred the greatest amount of interest here – by which I mean maybe four people posted messages on it – was Megalodon, a flick built around a giant prehistoric shark. Well, Megalodon is still searching for a distributor, but in the meantime two other projects on the same theme have stuck their fins above water.
Due out in November on home video is the inevitable Nu Image entry, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. The first to reach market, though, is Shark Hunter, via a truly skimpy DVD – it plays the movie and that’s it – of a film so obscure that as I write it still lacks a IMDB entry. None of these are likely to be tremendously good, although I’ve seen worse than Shark Hunter. (Of course, I’ve seen worse than Jungle Hell, so what does that tell you?)
As noted, it seems inevitable that Nu Image, the makers of the Octopus, Crocodile and Spiders series, would put forth a Megalodon movie. So too is it unsurprising that our current subject is courtesy of the folks at UFO (Unified Film Organization). I seem to spend a lot of my time lately watching the output of these two companies, probably because they keep making cheesy giant monster movie, which I can’t resist. Too bad they make so many uninspired to downright awful ones, though.
UFO was responsible for, among others, the recently reviewed Boa. It shows, too, as I’m starting to recognize the traits that earmark a UFO production. On the obvious side, there’s the appearance of actor Grand L. Bush – no, that’s not a female porn star or a Bond girl. He’s a black actor who once had a career playing cops and other badasses in real, actual films. Now he appears to be stuck as a stock player in UFO pictures. Frankly, he doesn’t come off as the world’s best actor in these films. To be fair, that might not be his fault, given the bad scripts and practically non-existent shooting schedules attendant to these pictures. Also, it’s worth noting that his performance here is rather better than his abysmal turn in Boa.
More endemic to UFO films, and I think I mentioned this in my Boa piece, is the vast difference in scale between the movies’ CGI and practical elements. Since the CGI parts of the film, generally the settings and vehicles and giant monsters, are animated, they can be as epic as the f/x artists are capable of designing. This results in gigantic installations, like the prison in Boa, or things like the submarine here.
The problem is that the film spends a great deal of their money on the CGI stuff, meaning that many of the actual, physical sets tend to be claustrophobically small. And since actors cost money too, the gigantic facilities tend to hold an absurdly small number of people. Look again to Boa. There a prison designed, we’re told, to hold 25,000 prisoners has during the events featured but six. Here it’s the same thing: The submarine looks gigantic on the (CGI) outside, but the interior sets are generally tight and the crew of this massive ship consists of a paltry seven people. (Actually, about half way through things we’re shown a bunch of extras we hadn’t seen before.)
We open with an extended, time-padding montage of ‘home movies.’ These are suitably grainy and might actually have been shot in 8 or 16mm to save money. Said movies portray a rather too-happy and loving husband, wife and preteen son. Oh, what a merry bunch they are. Even so, these images are interrupted in abrupt jarring cuts, and the somber music and shadowy images swimming across the screen suggest that the future is not bright for these folks. This opening is at least somewhat original, although it does run too long at roughly four minutes.
We cut to the family on a ‘boat.’ This is represented by a set on a cramped studio, not even in a tank. The water briefly seen surrounding the supposed craft is matted-in CGI stuff. It’s a dark, foggy night and within about two seconds we have a pretty good idea where this is going. Just in case we don’t, though, they have the father tease his son about the giant, man-eating squids in the area. How ironic. Of course, the spooked kid soon sees through the fog what looks like a gigantic fin breaching the waters. The boat is hit by something and only the boy makes it out alive.
We only see the shark elliptically here. There are two possible reasons for this. One, to keep the beast something of a mystery. More probable is that, with every second of money-eating CGI needing to be carefully plotted out, they decided to save their bucks for later in the movie. Either way, the decision was misguided. This is our first big scene and you need a little more kick to it. Another five seconds of shark here would have ratcheted up the effect tremendously.
Cut to years later. Young lad Spence is now a fashionably long-haired young college teacher (a sullen Antonio Sabato Jr., late of Melrose Place and looking it). College teachers are a recurring element in UFO films, ala Boa. During Spence’s lecture Will enters the room. He represents the owners of the futuristic exploratory submarine that Spence, we’re told, ‘built.’ He regretfully explains that the owners have turned down Spence’s request to use the vehicle, going with an alternate team’s proposal instead. Spence is angered by this, yada yada.
Cut to a gigantic CGI underwater lab. Or something. As noted earlier, despite the mammoth size of this facility we’ll see a total of three people here, and the one interior set shown is dinky. Two of the people are ‘outside’ the lab welding something. They are clad in futuristic scuba suits – or space suits, more likely – presumably constructed for some more expensive movie. (I haven’t seen it since it was in theaters, but I think they may be from Outland.) And yes, the lights on these are mounted inside the helmet, meaning those wearing them wouldn’t be able to see a damn thing.
This stuff is pretty funny, since their activities are clearly being shot in a room filled with light fog and falling schmutz. This is rather unsuccessful, to say the least, in suggesting the characters to be underwater. The attempt at illusion is evident even without the sparks and drifting smoke issuing from their welding equipment.
So that’s two of the three characters here. The other guy, the one officially inside an interior set, gets a reading on the inevitable motion detector. I think you can take it from there. Sure enough, the scuba guys (eventually) get et, and the Megalodon smashes into the side of the lab. The wall is ruptured and the facility catastrophically implodes.
This scene perfectly illustrates the dichotomy I was referring to earlier. The CGI elements, the shark and the lab, look pretty good. (Although of necessity they aren’t dwelled upon too much.) On the other hand, the physical elements look commensurately cheap. Still, it points towards an age where medium-budgeted films, ones that can adequately match the physical elements with the computer generated ones, will be able to pull off action on a scale previously unimaginable.
One problem worth mentioning is that the shark isn’t always scaled against anything. When swimming around on its lonesome, of course, it just looks like a regularly sized beastie.
The owners of the submarine were also the owner of the now destroyed lab. Or whatever it was. Now the sub will sent to go see what happened, and Spence will be on that mission. Joining him will be slick corporate-type Will, Macho Dickhead Rock (!) Harrington (Grand L. Bush) – he’s the obligatory "character conflict" guy – Beauteous Blonde Scientist Sheryl and some fodder guys. Sheryl also will prove pointlessly antagonistic to Spence. I found the idea that half the cast would be complete jerkwads increasingly wearisome as things progressed. Luckily, things do eventually get better on this front.
Another major plot device is the presence of a mini-sub, provided so that it can be used to engage the shark later. The Megalodon does show up, of course. Moreover, needless to say, we’re to assume it’s the one that killed Spence’s parents all those years ago. This is undoubtedly the silliest concept in the movie, since the odds of these two beings stumbling into each other again is more than a little far-fetched. Especially since there’s no reason to believe that the destroyed deepwater facility would lie anywhere near where a pleasure boat would likely end up.
There’s also some tiresomely familiar stuff here. In the Jaws rip-off category are some scenes where they spear the Megalodon with cables, so that it ends up pulling the sub around. Then there’s the scene where Spence, examining the destroyed lab, is startled by a dead body and then, that’s right, find’s a gigantic shark tooth in the wreckage. Even so, the movie’s refreshingly free of such moments, perhaps because the monster never threatens a community. (Which, actually, is what you really want in a giant monster movie, but never mind.)
Shark Hunter could have used a bigger budget, but it’s not that bad. Certainly better than Boa, perhaps because the scale of what happens is more realistically suited to the film’s financial constraints. The shark is fairly well animated, and some of the shots of it are really quite better than I expected. The one thing that sort of bugged me was that they didn’t model the Megalodon on a great white, which is the image I had in my head. (Perhaps because that’s what on the DVD box art.) Still, it’s fairly effective as it is. CGI still works best for mechanical and other inanimate objects, but they’re getting better at doing living creatures as well. The sequence where the Meg first appears and swims around the sub for a while is particularly good.
Also, and this is what impressed me the most here, the script ultimately goes in directions that actually surprised and even shocked me on occasion. After the predictably rote screenplays used by most of these cheapies I was fairly impressed by this. I won’t say much more, though, because it would be stupid to praise the film’s originality and then blab about what the original parts are.
This isn’t to say the film isn’t flawed. Still, it was somewhat better than the low expectations I had for it.
The Monster: The Megalodon is well rendered via CGI. Moreover, it acts like an actual shark. Nothing it does seems beyond the likely physical or mental capabilities of such a creature. (Although its unexplained immunity to tranquilizers reeks of plot convenience.) Like the film itself, the shark is better than I expected. Technically, this is easily the best realized and scariest of the four sea beasts featured in this issue.
Summary: If this proves the worst of the three giant shark movies due out this year, fans will be in pretty good shape. It’s at least even money, though, that this will be the best of them.
-by Ken Begg