My experience of the movies of Donald Farmer has been discovering them years after the fact, so it was with bated breath I awaited the release of a brand new movie on DVD, with a great-looking trailer, that I would be watching at the same time as everyone else. We have Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment to thank for bringing this one to us, and should you be a particularly uncritical Christian you’ll be happy to know they’ve also put out “God’s Not Dead 2”, with Melissa Joan Hart and Jesse Metcalfe in it, doing a pose on the cover like they’re in a slightly saucy romantic comedy and not a miserable piece of fundamentalist anti-intellectual propaganda. But they’ve also got some really amazing-looking films on their site, so check them out.
Anyway, Donald Farmer! He’s a lovely chap, with a great social media presence where he shares photos of cool old cinemas, behind the scenes stuff from his old movies and his extremely eclectic DVD, blu-ray and soundtrack collection. He’s also happy to discuss his oeuvre with people online too, so an enthusiastic thumbs up to him (he’s certainly nicer than the director of “Things”, who sent me an abusive email the other day).
So it’s with heavy heart that I must report “Shark Exorcist” is…well, seemingly unfinished. The closing credits kick in at 59 minutes (admittedly, not all that unusual for Farmer) with a mid-credits scene which bears no relation to anything that’s gone before; then a post-credits scene which only seems to be there because someone remembered they’d left a storyline completely unresolved. The plot which is described on the back cover of the DVD would have been fun…if they’d actually done it. The cover even makes reference to “villagers”, like whoever wrote the blurb thought it was set in the olden days.
I feel genuinely bad criticising a new Farmer movie, but I have to assume it had a very tough time making it to release. “Shark Exorcist” was originally listed on IMDB in 2012, but is now 2015, and what that information and seeing the film screams to me is that maybe half of the action we see (the main plot, probably) was filmed back then, but money ran out or some other disaster befell the shoot. It perhaps sat on a shelf for a few years before someone dug it out, filmed a bunch of new scenes with new actors to get it to the absolute barest minimum length to release as a feature film? There’s an odd-sounding credit – “filmed and edited by Jamie Nichols” – which might mean he had a larger hand in that extra stuff? Or I might be completely wrong and just speculating blindly. I know what you come to these reviews for!
Let’s talk plot! I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage it, but here goes. A nun who’s committed some unspecified evil act is confronted by a woman at the side of a lake. The nun stabs her, throws her into the water and summons Satan, and he sends a demon shark to help her out. Or maybe it’s Satan himself? Anyway, ONE YEAR LATER, and we’ve got three young women heading off to the lake-side for a relaxing day out. Channing Dodson as the most sensible of the three, Emily, is a decent actor, the other two are…well, not so much bad as just not actors at all. One of them gets bitten by the shark, a bite which recovers remarkably quickly, and which leaves her with a sudden interest in water. Possession!
There’s also the crew of the show “Ghost Whackers”, consisting of a very enthusiastic redhead and her cameraman (oddly enough, I identified him in the credits much more easily than her, as he’s just billed as “cameraman” and I missed her name the only time she said it). At one point, she’s talking to the camera, but her guy is in shot, meaning she’s talking to the movie’s camera, not her own; that this only happens once makes things extra confusing. Anyway, she wants to be possessed by the shark-demon, and after writhing round by the side of the lake a few times, gets her wish about halfway through the movie, suddenly appearing outside a coliseum-style building and eating the woman from the rival show “Ghost Fakers”.
Bobby Kerecz pops up as a sleazy dude, gives his real-life wife (the possessed lady from earlier) a lift to the beach and frolics with her before getting eaten; then he shows up as the priest the back cover of the movie promised us, only this arc, as the titular character, is barely more impressive than his original one. Characters drop in and out seemingly at random, there’s a scene where a few people walk round a super-depressing looking funfair, and it doesn’t so much come to a conclusion as it does just find a semi-convenient place and stop. Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, the way the main plot is wrapped up is frankly pathetic.
For a movie which, once again, has its closing credits at 59 minutes, it’s got a ton of padding. We see every second of a guy jogging round the quay; and the scene where an unidentified man pervs on a rather beautiful young woman sleeping while sunbathing is absolutely 100% pointless and absolutely 100% shown at great length – plus, when said woman is inevitably attacked by one of the movie’s several shark-women, the visual is bizarre because the victim is athletic and has clearly lifted some weights, and the aggressor is a 95lb woman who’s…well, not. The camera focuses on reactions to gore rather than actual gore itself, a money-saving trick (perhaps he was going to film the special effects later and never got round to it) and, if you’re not counting a swimming CGI shark or a bit of blood on a woman’s leg, the first thing you could call an “effect” doesn’t happen til almost three-quarters of the way through!
There are a few lovely lines in it, though, examples of the sense of humour Farmer has displayed throughout his career. If I had to guess, I’d say the entire thing was built around the line “we’re gonna need a bigger cross”, which is hilarious, and the “Ghost Whackers” lady is clearly having a good time chewing every bit of scenery she can find.
It gives me no great pleasure to criticise this – Wild Eye Releasing, a brilliant company, have had a hand in its release, Kaleidoscope have some fun stuff in their catalogue, and of course Donald Farmer is a great chap – but it’s just really really bad. Heck, even the actual physical product – the pre-order price was £12.99 but it ended up being £8; for a movie which barely lasted an hour with absolutely no special features on it whatsoever, it still feels like a bit of a cheat (it’s apparently a fiver in Morrisons, should you be interested). Even if the movie had been good, I’d have still felt a bit aggrieved. If these companies aren’t prepared to put any work into their DVDs, why should we put the money into buying them? Okay, “Sharknado” is still a big thing, and a wacky-looking DVD will no doubt make a few £££ for everyone involved, but it’s such a rotten trick to pull on people. And everyone who gets tricked by this will definitely think twice before spending money on low-budget horror in future, making it ultimately a bad thing for us all.
But it’s the movie itself that really ought to be our focus, with the real upset coming from thinking that someone looked at this and went “yes, this is in a reasonable state to release and expect people to pay for”. There’s the odd moment where you can sense Farmer going for a European 70s horror vibe, a couple of well-composed shots (although more Dutch angles than any movie really needs), some fun performances and a nice sense of humour; but, while I fear an unfriending in my near future, I can’t with good conscience recommend anyone spends their hard-earned money on this. I have to, just have to, assume serious problems somewhere in the production of “Shark Exorcist”, because there’s no way this was the desired finished product.
It’s absolutely worth getting yourself some Farmer DVDs, though. “Red Lips” and “Scream Dream” are both singular experiences, and you can witness Melissa Moore, Debbie Rochon and Ghetty Chasun at their best, all excellent actors who deserved more from the industry than they got. If “Vampire Cop” gets re-released next year, definitely pick that up. “Compelling Evidence” is a bizarre delight. The more recent “Chainsaw Cheerleaders” is loads of fun. If you’re going to go for this, at least try one of Farmer’s better movies first.
Rating: thumbs down