Jurassic Attack (2013)

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Welcome back to our series of SyFy Channel reviews, where we attempt to be the site which tells you everything you need to know about every SyFy Channel original movie. Well, at least all the ones I can get hold of, anyway. Today’s effort gives us the acting gifts of a former Miss World contestant, a former boxer and the bad guy from “Commando”!

 

What we have here is a modern “homage” to Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World”, where a bunch of people get lost in the jungle and find a plateau on which the dinosaurs never died out – to be fair, the characters recognise the similarity themselves and reference it, which is refreshing. The plot is otherwise nice and simple. A group of soldiers is tasked with rescuing a bio-chemist who’s been kidnapped by Marquez, a South American terrorist; Marquez also has a warhead which can contains some chemical weapon, and he kidnapped the biochemist in order to have her turn it airborne and kill tens of thousands. This is achieved fairly quickly, but on the way out their helicopter is damaged, and flying off course lands in a mysterious, uncharted valley with some long-thought-extinct creatures in it.

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Add in, back at the base, a military official who wants to level the entire area to both kill the terrorist leader and destroy the toxins, and a Colonel who’s trying to save his guys, and you’ve got yourself a movie. Two of the three top-billed actors (Corin Nemec, as the Colonel, and Vernon Wells, as the Army suit) were filmed in one location, presumably as the production could only afford them for one day, and Wells went so far as to do his entire role sitting down in the same spot, which would be odd if it weren’t the second film we’ve covered where he does this, along with 2010’s “Shadows In Paradise”.

 

The team of soldiers is quite odd, in terms of casting. They’re US Army, for one thing, yet over half of them are English, including the Captain (with the rather odd surname “Steakley”) played by Gary Stretch, a former boxer who’s been acting since the mid-90s. His performance brought to mind Lewis Collins, the British TV actor turned failed 80s action-movie star, although Stretch at least shows some recognizably human emotions. There are a bunch of ageing, not-exactly-professional English guys in this, which made me wonder if they were ex-boxer buddies of Stretch’s, but I honestly couldn’t be bothered to do more than cursory research, which turned up nothing. Marquez is a terrible performance by a guy called Israel Saez de Migel – although he does, at one point, drop a speech about how US corporations will ruin this dinosaur land if they ever got their hands on it, so he suddenly doesn’t seem quite so villainous any more.

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The two main female roles are interesting-ish. Alicia Ziegler is Corporal Sarah Haldeman, and she’s just one of the guys, obviously able to cope with any situation – she’s also one of the rare characters who appears to have a life going on behind her eyes. I thought “this is refreshing” until the scene where she has a wash in the lake, in just her undies. I guess it’s a sign of progress that the only T&A is not the average B-movie sort? Yeah, that’s a hair too fine to split, perhaps; although the woman you’d expect to fulfil that role, former Miss World contestant and long-term Spanish language TV star Natascha Berg, is reasonably dressed throughout (she’s not a great actor either, but that’s by the by). Oh, apart from when she’s kidnapped at the beginning and she’s wearing her knickers, I forgot that bit. Dammit this entire paragraph is worthless now!

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You’ve got an entire main cast of semi-amateurs, with the two main pros basically being sideline guys, and the guys with a decent number of credits (both Marquez and the scientist who they discover living with the dinosaurs) overacting awfuly. I’ve not even got to the dinosaurs yet! They’re all terrible, to the extent you’d be embarrassed to see them on a low-budget TV documentary, and the movie ought to be ashamed of itself.

 

Honestly, it’s another *shrug* SyFy movie. Nothing much happens, it’s not too terrible, the acting is bearable, the only proper embarrassment is the effects. Writer Rafael Jordan, while writing some of the worst SyFy efforts of them all (“Crystal Skulls”, for one), has written so many (he’s presumably SyFy’s in-house guy) that it’s going to run relatively smoothly; that’s about as positive as you can be about this one. He even slips in an in-joke – the name of the country they’re in at the beginning is Val Verde, the same as the country that Arnold Schwarzenegger must liberate at the conclusion of all-time classic “Commando” (which Vernon Wells, of course, was in). It’s sad that that was my favourite moment.

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Rating: thumbs down

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Sea Beast (2008) (aka Troglodyte)

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Predator crossed with Jaws. There you go. That’s pretty much all you need to know about this film, and I’m willing to bet the mental image forming in your head will be roughly similar to what this movie is. But, I don’t get paid (current earnings: £0) to just write Twitter-length reviews, so if you’re interested in reading a bit about another totally decent SyFy movie, you’ll have to read on.

 

It’s a welcome return for Corin Nemec, who’s rapidly approaching ISCFC Hall Of Fame status. “Lake Placid vs Anaconda”, “House Of Bones”, “Sand Sharks” and “Mansquito” have all been in the upper level of the stuff we’ve reviewed, and that’s partly thanks to Nemec, who manages to wink at the audience while seemingly taking things totally seriously. Here, he’s a fishing boat captain who’s down on his luck (one of his crew dies in a storm right at the beginning of the movie, as he sees a mysterious creature leap out of the ocean, grab the poor crewman, and dive back in), with debts to the guy who sold him the boat, and a daughter he’s trying to encourage to go to college, leave this small town behind, etc. She’s more interested in one of his deckhands, though, and then there’s also another deckhand, and his girlfriend too, who represent the stereotypical group of “young people” in a movie of this sort.

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Mercifully, we get to the action right away with this one, after a nicely done introduction. There’s Quint (that’s not his name, but he’s such an obvious analogue for the character from “Jaws” that it’s pointless calling him anything else), who’s retreated into a bottle after seeing one of the creatures himself; the hot local environmental scientist, who Nemec ogles once but that’s it – perhaps they had a romantic subplot which was left on the cutting room floor; and the Sheriff, who’s Nemec’s older brother. The young folks all head off to a nearby island cabin for some fun, but are sure to not tell anyone where they’re going, or take any emergency supplies, and one of the sea-creatures hitched a ride on the bottom of the boat, turning up in town and almost immediately having dozens of babies.

 

It’s all fairly standard stuff – of course, a group of baby monsters attacks the partying teens, while Momma goes after the people in town. And they drop like flies! The “Predator” part of the equation comes from the monster being able to turn itself almost invisible, much like our alien friend did in the 1987 classic, oh, and walk on land perfectly well. For a creature which has apparently never emerged from the watery depths, it adapts to its new situation remarkably well.

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One thing that sets this apart from your average SyFy movie is location. It looks like they found a real run-down fishing village to film in, as the sets and buildings are way too authentic to have been dressed. There’s also an abandoned ferry which is the set for the last chunk of the movie, and congrats to whoever found that, because it’s brilliant visually and makes “Sea Beast” look like it had ten times the budget. It’s just unfortunate that the random abandoned ship nowhere near town is also the place where the monster has chosen to lay her eggs.

 

Which leads us to our “huh?” segment. Events unfold over what must only be a couple of days, but when you see the monster’s lair, there are hundreds and hundreds of eggs there. They make several references to how the ferry has been picked clean by previous salvage teams, but there’s a car with a tank full of petrol in there, and a radio, and tons of other stuff. I also don’t buy that anyone brought up in a seafront community didn’t have it hammered into them from a young age that if you go anywhere, take an emergency radio with you, or a dinghy, or something. Okay, I know well-prepared people tend to make for dull movies, but if that’s what you’re relying on to drive your plot, then you’re in trouble.

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Sprinkle a little “no-one believes him, because people obviously lie about giant killer sea creatures all the damn time” and you’ve got yourself a SyFy Channel original. The cast are mostly fine, the effects are surprisingly decent (most of the time, the creatures look like they’re actually there in the shot, and there’s a fair bit of model work to go with the CGI). Okay, the ending is “haha all our friends are dead”, and therefore is horrible, and it’s best if you don’t think about it too hard, but should you see this on the SyFy Channel listings, you could do a lot worse.

 

Rating: Thumbs in the middle

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Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (2015)

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The great Satan that is “Sharknado” has sort of spoiled B-movies. For ages there, it was a fun little world, full of stupid monsters and movies that at least pretended to take themselves seriously, with former stars rubbing shoulders with people from sci-fi TV shows. Now, of course, everyone has to be in on the joke and the threat must be hybridised – there’s a staggering amount of “Mega X vs. Giant Y” movies either released or in the pipeline.

 

A couple of years ago, I’d have at least tried to cover them all, but there’s no point, as they sort of defy analysis. They’re not made to be good, they’re made to get people on Twitter mocking them, to provide a few cheap “look at this garbage” laughs and make a few dollars. The theory of indifference, as I christened it a while back.

 

The reason I picked this one to cover is due to its sequel status to “Lake Placid: The Final Chapter”, which we reviewed a while back. Ah, “final chapter”, when are you not a lie? Apologies if I get one of the names wrong, but Black Lake is where all the bad stuff happened in that movie, and the action in this one moves to Clear Lake, a distance down the road. Returning are Yancy Butler as Reba, now the Sheriff of Clear Lake; and Robert Englund as poacher Bickerman, who keeps getting bits bitten off himself but carries on.

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Before we get cracking with the trademark ISCFC half-remembered recap of the movie, a word about Yancy Butler. She had a pretty rough time of it for a few years there around 2003-2008, in and out of drug treatment facilities, pretty heavy alcoholism, and lots of trouble with the law. While the roles have slowed down somewhat since then, it’s always fun to see her, and I hope she’s turned herself around.

 

Bickerman has taken Beach (Steven Billington) and some scientist guys to Black Lake (remember, despite being the title of the movie, there hasn’t been an actual Lake Placid in this series, ever) for reasons of evil science. Sarah Murdoch (Annabel Wright), evil CEO, is funding all this for a good old fashioned monster movie reason – eternal life! DNA from one of the super-evil crocodiles, injected into a gigantic anaconda, and from the eggs of the snake will come CROCOCONDA!!! I guess these guys will have something in their blood that Murdoch thinks will do the trick but, of course, humans are stupid and you know those creatures are getting out!

 

Much like the previous Lake Placid movie, it’s divided into three sections, I’m guessing to save money as you only need to pay one group of actors at a time. You’ve got Sheriff Reba, Fish & Wildlife guy Tull (Corin Nemec, sadly not playing his role for laughs), and their people; you’ve got Bickerman, Beach and Murdoch, doing their evil science; and the largest group with the most time devoted to them, two cars full of girls who are pledging to a sorority. Most of them are just meat for the beast, but there’s a core of excellent actors with properly set up personalities. Bethany (Skye Lourie) is Tull’s daughter – traditional for one of these sorts of movies; goth-ish Margot (Ali Eagle), who’s pledging so she’s got material for her psychology class; Tiffany (Laura Dale), the super-bitchy chief sorority sister, a magnificently monstrous performance; and Jane (Heather Gilbert), the sad-sack who gets mercilessly picked on.

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Okay, this bit was great

Talking of actors, you may notice while watching this that there’s a heck of a lot of dubbing going on. Scrolling further down that cast list, you’ll notice that pretty much everyone who doesn’t survive has an Eastern-European name – filmed in Bulgaria, the home of low-budget US cinema since the late 90s, they must have saved money by just using anyone they could find who could speak English (so the lips roughly matched) and then dubbing them afterwards. A bit off-putting, to say the least.

 

This movie is really a lot of fun, though. You know what’s going to happen – crocodiles are going to fight giant anacondas – and they give it to you, with blood being thrown about like it’s going out of fashion. Crocodiles eat the smaller snakes, but the bigger ones just wrap themselves around the crocs, squeeze and rip. When you’ve got a croc with a nubile teenager in its mouth at the same time? Gore, and lots of it. Plus, for those of us used to the more chaste world of SyFy Channel movies, there’s a heck of a lot of nudity in this movie too – you don’t hire Eastern European extras for them to keep their clothes on, one would presume. Or SyFy were told they were allowed to have nudity in their movies now and leapt in with both feet, as it were.

 

Quick note about the special effects: they’re all terrible. If that’s your thing, avoid this like the plague. But if you’re drunk enough, you won’t mind!

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I think it’s important to keep mentioning this when it happens, on the off chance that the critical mass of voices will be reached, and movie companies will stop doing it – it’s the blatant double standards. One scene, on a speedboat, the male driver is wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a jacket, yet not only are the two women in the scene wearing tiny bikinis, one of them takes her top off pretty much just because the driver asks her to nicely. The two of them stood together is everything that’s wrong with recent B-movies, in a nutshell. I don’t accept that I’m being a prude, or that feminism is a dead cause, or any of that. No-one, absolutely no-one, watches a movie called “Lake Placid vs. Anaconda” to get turned on, and it’s sleazy middle-aged male producers, directors and distributors that insist on it. Lord knows why. I feel like society has moved on but low-budget movies seem almost to be moving backwards in some of their attitudes.

 

After the Deputy proves himself too stupid to live (yet somehow survives) and we get an ending which is just drenched in blood and guts, that’s it for another low-budget bit of monster fun. And I know I’ve just spent a chunk of this review criticising it, but that’s more the background noise that so many movies exist in these days than anything terribly specific to this one. It’s got a cast packed with dependable old hands, two low-budget royalty (Butler and Nemec), and a lot of really good new female actors who ought to go on to bigger and better things – I could absolutely see Heather Gilbert in a major network sitcom, for example. But let’s keep our fingers crossed this modern sci-fi portmanteau monster trend dies off soon so we can get back to the classics. I miss a good werewolf movie.

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Rating: thumbs up

House Of Bones (2010)

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Of the people who make regular appearances in SyFy movies, Corin Nemec is one of my favourites. After his starring role in 90s TV gem “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” (aka Faux-Ris Bueller’s Day Off), he’s had a few regular TV gigs, but he seems to have settled on low-budget genre fare like this, where his faint air of self-mockery tends to elevate whatever he’s in – our favourites being “Mansquito” and “Sand Sharks”. How does he get on with this?

“Sinister Sites” is a show very much in the vein of “Ghost Hunters” or “Most Haunted”. It has a group of field investigators plus Quentin French (Nemec), the face of the franchise / studio host / douchebag. A drop in ratings forces two changes – Quentin has to head into the field to host the show from on-site; and they hire a new co-host, psychic Heather Burton (Charisma Carpenter). We’ve already seen the house where they’ll be filming kill a kid way back in the 1950s via flashback, so really we’re just waiting for it to tee off against the crew (four people, which seems very low for what’s apparently a network show).

It’s a completely standard haunted house movie, with the added bonus of a group of self-aware victims – they’ve faked so many spooky moments down the years that it takes a long time before they start believing what’s going on is real. The local intern gets eaten by a hole in the wall, the multiple generations of former residents help or hinder the crew (there have been a lot of deaths in this house down the decades) and Heather wanders round the house saying the sort of thing psychics in these movies say, with a portentous look on her face. She’s got real powers, of course. They’re trapped, too, which is completely normal for these movies, and the cameras start malfunctioning. You know the drill. The use of sound recording and EVP to puzzle out some of the mysteries is well done, bringing in some of the movie’s few genuinely creepy moments.

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Unfortunately, the way this movie sets itself apart from the herd is by being rubbish. It seems they’re trying to behave as stupidly as possible at all times, ignoring huge hints and even breaking the law and trying to bribe their way out of it. At one point later on they say “let’s stick together” then immediately separate themselves from each other; plus, they have a ton of evidence of the actual supernatural, evidence which will set the world on its head, and their reaction isn’t “this will make us the most famous people on earth”. It’s a group of idiots, who can’t decide if they’re supposed to be assholes or good guys, and their preparation for this location shoot appears to be nil.

Weirdest of all, though, is Corin Nemec. It might not be immediately apparent but once you notice it you can’t un-notice it – he’s never in the same shot as any of the other cast members. He travels to the house separately and doesn’t even get there til an hour or so into things, then he’s outside the house having a shouted conversation with the people inside – you occasionally see another shoulder in the shot with him, but it’s carefully done so you can’t tell who it is (meaning it’s an extra with the same hat on). How they match angles is quite clever, but it’s not like Nemec is that in-demand a name, so why didn’t they just have him there with everyone else? Or just hire a Richard Grieco or David Chokachi to take his place if he was too busy?

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Add all this to an ending which rips off nothing more than “Manos: The Hands Of Fate”, and you’ve got yourself something rather curious. Writer Anthony C Ferrante is now much better known as the director of the Sharknado movies, but I can only assume there were some filming problems or something here that hampered whatever they were trying to get at; or perhaps the idea was just flawed to begin with and there’s precious little the scriptwriter could do. Too much told, too little shown, which seems to be a common complaint at the moment, and too many wild assumptions made by the cast which are just correct. SyFy really could have done more with this idea.

Rating: thumbs down

Mansquito (2005)

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I would like to use this review to ask an important question: why do “infected” people in cheap films never go and get help immediately? If you’re a scientist, as Musetta Vander is in this, then thinking “well, this turning-into-a-giant-mosquito thing might get better on its own” is just a terrible plan. This is most commonly used in zombie movies, of course, but works just as badly here.

The title “Mansquito” does most of the heavy lifting in terms of describing the plot – and yes, the main creature does look pretty much exactly as I’d imagine a 7-foot tall man / mosquito hybrid to look – and once the escaped convict has started running through the lab with all the radioactive insects in it, it’s a lovely sequence, like those car chases where you see a pane of glass being carried across a road and a rickety fruit & veg stall.

It’s all to do with some virus that’s killing people all over the place, and scientists try and stop it by genetically engineering some mosquitos to kill off the virus-carrying ones. One of them (Vander) is the kind-of girlfriend of cop Corin Nemec, rapidly becoming a favourite here at the ISCFC after his turns in “Robocroc” and the brilliant “Sand Sharks”. Their relationship is really odd – he comes across as a complete dog when pursuing her, but his affection seems genuine and despite getting the full-court press while vulnerable, she seems to love him too.

Mansquito runs around the city, killing indiscriminately, while Nemec and his unusual-sounding sidekick look for him, and Vander starts slowly transforming. There’s a showdown scene in a hospital, which will make no-one forget “Hard Boiled” but is actually surprisingly decent; and a giant bug zapper which clearly the writer couldn’t think of a pun for.

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This is an early SyFy Channel movie, and producers Nu Image seem to have been the Asylum, before Asylum. One thing that is good to note is that their films started off pretty bad and never really improved – apart from being a bit higher-budget than their more recent films and having an actual man in a rubber suit be the monster, it could have been made in 2013 and no-one would have batted an eyelid. One thing which does, I suppose, set this apart is the almost entirely eastern European cast, and the weird sound problems this causes. If I had to guess, I’d say everyone filmed their dialogue in English, but then all the voices apart from the two or three main cast members were dubbed in later by uninterested-sounding American voice people.

After seeing that these people can, when they try, make perfectly decent little B-movies, this is just no good and shouldn’t really be tolerated. But I’m betting I end a lot more of my reviews this way than I am with “well done SyFy Channel!”

Rating: thumbs down

Sand Sharks (2011)

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This film is part of three different review series here at the ISCFC. First up is “Shark Movies”, following “Deep Blue Sea”, “Dinoshark”, “Jersey Shore Shark Attack”, “Swamp Shark”, “Ghost Shark”, (of course) “Sharknado”, and “Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast”. Along with “Snow Shark” it’s part of our “sharks moving through stuff they shouldn’t be able to move through” film series; and finally it’s the second in what I hope will be an ongoing Delpaneaux Wills (@DelpaneauxWills) series. He was in the sadly forgettable “Android Cop” but has a much funner part in this and if you look at his IMDB page, he’s in some films that sound great.

This film is amazing! Straight up, no fooling. Every ludicrous cliche in the monster movie handbook is dialed up to the maximum and the entire cast look like they’re having a blast. But I suppose you need me to tell you a bit about the film anyway? Okay. Corin Nemec stars as Jimmy Green, son of Mayor Greenburg and all-round sleazy douchebag. He has quite the past – dumped the Sheriff’s sister, leaving her with a ton of debt and skipping town; organised a party at some point in the past that left 15 people dead; and is now back because he’s had the idea for a Sand Man Festival, a bit like Burning Man crossed with Spring Break. Amazingly, for someone with such a poor track record at party organisation, the Mayor agrees!

We have, equally importantly, the disbelieving Sheriff, who doesn’t think the bodies they find initially are from a shark attack, and insists they keep the beaches open. Brenda, the Sheriff’s sister and now his Deputy, is a little less sure so she calls on a “scientist from the mainland” to help them identify the shark-like creature. Now, Denise Richards has always been the poster-girl for “unconvincing scientist” after her turn in “The World Is Not Enough” but this film has that one beaten comfortably. Brooke Hogan!

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Brooke damn Hogan! Famous for being Hulk Hogan’s daughter, for him trying to buy her a music career, for him trying to buy her a wrestling career, but not sadly for having any appreciable talent in any field of the arts. She’s a marine scientist of some sort, and I really hope the film hired her as a joke.

Jimmy’s helped with his organising by Willie (Delpaneaux) who’s the social media king, and the nakedly ambitious and wonderfully named Amanda Gore (Gina Holden). While these guys are trying to rustle up some interest in the Sand Man Festival (I can’t help but think they ought to have advertised this a little better beforehand), the townspeople are gradually realising they’ve got a very ancient and very deadly shark in their midst. There’s the grizzled local hunter that lovers of “Jaws” will recognise, there’s a very unlikely developing relationship between the Sheriff and Dr. Brooke, and there’s the increasing realisation that Corin Nemec is history’s greatest monster.

There’s a scene in this you’ll all know and “love”. A group of people are walking along, arguing. One of them separates themselves from the throng and is shown in their own shot. They start talking about how there’s no such thing as monsters, or they’ve all been killed and everyone is safe, or something. They’ll have a green-screen behind them so you know you’re about to get a special effect, and without fail that person gets eaten. I feel like I’ve seen that exact scene in 20 movies – at least in this one there’s a good chance they’re mocking the convention.

The climactic beach party is a masterpiece of low-budget filmmaking. They’ve got maybe 100 extras, and they try their very hardest to make it look like a huge event, with overhead shots, weirdly precise spacing, and so on. Someone makes a shark out of sand on the beach, and guess where the real sand shark decides to make his appearance? People start running in panic, as Nemec makes his way through the crowd, trying to get everybody to keep dancing…if sharks were coming out of the sand, I’d have to assume after a few seconds of panic, everyone would run in the same direction – away from the sea and the sand. But no! People are still running towards the water minutes after the initial attack, perhaps again to make it look like a bigger event.

Add on the final battle between humans and sand sharks and you’ve got yourself a movie! I absolutely loved this. It doesn’t take itself seriously for one second, and Corin Nemec is funny as hell (his last scene with the Deputy is a highlight). The Mayor is marvellously odd, played by a chap called Edgar Allan Poe IV – presumably not a direct descendant, as the famous Poe never had children (he’s played Poe in several films and TV shows down the years, too). The mystery of the previous party is never revealed, Brooke Hogan makes references to Roger Corman and “Dinoshark”, and it fulfils three of the four rules of shark movies.

There’s never a dull moment, which makes me ponder the fairly bad reviews it’s received. I think too many people are expecting a “serious” movie when it comes to stuff like this, with good reason, so when one comes along which gleefully ignores the rulebook, I think some find it difficult to get their head round. But if you love monster movies and are in a good mood, this funny, stupid film will win you over.

Rating: thumbs up

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