6-Headed Shark Attack (2018)

Well, dear reader, it appears adding a head was the way to go because the difference between this and the same year’s “5 Headed Shark Attack” is night and day. While it’s a very long way from being a great film, it’s still a lot of fun, better paced and better acted than its predecessor.

That might be related to director / co-writer Mark Atkins, who got his start as a cinematographer for The Asylum (“Snakes On A Train”, “Transmorphers: Fall Of Man” and many others from their mockbuster era) and has directed his fair share too – “Sand Sharks”, an ISCFC favourite, was one of his, and he’s also responsible for a series of movies (beginning with “Empire of the Sharks”) where sharks have taken over the world after the melting of the polar ice caps. Will there ever be an end to shark movies? It appears Atkins is one of the bigger talents working in this low budget world, and this movie just adds to the plus column on his resume.

In the Isla De Corazon area of Mexico, William (Brandon Auret) runs a marriage boot camp, with four dysfunctional couples attending. Well, it’s a wooden structure and a few shacks, the actual camp is hinted at more than shown. Well, it’s not even hinted at, the Asylum long since stopped caring about such things. The four couples are…interesting, visually? Two of them are young women with much older men – oddest of all, contract lawyer Mary (German-South African actor Thandi Sebe) and her angry husband James (Cord Newman, better known as a stunt performer and possessed of one of the oddest heads of hair I can remember).

Shark! The cold open of the movie is the shark’s first attack, from 1984, against the members of a scientific base – a base which appears to be nothing more than three different pontoons, tied together, with a rack of test tubes and a few papers lying around – you know, like all high-end scientific establishments! This, at least, provides some explanation for the titular creature, who’s the result of experiments at this base. The five-headed version was just…there?

The movie doesn’t waste a lot of time getting going, which is nice. The couples bicker, William and his estranged wife, his partner in the boot camp, are getting divorced (irony!), and they keep getting chased or eaten by the shark. I like Duke (Jonathan Pienaar), one of the older men, who turns into a natural hunter when the rest of the men are panicking. He doesn’t last all that long, but he has a great impact.

So the movie rips along, and it has a shark with, as advertised, six heads (none of that oddness with the last head being in the tail, like in the previous movie). But it does have some problems. Firstly, they all wear wetsuits – which they keep on for the rest of the movie – for a relatively short swim from the shore to a party pontoon that William owns. Now, this would be pretty unlikely if you’re in the nice warm waters of Mexico; completely normal if they were filming somewhere like Canada or Eastern Europe, where lots of movies are located and where it’s quite cold. Obviously, two of the women constantly remove the top half of their wetsuits so you can see them in their flimsy bras, I mean, this is still low budget cinema we’re talking about here.

Later on, the female half of the hippy couple says she’s a meteorologist and there’s a storm coming; William suggests they shelter in a nearby lighthouse but she says there’s not enough time and they should shelter in that same base from 1984, which is still floating off the island and still containing the exact same items in the same condition as they were 35 years ago. Not enough time to get to the lighthouse, because of the storm. Want to guess if that storm ever shows up? And if they eventually go to the lighthouse and ignore the hippy lady? It’s possible she’s just a really bad meteorologist, which would be sort of a fun twist.

I would like to talk about the shark now. Six heads, as advertised, but the only two that do anything are the front ones. The four at the side are only used as – wait for it – legs when the shark starts attacking them on land! The back two “heads” have a pretty rough deal of it, if we’re being honest, and I feel sorry for them. Thank heavens they share a stomach, I guess. I presume the special effects people just used a crap template and mapped shark features to it, which gives the poor creature a very peculiar look.

There’s oddly timed deaths, an implausible growing romance at the centre of things and stuff like the shark swimming so fast in a circle it causes a whirlpool which capsizes a boat, and the volume of silly stuff happening without it being pitched as a particularly camp movie does wear after a while.

But, you know, after such a miserable previous instalment, I can’t complain about this one. The acting, especially Brandon Auret as William, Jonathan Pienaar as Duke and Thandi Sebe as Mary, is strong (fun fact: Sebe’s sister Naima is one of the other people at the marriage boot camp, it might have been fun if they’d done some “you look familiar” jokes). The effects are cheap but okay, there’s only one egregious “it was daylight, then night really quickly, then daylight in the next scene” transition, and despite a little lull as they realised they started things off quickly and had nowhere to go for act 2, it’s a fine little movie.

Let’s hope that, after this, the final “Sharknado” is my last encounter with Asylum, having promised to stop watching their cheap-and-un-cheerful movies several times now.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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5-Headed Shark Attack (2017)

A while ago, I came up with “Indifference Theory” when talking about SyFy Channel original movies. It’s not my most original thought, but quoting myself from years ago saves me having to write something new (and this movie does not deserve that).

SyFy Channel need material cheap enough to allow them to make a profit from selling advertising. They absolutely don’t care what it is or if it’s any good or not, and nor do the advertisers. The director has a set amount of time and money, and knows that if the film’s good, bad or indifferent, it makes no difference to him. People watching it are either like me (hipster scumbag film reviewers) or people who saw the title and thought it would be marginally better than staring at a wall for 2 hours. And thus the Indifference Theory creates another film enjoyed by no-one (not the people who made it, paid for it or watched it) and which will disappear without a trace, save a footnote in a few academic treatises about SyFy’s only real success, Sharknado. I will hopefully have forgotten it in a few days, and this review will drift into the ether, to the delight of no-one.

I missed out on “3-Headed Shark Attack”, which had Danny Trejo and pro wrestling legend Rob Van Dam in it, and there was no 4-headed version, so I’m jumping straight from “2-Headed Shark Attack”. And it seems several of my criticisms of that can be applied to this, but before we get to that let’s discuss the IMDB synopsis.

Shaped like a demented starfish, a monster 5-headed shark terrorizes the open ocean before invading the beaches of Puerto Rico, endangering the once peaceful island paradise.

Hmmm.

Shaped like a demented starfish

No it isn’t.

a monster 5-headed shark terrorizes the open ocean

No it doesn’t.

before invading the beaches of Puerto Rico, endangering the once peaceful island paradise.

This movie set in a peaceful island paradise was released in 2017. Also in 2017, Hurricane Maria landed in Puerto Rico, causing $91 billion in damage and leaving the island devastated, devastation it has yet to recover from.

After a surprisingly strong environmental message about plastic in the ocean, we just meet the titular shark, who for the first half of the movie only appears to have four heads. The fifth head is…at the end of its tail. How does that even work? Am I a fool for even worrying about the logic of a movie called “Five Headed Shark Attack”? Anyway, a photographer and his distinctly average-looking models are eaten by the shark, so the Puerto Rican cops go to the local aquarium and ask the director and the head scientist about the creature.

The director sees dollar signs and the scientist sees…science, I guess? So they take the students / interns and go looking for a shark – only one of them dies so they have to get help. That help is Red, the movie’s comic relief / hero, a boat captain who has a romantic history with the scientist, Dr Angie. Like all scientists (and like the stars of 2-Headed Shark Attack) they take no scientific equipment, and use a flimsy tourist boat. Oh god I’m bored of writing about this so you must be bored as hell of reading about it.

There’s a grand total of one funny or clever line in this movie, when the students complain that Red is yet to catch the shark. “That’s why they call it fishing, not catching” is his reply, and it may be old as the hills, but it’s new to me. The rest of the dialogue is abysmal, which might be related to the three credited writers, none of whom have much in the way of previous writing credits. Or director Nico De Leon, for whom this is his only credit of any kind. Who knows.

It’s just so dull. Every bit of “action” is tediously predictable, people continue to act like idiots so the shark has a nice steady supply of food, the shark is a genius, able to avoid sonar by hiding under the boat, and the ending is only interesting in that it doesn’t pan across the ocean floor to a couple of baby five-headed sharks, ready to carry on Mum’s work, just before the credits roll.

Oh yes, one more thing – this is a production of The Asylum, the company that produced cheap and unpleasant movies with titles (but not plots) based on whatever big budget title was due out that year; before stumbling onto worldwide success with “Sharknado”. I dislike them due to their poor health and safety record and rotten treatment of freelance writers, but I can’t be bothered to go into that again. Best just to avoid anything with the Asylum’s logo on it, aside from the Sharknado series, I think.

Not just bad, but boring. Avoid unless your TV is broken and stuck on the SyFy Channel, and you’re trapped on your sofa.

Rating: thumbs down

Sharks In Venice (2008)

Our mission to watch and review every single SyFy Channel original movie, long-dormant, returns! I saw a trailer for this, almost by accident, on Youtube one evening and decided to track it down, so delightful was it. Stephen “The Usual Suspects Was So Long Ago” Baldwin! Sharks! Bad Venice effects!

My first thought while watching was “I bet Venice’s waters aren’t that clean”, as we see a diving expedition beneath the city. Running things topside is a fellow who sort of looks like a cross between your typical Eurotrash and a caveman – in fact, let me see if I can find a picture of the fellow:

They’re after treasure left there by Marco Polo, I think? Anyway, everyone gets eaten by sharks, because of course, and if you’re wondering, there is an explanation as to why Venice has sharks. It is, however, so stupid and self-defeating that you’d rather wish there wasn’t; but before you’ve got time to enjoy the rather decent shark effects, we’re in academia and being introduced to Mr Baldwin, aka Professor David Franks. Baldwin wins the non-coveted “Brooke Hogan Award” for unconvincing scientists in movies – he looks vaguely miserable, like he realises this is as good as it’s ever going to get for him. One of the divers was his father, and for absolutely no reason whatsoever, the University offers to pay all his travelling expenses, as well as those of his assistant / fiancee Laura (Vanessa “sister of Scarlett” Johansson), so off we go to Europe!

While meeting the local cops and visiting the corpses in the local morgue (none of which are his father, a dropped plot thread like they were going to bring him back at the end and then just forgot to do so…or I wasn’t paying attention when they did), is when I began to wonder if this was a comedy, perhaps at the expense of its star. The line “then…this was a shark”, delivered with that sort of camera angle like Hercule Poirot fingering a murderer, was hilarious – it’s possible Baldwin was in on it, but I’m really not sure.

This satire continues when there’s a chase through the streets of Venice, and every thirty seconds or so it cuts from the stunt double (who’s taller, slimmer and has different hair to our star) to an extreme closeup of Baldwin’s face, trying to look heroic. He’s either posing like that or wearing diving equipment from the company “Aqua Lung” (who paid a pretty penny for all that product placement) for most of the movie…well, that or getting beaten in fights. He’s pretty pathetic all round, if truth be told, but hating on him is like hating on a lame dog.

So, there’s a cave full of treasure, sort of protected by the hordes of sharks and sub-sub-Indiana Jones traps; the Mafia guy who I mentioned above, who wants to pay Baldwin a big stack of cash in order to find it; the occasional scene where a pitifully dubbed foreign actor gets eaten; lots of awful fight scenes; lots of awful stock footage; and a weird subplot with the obviously suspicious as hell Italian cop. The only way to get much enjoyment out of this one is to pretend it’s making fun of Baldwin, that he’s shown to be a pompous ass with every inappropriate camera angle and fight he loses. It probably isn’t, because I’m not sure anyone involved in it gave enough of a damn.

Thoroughly underwhelming movie from Nu Image (I’m sure there’s a DVD somewhere which says “from the producers of The Expendables”); it seems director Danny Lerner had a thing for sharks, having also directed “Shark Zone” and “Raging Sharks” – great title, and it’s got Corin Nemec and Corbin Bernsen in it, so expect a review soon – and produced parts 2 and 3 of the “Shark Attack” franchise.

I think there’s too much entertaining garbage in the world to ever complete our SyFy mission, but we’ll keep trying to entertain you with our words even if we’re not entertained with the movies, as often as possible.

Rating: thumbs down

Assault On Dome 4 (1996)

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“Die Hard” in space. You don’t really need to know a ton more than that to make a decision on whether to watch this or not. Heck, even IMDB’s first line is “low-budget Die Hard clone”! Along with “The Most Dangerous Game”, “Die Hard” is one of the most enduring templates for low-budget cinema, because it’s an enclosed location and a limited number of actors and the plot is fairly standard. But even in a genre lousy with clones, “Assault On Dome 4” really tries to set itself apart from the pack by being as similar to “Die Hard” as possible. Cop not supposed to be in a location? Check. Wife, unaware of his presence? Check. Charismatic psychopath criminal boss? Check. Need of particular location for some nefarious criminal purpose? Check. Cop fights guerrilla war against almost insurmountable odds? Check.

 

ASIDE: There’s a whole website devoted to the “Die Hard scenario” and its many iterations, so if you’d like the complete list, it’s HERE.

 

Add in Bruce Campbell, and I imagine most of your decision has been made for you, one way or the other. The B-movie legend plays super-criminal Alex Windham, who manages to escape from the apparently most secure prison in the galaxy and bust out a load of his criminal cohorts too. Now, before we get going, you might look at the alleged super-prison, and think it looks a bit like the top level of a normal car park. You might wonder why it only has three guards in it, and how Windham’s plan to escape is pretty much just “overpower a guard and steal his gun”, and how the galaxy’s most secure prison would probably have one or two more safeguards in it to stop this thing happening. But if you wonder these things, it’s going to be a long evening.

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We have yet to come to the hero of proceedings, the guy for whom the movie is named in some markets. Chase Morran is a cop, whose wife works on Dome 4 – Dome 4 is a scientific base on a far distant planet, but all terraformed and quite nice (hence, in the brief outdoor bits, you can see clear blue skies). He’s decided to go and surprise her for her birthday. Guess which Dome our band of criminals need to go to, to get ingredient X for their secret plans? Anyway, Morran is played by a fellow called Joseph Culp, perhaps best known as the son of Robert Culp, or maybe for a recurring role on the early seasons of “Mad Men”. To say he doesn’t look like an action hero is putting it mildly – he’s a skinny, relatively uncoordinated chap who doesn’t exactly light the screen up with his presence, and if I didn’t know better I’d say he was the money man behind this movie because it seems genuinely insane that anyone thought he could hold his own against Bruce Campbell.

 

He also has the habit of explaining all the things he’s doing, as if the actor was trying to remember, and combined with the completely drama-robbing framing device of the alive and well Morran defending himself at a tribunal about the assault on Dome 4, you feel like you’re being told about the action rather than shown it.

 

A couple of other decent names pop up – first, the great Brion James as the Chairman of the United Government (you might wonder about why Morran is having to go to court, when his “mission” was approved by the most powerful person on Earth…); and Jack Nance as some old guy who’s completely unconnected to the rest of the base, and whose job seems to be repairing old computers. In deep space. Anyway, this is possibly the last movie Nance ever made, as he died in odd circumstances in 1996, and it’s a damned shame.

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There’s quite a lot of fighting, which is a curious choice for a leading man who wasn’t any good at it. When Morran’s old friend, the General, shows up to help out, it’s a veritable skinny white guy apocalypse. Were actors who looked like they knew what they were doing on strike that week?

 

One final scene discussion before we wrap this up. The base’s cops are being held hostage, so Morran decides to bust them out and even up the odds. However, his crappy plan just gets them all killed, but the movie seems uninterested in pointing to Morran’s guilt in these deaths – they were all safe and sound before he stuck his oar in, lest we forget. For such a nothing actor, this movie really does love him; the end of his “court case” is absolutely pathetic.

 

I thought perhaps the other work of the crew would give us a hint as to why this movie is so empty of fun and interesting stuff. This is director Gilbert Po’s only English-language movie (and one of only two he ever made); and writer Hesh Rephun (made up name, surely?) isn’t much more prolific, with only this, a teen raunch movie so terrible even I’d never heard of it, and an early Mark Dacascos vehicle to his name. Why was this made? Who thought it was a good idea? Why was it renamed “Chase Morran”? If the character’s not famous, and the actor playing him certainly wasn’t, what was it supposed to achieve?

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Bruce Campbell is always watchable, and Jocelyn Seagrave as Chase’s wife is fun too (she was also in “Moonbase”, so must have briefly specialised in the 90s in sci-fi films with escaping criminals in them). But pretty much nothing else is. Lazy and pointless and, I discover, a very early SyFy Channel original movie (when they were still Sci-Fi). Start as you mean to go on, guys!

 

Rating: thumbs down

Alien Hunter (2003)

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James Spader was one of the first “movie stars” to realise that TV was not only a more sensible and dependable way of making money, but kept your name out there for movie producers. “Boston Legal” and now “The Blacklist” are hugely entertaining even if, occasionally, you get the feeling that he’s coasting a bit, but just before he made the switch to TV, he pumped out a few lower-budget films like this. Or his movie career was on the skids so he decided to resort to TV. Who knows?

One of my favourite things in movies is when a college professor’s lecture is used to give an incredibly basic introduction to the plot of a movie, even though in the context of what he’s doing he really ought to be saying something a bit cleverer. Spader is Professor Julian Rome, and as he’s telling us all about languages and communication, he gets this email from one of his students:
SUBJECT: Sex
MESSAGE: I want you right now

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So he’s a bit of a bad lad, is the impression we get (when we discover he lost his NASA job thanks to a scandal involving a student, this is confirmed). Anyway, he’s dispatched to the South Pole due to his expertise in cryptography, or something (honestly, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me) to analyse a signal that is being transmitted from a mysterious something hidden in the Antarctic ice…

The base he uses is part of some experiment in hydroponic farming, so he’s surrounded by other scientists, including the student he lost his career over, Kate, and an assortment of stereotypes, including character actors extraordinaire Roy Dotrice and John Lynch (plus former 100m Olympic champion Carl Lewis). So there’s this going on, then the ice surrounding the “thing” starts to thaw. Can Julian crack the code? And did the women scientists really have to wear one-piece bikinis to do their experiments in?

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For a movie set in an Antarctic base, with aliens in it, this tries its hardest to be as unlike “The Thing” as possible.. It’s kind of “The Abyss”, with a smidge of “Alien”, then “The Thing” comes more to the fore at the end. But, even though it wears its influences on its sleeve, it’s really quite good! Julian’s transformation from sleazy douchebag to hero is well-handled, and that’s helped by having an actor as good as James Spader in the role. He’s great, and John Lynch plays a fine villain too (I’m not spoiling anything, he’s as obvious a villain as you’ve ever seen).

It’s tense, and although they do what I call “the House ending” twice (main character hears a snippet of conversation which triggers the real solution in his brain) it’s an interesting twist on a bunch of well-used sci-fi and horror tropes. There’s a plot hole or two, and the title is completely inappropriate (no-one hunts the alien, and the alien doesn’t really hunt anyone) but I’d definitely recommend it. For a SyFy Channel movie, which it turns out this is, it’s bloody fantastic.

Rating: thumbs up

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Epoch (2001)

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For those of you who demand very strict fact-checking from my reviews, this isn’t really a SyFy Channel original movie at all – it was produced independently but then SyFy bought it outright, showed it regularly and produced their own in-house sequel with most of the original cast returning. Those of you who enjoy snark will be pleased to know that this different route to the screen doesn’t mean it’s any better than the average movie from this lot, although its popularity did contribute, indirectly, to their decade-plus run of original movies. Boo!

4 billion years after…something…we’re in Bhutan, the tiny China-adjacent kingdom, where an enormous, half-mile high ”torus” (very very approximately, an upside-down pyramid, but just look at the picture above) has emerged from the Earth, at the same time as a medical miracle happens – a small child who just died is brought back to life. The Bhutanese government invite the Americans so they turn up with army guys and a few scientists and all sorts of fancy equipment, and first have to figure out how to get in before they can explore the wonders of the torus. Then the Chinese turn up as they’re naturally interested in having a look at it, and things get complicated…

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Those of you who’ve seen “2001”, “Aliens” or “The Abyss” will recognise quite a bit of this (no alien creatures though, sorry) with its “something is coming back to check on humanity” message; and those of you who’ve seen other SyFy movies will notice the small, dark cramped places doubling for Ambassadorial offices and military briefing rooms. The torus itself looks great, an interesting design and they’ve bothered to make the inside suitably non-human too; I only wish they’d spent that time and effort with the rest of it – the news broadcast, for instance, looks terrible, and they use the exact same backdrop for a Presidential press conference later in the movie. Why do low-budget movies struggle so much with the news?

There’s also a weird fail when it comes to Buddhism – Bhutan is 70% Buddhist, but they make reference at the beginning to a “holy man” (a bloody opportunistic one, given how quickly he gets word out) who’s made some meaningless statement about God and the torus. Of course, Buddhism doesn’t have a God in it, so it just sounds weird – plus, we see a few monks later on, and they’ve all got full heads of hair, a definite no-no. Just make a tiny bit more effort, movie!

It’s got quite the cast – Uncle Phil from “The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air” plus David Lo Pan and one of the other guys from “Big Trouble In Little China”, in the “That Guy” stakes; then there’s William Zabka in a tiny thankless role; Ryan O’Neal as a Government fella, and David Keith as the main scientist who just can’t play by the rules, man (amazingly, he and Keith David have never worked together, which is a mistake on some casting director’s part surely). It’s also one of the last films that was properly rude to China – they’re shoot-first-ask-questions-later types and muscle in where they’re not invited; plus, their US ambassador is weirdly obsessed with noodles.

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I hope we wouldn’t be quite so quick as a species to destroy something like that, with such awesome power, but that’s what the competing armies in this decide to do. The ending is sort of confusing, where we’re told rather than shown what we’re supposed to take away from the movie. Okay, I can just about get it, but…it really feels like they ran out of money and had to wrap it up as quickly and efficiently as possible, which is certainly a possibility as the torus is a really nice special effect and must have cost a lot.

So, there’s not really a lot to say about “Epoch”. It’s a nice idea wrapped in a ton of padding, plus it does a fairly poor job of making us believe the stakes are high. I shall remain slightly intrigued about where the sequel will take us.

Rating: thumbs down

Sands of Oblivion (2007)

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You don’t get many SyFy Channel movies that accurately predict the future (in fact, I’m pretty sure this is the only one). In 1923, Cecil B DeMille filmed “The Ten Commandments” in the sand dunes of Guadalupe, California – afterwards, so the popular myth goes, he blew up the fantastically elaborate sets for reasons unknown. This film shows an archaeological dig at the site; in 2012, there was an actual dig there which recovered, among other things, one of the Sphynxes DeMille had built, showing it hadn’t been destroyed at all, just covered by the endlessly shifting dunes.

This film tweaks the real history a little and makes a story out of it, and it’s a minor work of genius – DeMille was actually an expert on Egypt, and used a large number of real “Middle Kingdom” artefacts in the movie. One of them housed the soul of Im-La-Ra, evil god Seth’s right hand man, but he didn’t know which one, so when Im-La-Ra started killing people, DeMille created a burial chamber for the items, covered the walls with real Egyptian magic spells, and left the lot under the sand.

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After brief segments in ancient Egypt and 1923, we’re back in the present day, where two groups of people are trying to dig up the set – one, John and his grandson Mark (George Kennedy and Victor Webster); the other, a huge dig supervised by Dr Alice Carter (Morena Baccarin). John was a kid on the set of the movie and wants to retrieve the amulet he buried in a time capsule; and Alice…well, she’s presumably there for the same reason the real people excavated it in 2012 (in other words, I have no idea and the movie doesn’t tell us). Alice’s estranged husband Jesse, a famous archaeologist, then shows up to try and win her back or something. Jesse is human garbage Adam Baldwin, the Tea Party-supporting, “Obama is a socialist terrorist” believing, Gamergate initiating moron. I’ll see if I can think up any more insults for him as we go along.

Naturally, Im-La-Ra is freed via the amulet that John buried all those years ago, people start dying and they need to excavate quickly, as the entire area will be under water in a few days (I didn’t quite grasp that bit either). John dies and Mark, a former Army logistics guy, goes to work for Alice helping her dismantle and move the set.

Shoot him!

Shoot him!

From that, director David Flores (who also did “Invasion Roswell“, which we liked) spins a really exciting story! It’s full of strong performances, especially Baccarin and Webster; but even the man who thinks women who get threatened with rape on the internet should stop crying about it, Adam Baldwin, plays his part well. The bit-part characters do a great job – Jennifer Aniston’s dad pops up to brain Mark with the real Maltese falcon; but our favourite is Buford, a redneck friend of Mark’s from the army, who they go to for military supplies. He’s funny, and has a whole believable home life sketched out in about 20 seconds. And we’ve not even talked about the Sheriff’s amazing haircut.

Most importantly, the idea of the movie is clever, at least partly because any problems with their sets can be explained away by them being old, sand-worn, and from the 1920s, and because it’s a really interesting spin on a bit of old Hollywood legend. In fact, the whole 1923 segment is great, with Dan Castellaneta as DeMille and Richard Kind as his main investor, both clearly having fun. The monster looks good, all bits of rotting flesh and cloth, there’s plenty of incident and…I’ll give this one to you, SyFy Channel. An absolute unqualified success, right up there with the best movies you’ve ever done.

Rating: thumbs up

Super Eruption (2011)

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This never happens

What do you think is the most overused trope in SyFy Channel movies? I dismissed “drilling somewhere you shouldn’t” because it’s a given; and although “estranged couple” is the undisputed champion, running it a close second is “X days earlier”, after a crash-bang-wallop intro leads you to believe the rest of the film might be just as good.

Astonishingly, this movie manages to do something original with its “2 days earlier” intro. Yes, I couldn’t believe it either, but there you go. After seeing the world of 2 days in the future turned to ashes thanks to a gigantic eruption of the volcano in Yellowstone National Park; we then go back to the scientist whose crazy idea for saving humanity just wasn’t quite ready, and lead on from there.

Fans of “Primeval” will recognise Juliet Aubrey as Kate, but in case you don’t here’s a picture of her with Lucy Brown, who I loved in “Frost Giant”:

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Anyway, she’s the volcanologist working at Yellowstone National Park, and Richard Burgi (“The Sentinel”, “Desperate Housewives”) is Charlie, the head Park Ranger. He’s annoyed at having to share a station with her, and she’s too busy pondering the crazy things that could happen when there’s a super-eruption (including, amazingly, time dilation) to notice that he’s sort of into her. Yellowstone’s volcano kicks off, people are a little slow to react and then Kate gets a very unusual message on her computer…

There are one or two age curiosities in this movie. Charlie’s daughter, who they treat like a teenager, was 31 at the time of filming; her love interest, the assistant ranger, looks ten years younger than her but the real-life gap is only two. When he tries to roust a couple who are having sex in one of the hot springs and calls them “kids” a few times, the visual is very weird because the male of the couple is a distance older than him – it feels like they wrote the script before doing the casting and then just never bothered to change it.

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Aside from the bizarre need of people to have irrelevant conversations at incredibly crucial moments, this is a surprisingly fun movie! The plot races along at a decent pace, the two main characters are strong, and the central gimmick of the film feels fresh (for a SyFy movie, anyway). The special effects are fine, they found a decent location…I really can’t find too much to criticise about this. Which worries me, to be honest. Are my critical faculties gone? Or am I just getting better at enjoying these movies for what they are?

I had a brief exchange with scriptwriter Rafael Jordan (click on his name to go to his Twitter page) about this, and he was kind enough to fill me in on a few things. Without spoiling anything, he’d written a whole extra subplot which was cut out by SyFy, and it sounded really good. But what we got was also decent, I think.

If you’re bothered by stuff like lava flowing uphill, and giant holes opening up when they just nixed one plan for needing a large hole, and then never going back to that plan, or how helicopters would cope in an ash cloud, then perhaps avoid this film. But otherwise, grab yourself a strong drink and a forgiving attitude and you’ll have a good time.

Rating: thumbs up

PS – it was really weird seeing a Polaroid camera in there, as I thought they’d been out of business for years, but it turns out they resumed production the year before this film was made.