The creature feature is one of the most venerable types of movies around. Typically they are cheaply made with an emphasis over special effects and scary makeup than actual storyline or character development. Traditionally they are one of the first genres that a budding film buff will encounter initiating their lifelong enthusiasm for cinema. I admit that my own involvement in film began in the Neighborhood Theater and local scary movie program aired past our bedtimes on Friday nights. These flicks were pure entertainment even though our young minds could readily discern a plethora of plot holes and zippers on the sides of the creatures. We didn’t care about the realism as much as the movie’s ability to deliver a good time shared with friends. In some way the current generation has been cruelly denied this experience. They were brought up of state of the art computer generated special effects and huge budgeted spectacles. All we had were ‘B’ flicks in the movies, reruns on television and a stack of comic books under our beds. We grew up with a simpler expectation of what constituted an enjoyable flick and tend to be better suited to the films like this one, ‘Sharktopus’. Originally the hideous creatures populating these movies were prehistoric creatures long though extinct. Later, in the golden age of the format, the fifties the public feared the effects of radiation. Now recombinant genetics is the current manifestation of public fear used by filmmakers to explain the creation of unspeakably blood thirsty monsters rampaging in a reign of terror. Driven by a blood simple primitive directive to hunt they gluttonously slice and chomp their way through the tasty local population turning a peaceful community into all you can eat buffet.
Typically the mad scientist is driven by the prospect of the fame of a major breakthrough that tends to supersede the moral repercussions or public safety. What Victor Frankenstein did by sewing together parts of corpses is now done through the splicing of DNA. Well, this is an exaggeration of the current state of the technology but that is also consistent with the requisite elements of a creature feature. The case under examination here is ‘Sharktopus’, an aquatic artificial mutation that sets out to nosh his way through the seaside tourist population. Yes, this is an original Saturday night flick broadcast on the SyFy channel but it does have some merits that make it fun to watch. It was produced by the king of the ‘B’ horror flick, Roger Corman. Before you jump to conclusions concerning this man’s oeuvre keep in mind that his informal school of filmmaking has a list of alumni that encompasses some of the most talented and powerful directors in the industry including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, to name just a few. His two contributions to cinema are enjoyable ‘B’ horror flicks and Academy Award winning filmmakers.
One significant difference between modern creature features and those made in the fifties is the role played by the U.S. Military. Just after World War Two the armed services typically arrives towards the end and with overwhelming weaponry and tactics swoop in to vanquish the monster and save the day. The Vietnam era resulted in a reversal in this role where the military contracts out s new idea for a weapon to an unscrupulous research company for development. This use of the military industrial complex has replaced the mad scientist and formed assistant giving us the overly driven researcher out to prove his discredited theories. Basically it is just the familiar premise cloaked in a new generation of jargon. The titular creature in this instance started out as a weaponized genetically altered creature that is, no surprise here, half shark and half giant octopus. An ironically name ‘think tank’, Blue Water, received the commission from the U.S. Navy to produce a prototype in hopes it would be an unstoppable fight force. I guess creating a frog-man was too obvious and nowhere as scary sounding. Under the diligent watch of the navy liaison, Commander Cox ( Peter Nelson), the lead scientist, Dr. Nathan Sands (Eric Roberts), has managed to engineer a creature with the killer jaws of a great white and the speed and agility of an octopus. Although they are brilliant enough to splice the genomes of the two contributing animals their skill in devising containment protocols is sorely lacking. The electronic monitoring and control devise easily slips off the beast during its initial field test. Suppose an implant under the skin rather than a harness was not considered a viable option, a miscalculation certain to be brought out in the subsequent wrongful dead civil suits. Now there is flick I’d like to watch; the legal battle waged by the families of the devoured.
Another favorite archetype of the creature feature is represented here, the adult child of the mad scientist. Keeping true to form the obsessed Dr. Sands is assisted by his beautiful daughter Nicole (Sara Malakul Lane) who is brilliant and deoted to her father but quickly realizes the inherent danger of the now out of control project. You know she’s smart because of her school teacher glasses and subdued hair style. She teams up with the initially mercenary hunter, Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin) pleading with him to take the creature alive. For all the blood and body parts in the water she can’t see her father’s life work summarily destroyed. Of course while looking for a less lethal approach the tentacle sporting set of teeth is chewing its way through a yummy group of beach goers including a few bikini clad morsel, a favorite ploy of Mr. Corman, distract the predominately male audience with scantily clad women. In all this is a return to the creature features of our youth and makes for a reasonably workable popcorn flick. Just go into it like we did back in the day expecting only to have a bit of an enjoyable diversion.