Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus – Halloween Special Film Review

Yes, that title is correct, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, the first installment in what would later become a Mega Shark franchise, this is a review of a film about gigantic underwater monsters by The Asylum (Infamous independent film company known for making Sharknado and the like, what is the obsession with sharks these guys have?). The film is a direct-to-video low budget disaster film trying to be an American attempt to break into the kaiju monster movie genre – think Godzilla and Mothra and the like. If you’re unsure if you’d like such films, this would perhaps be your gateway into the genre as this clearly draws inspiration from them, presenting us with two different ridiculous monsters for our human heroes to try and overcome. Well at least it would be buuuuuuuuuuut…

I won’t spoil the plot too much, what little of it there is in amidst the jumbled nonsensical nauseating camera shots but basically Debbie Gibson, the 80s popstar and apparent star power of this film if the cover is anything to go by, plays a marine biologist off on a submarine joyride in the arctic when she witnesses the awakening of two dormant prehistoric beasts, a giant octopus and a megalodon shark. The monsters go their own ways and terrorise two different sides of the globe before the military intervene, calling in our protagonist, her former teacher and her brilliant scientist friend who she ends up romantically attached to. Essentially what we have is all the tropes of the disaster movie brought together in another shlock horror sci-fi parade of gimmicky effects – we have told-you-so scientists, military dingbats who can only resort to “FIRE ALL MISSILES!”, gratuitous death of panicky extras and occasional glimpses of a badly designed pair of monsters. The plot is nothing new and ground-breaking, it takes itself quite seriously though, the actors in a limbo state of “Is this for real?” and “No seriously, this is a joke right” but every line is delivered with sincerity, albeit in a wooden manner.

The film’s titular characters, Mega Shark and Giant Octopus, don’t get as much screen time as I’d like, this film certainly doesn’t hold up against Godzilla but then this is a low-budget goof made by the same people who made ‘Vampires vs. Zombies’ and ‘Snakes On A Train’ so I wasn’t expecting much. However, that said, Mega Shark’s bits are worth watching – especially when the shark leaps out of the ocean and catches a fucking commercial airline mid-flight with no effort. HOW? Planes fly at about 600mph, how is a shark that fast it can catch one? HOW FAST IS THAT SHARK? HOW HIGH CAN IT JUMP? The Giant Octopus’ scenes are lackluster, it seems to get bored as quickly as we do – it half-heartedly attacks a submarine for thirty seconds then drops it. Mega Shark though, Jesus, give me an hour of that shark chomping through boats and planes with that derpy expression it wears in every scene, that was the most redeeming factor of the film for me. Mega Shark, star of the show baby, no wonder you got three sequels (I shit you not, this film has THREE sequels, as does Sharknado, The Asylum really like shark themed movies)

The film is poor, poor by every standard – the CGI is atrocious, the plot incoherent and dull, the romance unbelievable and the characters as uninteresting as staring at my shoes for eighty minutes. I don’t know who gave the worst performance – Debbie Gibson looked like she was drawing letters in mid-air with her nose in every scene and was clearly burbling lines she did not understand the words behind, Lorenzo Lamas’ character is a quip-flinging asshole with no redeeming traits, which he plays well but looks bloody ridiculous doing so, Sean Lawlor can’t seem to maintain his accent throughout and Vic Chao speaks in one tone of voice for the entire film and expresses joy through a single fist-pump of victory… totally doesn’t look weird. Still, they’re hardly acting legends, what can you expect? The film outright addresses Debbie Gibson is a washed-up has-been looking for an easy gig (Her character is said to have a floundering career, much like Debbie who had short-lived musical fame and was irrelevant faster than a X Factor contestant). The film takes itself so seriously, as do the actors, that you wonder if they thought what they were working on was good or if they embraced the campiness of this romp and played along to try and salvage it.

The Asylum, the company behind this, are independent filmmakers of a particular creed – they jump on bandwagons and produce cheaper versions of current blockbusters to make easy money whilst people are still obsessed with a fad. Transformers movie? The Asylum made Transmorphers. Pirates of the Caribbean? The Asylum made Pirates of Treasure Island. Paranormal Activity? The Asylum made Paranormal Entity. Not subtle, not clever but they achieve a mixed bag, some of their films are lovable cheesy muck you find yourself enjoying and some are shallow shameless attempts to cash in quick. After all, this is the company that got told by a guy at a seminar that the best film in the world would be High School Musical but more Christian-friendly so they made Sunday School Musical… no joke, they just jumped on an idea some randomer said and did it, apparently trying to cash in on the strict-Christian themed films only market. So what does that make this film? My best comparison is, as I said, the disaster film tropes of things like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow combined with kaiju films and if this film were more interesting to watch, I’d recommend it as a way to introduce someone to giant monster movies but it’s not so I won’t.

So, is this so bad it’s good? Whilst the film has redeeming qualities (One of the few American films to feature a mixed race coupling and not make it a big “OH MY GOSH THEY ARE SO DIFFERENT YET IN LOVE” kinda thing with an Asian male and a Caucasian female) and is laughably cheap and shoddy, you’d be hard pressed to watch this with that mixture of cringing and grinning you’d have watching The Room. The film started out with a message about the impact of sonar equipment on the environment, which I thought it would run with to tell us how we are destroying marine life but it drops that pretty early on and instead focuses on “How cool would it be to watch two giant monsters fight?!” to which we as an audience respond “THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!” and in turn get like… two minutes of them fighting, the rest is underwater chase scenes between a sub and a shark whilst an octopus watches. I honestly just found this boring – the gaps between action are too long for a disaster movie and the script repeats itself (Several characters die in the same way of “Sir, if we do this thing, it’ll kill us all!” and boss says “Do the thing!” and they die ORRRRRR “Sir, we killed the monster!” and then boss says “Lower your guard boys, we won!” and they die) so this film feels flat, not lovably tried-and-failed flat, more took-the-first-draft-they-came-up-with-and-filmed it flat. I don’t do a point score system but the Rotten Tomatoes one is below 20%, I’m hard-pressed to disagree…

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So Bad It’s Good vs So Bad It’s Awful

So on the topic of horror movies, one thing we love is the awful horror flick that is only shown on TV at three in the morning and has a title like “The Bloodthirsty Beast From The Black Lagoon” and other such titles. As much as we appreciate actual core films of the genre, universally recognised as pioneers or just good films, like say The Shining or Alien, what we also enjoy are films so terrible you can’t help laughing – I’m going to be putting what I hope to be a review of a similar film on here this Saturday but basically as fun as genuine scares and psychological thrillers are, there is something enjoyable about watching horror films about mutant rabbits gone amok (Night of the Lepus, look it up) or low budget indie projects about exploding birds causing widespread chaos (Birdemic). However, what’s the difference between enjoyably bad films and just… shit films, by all accounts, unredeemable tripe? Here’s my attempt to clarify, using some examples of my own film history.

Around this time last year I uploaded a review of the film Dog Soldiers, heartily suggesting you all get a copy and watch it – if you have done, well done to you for doing your homework for today but if not, the film in brief is about a military training exercise gone awry when it turns out there is an honest to god family of lycanthropes running loose in the forest the soldiers are training in. Our protagonist and his comrades hole themselves up in a farm cottage and we get to watch some proper British ‘lads’ face off against giant hairy monsters. The film is a masterpiece for many different reasons but if you honestly think it scary, you’re about as well-acquainted with horror films as a slug is with particle physics. Whilst the film plays itself up for laughs at some points, what is important to note is the film was pitched in marketing as a horror film – not a comedy, not a parody – an actual horror film and it plays the part of one for a good while, there are genuine horror tropes worked into the film, albeit mixed in with some comedy and war film iconography. The film is made on a low budget and is an earnest effort by an established director making the best of what resources he had to hand, it’s charming and quaint and enjoyable. A bad horror film though, not scary to anyone except borderline bedwetters. Watchable? Yes, very much so, with good reason.

You see, ‘bad’ horror films like Birdemic, Dog Soldiers and Trolls 2 are awful yes, you perhaps laugh more than you jump and scream and there is so much to poke fun at – usually low budget lack-lustre effects and acting so wooden Keanu Reeves should feel bad for them but what redeems the films is their honesty, their earnest attempts to be good. If you haven’t seen a film called The Room by Tommy Wiseau, go watch it. If you have, you’ll know it’s awful, it’s not a horror film, it’s not trying to be but it’s relevant to this point. Tommy Wiseau didn’t gather a bunch of actors and tell them “Ok, I want your worst performances, I want a plot written by a twelve year old and I want the most awkward sex and romance scenes in cinematic history”, no, he genuinely looked at the awful shlop he had produced and went “Yup, masterpiece”. As cruel as we are for thinking that, THAT’s the funny bit, something so bad you can only ask who ever thought it good enough to deserve funding and selling to other people? Who thought it could honestly generate an audience? There is something heartwarming in these funny failures, film studies students can relate here, chances are their early films look like shit to them and they’ll laugh and cringe but back then? You thought you had conceived your magnum opus, you thought that was what would get you your grade and perhaps it did but it’s seeing a professional film that puts you in mind of a shakily edited student project that makes you chuckle and love a bad film.

However, what doesn’t make a lovable bad film, in my opinion, is a film that sets out with the deliberate intention of being a bad film. Think Sharknado sequels, the first was terrible yeah but it took itself seriously, it genuinely treated itself like a horror film but the others are sold on silly pun-based tag lines and dialogue such as “I know you’re scared. I’m scared too. Sharks are scary”. Nobody wrote that with a straight face thinking it golden, the Sharknado sequels were parody cash-ins in the marginal acclaim of the original, which found a bizarre niche and was widely spread due to it being on TV rather than a cinematic event – you wouldn’t pay money to go see Birdemic would you? But if it came up on Syfy or something, you’d tune in just to see it. Other films like this are the infamously atrocious film Tusk by Kevin Smith, a shameless act of self-appreciation by a hapless comedian turning a conversation he had into a film. No joke, the film premise (A man being abducted and rebuilt bit by bit into a walrus by a mad scientist) just came from a podcast joke that stuck and then Kevin Smith said fuck it, let’s make a comedy horror out of this and make it so bad it is good by the grace of irony. It isn’t by the way, it’s not earnest or charming or excusably low-budget, it’s just Smith stroking himself off onto the screen.

So there’s a grey area here of what is so bad it is good and what is so bad it is just bad. Sharknado, for example, isn’t low budget and earnest but I just put it in a class with films like Birdemic and Night of the Lepus, films that aren’t close to it in production value. Basically, in my opinion, a film is in the former category when it shows as a cheaply made film that tried its best with limited resources (Dog Soldiers) or when it is so balls-to-the-walls bonkers you can’t understand who would make it in the first place (Night of the Lepus). However, when a film is so self-aware it looks to the audience as if to say “Isn’t this whimsical and weird?” (Snakes On A Plane) or you can indeed see who was responsible and how they aren’t honest film-makers trying to be the best they can but are in fact just out to make easy money (Pretty much anything by Uwe Boll) or jump on a bandwagon (Tusk) then you can’t find it all that redeemable. Essentially then, using Birdemic and Tusk as examples – Birdemic is a cheap tea room that doesn’t sell very good food but they make a decent cuppa and the staff are delightful, Tusk is a corporation trying to do the exact same thing but they did so by cutting costs and overdoing it on the quirky angle so all you see is a cut-rate hipster trap that is desperate to catch your attention