Sharknado and the Joys (and Pitfalls) of B Horror

Over the past few years, I have developed a great love for B horror films.  Not the occasional gems that are actually just a good film wrapped in a small budget (though I tend to really like those for the obvious reasons– that they’re good— and I must admit that I’m actually quite surprised and how many pleasant, spooky surprises I’ve found while expecting junk food movies), but rather the kind that are weakly plotted, with monsters that elicit laughter instead of screams, and acting so awful it warrants a standing ovation.  The sort of film that Mystery Science Theater 3000 made money making a mockery of.

So, when I first heard the title of Sharknado, I immediately opened up YouTube in my browser and watched the trailer.  I knew, as I caught my first glimpse of a shark inside a tornado, that it was Sharknado_postergoing to be something one typically only finds in dreams.  I immediately added it to my watch list on IMDb.  I couldn’t help but laugh aloud at the tagline “Enough Said!” feeling that so true of words were rarely printed next to such bad CGI graphics.

Unfortunately, the movie was still several months away from its premiere on Syfy, so I let thoughts of whirlwind-borne sharks slip to the back of my mind.  This, combined with a lack of cable television in my home (Netflix is much more viable on a college budget) resulted in me being unaware of the first airing of wonderful swirly, bitey destruction, or even of its two encore showings (which, I understand, grew in ratings each time).  No, I didn’t think of my brief zeal for the idea of the film until one day, while looking through new additions to Netflix, I spied the marine predators that can be seen above and gasped with joy.

Now, my first reaction was to immediately hit the play button and begin my revelry, but I knew I had to constrain myself.  Films like Sharknado are not the sort you watch alone.  You have to have friends, and you have to be ready to bask in craziness.  I had to save it for the perfect time.  I’m glad I did.

One evening, a couple of weeks ago, a group of some of my funnest friends and I were trying to come up with a good movie to watch.  It was proposed that we watch a horror movie, so we began looking through the applicable section on Netflix.  The group was busy laughing and chatting and barely paid attention to the titles that scrolled past on the screen, so when I saw it, I knew the timing was perfect.  I insisted, and we hit play.

From the first cheesy line delivered I knew that the film was gold.  We laughed harder and harder as the plot went from a storm pushing thousands of sharks into a frenzied swarm to tornadoes hurling the razor-toothed beasts through Los Angeles.

The characters have weak back stories and are acted with as much cheese as anybody could dream for.  One of the characters is Australian, and had an accent we all mocked incessantly– until the IMDb app on my phone informed me of the fact that he was, in fact, actually from Australia.

And then this, one of the greatest things in all of film, happened.  Click on that link.  You won’t regret it.  I tried to include it in the post, but for some reason the GIF didn’t work.

Sorry for the spoiler, this is was just good to not share.  I laughed.  A lot.  We all did.  I laughed so hard that I almost shed tears.

Yes, that’s a man, a character the writers unabashedly named Fin, cutting a shark hurled at him from a tornado in half with a chainsaw.  And this was just one of many wonderful spectacles in the film.

The group’s solution to the sharknadoes is simultaneously delightfully whimsical and hysterically funny.

It’s just a magical film.  I love it.  If you like B horror movies, or if you want to find the right one to get you into the, this is likely the right one to watch.

And, for me, it also managed to avoid what I consider to be the biggest pitfall of B horror movies– lots of sex and nudity.  This had none.  Which is good, because I wouldn’t have watched it if it had any.

Most B horror movies seem to have gratuitous amounts of nudity and sex.  Especially many of the more contemporary ones.  Often, they seem to be made with just the tiniest hint of plot as an excuse to show a bunch of naked people (who have no discernible amount of acting ability whatsoever) running around, and also, gore.  Let me be clear that I have no interest in those kinds of B movies, no matter how alluring they would be to me otherwise.  For example, I was deeply saddened when I learned that another movie that is clearly very much in the same vein as Sharknado was about half sexual content: Mega Piranha.  A film with giant piranhas jumping out of the ocean to explode upon impact with skyscrapers (which is a scene I have viewed) seems to be right up my alley.  It’s a real shame that only a half hour or so of the movie was such bliss.

I suppose that, from the responses I’ve gotten to this post on Reddit, I should go a little further into my desire for B movies to not have sex and nudity.  Part of this does come from a moral standpoint– I am very religious and feel as though inclusion of such is immoral and generally degrading to the human body.  Many do not share my views and are welcome to disagree with me on from that standpoint.  However, there is more to it than that, from perhaps a more widely-accepted perspective.  Simply, I feel that the inclusion of such both fails to contribute anything more than the most base of thrills– and not of any level of fear.  Surprisingly, making low-budget horror effectively entertaining seems to be quite tricky to accomplish, so the inclusion of naked bodies tends to show a total inability to keep the audience’s interest any other way.  Simply, it’s cheap, and seems a desperation move.  I’ve had the fact pointed out to me that nakedness does bring an added element of exposure and weakness of a character, especially when confronted with something dangerous or frightening.  This obviously can be quite true– hence the “shower scene” idea that has been used almost constantly since Psycho (and maybe before).  I agree that nakedness– or any sort of physical exposure– can bring a powerful element of frailty and weakness, but it has to be done well.  If it truly being used for heightening tension and scares, it must be done with a careful hand.  Unfortunately, many films that may be defended in such a light are only making the weakest of excuses for sexual reveals of their actresses or actors.  It seems to me that B movies are almost universally quite ham-handed in their use of the exposed human form.

So, to get my fix of the silliness in spades I have come to love, I often have to turn to black-and-white era horror films, such as cult classic The Giant Gila Monster, which could also feature the “Enough Said!” tagline, though mayhap with “Also, A Scene Where Some Kid Badly Plays a Song on His Guitar and Sings That is Like Three Times Longer Than It Should Be!” tacked on, as well.  One of my personal favorites (much better than The Giant Gila Monster) is the 1959 film Att220px-Giantleechesack of the Giant Leeches.  The titular leeches were so tremendous in size, of course, as the result of radiation, but then again, what huge movie monsters wasn’t that way because of something nuclear in that era of Cold War paranoia?  I suppose that I launch into a discourse on how horror movies and books tend to reflect the biggest social fears and issues of their times, but I suppose I should save that scholarly of discussion for a post that doesn’t include a GIF of a man cutting a flying shark in half with a single swipe of a chainsaw.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is another notable monochrome film that just screamed to be watched.  A mad scientist keeping a brain (and assorted other dismembered body parts) alive, a mutant, telepathy, picking victims at a burlesque bar– what’s not to love?

And how about The Killer Shrews, which featured dogs as the shrews and lots of terrible racial stereotypes that were fun to mock incessantly.  For example, the Hispanic servant on the shrew island pretty much only said “Si senor,” the one black character seemed the model for Jar-Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and was, as what almost seems to be a law in horror movies, the first to die.  The female lead did an exceptional amount of swooning and fainting.  Fun for everybody.

KillershrewsIt’s no surprise, with the MPAA regulations being so strict in the 50s and 60s, that this era brought out so many of the B horror films that I’ve come to love, but I am sad that it is such a rare thing to find comparable horror films that are worth my time (as a time-waster) now.

A note– one of the most famous B horror films of all time is Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.  I tried to watch (and mock) this with friends, but it was just too bad and too weird to even come up with sarcastic quips about.  Pretty much anything we said during the film instead was “What is going on?” or disinterested chitchat.  It’s something about aliens, zombies, and a murder (I think).  It was really hard to follow.  I really, really wanted to love it, but it was just awful.  I know many other B horror lovers have a passion for it, but I felt like it was really just unwatchable.  So, I guess a lot of these older films are just as intolerable as many new ones, just for less promiscuous reasons.

At least I can have some hope for the future of B horror films because I happily just found out that Sharknado 2: The Second One is going to coming out next July.

So, what are your thoughts about B horror movies?  Which ones do you like, which ones do you hate, which ones changed your life?  I would really love to get more comments from my readers, make this blog more of a forum of horror (or whatever else I post about), rather than just my thoughts.  I would love to watch some great B movies from what you have to share– especially modern ones that fit my criteria for a good B movie.

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Mama

Anybody who is half as serious about Halloween as my friends are watch horror movies all throughout October.  Well, all throughout the year, but October brings a concentrated dose of the scary.  That said, a few nights ago I Redboxed Mama as part of a double date as one of my many Halloween-appropriate film choices.  From looking at reviews on IMDb I could tell that feelings about the film were mixed, the critics feeling pretty lukewarm about it, the users more positive.  The top five or so user reviews very articulately explained very positive (eight to ten stars) feelings about the film, so I decided to give it a shot.

As a whole, I liked it.  I’m going to break it down more than that, but I fear that my critique may give an unduly negative feel about the film, Sadly, this poster is slightly scarier than the film itself.so I just want to be clear that as a whole this is an enjoyable film that doesn’t make for a wasted evening.

For starters, just a brief blurb on the gist of the plot, as free from spoilers as I can manage: Mama is the story of a young couple, Annabel and Lucas, the latter of whom having a recent family tragedy in which his brother went nuts and shot a bunch of people, kidnapped his young daughters, and disappeared.  The broken family has a car crash, ends up in the woods, and the father is killed, leaving two very young girls to be cared for by a supernatural entity known as “Mama.”  For years Lucas funds a constant search for his brother and his nieces, and finds them– shaped by the years in the forest.  The plot then takes off with all these pieces in place.

That was surprisingly difficult to explain.  Let’s just say it sets all this up very nicely.

The most impressive element of this film is the acting.  The adult cast’s performances were all very solid, but the real stars of the show were the little girls.  They capture the broken social skills of the girls, really showing off in a tangible way (their movements) how inhuman living in the woods made them.  The differences between the two girls– with the younger, who has no memories of civilized life– being so distinct when they are reintroduced to society is also impressively portrayed.  In many ways the girls are the most frightening element of the film.

The story is also quite strong in the piece.  It progresses quite naturally, with strong characters whose interactions very naturally progress the story.  There is unfortunately one or two bits of Mama that relied on some deus ex machina (such as the non-Mama dream– you’ll see if you watch it) that bothered me, especially since there really could have been more plot-conducive reasons the related character performs a certain action, but the rest of the story flows quite smoothly and realistically.  I like that it used many conventions of the horror genre, and of ghost stories in particular, but did so in a way that manipulated audience expectations, using those expectations to form a sort of thrill ride viewing experience.  The story’s conclusion is surprisingly thought-provoking and sparked a fairly lengthy conversation among those I watched with, managing to be both satisfying and unsettling– which I feel is a rare and powerful thing in the genre.  I don’t always need that blended feeling, but it is refreshing that it mixes things up.  I feel with horror generally, and especially in film, [SPOILERS FOR 1408, FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE FOURTH KIND, AND CABIN IN THE WOODS] that too often everything is wrapped up too nicely  (1408, where everything is A-okay after he gets out), or wrapped up nicely but then with an unexplained shock ending (Jason surfacing at the end of Friday the 13th), or is just depressing, or with nothing gained or explained (The Fourth Kind, which resulted in both my wife and I just saying “What?” and vowing to never watch any movie with Milla Jovovich again) or extremely catastrophic (Cabin in the Woods and the destruction of the ENTIRE WORLD) [END SPOILERS].

And now to my beef with Mama.  Mama.  As I’ve stated, I’m pretty good with the story, and that, of course, extends to Mama.  She is pretty creepy in concept, and for about half the film, pretty creepy in execution.  The problem is that, in the latter half of the film, they show her.  A lot.  She looks pretty weird, yes, but stereotypical cartoon alien weird, which is not what I wanted for a freaky, angry maternal poltergeist.  And it isn’t so much that I’m disappointed with the effects people not making her creepy enough, it’s that I did not want to get a good look at her at all.  Just as the terrifying nature of Samara vanishes when you properly see her in The Ring, Mama loses the mystique of the unknown.  Honestly, if they didn’t show her face for the entire movie I would have found it twice and scary, easily.  When she’s being a floor shark, only her hair visible moving through the carpet, she’s solid.  When you can’t see her properly because the camera is showing the older sister’s vision without glasses, I shuddered wondering what she could be.  The director really missed something good with her.

I’d say pretty much everything else was pretty solid.  The score was good, contributing to the atmosphere while avoiding distraction.  The visuals (except as I’ve noted) were dark in a good way.  The opening credits, which made use of children’s drawings to tell the story of the girls’ lives with Mama, were very unsettling.

 

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