My previous column looked at attempts in the international film bazaars to sell movies on the basis of bizarre characters, but weird creatures and natural disasters also come in for their share of films you're never likely to see in local theaters.
Steven Spielberg's titles never show up among the roughly 6,000 blurbs used to peddle movies to global distributors, but he still has a lot to answer for in terms of inspiring scads of lesser filmmakers to poach his ideas in an attempt to achieve even a small fraction of his box office draw. Take, for instance, these pics obviously still feeding off the impact of "Jaws."
(Again, anything in quotation marks comes from the original market blurbs, and my comments appear in parentheses.)
SWAMP SHARK — "A great white shark wreaks havoc on Mississippi River towns, and an embattled local fisherman and his hillbilly crew become destined to kill it." (However polluted it might be, the Mississippi is still fresh water, and great white sharks live only in salt water, so that "hillbilly crew" should have a pretty easy time killing this one.)
GHOST SHARK — "Two locals must uncover the truth about their town's dark past or fall victim to a ghost shark that can hunt on land and in the sea." (While the Universal sequels to "Jaws" got progressively more ridiculous with the shark showing up in all sorts of unexpected places, this movie sounds like the classic early Saturday Night Live "land shark" sketches.)
MEGALODON — "A deep-sea drilling operation goes horribly wrong releasing a giant shark, the deadliest ocean predator that has ever roamed the seas." (That probably means the guys hunting it will need an even bigger "bigger boat" than in "Jaws.")
MEGA SHARK VS GIANT SQUID — "The California coast is terrorized by two enormous prehistoric sea creatures as they battle each other for supremacy of the ocean." (Just in case you were wondering if any marine biologists were consulted for this 2008 feature, I should note that its alternate title is "Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus"!)
And surely Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" sagas (and — who knows? — maybe even the various World War II films he directed or produced) figured somewhere in the thoughts of the makers of the following film.
WARBIRDS — "In the final days of World War II, a band of WASPs (Women's Air Service Corps) are enlisted to ferry a top-secret weapon to an American airbase in the Pacific. But when a violent storm forces them down onto a deserted Pacific island, they encounter enemies much more terrifying than the Japanese soldiers — Pterodons, flying monsters that have devastated what was left of the Japanese Imperial Air Force."
Of course, "violent storms" can be major threats even without unleashing prehistoric predators — especially in this age of global warming.
NYC: TORNADO TERROR — "Accelerated global warming has caused powerful tornadoes and deadly electrical storms. Similar to the red spot on Jupiter, a giant jet-stream vortex has centered over Manhattan. Now, in a race against Mother Nature, Deputy Mayor James Lawrence and his meteorologist wife, Cassie, must overcome their own marital disaster, and discover a way to calm the tornadoes' fury." (Banning 2-liter bottles of soda would be a good start. And just how bad could their marriage be, that it compares with tornadoes devastating New York?)
WEATHER WARS — "After the government pulls funding for his project, scientist Marcus Grange seeks revenge by controlling the weather and causing devastation to any that stand in his way. Now it is up to two estranged brothers to stop their father's evil reign of using weather weapons to destroy Washington D.C." (And there'll probably be a lot more of this going on because of sequestration.)
DISASTER WARS: EARTHQUAKE VS. TSUNAMI — "Deep underwater in the Marianas Trench an accident results in a devastating Tsunami that destroys the Hawaiian Islands as it continues toward the west coast. In an attempt to lessen its impact, scientists launch an underwater explosion that inadvertently makes the tsunami more powerful and focused on Los Angeles. Lives and loves are lost even as a brash young grad student comes up with a solution: start the mother of all earthquakes to counter the rushing torrent and raise the continental shelf off the coast of the United States." (Wonder if that grad student studied with Dr. Grange under a "that's-so-crazy-it-just-might-work" grant?)
You might be wondering why I haven't mentioned any extra-terrestrials. They do show up, but they fare especially poorly in this year's market.
ALIEN BLOOD — "Mother and child aliens fleeing from assassins are forced to break into a mysterious house to survive. Unfortunately, the house belongs to a family of vampires, all hungry for Alien Blood." (Presumably that's not acid blood like in the "Alien" franchise. Made in 1999, this film features nudity and exploding bagpipes!)
ALIEN OPPONENT — "The owner of a small-town junkyard offers a cash reward to whomever can kill her uninvited, armor-suited alien guest when its spacecraft crash-lands into her barn. Every wacko within 100 miles turns out, and before long, the junkyard is transformed into a war zone of rednecks vs. aliens." (Just in case you were wondering what could be worse to run into on a new planet than vampires. Clearly made by someone whose cousin owns a junkyard. Lots of slugs — both the lead and the slimy types.) Whether this very low-budget flick is intentionally or unintentionally cheesy, it does look amusing. Or at least the trailer does, which you can see at http://imdb.to/11UG4QH.
There's no question, though, about the following film (actually made in 1990) by Troma, an independent studio that makes low-budget films that aim for a deliberately gonzo, shoddy aesthetic (for instance, most of their films take place in the town of Tromaville).
NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL — "In a post-Armageddon world, a young woman finds herself in a fight for survival against mutant cavemen, dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals." (Watching the entire film would be a chore, I think, but the three-minute (!) trailer at http://imdb.to/11jYUkr is hilarious — the best find in this year's rubbish heap of bad films at the market. Fair warning, though: Once you see it, you'll never forget the name of this movie — mainly because it is repeated so many times).
Richard J. Leskosky taught media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois and has reviewed films for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.