NOVEMBER 8, 2011
I caught an ad for Swamp Shark when I watched Ice Road Terror earlier in the summer, and meant to record it, but forgot all about it until I saw it on the shelf at Blockbuster. And yes! The shelf! They’re actually stocking DTV/Syfy junk again (I got Mothman there last week, too), which is either a good sign (they can afford to stock stuff besides the A titles again), or a bad one (I’m their last customer and they’re trying to keep me). Either way, it was a nice surprise to see it there; usually these things take a year or so – Mothman aired over a year before Swamp Shark but they seem to have been released on DVD around the same time.
Anyway, like Ice Road, it’s the type of movie that would probably bore the usual Syfy audience, as the body count is much lower than they are used to. Swamp Shark kills less than 10 people in the movie I think, and almost none of them are just random swimmer/boater types that get introduced only to get eaten moments later before the commercial break. Hell even the rare teens that DO fit that bill last quite a while (relatively speaking) – the movie was not apparently designed to ensure that channel surfers wouldn’t stray, fearing that they’d miss a kill.
As if to even things out, the movie offers the most ridiculous version of the “close the beaches” plot I’ve seen in quite some time. This time it’s “Gatorfest”, an annual event that celebrates the gators, which are something of a tourist attraction. Human villain Robert Davi even explains that the town can’t afford to close it, too many businesses depend on it, etc. And that would be fine, if the festival didn’t amount to four tents with carnival games and a bounce house with a gator head at the top. Plus, there’s only like 17 people attending, so I suspect they lost money anyway. That they kept it running and thus caused the death of 2-3 people is just salt in the wound, really.
I really think it’s time to retire this subplot in monster movies. It worked in Jaws because they had the dough to pull it off (and an earlier beach scene that showed the vast difference between a normal weekend and the 4th of July holiday crowd), plus it wasn’t an “event” – it was a national holiday. Seems like any reasonable person could agree to merely postpone their localized traditional festival for a week, instead of being cartoonishly ignorant. Plus, they always build these things into the end of the movie. Even a low budget Syfy movie created mainly to entertain drunks/stoners on a Saturday night won’t have the balls to end a movie with a giant CGI shark killing families at a town fair or whatever, so why always save it for the end? Again, in Jaws, this wasn’t even halfway through the movie, and we got the death of that one guy as a motivating plot point for the mayor to pay Quint and have the team go out. These things all just have the “Oh no, he’s heading toward the (whatever event)!”, and then they show up and save the day. Piranha 3D is the only recent movie I can think of that actually let the monsters create some real carnage at one of these things, but they had the money to do it. Syfy movies? Not so much.
At least they sprung for a real head for closeups, sparing the amount of terrible CGI that usually plagues these things. Since Swamp Shark doesn’t really appear all that much, they apparently had the time/money to make halfway decent CGI shots for the bigger kills (including a hilarious decapitation that seems to be paying homage to the famous Free Willy shot), so it’s a quality over quantity affair, for once. The blood is nice and practical too; said decap shot spills a ridiculous (read: awesome) amount of Karo all over the dock where the poor sod was standing.
They also apparently had a little extra dough for actors – there are three decent names in this! Kristy Swanson, Robert Davi, and DB Sweeney are certainly no strangers to this sort of thing (this is actually the 2nd killer shark movie for Swanson), but all three in one? Plus Wade Boggs, for some goddamn reason? That’s basically an Irwin Allen-esque all-star cast for one of these. And it’s a good thing, because as you might have guessed from the fact that there’s not a lot of Swamp Shark action, this one is more focused on character, so having people who can act is quite a blessing. Sweeney in particular is an underrated performer; in an alternate universe, he’s the one who broke out of rom-coms and indie junk to become a big star, and Paul Rudd is the one starring in Syfy movies (I like them both about equally, for the record).
In fact, it’s so focused on character that it actually provides the most unique reason yet for a bunch of folks to go out on a boat and stop a shark in a B-movie: clearing their name for murder! The first death in the movie is chalked up to the gators owned by Swanson’s family (specifically her brother), so they all go out to catch Swamp Shark to clear their name. I actually wish they had gone further with this; maybe had Swamp Shark lawyer up and get away with it for a while, only for them to go rogue in the 3rd act and take him down. Jokes aside though, at least there’s more to it than the usual financial or revenge reasons. I also liked that Swamp Shark was actually brought there (in a truck!); I missed the exact explanation but it was somehow part of Davi’s evil plan, which went awry when Swamp Shark busted loose from the truck in the movie’s opening sequence. And (spoiler) his demise is pretty great too, involving a wench, a tied up Swamp Shark, and buckets of blood and Swamp Shark bits being tossed on the supporting actors.
Not Swanson though; she inexplicably does almost nothing in the finale, even though she’s the heroine and is also BUFFY (to older folks like me at least). I would have thought she’d get in the last kill shot or something, but instead the men do most of the work while she just sort of crouches nearby. She also doesn’t seem to care much that her boyfriend died; she’s flirting with Sweeney at the end even though her beau got eaten only like a half hour before. Sure, he was douchey, but you’d think she’d still be at least a little upset about it.
The DVD doesn’t have a damn thing, not even a trailer, making this two movies in a row that made the timing on my Badass Digest article all the more impressive. Granted, the movie is destined (designed?) for Wal-mart’s five dollar bin, but who is going to buy it even at that price, besides ironic wiseasses needing a gift for a Yankee Swap at Christmas time? At least with some bonus features (and a low price) the folks who enjoy these movies might be enticed to pick it up. Especially on a monster movie – a few minutes on the design of the thing would be awesome. But alas, Swamp Shark is not going to save DVD. And given its low “Let’s put this part on Youtube” potential, it’s just going to be forgotten about in a few months. It’s a shame; I would actually like to see MORE movies like this (i.e. character based, FX shots kept to a minimum so that they don’t look too terrible), but I understand why Syfy might want to commission more in the Sharktopus vein than this. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, but the low body count coupled with the low budget means it doesn’t really please anyone – guys who just want to laugh at crazy attacks will stick to Dinoshark or whatever, and if you want a real monster/predator movie that favors character over action, you can just pull out Jaws again. Swamp Shark sort of sits in the middle of the spectrum: not GOOD, but not bad ENOUGH to work on an ironic level, either.
What say you?
P.S. Another check in the plus column – the movie has one of the quirkier variations on the obligatory “Bigger boat” reference. I’ll let you find it for yourself.