Tail Sting (2001)

OCTOBER 27, 2020


2001 was a weird year for horror, as it was kind of in between waves and not producing a lot of successes. The slasher revival was drying up, Sixth Sense and Blair Witch Project's success weren't really being capitalized on as often as you'd expect, and The Ring was still a year away, with the hardcore stuff that dominated the majority of the decade was even further off. So outside of the smash The Others there wasn't much to write about theatrically, and the DTV market was in a transitional phase from VHS to DVD (2002 was the year DVD overtook that garbage format for good), which meant shelf space at the video stores was divided, forcing stores to be choosier with what they stocked on the dying format. Long story short, movies like Tail Sting never really had a chance, as it wasn't good enough to make the cut for VHS but too cheesy to attract renters/buyers on the shinier (and pricier) DVDs when they were blowing people away with the likes of X-Men and The Matrix.

Plus it's simply not a very good movie, though it can definitely improve with some libations and (if safely possible!) a few friends. The description of scorpions on a plane (five years before Snakes) had me thinking they were, you know, regular scorpions, which would be a problem in a confined area with nowhere to land (bless those Australia to Los Angeles flights for allowing for so many plane-set movies to have an excuse not to just reroute to the closest airport). But it's actually giant scorpions, which makes the movie far funnier than I was expecting, because no one bothered to consider that it's difficult for a normal sized human to get around on a plane, let alone a very wide insect.

Director Paul Wynne gets around this potential major problem by... simply not showing how the thing can get from place to place. We will see a shadow on the wall next to a victim, then a giant stinger will attack them, but it's never quite clear where the rest of the scorpion is in relation to everything, as it often seems impossible. Even funnier is how Wynne tries to make it scary in spots, including a breathtaking bit where the pilot enters the cockpit and the scorpion then appears behind him. Ever see an airplane cockpit? You wouldn't be able to miss a normal sized scorpion on the floor if you were to enter, so how the guy managed to seemingly walk past it without coming into contact with it is beyond me. Sometimes it seems to be in the ceiling or something and coming from below, but again there isn't any clear explanation - it would seemingly leave a pretty sizable hole for the people to notice, no?

Naturally this all just makes it more amusing, but it gets pretty tiresome after a while - there's only so many times you can laugh at the same inept motions. To save on scorpion effects (and SLIGHTLY reduce how implausible it is even by giant monster movie standards) they add a few more hurdles, including damaged landing gear and the requisite evil human waving a gun around, but I couldn't help but think how they could have saved themselves the narrative headaches by simply reducing the size of their monsters. As we learn about halfway through the film, these scorpions have been genetically engineered and enhanced thanks to fossilized remains (someone immediately references Jurassic Park so that we don't have to), explaining their size, but even if they were like a foot long they would have retained their "big" factor while keeping the movie grounded in some kind of logic. It seems there should never be a point where they can't see the damn things no matter where they are on the plane, yet the monsters repeatedly "sneak up" on them.

Weirdly, the script does succeed in making the characters kind of memorable, and even surprising in some ways. There are a pair of Muslim brothers who act sneaky and keep saying to have faith in Allah that their plan will work, so even in early 2001 when this was released I'm sure most audience members would suspect they were hijackers, but it turns out that they are actually illegal immigrants hoping to find work in America as electricians. Their skills pretty much save the day! Likewise, there's a German goth guy named Gunther who brought a coffin on board, but we later learn he's just a regular lonely American named Joe hoping to reinvent himself and attract women. It's not really played for laughs - I actually felt kind of bad for the guy! But then he got killed, anyway. And the himbo pilot actually has a sad backstory, forcing the female lead to reconsider her dismissal of him as, well, a himbo.

Oh and someone involved apparently loved Angelina Jolie's filmography because there's a lengthy subplot that seems like a fever dream mashup of Pushing Tin and Hackers, with two misfit types named Brick and Highball (...) hacking into the cell phone companies and crossing it with the passenger manifest to find someone with a working cell they could call to make contact after the radio is fried by the scorpions. These scenes consist of little more than the two of them looking at monitors, typing really fast, and sweating their way through dialogue like "On my count level off to 4,000!" or whatever, and again I couldn't help but think if this stuff would have been necessary at all if they just treated the scorpions as an almost invisible threat, offing passengers silently and causing a rising panic.

Supposedly there's an epic goof of a crew member just standing there, but I missed it. I even rewound looking specifically at the scene described on IMDb, but nothing. But I also noticed that the actor who is supposed to be the scene has his head cropped out of the frame, so maybe they tried to fix it by zooming in on the shot? I say just let these things be - do they honestly think by removing this silly goof that the film can be taken seriously now? The whole movie still sounds like it was ADR'd in a bathroom and it still somehow manages to look like it was shot on a cell phone even though that technology didn't exist at the time, so it's like cleaning up a landfill by removing one broken radio. There's also supposedly a sequel, but... come on. Even if I was doing this every again forever (that two months went by fast!) I wouldn't bother. It was amusing enough at a time when I desperately need to smile, but I won't push my luck with the Tail Sting universe.

What say you?


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