The trailer for this ridiculously titled low, low budget, direct-to-video film is absolutely hysterical – a shark bites airborne plane and snaps the Golden Gate Bridge in half; and an octopus swats a fighter plane, wrestles a sub and a fully operational oil rig – but like most trailers for B-movies, not only is the story plainly laid out, but so are all the money shots.
Brief as those awesome attacks are, the film shouldn’t be turfed into the rubbish bin, because writer/director Jack Perez (working under the nom de plume Ace Hannah) pretty much captures the sensibilities of two genres: a fifties monster movie, and a late sixties/early seventies Japanese monster movie as filtered through western eyes.
East does meet west in order to stop two monster creatures broken from their frozen combat pose in arctic ice, and the defenders of the human race are an appropriately improbable mix of rebel eggheads (Deborah “Debbie” Gibson, Sean Lawlor), an egghead with an unexplained access to military secrets (24’s Vic Chao), and a U.S. government figure with sweeping powers that include wearing an eighties black outfit and requisite ponytail (Lorenzo Lamas).
Perez’ story is actually quite sound, as is the burgeoning romance and basic plotting that ultimately reunites the mega-creatures in another death grip, but there just isn’t enough material showing the creatures attacking humans. The initial reasoning is budgetary, but one wonders if there was also a concerted effort to reveal as little of the behemoths as possible until the final battle, much in the way the creature in The Thing (1950) is never seen until the final reel.
The sometimes prolonged dialogue scenes do add to the characters (most of the time), but there’s evident running time padding in several prolonged montages where the eggheads play with neon test tubes, as well as the unnaturally slow end credit crawl. More scenes of creature destruction would’ve enlivened the film’s first two-thirds, but there’s a healthy sense of the absurd that keeps the film fairly buoyant.
The actors play their roles quite straight – a ploy that aids the pseudo-science jabbering between eggheads and military personnel – and there’s some unintentional amusement with the Asian, as in a scene with Chao on board a Japanese sub that’s manned by Asian actors sporting affected and real Japanese accents, and one guy clearly from California.
The action scenes are delivered with conviction, particularly the finale that has submarines luring and dodging creatures in arctic waters. Perez’ device of using flashed frames is clumsy, though; as a stylistic device, it becomes clear it’s a jump cut variation to avoid showing action footage the production couldn’t afford.
Most of the locations and sets are enhanced by dim lighting, and cinematographer Alexander Yellen is often quite beautiful, such as the California beach scenes. (On the other hand, co-star Gibson looks grotesque in a handful of early scenes, perhaps suffering from a lethal combo of weak lighting and terrible makeup shading.) Also of note is Chris Ridenhour’s score, which packs in a lot of strong dramatic material for such a low-brow production.
Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s a slick production that manages to deliver a vintage story in spite of the obvious limitations in thespian talent and money. Think of it as watching a long-lost epic made by a poverty row studio that somehow got lost in a storage vault (or was maybe dumped there by a spiteful producer).
Perez’ other films as director include 666: The Child (2006), Wild Things 2 (2004), and The Mary Kay Letourneau Story (2000).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan