The Perfect Schlock Storm: 'Sharknado'

A film where a massive tornado sends sharks raining down on Los Angeles? What's not to love? A lot, actually.


Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Cast: Tara Reid, Ian Ziering, John Heard, Cassie Scerbo, Jaason Simmons
Studio: The Asylum
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-07-11 (premiere on SyFy Channel)

Sometimes, inspiration trumps execution. In other instances, nothing could top the original concept. Take a couple of the reigning crap cult classics - Tommy Wiseau's The Room and James Nguyen's Birdemic: Shock and Terror. In the case of the first film, an addled auteur with as much ability as ambition (read: NONE!) crafted the most horrendous example of a romantic drama ever. No matter what he did behind the lens (and in front of it, God help us), he could never match the movie he was making in this head. The same goes for the aforementioned Hitchcock rip-off. Granted, the winged terror ends up being nothing more than poorly photoshopped gifs on top of terribly shot live action footage, but Nguyen is clearly making the experience he wants, professionalism and watchability be damned.

Which brings us to Sharknado, the latest entry in Syfy's senseless watering down of genre entertainment. Manufactured by those Kings of the Mockbuster, The Asylum, and featuring a cast who'd be considered has-beens if anyone actually remembered who they were in the first place, this is a brilliant idea bafflingly executed. It's over the top, drop dead clever in parts, and pathetically underdeveloped in others. Granted, we are talking about a disaster epic where a Pacific coast hurricane traps hundreds of hungry maneaters into its spin-off tornados, the better to chew up and spit out the population of Los Angeles, but what could have been a fantastically cheesy exercise in camp loses its bearings on the way to weirdness.

We open on a fishing boat killing sharks for their valuable body parts. A black market business deal goes wrong and suddenly everyone on board is Jaws jelly. We then switch over to a former surfing champ turned beach bum and bar owner named - wait for it - Fin (Ian Ziering), who enjoys hanging ten and breaking hearts, specifically, the overprotective puppy dog desires of young bartender Nova (Cassie Scerbo). While she fights off the advances of resident drunk George (John Heard), she matches wits with an Aussie buddy of Fin's, Baz (Jaason Simmons). Eventually, the aforementioned storm strikes LA, flooding the streets and sending sharks streaming into the populace. As they eat their way through the city of Angels, Fin tries to rescue his ex-wife (Tara Reid), his disinterested daughter (Aubrey Peeples), and his strong willed son (Chuck Hittinger).

Oh yes, and toward the end, three waterspouts form over the water, eventually touching down on land. Inside each one? Hundreds of hungry killing machines.

It's all there in the premise: the possibilities; the particulars; the problems. How is any movie which promises a last act apocalypse where it literally rains hammerheads from the sky ever going to live up to said pledge? Even worse, how is it going to keep us engaged throughout the preceding 80 some minutes? The answer is similar to the strategies of both The Room and Birdemic - baffle them with batshit. Unfortunately, writer Thunder Levin and director Anthony Ferrante forgot to load up on guano before heading to the film set. The opening does deliver - at least, a bit, and the ending is so unhinged and insane that it feels like deranged Discovery Channel marketers made it up for their annual celebration of all things aquatic. There's even a sequence where an amusement park is dismantled by high winds and equally baked computer artists.

What we don't want, however, and what Sharknado surely doesn't need are two terrible scenes which filet the film like a bounty of beached cod. The first takes place after Fin and his pals go after his ex and his kids. They all end up in a house that is overtaken by water, and then sharks, and yet none of it is fun or fascinating. By the seventh shot of a CG animal making its way through a fake flooded living room, we're bored. Even worse, actresses (which is a questionable identifying marker here) Reid and Peeples play their reactions like they were cast in The Barely Walking Dead. They're zombies dead onscreen.

Then there is the saving of a school bus full of kids along with their bloated dork driver. The establishing shots indicate that the vehicle is surrounded by shark-infested waters on all sides. The minute Ian Ziering suits up to repel off an overpass to save everyone, you can clearly see the streets are dry. As he gets closer, there's the massive body of water and the monstrous menace. Another long shot, and it's business in usual in La-La land. Granted, we expect continuity errors, illogical circumstance, and an overall lack of realism, but the cheapness of the production belies the desires of those making the creative decisions. Even the destruction of the Hollywood sign doesn't help.

At least, during the finale, we get sharks falling from the sky like so much man-eating hail, Ziering wielding a chainsaw, Leatherface style (dibs on the spin-off, California Chainsaw Shark Massacre) and a surreal sequence where a helicopter flies "near" the three tornados, dropping homemade propane "bombs" in to the rotation to break up the whole 'cold air meeting hot air' dynamic. Huh? Exactly. It's here where Sharknado shines, as well as in a masterful moment where Nova explains her dislike for the beasties in a speech that would make Quint and his whole Indianapolis anecdote proud. In fact, when this film riffs on Jaws and other man vs. sea creature conceits, it works. When it tries to offer up drama and human emotion, it's laughably bad.

It's unfortunate, really. Sharkando could have been Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus good, a brain-frying festival of cinematic atrocities force fed through a satiric sieve and given just enough CG polish to keep us from complaining. It could also have acknowledged its outright awfulness and just kept plugging away. Instead, it seems to want to have its kitschy cake and swallow it whole, too. Perhaps when it finally makes its way to DVD, excised blood and gore reinserted and intact, it will make more sense, either as a lark, a novelty, or a knowing lampoon. As it stands, Sharknado is decent but dumb, never wicked enough to have us winking along with it, never bonkers enough to have us offering up the whole "so bad, it's good" ideal. Unlike The Room or Birdemic, it's all attempt and very little follow through.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.