The Sharknado franchise

Sharknado (2013)

Rating: C

Dir: Anthony C. Ferrante
Star: Ian Ziering, Cassie Scerbo, John Heard, Tara Reid

There’s a fine line between smart-stupid and just flat-out stupid, and it’s difficult to say exactly what the difference is. It’s clear here that Ferrante’s heart is in the right place, but this falls short of the mark set by the likes of Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. Hard to say if it’s trying too hard, or not trying hard enough. There are moments of sublime imagination – witness the flying shark being cleft in two with a chainsaw, in a manner befitting a Hattori Hanzo katana – just not enough of them. The plot, such as it is, revolves around former surf champion and bar-owner Finley ‘Fin’ Shepherd, who head inland to try and rescue his ex-wife (Reid) and kids, after a freak hurricane floods Los Angeles, and sends a tidal-wave of sharks out of every liquid-producing orifice short of your kitchen tap.

They have to be fended off with shotgun, baseball-bat and, yes, chainsaw, as Fin tries to round up his family, and then watch as his helicopter-pilot son attempts to save the city by blowing up the tornados with improvised explosive devices. Yeah, there’s just so much wrong here, be it meteorological or icthyological “facts” that are no so much disposed of, as ignored completely. I could handle that, if much of interest or amusement resulted, but there’s really way too much footage of the cast driving around in an SUV, bitching at each other, rather than what we want to see, which is sharks flying through the air. Trust me, watching Reid try to act, will leave you desperately hoping for something to gnaw off your limbs, so you can escape.

And, oh, how are the mighty – Heard, in this case – fallen. Ziering isn’t actually too bad, there are moments where the film does get it right, such as deadpan theft of lines from Jaws, and some of the effects are actually half-decent. However, there are too many moments where the cheapjack production values (such as the fact that life is still, clearly, going on elsewhere, without interruption, and in a very sunny Los Angeles) interrupt the required “buying into” the production. Certainly, a case where the poster is likely more memorable than the finished feature.

Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)

Rating: B-

Dir: Anthony C. Ferrante
Star: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Vivica A. Fox, Mark McGrath

The first one appeared out of nowhere to become a thoroughly unexpected pop-culture phenomenon, which was something of a surprise, because it wasn’t actually very good: certainly, The Asylum have made much more entertaining films. The second time around, the mix of self-knowing parody and loony excess works better. The makers know what’s expected of them, and don’t hesitate to deliver, right from an opening sequence which manages both to pay homage to perhaps The Twilight Zone’s most famous episode, as well as nodding to Airplane! by casting its pilot as… a pilot.

That’s a good indication of the line this is treading, and most of the time, it succeeds in keeping its balance. Certainly, the pacing is a lot more energetic and appropriate. No-one is under the illusion that the audience is watching this for characterization of subtle plot development: we’re there for the cartilaginous fish falling from the sky. Ferrante and crew are happy to oblige, against a backdrop of famous New York landmarks, from the Statue of Liberty to the New York Mets’ stadium. Half the fun is in spotting the celebrity (or other cameos), most of of whom are depicted in a low-key approach which works nicely/ These go all the way back to Taxi and all the way forward to modern-day social media whores – presumably there so they say nice things, and they really should have been omitted from the film entire, since it’s just too blatant pandering.

Most of the people involved play this with the appropriate straight-face, the only way to handle such complete nonsense, and even the absurdly obvious product-placement (most notably for Subway) begins to acquire a Zen-like quality. Most of the time, when so much effort is put into making something so self-aware and “cult,” it topples over into a heap of its own half-chewed intestines and smugness. However, there are occasions where it can just about be pulled off, and this would be one of them. By no stretch of the imagination, could this possibly be called great film-making: the effects are shaky, the performances one-dimensional and the story barely present at all. But fun? Hell, yeah. Real movies are clearly, vastly over-rated.

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015)

Rating: C

Dir: Anthony C. Ferrante
Star: Ian Ziering, Cassie Scerbo, Frankie Muniz, Tara Reid

I’m not sure if this is guilty of trying too hard, or not trying hard enough. Might be a little from Column A, a little from Column B. While the second entry succeeded in building on the loopy premise of the first, exaggerating it nicely for comic effect, and doing a nice job of integrating the celebrity cameos, this seems to think that more = better. Which may be true when it comes to the titular bio-meteorological phenomena, it’s less the case for celebrity cameos, most of which appear to have been plugged in on the day, depending on who was visiting the set. The production values are kinda impressive, with some significant partners, in particular Universal Studios, which seems to be the location for about one-third of the movie.

The rest deals with Fin Shephard (Ziering) and his efforts to get down the East coast from Washington to be reunited with heavily-pregnant wife April (Reid), then on into space with his estranged father, the only place from which the brewing super sharknado – a sharkicane – can be stopped. I’ll say no more, except that you have to love any Wikipedia plot synopsis including this: “In an unprecedented turn of events, the laser beam which purposefully destroyed the sharknadoes, propels the sharks into space. The space shuttle is attacked by sharks.” Unfortunately, it just isn’t as amusing as you feel it ought to be, unless you are dedicated enough to contemporary pop culture and able to identify the stream of celebs, many of whom would be honoured to be called C-list, that stream across almost every scene.

Ziering does his best, and Scerbo, returning after skipping the previous installment, makes a decent impression as a vengeful vixen, now dedicating her life to tracking down and destroying sharknados. There are some amusing moments of shark-related carnage, and a birth scene which certainly is unlike any other you’ve seen. However, this makes for slim pickings when spread over the breadth of an entire 90 minutes, and I can’t help feeling that the series has now… Er… Jumped the shark. Regardless, two billion Twitter impressions can’t be wrong, apparently, with the end credits promising – or perhaps, threatening – Sharknado 4, and giving us the chance to decide whether April lives or dies. If only they would do the same for the entire franchise, we might be in a better place.

Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens (2016)

Rating: C+

Dir: Anthony C. Ferrante
Star: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cody Linley, Imani Hakim

Since the first appeared in 2013, the annual Sharknado film on SyFy has become the Super Bowl of B-movies. It may or may not actually be any good, but no-one calling themselves a fan can afford to miss it. This year, it was Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens, and the series continues to provoke disparate reactions. At time of writing, 22.5% of IMDb raters gave it a 10/10: the next most were the 14.4% who gave it a 1/10. My theory is, the Sharknado series is a litmus test. Those who watch “bad films” to mock them and feel superior, will hate these movies, because the films are quite deliberately intended to be how they are. It’s a great deal harder to mock something, when it successfully achieves its goals. Those who are happy to enjoy the nonsense for what it is, however, are likely fine with the concept, will take the entertainment value as offered and judge it on those terms.

It’s probably clear my view tends toward the latter, since I’ve been fond of The Asylum for a while. They deserve respect, for having found a niche and exploiting it, in a way B-movie producers have been doing since the roadshow films of the thirties. David Michael Latt is just one in a line of such mavericks as Roger Corman, Samuel Zarkoff, Lloyd Kaufman, etc. Criticizing the Sharknado series for being “stupid” is a nonsensical irrelevance. I don’t claim it’s immune to criticism: purely on the level of enjoyment, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No was disappointing, and perhaps tried too damn hard. I mean, sharks in space? That’s a stretch, even given the limited amount of plausibility for the series overall. It’s just that you need to understand what it’s trying to achieve.

This is something of a return to form, although still short of the most entertaining entry, Sharknado 2: The Second One. Set five years after #3, the world is now safe from sharknados, thanks to the efforts of the Astro-X corporation, whose network has stabilized the atmosphere. Except, it turns out to be no good against sharknados made from sand, as we find out when Las Vegas gets it. Things then escalate through sharknados of boulders, oil and fire to the, likely inevitable, nuclearnado, which can only be stopped by the ever-heroic Fin (Ziering) diverting Niagara Falls into the air to act as coolant. Meanwhile, his wife April (Reid) is actually alive, and has been given cyborg powers by her father, played by Jake Busey.

The last entry galloped up and down the East coast of America, and it’s only fair that this time, the mid-West and West are the main targets. You can pretty much cross off the states as they whizz by: Nevada, Arizona, Texas, California, Washington and Missouri all get their share of carnage. Naturally, this is less about plot than a relentless excuse for a succession of pop-culture references and C-list celebrity appearances, and these are the usual mixed bag. I know little and care less about any Real Housewives, who seem to infest this film, hanging off it like so many remoras. Reality TV and alleged “YouTube stars” are virtually a blank slate to me, so I probably missed most of these. There were certainly points where I felt I was supposed to be going “Ooh! That’s ___”.

The best were probably Gilbert Gottfried as a sharknado chaser (above), and a Baywatch reunion, teaming up Alexandra Paul and Gena Lee Nolin with Fin’s father, played by David Hasselhoff. And yes, there was slow-motion running.  Most of the film nods hit the mark, at least once they got past the obvious Star Wars mentions, starting with the opening prologue crawl. The rest ran from The Wizard of Oz through Network to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I was fairly impressed how these meshed into the narrative. However, it was often the little moments I loved: the concept of Sharknado slot-machines rang true (we were there in April, and themed slots were rampant, from Game of Thrones to Gremlins), and I loved how during the attack, the Bellagio fountains were squirting sharks into the air.

I’m not sure I saw the need for throwing all the different -nados at the audience. As the Vegas opener shows, a well-crafted sharknado is more than sufficient to hold the audience’s attention, and the new dishes on the menu didn’t add particularly much. And even by Asylum standards, the CGI for the finale at Niagara was particularly woeful, especially when April was rescuing her son from a barrel which had been blown into the river. Or was this a subtle dig at The Hobbit? Despite apparently running through the entire spectrum of ‘nadoliciousness, it seems there’s still room for franchise expansion. Based on the way this ends (though I’m damned I can even remember who that “Nova” character mentioned is or was), I’m guessing #5 will be going international.

The optimist in me hopes this might be the opening of a new vista of creative possibilities. The pessimist thinks this is Latt making a cheap grab for the overseas market – a sharknado on the Great Wall of China, anyone? Of course, there’s no reason it has exclusively to be one or the other. However, the financial aspects of the production really don’t bother me, and the potential in worldwide sharkiness certainly cannot be denied. This latest entry proved more than adequately entertaining, especially compared to the fourth entries in some other series (hello, Crystal Skull). So, like sharks returning to their spawning grounds [note to Film Blitz intern: please fact-check this before publication [note to self: hire intern]], we’ll return to SyFy at around this point next year, and await the next installment.

Sharknado 5: Global Swarming

Rating: B

Dir: Anthony C. Ferrante
Star: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cassie Scerbo, Billy Barratt

After a couple of entries which were pretty much the poster-child for declining returns, this returns to the deadpan ludicrousness which is necessary for the series to succeed. As a result, it’s the best entry, certainly since Sharknado 2, and possibly in the series [a final decision would likely require rewatching both. Don’t hold your breath]. It’s a high-paced gallivant around the globe – though sadly, at no point do the sharks actually attack the Great Wall of China, as certain promo pictures would have you believe. They do, however, visit a number of other global landmarks, to thoroughly satisfactory effect.

The traditionally thin excuse for a plot see Fin (Ziering) separated from his child Gil (Barratt) by a sharknado which – for reasons never made clear – has a teleportal inside it. To rescue Gil, he’ll have to follow the trail through that portal to…wherever the other side lands. Which, conveniently, is inevitably beside those global landmarks, rather than the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Alongside him is wife April (Reid) and sharknado hunter extraordinaire, Nova (Scerbo). There are also the inevitable abundance of celebrity cameos, most of which will make no sense when post-apocalyptic historians restore this nugget of 21st-century culture.

Action starts in Britain. where Fin and Nova are retrieving an ancient artifact from the extensive cave system which, as we all know, lies under Stonehenge. Turns out sharknados have plagued mankind since prehistory, and this fin-shaped icon could be the key to deflecting them. From there, it’s to London, for an extensive sequence, at which I laughed like a drain. Not least, because it’s the absolute worst depiction of Britishness since Dick Van Dyke’s accent. I presume this is a deliberate stab at such previous failed efforts, beginning subtly with the usual London/Tower Bridge mix-up, but eventually escalating to… Well, if you’re not American, you probably won’t know Charo. But this is Charo playing the Queen of England.

It’s so utterly inappropriate, it can only be deliberate – though if more proof is needed, Fabio later plays the Pope. I am, however, willing to let it slide, since it allows Ziering to deliver the line, “Forgive me, father, for I am Fin…”, before receiving the Holy Chainsaw from His Holiness. This was presumably held in the same secret Vatican vault as the Hand-Grenade of Antioch. After London, the film bounces through various other cities, two being particularly notable. Sydney sees Olivia Newton-John and her daughter turn the Opera House into a missile-defense system, with the aid of Tony Hawk. And in Tokyo, the city is threatened by a gigantic shark, formed from thousands of smaller sharks (it reminded me of “In the Hills, the Cities”, from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood). Nice to see the Tokyo Tower is still a monster magnet.

The ending is certainly the best in the series, not least because it’s remarkably bleak, compared to the obviously lighthearted tone of the franchise. Fin is left, alone, wandering a blasted post-apocalyptic landscape, until a Hummer shows up, driven by… the best cameo in the series to date too. Let’s leave it there. What transpires makes it clear that, if this film played fast and loose with geography, the next entry will do the same with the dimension of time. I’m intrigued by the possibilities here, and am genuinely looking forward to Sharknado 6: Shark to the Future, or whatever it ends up being called.

But, goddammit, if there’s not a cameo from Bruce Campbell – or, at least, a blue police-box – I’m going to be slashing the seats.

The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time (2018)

Rating: C

Dir: Anthony C. Ferrante
Star: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cassie Scerbo, Vivica A. Fox

What the FUCK did I just watch? Even the loose standards of plotting employed in previous movies – and that’s being generous – are abandoned, for reasons that can only be summed up as “because time-travel.” The end of the last film hinted at Fin (Ziering) and son Gil (played there, deliciously by Dolph Lundgren) entering the fourth dimension, in a sequel that was part Sharknado 6, part Back to the Future mockbuster. The reality is considerably more disjointed. The bulk of this is a series of sketches in which Fin, April (Reid), the head of the robotic version of April, and various other people you probably thought had died four entries earlier, fight a sharknado in some time period alongside “celebrity” cameos of various effectiveness. Rinse, repeat.

This is all in pursuit through time of Gil, for reasons best described as vague. Though even this only becomes clear after the original stated goal, of destroying the “patient zero” of sharknados, has been achieved and then discarded without explanation. If that was the actual goal, then starting in the modern era, and working their way back, would have made more sense. Hang on, did I just use the phrase “more sense” in regard to the sixth entry in a franchise about shark-filled tornadoes? My mistake. The bigger problem is the thoroughly intermittent entertainment offered, to the point I think I may have dozed off momentarily during the Revolutionary War segment. They literally throw everything including an actual kitchen sink into this entry, inevitably to declining impact.

Even the celebrity cameos are disappointing. Neil DeGrasse Tyson frankly looks embarrassed to be there, though Dee Snider made for a surprisingly decent Old West sheriff, and gets to deadpan various appropriate lines, e.g. “I’m not going to take this anymore” and “I think I know who’s twisted, mister.” I was amused by Ziering being re-united with former 90210 partner, Tori Spelling, who plays his mom. However, the only segment to get out of the painfully obvious has them sent forward in time, to the year 20,013. Robotic April had apparently gone insane after her head was left on the ocean bottom for years and constructed an entire cargo-cult of Fin worshipping clones: “Planet of the Aprils,” as one character quips. It’s actually imaginative enough to work, and if you’re not creeped out by an entire army of robotic Tara Reids, I’ve got nothing.

Going out on their own terms and getting to draw a line under itself, is a privilege offered to few B-movie franchises. These instead tend to end up flogging the deceased equine, for as long as any money at all can be squeezed out [see the Hellraiser series, still going 31 years after the original, with the tenth movie released in February]. So, give the makers credit for pulling their own plug, and they do a half-decent job of tying up the loose ends in the final reel, giving Fin an at least slightly poignant farewell speech as they all head off into an apparently sharknado-free future. Complaining this is a mess is probably missing the point: so were the previous five, yet at least three (1, 2 and 5, if you’re counting) were considerably more fun. For this is an underwhelming mess: it’s a sad way to end, with my biggest takeaway the discovery that there exists a drag queen operating under the name Alaska Thunderfuck.

Sharknado: 2013-2018.
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!