Bad sci fi movies: the fun, and the horror

Since childhood I’ve loved low budget science fiction movies. Little Meggie got her first taste of twisted, black-and-white cheesiness from The Crawling Eye. And even now, nothing perks up a rainy weekend afternoon like watching some craptastic Z-list SF flick. I’m not talking about cinema-quality movies, but über-cheapo TV flicks like the hideously fabulous Sharktopus. And, of course, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

Cosmic disasters, alien invasions, zombie apocalypses, robot apocalypses, viral apocalypses, geologic apocalypses (The Core!) remain my favorites. But stupid mutant creature features also provide reliable entertainment. And they’re educational. For instance, from Sharktopus I have learned:

  • A mysterious force alerts mutant sea monsters when it’s spring break.
  • These creatures are drawn to tropical beaches by a chemical combination of hormones, suntan lotion, and tequila.
  • They’ll attack anything that surfs, sunbathes, or hooks up with a hunky jet-ski instructor. But they are especially attracted to tiny swimsuits.
  • This is known as String Bikini Theory.

And of course, what really counts when watching these movies is making fun of them. (MST 3000, I miss you…) So on Saturday night, the Husband and I were happy to discover that Dinocroc was on.

To our surprise, the movie seemed more suspenseful and cinematic than most of its brethren. (Maybe because horror movie maestro Roger Corman was involved.) The suspense was palpable. The escaped mutant dinocroc was scary. The gore was deliberately comic. There was a genuine emotional tug with the fatherless little boy looking for his lost three-legged dog. And genuine fear for lost, endangered, three-legged Lucky. At one point I did wonder aloud why this movie was playing on the Horror Channel, instead of Syfy. What’s the difference, I was asked. No ghosts or demons, I said.

Wrong answer. I’d forgotten about real horror.

While fatherless little Mikey lies in bed worrying about Lucky, his big brother and guardian — the ostensible hero of the movie — is in the living room, stinking drunk, trying to seduce the sexy young animal control officer. Big Bro and Sexy Dog Catcher have, to give them credit, spent the afternoon hunting for Lucky. And having water fights. And mud wrestling. And now Big Bro’s seduction banter consists of drunken jokes about almost catching the dog at that remote nature preserve… (Yes, he nearly got Lucky.)

Little Mikey overhears all this. So of course while Big Bro and Miss Animal Control play Doggy Style on the sofa, Mikey climbs out his window to rescue his best friend.

(Warning: spoilers.)

Mikey soon winds up deep in the swampy woods, at Dinocroc’s mercy. He throws his bike into the jaws of the beast and flees. He takes refuge in an abandoned cabin. Beneath the rotting floorboards, Dinocroc stalks him. A reptilian eye gleams up from the dark.

And then the floorboards erupt. Dinocroc leaps straight up, all thirty feet of him, and catches little Mikey in his horrible teeth. It nearly swallows him entire, like a shish kabob. Mikey cries out for his brother. Dinocroc’s jaws snap shut.

And little Mikey’s severed head clatters to the floor and rolls, rolls, rolls toward the camera. It comes to a rest filling the screen. Blood and gore are ragged on the stump of the little boy’s neck. Mikey’s eyes stare at the audience, shocked and pleading and helplessly dead.

The Husband and I gaped at the TV.

“They killed the kid,” he said.

“They killed the kid,” I said.

“They actually killed the kid,” he said.

“They actually frackin’ did,” I said. (I paraphrase.)

“Now I know why it’s a horror movie,” I said.

Was it a surprising plot twist? Yes. Did it grab the audience by the throat? Yes. Did it also ruin the movie? Absolutely.

Because, from that point on, the flick lacked suspense. And that’s because the only worthy character in the movie, the only person in the story we cared about, had been killed. (Also because I was pulled out of the narrative by the thought: What kind of parents let their child appear in a film where his decapitated head rolls across a floor?) Little Mikey’s dead. Who cares what happens to Big Bro now? Big Bro, Mr. Supposed Hero, who’s so hung over the next morning he doesn’t even notice that Mikey is gone. Big Bro, who is so thrilled about getting to bay at the moon with Ms. Dog Catcher that he goes Dinocroc huntin’ without even checking on the one person in his life who actually depends on him.

Big Bro: We don’t care if you get vengeance on Dinocroc. Because dude, we hate you.

Big Bro: We don’t care if you get the girl. Because dude, we hate you.

And from that point on, who could make fun of the movie? Big Bro, you even ruined our ability to laugh at Dinocroc snapping up water skiers like they were Cheetos. Dude, we hate you.

That’s what I call a spoiler.

12 responses to “Bad sci fi movies: the fun, and the horror

  1. I love these movies, because you just know who’s going to be killed.

    Did you watch Swamp Shark on SyFy this weekend. Another one of these movies that you just have to watch even though you know the outcome.

  2. Heh heh. You said “Doggy Style.” And “String Bikini Theory.”

  3. There are certain lines you just don’t cross…

    Just like if Whiskey the dog had met a similar fate. We would have all cried in outrage and stormed Meg’s publisher’s office waving torches and pitchforks….or maybe just wrote a polite letter expressing our disdain.

  4. I am sometimes surprised by the importance to a story of caring about the characters. I read “The Ruins” and watched the movie, it had a fairly decent, creative plot, but I never could get into either one because I didn’t care about any of the characters.

  5. We watch these, only they are on the Sci Fi channel here. Did you see the one with the teen pop stars, now older ladies, Tiffany and whatsername? Oh my God, even their attempts at humor were beyond lame.

    Some Cyclops move starring Eric Roberts was pretty yikes.

    If you notice, all the “stars” are actors that are living at the local rehab desperate to resurrect their acting careers.

  6. Dana Jean: I believe the Debbie Gibson/Tiffany mashup is Mega Python vs. Gatoroid.

    Not nearly as good as Mega Shark.

    • Yes, that’s who she is and that was their movie. I could have done a better acting job and I’m no actor.

      Well, honestly, I would have been laughing my ass off the whole time. Everyone would be trying to be all serious and I would have been wetting myself, just a little bit.

  7. Ah, The Crawling Eye. The first movie I watched more than once…and in one day. (I believe I saw it four times over that weekend. Who wouldn’t relish a shrieking crawling eye?!)

  8. Well that’s the end of my script writing career. It’s all been done.

  9. The fun of these movies is the “offstage” commentary by the audience, whether it’s just me alone or me with family. We watched a movie with a family friend once and she was so confused by our running commentary. I thought everyone did it!

    And once a favorite character is killed, well then, the movie is no longer entertaining. Rule number one: make us care. Remember when OJ saved the cat in “The Towering Inferno”? The audience applauded! It was a brief little moment, but we all remember it, right? THAT is storytelling! (Who cared when Richard Chamberlain died? No one. THAT, TOO, is storytelling!)

  10. I keep forgetting to mention, but… I love this write-up! It makes me laugh every time I read it… so visual. Thanks, Meg.

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