By Jeff Pfeiffer
Those of you who were worried that SCI FI Channel’s quality of programming would change too much when its name and branding becomes Syfy on July 7 don’t have to be concerned. The network has announced that, along with a very promising new series called Warehouse 13 debuting that day, July will also see the return of favorites like Eureka, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters International and the annual Twilight Zone Independence Day Marathon. So rest easy.
But not too easy. The network also indicated that its infamous slate of original films will likewise continue to “entertain” us, churning out cheap quickie horror and sci-fi flicks based off the freest public domain and news stories money doesn’t need to buy, and filled with just enough of the barest-bones CGI effects needed to make it at least look as if something is onscreen chasing Michael Shanks.
Like many such movies since the dawn of filmmaking, these productions often seem to have been conceived with a cool title first, and any notion of creating them second, if at all. And I will admit that some of the titles do sound pretty cool, and have even lured me into tuning in on occasion. Over the years from SCI FI we’ve seen the likes of S.S. Doomtrooper, Supergator, Frankenfish and, my personal favorite, Mansquito. And again, like many such movies since the dawn of filmmaking, the execution has not lived up to the awesome potential of these titles. But that isn’t keeping producers from continuing to try, even under a new network brand.
Coming this summer from the dream factory that is Syfy Original Movies:
High Plains Invaders — In the early 20th century, a small Western mining town is invaded by giant insectoid alien creatures whose only mission is to mine uranium to fuel their spaceship. And they’ll kill anyone that gets in their way. After they devastate the town, it’s up to a retired outlaw to lead a small group of survivors in fighting the bugs.
Hellhounds — Rick Schroder is behind the camera to direct this story that comes straight out of hell and Greek mythology. After his bride is poisoned at their wedding, a young warrior risks a journey to Hades to rescue her from the god of the underworld and bring her back to life. What he doesn’t know is that the best friend who accompanies him on the mission is the man who killed her in a jealous rage.
Sand Serpents — SCI FI has a thing for snakes. They’ve made lots and lots of snake movies, from Boa and Python to Boa vs. Python and Pythons 2 to Snake King and Mega Snake and a couple of Cobra films (about actual cobras, not Sylvester Stallone). Maybe it’s because we have such a primal fear of snakes. Or, more likely, maybe it’s because, without inconvenient limbs to animate and with their pretty fluid motion, serpents are easier to digitally create onscreen — though you’d never know that by watching these movies. It looks like the snake fascination will continue on Syfy, since the reptiles are back in action again in this new film starring Jason Gedrick, which at least gets points for its different setting. It takes place at an isolated Taliban outpost in Afghanistan, where a small platoon of U.S. soldiers faces a greater danger than fanatical rebels — giant, worm-like creatures that come up through the sand and devour everything in their path.
Malibu Shark Attack — Sharks are another favorite of the network’s movies, probably no surprise. Here, though, Syfy again at least goes for something a little different. There’s no ho-hum great white that serves as the threat yet again, but rather the deep-sea, prehistoric goblin sharks — real-life critters that certainly look like they sprung from a sci-fi movie. In this movie, an underwater earthquake generates a tsunami that strikes Malibu and brings a bunch of these nasties to the surface. Although the beach is evacuated before the wave hits, a group of lifeguards and some construction workers are stranded in the high water and must fight the sharks to get to high land. Fortunately they have former La Femme Nikita star Peta Wilson with them, who has proven her ass-kicking ability before.
On a special note regarding SCI FI’s movies about giant and/or mutant animals, I have to appreciate how they sometimes use creatures either seldom seen, recently discovered or currently in the news, like the above goblin shark and the snakehead fish seen attacking Carol Alt and Bruce Boxleitner in Snakehead Terror. But I am disappointed that a few recent animal discoveries have yet to be made into SCI FI originals, even though they seem like natural subjects. Syfy should take up the mantle on the following ideas, which I demand be made instantly!
Colossal Squid — No, this isn’t the Giant Squid. It’s a Colossal Squid. That’s it’s name, and it’s the largest squid species. In 2007, the largest colossal squid ever found was captured off New Zealand. It was frozen and brought to a museum, but when thawed, its tentacles had decreased in length considerably. (Before you make any “shrinkage” jokes, this specimen was a female.) Scientists do believe that far more colossal Colossal Squids exist in the depths. Sounds like a prime film premise, doesn’t it? I’ll be happy with a “Story By” credit, thanks.
Titanoboa — With SCI FI’s penchant for snakes, and with a cool name that is an instant marketing campaign (it’s the creature’s scientific name, meaning, if you hadn’t guessed, “titanic boa”), it’s very surprising that a film based on this thing has not been greenlighted yet. Fossils of this huge, prehistoric snake — the largest serpent ever known — were discovered earlier this year. It’s estimated the beast grew to be between 40 and 50 feet long and weighed over a ton. It’s a perfect candidate for a horror film. We introduce it in Titanoboa, then bring it into other franchises: Boa vs. Titanoboa. Python vs. Titanoboa. Boa vs. Python vs. Titanoboa. Abbott & Costello Meet Titanoboa. Boa and Python could even put aside their differences for once to combat the common enemy of Titanoboa. Give us something! Let’s not let the fact that Titanoboa supposedly went extinct about 60 million years ago stop us from making a film about it. If a man can be turned into a mosquito, a giant snake from the Paleocene epoch can surely be resuscitated via DNA cloning, defrosting or some other scientific BS and then CGI’d into the modern era to terrorize a Casper Van Dien strata of actors.
Now, we’ve all had a lot of laughs at the expense of SCI FI’s original movies. And even the network itself at this point must realize it can’t take these things too seriously (although then they should add more ironic, tongue-in-cheek humor in lieu of the painful dramatics many of the stories attempt to impart). Not everything can, or needs to be, high art. But even low art should have its charms, and if something entertains you enough even at the expense of itself (through intentional or unintentional means), who’s to say it hasn’t fulfilled its mission of diverting you for a while? There must be a reason these things keep being made at a rate that rivals even Hallmark Channel original movies. Somebody — yes, even me once in a while — is watching them. Admittedly, in the TV dead zone of Saturday nights when these normally air, there isn’t a hell of a lot else on, and if you find yourself not out doing anything, or just in with friends flipping around the tube, these movies might fit the guilty-pleasure bill.
Syfy’s upcoming new brand tagline is “Imagine Greater.” While that may apply to new series, followers of the network’s original films may have to remain familiar with the apparently continuing, unofficial slogan of “Imagine a Tad Below Average.” But on some nights, that may be just enough.
Credit: SCI FI Channel
Credit: University of Florida/PA