Last night saw the world premiere of Sharknado, the Asylum's latest masterwork in self-marketing movies. The Tara Reid-starring flick was met with an unprecedented explosion of social media. Five thousand tweets per minute rained down on the Internet while it aired and every single one was like a tiny little dagger in my heart. Why? Because I've been watching Syfy channel movies for years, to the utter ridicule of every single one of you who flipped your Twitter s**t for a movie about a tornado made of sharks.
Yes, I have somehow become a Syfy channel hipster. I'm not entirely sure how this happened, but I blame all of you who have suddenly anointed yourself lovers of B movies. Going off Twitter reactions, the majority of people were only entertained by Sharknado because they thought they had some intellectual leverage over the film, as though making fun of every ridiculous line of dialogue or plot point was pointing out the filmmakers' failure. The reality is that every single one of those moments is built to play social-media buzzing drones like the snarky, echo-y drums they are. You're not smarter than Sharknado, and you played right into the movie's ploy.
If, however, you don't want to watch Syfy channel movies exclusively to tweet your oh-so-insightful jokes about them along with hundreds of thousands of other people; if you can legitimately enjoy a creature feature when the eye of social media isn't upon you, I'm here to tell you what Syfy movies are actually worth watching.
Note: Most of these movies aren't actually made by the Syfy channel, they just often premiere there, so we'll lump them all under that banner.
Jason, a college slacker, gets a letter in the mail informing him that a long-lost ancestor from some nebulous, far away European town has passed away, leaving him the deed to his house. Naturally he and two friends hop on a plane to go check out the place. While wandering through the woods, they come across a sword lodged in a boulder. The friends can't budge it, but Jason can miraculously free it from the rock. But it wasn't a rock. It was a rock monster.
As far as creature features go, Rock Monster isn't all that great. However, another niche that Syfy movies so regularly explore is that of wizards and ancient curses, and this is one of the more entertaining of that bunch. Plus it features Jon Polito (Miller's Crossing) firing a bazooka at a pile of CGI that looks remarkably similar to the rock monster from Galaxy Quest.
Summer Glau. That's all I need to say and I've already convinced a bunch of geeks to watch this movie. For those who take more than a Firefly cast member to get excited about something, though, know this one also stars Tom Skerritt (!) and Vincent Ventresca, and involves a meteorite carrying alien spores that happens to crash right into a museum in middle-of-nowhere Louisiana that happens to contain a partially frozen wooly mammoth. The alien reanimates the animal; modernized '50s-era sci-fi terror (think Eight-Legged Freaks) follows. Mammoth has a good cast, a good sense of humor, and the kind of sincerity that B movies sorely lack these days.
Man, Croc is a hoot. It's got wannabe Thai gangsters who are trying to frame a bunch of crocodile deaths at the hands of the owners of a zoo that happens to be sitting on some prime real estate. It starts out as an underdog story that turns into highly amusing giant-croc movie thanks to some silly deaths, a bunch of foreign actors who are clearly having fun making this movie, and Michael Madsen in one of the only enjoyable performances he's given in recent memory. He's basically Croc's equivalent of Quint from Jaws, and he actually has fun with the role.
End of the World
This is a movie so tailor-made for Syfy channel geeks that it's almost annoying, but the cast is so likeable that it ends up coming out ahead. It stars Neil Grayston (Eureka) and Greg Grunberg (Heroes) as two dorks who work in a video store and are obsessed with apocalyptic disaster movies. Luckily for them and the people around them an apocalypse arrives right at their doorstep. Now it's up to these two geeks to save the day. It's very, very on the nose and full of so many obvious "Hey, we're geeks too!" moments that it's a bit groan inducing, but it all mostly works.
Imagine Rear Window, but instead of a guy in a wheelchair in an apartment building spying on a murderer, you have a guy in a wheelchair in a cabin in the woods who suspects Bigfoot is real and is about to kill a bunch of women in a cabin across the road. Matt McCoy (who most will recognize as Lloyd Braun from Seinfeld) plays said wheelchair-bound man, and he and director Ryan Schifrin absolutely nail the right tone of bemused horror. Add in a supporting cast that includes Jeffrey Combs and Lance Henriksen, some really rad practical-effects work, a surprising amount of gore, and you've got one of the best Bigfoot movies ever made.
Plus, Drew Struzan did the poster! How many other Syfy movies can claim that?
Jersey Shore Shark Attack
"Yeah, yeah, okay. Whatever you say, Pete."
That and an eye roll is the reaction I get whenever I tell someone that Jersey Shore Shark Attack is a good movie. Forget all the Megapiranha and Sharktopus bull that people associate with the Syfy channel -- this is where it's at. JSSA is self-aware enough to know its place in pop culture, but it uses all of that for more than just throwaway gags. This is a legitimately funny riff on current MTV culture and current Asylum movies. It's like the first Scary Movie -- smart enough to stand as its own riff on genre formulas -- only without nearly as many different films to reference. I'm not saying its brilliant, subversive cinema, but it's an earnestly entertaining movie.
If you're going to crib from a great creature feature, why not go for one of the best ever? If you can't knock one of those off, Anaconda works just fine, too. It's got dashes of Lake Placid thrown in, but it primarily swaps out the Amazon for a Louisiana swamp and a big-ass snake for a big-ass fish, but it keeps most of the same character types and scenarios. Plus, if you want to seem like a cool kid to get in on his filmography before he really blows up later this year, Frankenfish was cowritten by You're Next screenwriter Simon Barrett.
Famke Janssen stars as a woman who is released from jail on house arrest after time served for killing her abusive husband out of self-defense. She's given an ankle monitor that won't let her leave her own front door, which becomes a bit problematic when she starts to be haunted by the ghost of her dead husband, who continues to abuse her from beyond the grave. As you may have guessed from that plot alone, this was not a movie made for the Syfy channel, but it was actually picked up for distribution by the Asylum, the very same studio that produced Sharknado, so I'm including it here to show the outfit does have some good taste. Eric Red's film is one of the coolest ghost movies in recent years and it's a shame that it went straight to the Syfy channel instead of wide in theaters.
Seriously, it's the best movie on this list by far and if you haven't seen it, please do.
Kevin Sorbo plays a sheriff who must protect his small town from an increasing number of, you guessed it, lightning strikes. That's a pretty boring premise until you realize that Sorbo has to contend with lightning bolts that can cut cars in half and a mysterious stranger (David Schofield) who claims that the bolts are being controlled by an ancient evil from another dimension. As if that's not awesome enough, Lightning Strikes contains the most ridiculous Jaws "We can't close the beaches!" variation ever: the Mayor refuses to take Sorbo's warnings seriously and evacuate the town because it would interfere with all the tourists who come in for the annual Pumpkin Spice Festival. Brilliant.
Bonus: the Lightning Strikes trailer has the best voice-over narration ever.
Honorable Mention: Big Ass Spider. Mike Mendez's movie is a ton of fun, but it's only played the festival circuit so it's unfair to include it here. But keep your eyes out for it whenever it does release, because you won't want to miss it.