Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Frankenfish
There are several mainstays of schlock movies and one of my personal favourites (aside from zombies, and I mean proper shambling zombies not ones that sprint like Seabiscuit on coke- fuck you Snyder) is the little subgenre of “fish eating people”. Some fish movies are obviously not schlock- Jaws being the shining example, but as a rule if a fish eats someone then chances are it’s low rent fun time. Notable titles include Deep Blue Sea, Red Water, Piranha (both of them) and so forth. I know people are going to argue about Deep Blue Sea, but come on- they’re genetically engineered thinking super-sharks, LL Cool J talks to a parrot, and Thomas Jane is a “shark wrangler”.
The better entries in the genre usually involve sharks. There is some fun to be had with Killer Whales (Orca) and there is always the gratuitous stupidity of things like Megalodon, but as a rule, if you want a good fish chomps cretin movie then a good place to start is with the shark. If you don’t use a shark, then it’s usually a better idea to use a scary type of fish such as piranha, or else you’re going to struggle to convince anyone that they should be scared of the sea monster. Oh, and it helps to set it on the fucking ocean, lakes as a rule do not cut it as you need a good reason for the targets actually being on the water. All of which rambling preamble brings me to Frankenfish.
Before I mention anything else, I have to note how incredibly hard they made it for themselves. To begin with, it is not a shark threat, and, as if that was not a big enough mistake, for some unearthly reason they decided to set it on the Bayou.
The plot in fish films never really matters; as I’m watching it to see fish eat people. Ideally, I want to see the hungry beast throw them around a bit first before ripping great big chunks out of them, but I’ll accept it just popping out and taking a massive bite out whichever cardboard cut-out character was too dense to stay away from the water. If you’re interested, Frankenfish revolves around some giant genetically engineered Chinese mutant fish escaping and terrorising our heroes in the swamp. The fish have been transported from China by a complete asspickle that thinks they’ll be the ultimate hunt. The cast features a douchebag lawyer, comedy Cajun, voodoo woman, her hot daughter, a lesbian marine biologist, a cop and lots and lots of big fish. They all get stranded and terrorised by Frankenfish, most of them die, and eventually our heroes kill the fish and escape.
It sounds like good fishy fun, but it is not a good example of the genre. However, the problems with this film come because it is far too professional. I know this sounds a bit oxymoronic (minus the oxy), but you will have to take my word for it, because, bizarrely, there is a lot of quality in this film.
Firstly, the acting is passable; there is not a performance that lets the side down. They all do a solid, professional job on this. Even insane hunter douchebag doesn’t have anywhere near the required level of moustache-twirling twattishness. This is annoying, as I suspect the film would have been a lot more fun if it was cheesier.
Secondly, the effects are exceptional for schlock and put to shame a lot of the shite that actually gets major cinema time. Honestly, compare the CGI in this to, say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and you’d struggle to tell which one cost hundreds of millions of dollars and which one was made for the change found down the back of the sofa. The fish are convincing. It’s odd. Fish eating people movies are usually better when you can tell the carnivore is plastic. I know that sounds daft, but, damn it, it’s just more fun when effects are incompetent.
It is also quite well constructed and thought out. I know that again sounds a bit strange, considering it’s about genetically engineered mutant fish, but it is. They clearly made an effort. The characters, to begin with, although mostly clichéd, aren’t totally one dimensional- the sexy biologist is a lesbian, for example, but she’s not in your face about it, rather she drops a hint that she may prefer a fish taco.
If the above is true, then why is it schlock? Well, the bad in this film far, far outweighs the good, so much of it is just fucking inept. The script is atrocious, despite the fact that some thought obviously went into it. There are good scripts, and scripts that are so bad they cause unintentional hilarity, but this one is just shite. For example, at one point sexy marine biologist has to stand around explaining to the rest of the bemused cast about this type of Chinese bastard fish that is such a greedy sod that if it’s in a lake it will eat everything, and therefore cannot be allowed outside of it’s natural environment else the whole world’s ecology collapses and we’re forced to lick moisture off toads to survive. This is dreadful on every conceivable level, and not fun dreadful either.
This is what comes when you try to be too bloody clever and do not use sharks.
Frankenfish himself is rubbish, despite being good CGI; he reminds me of a big catfish. I don’t know if you have seen a catfish, but if you have, you’ll have noticed that they aren’t remotely scary. Sharks exude menace by definition, piranhas are basically all teeth, squids are otherworldly and killer whales are similar to sharks in terms of menace. In comparison to these marine playground bullies, catfish are crap with nothing to distinguish them aside from their droopy Fu Manchu moustaches.
There’s also a load of annoying romantic subplot bollocks and an excruciatingly dull dinner party to endure. I’m not watching a film called Frankenfish because I think it’s some sort of Cajun Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Alternatively, perhaps, fuckmonkeys, I’m watching a film called Frankenfish because I want to watch fish eat people. I don’t know why they believed that this would improve the film. Maybe the actors had a “weighty dramatic scene” clause in their contracts, but I just do not care. As if that isn’t irritating enough, the dialogue in this scene manages to be both dull and embarrassing, consisting as it does of the “I fancied you in high school” dreck that I hereby declare a cinematic apartheid on.
The big failing of it, though, and one that is hard to get past, is that it’s just not fun. It is wonderfully po-faced, but the serious tone and attempted gravitas just squeeze the life out of it. There were times when I just wanted to scream at the screen “who gives a fuck, screw your fucking relationship. He’s a fucking lawyer so obviously a fucking maggot. Where’s the fucking fish?”
Once the fish action does start in earnest, the film noticeably improves, but I still had the nagging sensation that they did not think they were making a fish film. The last time I had this feeling was with Ang Lee’s Hulk, where they did not seem to realise that they were making a film about a big green goon with anger issues and thought they were redoing Euripides.
Having said all that, there is plenty to recommend in this film, because there is plenty that isn’t just awesome but downright incredible. There is a well constructed, even if you’ve seen it before done better, sequence involving a ridiculously hazardous trip between two of the bayou houses. It’s tense, exciting stuff and as they’ve already killed a character I had as 100% certain survivor there is no guarantee that it will turn out well.
However, (immense spoiler this one), there is one standout scene that is so awesome that I am always going to use it as the gold standard for fish films. It combines comedy, a cheap scare, incredible stupidity, cracking effects, and random co-incidences in a medley of dumbhouse. The comedy Cajun, Ricardo, is pissed at Frankenfish, and being the stubborn son of the swamp that he is, is refusing to leave his houseboat. Frankenfish launches an attack on our erstwhile crew and Ricardo uses his native hunting skills to blow Frankenfish’s brains out with a shotgun. This in itself is awesome, but he isn’t done yet. Grabbing a big hunting knife, he squats down and sets about the dead fish all the while muttering some bollocks about “you think you are king of the swamp”. After a few seconds, he has cut the heart out, which he confidently begins barbecuing. By now I was crying with laughter but when he grabs the heart and takes a big chomp out of it before screaming “YOU THINK YOU ARE KING OF THE SWAMP, I EAT YOUR HEART. YOU ARE NOT KING OF THE SWAMP, I EAT YOUR HEART. WHO IS KING OF THE SWAMP?” I nearly ruptured something. To really put the cherry on top of this stupidity, another Frankenfish pops up behind him and, no way of putting this nicely, fucks him up good and proper. In the process of Frankenfish tearing Ricardo a new asshole, he accidentally knocks the barbecue over launching flaming propane gas cylinders across the bayou and setting every other house on fire. Genius.
This covers pretty much all the awesomeness apart from some gratuitous nudity, and death by airboat, but what I find truly staggering is that they went out of their way to leave it open for a sequel. What the fuck?
Overall, would I recommend this? I think so, but treat with caution. Remember, above all else, that it is a Sci-Fi channel effort and directed by the twat that made that turd Spawn. However, I cautiously recommend it for the above scene and the song that plays over the closing credits: dreadful hip-hop bilge by Hott Wheelz called “No one can hide” which must have been commissioned for the film, containing as it does the line “this thing’s a giant piranha/ another reason I won’t put one foot in the wata”. It’s dismal, very funny- and best enjoyed having watched the film. One of the most fitting closing themes I have heard in a long time, even if Frankenfish himself is not a giant piranha.