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The 10 Least Terrible SyFy Channel Original Movies (Sorry, Sharknado!)

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My life used to revolve around watching SyFy (nee Sci-Fi) Channel Original Pictures. They are the world’s leading repository for has-been celebrities and unfinished CGI, and it’s amazing how many they were able to make with only four Mad Libs scripts. In the wake of tonight’s premiere of Sharknado 2: The Second One (this is what what happens when you crowdsource a title), you may be compelled watch some its ilk “Ironically.” Not all SyFy Channel Original movies are created equally. Most are downright horrendous, but a handful of them are actually watchable … maybe even legitimately good. The hard part is knowing the difference between the ones that are “so bad they’re good” and “so bad they should be hurled into the Sun.” Sharknado , for example, doesn’t measure up to its stupendous title, and even Bruce Campbell and a criminally underused Renee O’Connor can make Alien Apocalypse worth watching. You should also avoid any of Asylum’s “mockbuster” co-productions that piggyback on theartical fare.

Tracking the least terrible ones down is tricky, because most are released on DVD with less bombastic titles and no mention that they were SyFy movies (probably because SyFy makes people think of syphilis). So if you’re ever forced to watch a marathon of them, you should pick these because they’re the ten least terrible.

10. Mega Python vs. Gatoroid

Former pop princesses Tiffany and Debbie Gibson play animal lovers on opposite sides of the law in the Everglades. To settle their bitter rivalry that caused the death of one fianc?, each spitefully releases genetically-modified ginormous reptiles with ravenous appetites into the wild. They may have overreacted.

With so much manpain in popular fiction, it’s refreshing to see something fueled by overwrought womanpain; naturally, this leads to a food fight at a charity fundraiser. The catfight is the world’s pay-off for the long-germinating feud between the ex-starlets, which I have been told was the most important part of the entire 1980s, and it’s this melodrama writ large that pushes this film to the top of the “humongous animals made of dodgy CGI attack” genre. It may be trashy, but it has no pretensions to the contrary. Both “actresses” contribute new songs for the movie, and it also contains the best use of Mickey Dolenz since he voiced Arthur on the first season of The Tick.

The ending is either tragic or the best argument in preemptively killing all wildlife before it can get us, depending on your POV. Be only the lookout for a gritty reboot starring Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

9. Chupacabra: Dark Seas

John Rhys-Davies has far too much gravitas for a SyFy Channel movie, yet he’s been in a bunch of them. This cognitive dissonance never ceases to be amusing, but here’s his best. Loony Cryptozoologist Giancarlo Esposito, before he stoically entered the more lucrative chicken-and-meth business, captures a Chupacabra and plans to bring it back to civilization on Rhys-Davies’s cruise ship. Much like the excellent Horror Express, its passengers all would’ve survived were it not for some nosey crewmen meddling with its crate. Because this “Love Boat” foolishly neglected to stock any live goats aboard, the poor Chupacabra is forced to eat a variety of actors unfit to be on the same set as Rhys-Davies or Esposito.

Among its victims are the world’s least competent Navy SEALS and a thief who makes a piss-poor attempt at cross-dressing to escape incognito. The guy that played Prof. Ivo on (Green) Arrow is in it too as the romantic lead; fortunately, the Chupacabra reptilian Nosferatu costume is one of the film’s highlights. As the channel’s first Chupacabra movie, it’s peculiar they felt the need to give it a subtitle (or even Chupacabra Terror). Sadly there is no continuity between this and Chupacabra vs. the Alamo (still a less ridiculous title than Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice) featuring Erik Estrada and Chupacabras that are indistinguishable from chihuahuas. (SPOILER ALERT! The Alamo loses.)

8. Leprechaun’s Revenge

First off, this movie is in no way a substitute for the Leprechaun franchise starring UK national treasure Warwick Davis. If you can overcome this shortcoming, Leprechaun’s Revenge is actually a solid horror movie. Rather than hunting for its stolen gold, this Leprechaun (who looks more like a reject from Pan’s Labyrinth, but kudos for using practical effects and thinking outside the box) goes on a St. Patrick’s Day massacre after Courtney Halverson plucks a magic red clover (whence the alternate title is obtained).

What sets this apart from more standard shlock is that rather than slaughtering a generic gamut of obnoxious sinners, the Leprechaun takes as victims mostly decent and vaguely likeable folks. It subverts audience expectations of vicarious escapism. The highlight of the movie comes at the climax when Halverson’s dad, Sheriff Billy Zane (!), explains to her that “losing” her mother wasn’t a death metaphor. He literally misplaced her as one does a mitten one tragic Black Friday years ago. Then he has an existential meltdown over his nametag being misspelled. It is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. As a bonus, a local newspaper headline prophesizes the coming of Sharknado a year in advance!

7. Merlin and the Book of Beasts

James “Dr. Gaius Baltar” Callis always brings his A-game regardless of whether a project deserves it, and as Merlin, he and his perpetually furrowed brow commit to the raspy growl-mumble of a shamanic hermit. Depending on your mood, this is an inspired acting choice that really fits the character, the funniest Alan Moore impression you’ve seen by a professional actor, or both.

While the rest of the cast (including The Faculty‘s Laura Harris as heir to Camelot with a hereditary dragon tattoo and the bad habit of dropping her sword) aren’t as dynamic as Callis, they’re talented enough not to derail the movie around him. It’s a really low budget movie even with Starz pitching in funding, but Warren Sonoda’s direction keeps it looking far classier and more atmospheric than most other SyFy offerings. What holds it back is its surprising scarcity of book beasts. Gorgons are summoned forth most often, but they’re even more underwhelming than the villain they serve. While it doesn’t lag, it’s still one of the rare movies where a shortage of poorly-rendered CGI monsters is a blot upon its escutcheon.

Alhough I can’t stay mad at a movie that has an opening scene where an entire fortress is wiped out by poison butterflies magicked out of a book.

6. Anonymous Rex

Before he was a Shifter with a monopoly on eateries in Bon Temps, Sam Trammell was a velociraptor P.I. Based on Eric Garcia’s Casual Rex (Anonymous Rex is actually a different story in the series), the premise is that dinosaurs survived extinction and live among people incognito thanks to hard light holograms (an improvement over cramming dinosaurs into prosthetic costumes in the books). Trammel is torn between the dinosaur shadow government’s mandate to protect the secret of their existence to the death (of nosey humans), and a rogue dino cult that wants everyone to fly their saurian freak flags 24-7.

This is one of the rare SyFy movies that actually emphasizes questions of identity and the social order over formulaic monster fighting. Failing to launch a TV series because its earnest tone was undermined by its low production values, it either needed to be campier or have dinosaurs that didn’t look like Toon Town exiles. Director Julian Jarrold, however, does some neat stuff with the limited budget. Fans of the dearly departed Young Justice can also see the voice of Artemis, Stephanie Lemelin, in the flesh as the stepdaughter of a triceratops P.I. not played by your favorite Baldwin.

Besides its awesomely punny title (maybe the public would’ve responded to it better if it were named Dino Detectives?), this will go down in the history books as the crowning moment of Oscar-winner Faye Dunaway’s career.

5. Basilisk: The Serpent King

I don’t understand why Basilisks (what you call Cockatrices when you don’t want people to giggle) don’t have more mainstream popularity. Not to be outdone by Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, SyFy deliver a whole movie about an equally oversized (according to most bestiaries) Basilisk. It spits poison, turns people to stone with a glance, chomps people in half with a single bite, crushes with its tail and is bulletproof. So don’t make fun of its vestigial insectoid arms.

The only MacGuffin capable of halting this beast’s rampage, the Eye of Medusa, has been stolen by campy thief and former Witchblade-bearer Yancy Butler, who sounds like she’s been in a cigarette eating contest with Dr. Mrs. The Monarch. Despite all the carnage, the movie is as lighthearted as a Stephen Sommers (where’s Deep Rising 2?) film. Stephen Furst (of Animal House and Babylon 5, who also directed) and his son, Griff, provide additional comic relief to counterbalance Jeremy “Mallrats” London’s intrepidly bland hero. The CGI is less cartoony than typical offerings, and the film’s pacing doesn’t drag. It’s what a standard SyFy Channel movie should be. If they were all up to this standard, this list’s title would’ve been “Best” not “Least Terrible.”

4. Mansquito

This movie deserves a honored spot in televisual history just for including the line “HEY, MANSQUITO!!!” It has other (less important) things in it too, though. This is a story about a convicted murderer who becomes a guinea pig in an experiment to cure a deadly virus using radioactive mosquito DNA. A freak accident transforms the killer into a man-mosquito hybrid (a Mansquito, if you will) that embarks upon a gruesome bloodsucking rampage. So it’s like they put The Fly, Mimic, and Spider-Man in a blender and then filtered out the pesky social commentary.

This is the closest SyFy has come to emulating the lurid sci-fi horror films of the ’80s. The Mansquito costume looks infinitely better than the CGI monsters that would be trotted out in subsequent movies. The giantic plot hole that male mosquitoes don’t drink blood could be spackled over if you presume the experiment transgendered the killer, but if you’re looking for a movie with positive representation of transsexuals you should really keep looking for another movie. Musetta Vander, who previously played a giant praying mantis on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is the scientist who also becomes infected. Although she doesn’t mutate into a full Womansquito, she’s probably the closest we’ll get to a live action insect heroine unless Evangeline Lilly ends up being the Wasp in Ant-Man.

In some places this film is sold under the misleading title Mosquito-Man, which is a crime against human decency. Ask for Mansquito by name. Accept no substitutes.

3. Sharktopus

Even before Grindhouse, scientists have toiled away trying to figure how to intentionally make a movie so bad it becomes good. Sharktopus may be the closest realization of that dream. It’s more freewheeling fun than most movies producer Roger Corman managed to get into theatres. It’s clearly tongue-in-cheek, but nobody spoils the joke by winking at the camera. As the title suggests, this is the tale of a rogue “Half-Shark. Half-Octopus. All Terror,” genetically engineered for the military to fight all those high seas terrorists. The Sharktopus is greater than the sum of its parts, as it can survive on dry land, impale people on razor-sharp tentacles and emit various animal noises.

Instead of getting a grizzled action hero, central casting screwed up and sent them some frat boy on spring break for the role of the hardened mercenary tasked with hunting down the mighty Sharktopus. Eric Roberts, whom a friend has assured me was once in a good movie, plays the human villain who is obviously the smartest person in the whole film because he spends the entirety drinking Scotch on a yacht. He would’ve gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for his meddlesome daughter! Sharktopus even has its own swingin’ theme song! If you only see one SyFy shark movie, make sure you pick Sharktopus over Sharknado, Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy starring the delightful Jeffrey Combs, 2 Headed Shark Attack, Sand Sharks, Jersey Shore Shark Attack,, etc. Its forthcoming sequel, Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda, will even legitimize Conan O’Brien’s career! Only BearShark could’ve been a worthy alternative had not Avril Lavigne beat them to that sweet BearShark punch, much to SyFy’s eternal chagrin.

2. The Amazing Screw-On Head

I never said these had to be live-action or have a minimum runtime, so this entry is totally legit. This adaptation of Mike “Hellboy” Mignola’s one-shot comic boasts an astounding voice cast of Paul Giamatti, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Patton Oswalt, Corey Burton and Mindy Sterling. Unlike the washed-up celebrities that are a staple of many SyFy movies, none of them feel like they’re phoning it in.

If you love historical-gothic-horror-steampunk-comedies with completely accurate titles, you’ve come to the right place. Not only does it look just like Mignola’s artwork (which actually skeeved him out at first), it manages to avoid being a rote adaptation by fleshing out the character’s relationships. Considering writer Bryan Fuller’s oeuvre, including the underrated Wonderfalls to the surprisingly awesome Hannibal, this deft mixture of humor, pathos, and the bizarre is to be expected. It’s twenty-two minutes of your life you’ll never regret losing! This was intended to be the pilot episode for an animated series, but became an original movie because we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. Not even H. P. Lovecraft could’ve charted the existential dread that washes over you once realize there’s no episode two to watch next.

1. Mammoth

Mammoth is the SyFy movie that best follows its command to “imagine greater.” This epic tale stars Vincent Ventresca (also the star of TV’s The Invisible Man ) as a museum curator juggling raising his precocious daughter, Summer “Showkiller” Glau, with studying a frozen wooly mammoth. Then things get weird when an alien probe from a meteorite resurrects the mammoth as the first step in global domination. Since the mammoth is zombified, it needs to regenerate its rotten body by sucking the lifeforce out of various humans, including horny senior citizens parking in the woods, through its trunk. Prehistoric pachyderms make for excellent engines of destruction, so there’s plenty of tusk impaling and stomping carnage too. It’s up to the frazzled Ventresca to prevent humorless MIB-types from blowing up his town to save the Earth. Complicating matters is his father, a paranoid old school nerd played by Tom Skeritt. Hijinks ensue!

Mammoth homages ’50s giant monster movies with the absurdity levels cranked up to 11. This movie has a much-needed restraining order against “grounded realism.” Mammoth revels in being a quirky B-movie with an infectious charm, and even works in a mandatory “Summer Glau kicks some dude’s ass” scene. This was actually nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Visual Effects on the basis that they didn’t look like they were made the night before in Paint like some of its brethren I could name {angrily side-eyes Gryphon}. More importantly, it gets you to care about its characters.

Mammoth is proof that the SyFy Channel can make quality original programs that are fun and creative. It’s not just a good movie when graded on a SyFy curve, it’s a good movie by any standards. Well, so long as you’re not too snobbish to enjoy a made-for-TV movie that revolves around extraterrestrial necromancy of ancient mammals. That’d be a mammoth loss on your part.

You may remember Matthew Catania from such Daily Lists as
10 Characters That Should Appear on Arrow Season 3
:The 10 Worst Adaptations of X-Men on Film (So Far)
10 Ways to Make a Wonder Woman Movie Not Suck
Top Ten Reasons X-Men and Doctor Who Are Secretly the Same Franchise
Eight Reasons Why a Superman/Batman Movie Might Not Be Such a Great Idea

About Author

Ahoy! I'm a freelance writer & artist. My novel, The Dolorous Adventure of Brother Banenose, debuts this fall from Booktrope! Check out www.MattTheCatania.wordpress.com for more esoteric ramblings.