Review: “Sharkansas” takes a bite out of my horror comedy lovin’ heart.
TV Movie 2015 | Jim Wynorski | Not Rated | 84 minutes | (USA)
Synopsis: Local fracking shatters the earth’s core, releasing deadly prehistoric sharks with a taste for voluptuous female inmates who recently escaped imprisonment…or did they?
I am going to break this post in to two parts. The first part being a simple review of the film’s pros and cons…the second part unleashes my love of sharks and includes a rant about something really cool that I noticed about this film.
The Nuts and Bolts:
I absolutely loved this movie! The only reason I gave it a B+ instead of an A is because I slightly enjoyed Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012) more so I had to prioritize. I will be clear; this film is a B horror film that incorporates a lofty flavoring of cheese with its horror. If you are looking for super special effects or a really scary plot, then this movie might not be for you (although I still suggest you give it a shot).
Sharkansas has amazing one-liners, great characters, ridiculous plot scenarios, and Traci Lords. Traci Lords plays Detective Patterson, who searches for the escaped prisoners: Sara Mason (Skye McDonald) who served time for aggravated assault, armed robbery, and resisting arrest, Michelle Alika (Christine Nguyen) aka “Soy Sauce” who is in the hoosegow for bootlegging videos and interstate flight, Shannon Hastings (Amy Holt) doing time for assault and battery, Samantha Pines (Tabitha Marie) in for drug trafficking and possession, and Anita Conners (Cyndy Lucas) who is behind bars for prostitution and drug trafficking. Anita and her girlfriend “Honey” (Dominique Swain) mastermind the escape plan and take the rest of the reluctant crew along for the ride. What they didn’t count on is the unintended release of Sharkasaurus on the same fateful day of their escape. For an indication of the film’s genius, here’s some of the dialogue, “If you bitches hadn’t done what you done, I’d be sitting in a warm cell waiting for my dinner like these sharks.”
Each of the characters is memorable. and I can thoroughly stand behind their fates both good and bad. The outcome for each of the characters is unique, at times unexpected, and definitely appreciated. Most of you know I especially love when the films pay homage to the genre. In Sharkansas, as the women come upon their hide-out after their escape, they make it known that they are reluctant to stay in some “Friday the 13th Cabin in the Woods.” One of the deaths also pays tribute to the death of Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Deep Blue Sea.
What Doesn’t Work:
In my opinion there is very little that does not work in this film. I would have liked to see the sharks more and the special effects were indicative of a B horror film made for TV but I’m not nit picking. From a strictly nerdy, former bio major standpoint, I hated that the sharks spoke to each other using whale song, but that’s a minor point. Lastly, I wish the film were longer so I didn’t have to turn it off so soon.
Subtitle: Sharkansas serves as an environmentally conscious and shark friendly film.
(This has spoilers so stop reading if you don’t want to know)
Horror films and sharks have a love-hate relationship. Historically, shark horror films have created such fear and vilification of the shark it has led people to misunderstand sharks and has contributed to their senseless murder.[i] Despite sport fishing of sharks, de-finning, and bycatch problems, in recent years we seem to be moving toward a brighter future with shark advocacy. Several sites such as sharksavers.org and bycatch.org educate the public on the dangers that remain. Furthermore, Discovery Channel and NatGeo Wild do their part to increase shark awareness with Shark Week and Sharkfest. The more favorable context for sharks makes me feel a little better about loving shark horror films.
Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre rethinks the shark in horror films. First off, Sharkansas starts on an environmentally friendly note by drawing attention to the destructive nature of fracking. The opening scenes of the film animate the violent eruption from fracking blasts and since the sharkasaurus is a result of this controversial extraction of natural gas the film suggests that fracking is certainly a danger with unknown consequences. Building upon this eco-friendly narrative, the absence of any full images of a sharkasaurus actually discourages the audience from demonizing the shark based on its physical characteristics. It is no secret that historically the shark suffers from a poor public image; therefore, the lack of images of teeth and gore in Sharkansas don’t overtly add to or perpetuate previous stereotypes.[ii]
While Sharkansas still relies on horror tropes that cast the shark as man-eater, not one shark dies in this film. This is only significant to me because of the fact that it is coupled with the negative depiction of fracking and the lack of negative images of sharks. Almost every single human dies in the film and in true horror form, most of the victims are transgressors “deserving” of death, yet not one shark suffers for the loss. You never get the sense that sharks are blood-thirsty, human hunting beasts but rather opportunity killers (and sources of hilarity). They are not hunting down the Brody family one by one but rather they come after whatever is moving nearby in their geographic area. At the end of the film, Traci Lords’ character says to one of the survivors, “Do you know what we’re up against” to which he modestly replies, “yup.” His nonchalant demeanor toward the sharks coupled with the fact that he released a prisoner who was previously vilified for her crimes suggests that things aren’t always as bad as we make them seem. This prisoner once characterized as a violent offender shows her truly kind nature throughout the film, which also serves as a surrogate for the changing opinions of sharks. The release of the prisoner subtly implies that these sharks might also be left alone.
I can own that I am mildly blinded by the fact that I loved this movie, but you gotta admit I have a few good points. I hope you will at least watch the film and decide for yourself. For those of you who are obsessed with Shark Week and also love reputable facts about sharks I hope you will visit the footnotes below. I tried to keep the really nerdy stuff in the footnotes so as not to bore everyone else.[iii]
Shout! Factory has done a special Blu-ray release of Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre:
[i] I can’t give total credit to horror for killing off sharks when you look at the rates of bycatch from poor fishing practices or the senseless slaughter of sharks for their fins. Although I am sure many of you know this, here is a link to an article discussing the regrets that Peter Benchley (author of Jaws) had after writing his book. He went on to become an avid shark advocate. http://narrative.ly/how-the-creator-of-jaws-became-the-sharks-greatest-defender/ Conversely, here is a great article from National Geographic that also points out that films such as Jaws may have increased visibility and study of sharks http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0615_050615_jawssharks.html
[ii] This is a really cool article that talks about the shark’s poor public image and it also sets some of the facts straight. http://marinesciencetoday.com/2012/11/04/sharks-suffer-from-bad-public-image/
[iii] I know I mentioned this in a post last Shark Week but this is a mini-documentary that talks about a conscious effort to re-cast the shark in documentary by changing the music associated with sharks https://youtu.be/j4P2DXA1nMo