Confessions: Adventures in the Awesomely Awful
ScyFy Movies
We all have them: guilty pleasures. Those shows we don't tell our friends we watch, those movies we see over and over when we don't want to think, the books we hide under our beds. In Confessions, I try to explore what makes these particular pop-culture gems so compelling, and try to exorcise some of the bad mojo that surrounds them.

I'm generally a big fan of kitsch, camp, and anything considered "so bad it's good." It's the main drive behind this column, obviously. But perhaps the most legitimately "bad" obsession I have is ScyFy movies. Not SciFi: there are plenty of great science fiction films that don't need the "so bad it's good" qualifier. I'm talking the ScyFy channel and its slate of thoroughly B-rate movies about giant monsters and unlikely military conspiracies. The most notable batch is what I've termed the "Mega(blank) vs. (Blank)" series: Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus(2009), Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus(2010), and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid(2011).

As with most things featured in Confessions my love of ScyFy B-movies started with a joke and a considerable amount of booze. One hot DC summer night, my roommate and I determined it was too humid to exist and decided to invite some friends over for a ridiculous movie night. When our guests showed up with bottles of Andre for each person in attendance, we knew pretty quickly what kind of night it was going to be. Because really, you get what you pay for, and when the receipt reads $5 for a bottle and less for each film than I pay in rent annually, you know you're in for a ride.

These movies are the ultimate exercise in camp, employing a slate of "actors," using the term in the most liberal sense possible, who obviously would never, ever find work if not for this niche. Shitty accents combine with irrevocably awful delivery to make just the least convincing performances ever. But that seems to be the point. We aren't meant to believe that any of this is, or could ever be, real. It's the opposite of verisimilitude. These movies revel in being bad. They are (I hope"¦.) highly aware of the incredible level of awful they reach.

But what makes these movies great is the honesty and imagination that takes the forefront in each of them. They seem to say there are things out there we don't know about, possibilities that are endless and limited by our imaginations alone (not even a lack of technical ability can slow the drive to bring these monsters to the screen). I mean, they completely throw of the constraints of reality by eschewing any expectation of aesthetic realism. The plots almost never make sense, lost in twisted government conspiracies, military ineptitude, and intricate circumstances. Cover all that in cheesy sentiment, unrealistic science, and generally filthy story lines and you've got the perfect storm of guilty pleasure attributes.

Let's talk about the phenomenon that started it all: Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Because really, there's nothing as special as your first time. The washed-up B-list talent in this gem includes Lorenzo Lamas as an angry, trigger-happy government official and Deborah Gibson (aka Debbie Gibson, 80s teen pop star), a rogue marine scientist who, unfortunately, insists on referring to herself as a mermaid.

From the opening sequence, chock full of surprisingly good nature b-roll (spliced, of course, with awful underwater effects), where a disembodied voice comes over a fighter jet's radio and says "Remember, Lieutenant, this mission is classified. If there's any trouble, the government will deny its existence," we know we're in for a ride. This is, of course, the kind of thing that only gets said when something is going to go terribly, terribly wrong. For some reason I don't quite understand, the government is deploying sonar systems to make an enormous pod of giant whales hurl themselves at a glacier wall to release a giant octopus (I have no idea how they developed this strategy, how they knew about the octopus, or why they want it. I also have no idea, actually, whether or not this is what's going on at all). So begins Debbie Gibson's journey to keep the creatures of the ocean safe. Her maverick behavior gets her fired from her cushy government job, but not before she is brought in to consult on a whale that was apparently mauled by some creature that has an 11-foot long tooth. That's right, kids. The damage to the glacier didn't just free a gigantic octopus: it awoke a Megalodon, a monstrously, insanely large shark that swam the sea of the dinosaurs, and was apparently engaged in an epic battle with the Giant Octopus at the outset of the ice age (thus causing the aforementioned freezing in the glacier).

Seriously, what about that plot line isn't awesome? Add some fake science, rife with brightly colored liquids in junior high bio lab equipment, a woodenly used Shakespeare quote (which, by the way, does not make the sentiment any more legitimate, or make me believe the people reciting said quote are intelligent), some sex in a broom closet, and the fact that the final solution includes lacing San Francisco and Tokyo bays with pheromones and making the prehistoric sea titans fight to the death, and you've got gold in my book.

Speaking of gold, I've got three words: Golden Gate Bridge.

The sequels are what make me really think that ScyFy knows how bad these movies are. I swear, the visual effects just get worse. While Debbie Gibson disappears, we get an even better b-list resurgent: Jaleel White, better known as Steve Urkel from Family Matters. Except now he's a burly navy shark genius.

Again, the movie is gold from the get go: apparently, the blood diamond foreman (I think that's what he is...) in the first moments of the film can't seem to decide if he's Australian, southern, or something in between. But it doesn't matter because he gets eaten by a gigantic CGI atrocity of a crocodile. And then Mega Shark re-enters the picture, with a sonar reading the size of an unusually large pod of whales, and we all know what's going to go down.

But really the most enterprising feature of the whole series is Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, which rounds out the trilogy. Debbie Gibson reemerges, this time with a delightful new frenemy played by fellow 80s teen pop star Tiffany (no last name necessary, then and now, apparently). The incredible Kathryn Joosten also enters the picture as a crotchety old police lady. There isn't much I can say about her that could more adequately portray her character, and the tenor of the movie in general, better than this final clip:

Mrs. Landingham shooting at (and then being eaten by) a gigantic CGI crocodile? Does it get any more ridiculous than this?

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Tags: Mega(blank) vs. (Blank) Series
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