There was a time when the Sci-Fi Channel let us revisit "The Twilight Zone," "The Outer Limits" and genre favorites like "The Incredible Shrinking Man."
The channel also hosted high-profile premieres (“Frank Herbert’s Dune”) and original programming that didn’t involve CGI sharks attacking via tornado.
I hate to be that guy, the one who mourns the lack of music videos on MTV and complains that Syfy, as the channel is called these days, is now home to movies like “Dino Croc vs. Super Gator,” “Camel Spiders” and “Piranhaconda.”
Here’s something all three of those movies have in common: they were directed by Jim Wynorski.
Wynorksi didn’t invent the Syfy-monster-hybrid-movie genre. Nor is he responsible for any of the “Sharknado” epics. He is, however, the director of more than 100 movies, making him one of Hollywood’s most prolific filmmakers.
As a graduate of the unofficial Roger Corman school of filmmaking (film fast, cheaply and skillfully), he’s in good company. Corman famously mentored B-movie directors turned superstars like Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese.
While some of Corman’s former employees went off to make “The Godfather” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Wynorksi is best known as the director of “Chopping Mall.” He also made “The Return of Swamp Thing” and, my personal favorite, “976-Evil II.”
FAST FACT: Roger Corman, the undisputed king of the B-movie, was given an honorary Oscar in 2009.
Allow me to explain why “976-Evil II,” the sequel to the forgotten killer-party-phone-line-horror movie, is Wynorski’s “Citizen Kane.”
At the time, both “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Night of the Living Dead” were in the public domain, meaning you could do whatever you wanted with them. One sequence in “976-Evil II” has Wynorski blending those films together and inserting characters from his movie into each film.
It’s one of the craziest, most cinematically sacrilegious things I’ve ever witnessed. If anything deserved to put Wynorski on the map, it’s that contribution to cinema.
Since “976-Evil II,” Wynorski has made scores of inexpensive B-movies. Apparently, his affection for Corman is such that he’s a filmmaker with B-movie failure to launch syndrome.
Wynorski is the subject of a 2009 documentary called “Popatopolis” and is credited with making movies with titles ranging from “The Devil Wears Nada,” “The Da Vinci Coed,” “Busty Cops Go Hawaiian,” two installments of “The Witches of Breastwick” and five installments of “The Bare Wench Project” series.
I swear I’m not making any of this up.
All of this brings us to Wynorski’s latest film, “Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre.”
Like others in Syfy’s when-animals-and-good-taste-go-amok genre, it features a few names you’ll recognize. It was made on the cheap, too, and doesn’t live up to the title’s promise.
Yet Wynorski’s film is competently made and has scant rewards to offer for fans of so-bad-its-good cinema.
“Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre” (I will never tire of writing that sublime title) begins as an ecological cautionary tale. We witness a fracking incident that unleashes a giant killer shark. If this doesn’t warn humanity on the dangers of fracking, nothing else will.
The giant shark (or Sharkansas) stalks a bayou in search of human flesh. A hard-nosed cop (Traci Lords, doing her best to come across like Marg Helgenberger) is on the trail of the creature, who is leaving bloody pieces of victims behind.
Meanwhile, a van of inmates from a local women’s prison unloads into the woods for work duty. There’s also a criminal on the run (Dominique Swain) who takes the group hostage, though the urgency of this subplot fades in and out.
After all, it’s hard to keep your priorities straight when a shark the size of a tank can gobble you up both in water and on land.
Swain was once the acclaimed star of Adrian Lyne’s “Lolita” remake and played John Travolta’s daughter in “Face/Off.” Due to a series of unfortunate events, she’s now playing “Honey” in a Wynorski film.
As for Lords, casting her as a cop may strike some as ironic, especially if you know why she became one of porn’s most infamous personalities.
Everyone else in the supporting cast keeps a straight face and looks fetching in jean shorts, which is all that’s required of them.
FUN FACT: Jim Wynorski once boasted to an interviewer than he could make a film in just three days.
Among the memorable lines of dialog are, “Honey, we are officially in the sauce” and, the closing line, “Crap on a cracker!”
Somewhere, Edward D. Wood Jr. is smiling.
“Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre,” which was shot in Marianna, Fla,, has no nudity, isn’t gory enough and is far too talky. Aside from a scene where Wynorski’s camera leers at the inmates during work duty, the movie is unworthy of its Not Rated label.
Here’s what it has to offer: a moment that rips off the most famous death scene from “Deep Blue Sea,” a hot tub sequence, very good Sharkansas CGI and a product placement for Hormell’s Baked Beans.
It’s a lesser work than the “Sharknado” movies but it’s better than “Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus.”
I can’t believe I just wrote that.
The new Scream Factory Blu-ray release offers a photo gallery, trailer and, the real treat for fans of “Sharkansas Women’s Massacre,” a commentary by Wynorski and stars Cindy Lucas and Amy Holt.
It’s a typically jovial affair, as Wynorski’s commentaries are always fun to listen to. Among the things I learned: Wynorski met Holt “on the set of American Pie 7.” Wynorski also helpfully reminded me that he cast Lords in “Not of This Earth” in 1988, her first legitimate non-porn movie.
Later, he declares that “there are a lot of hot chicks in this movie…I’m here with two of them!” Thank you for clarifying, Jim.
His two actresses are equally informative, noting one scene that showcases “belly buttons, tight jeans and boobs.” Wynorksi’s playful banter with his stars reminded me of the chats schlock-meister Andy Sidaris used to have with his model-turned-actresses.
Look, I’ve mentioned Jim Wynorski, Roger Corman, Andy Sidaris and Edward D. Wood Jr. in the same article. If those names make you smile, then have I got a movie for you. It’s called “Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre.”