In praise of Roger Corman’s glorious ‘Sharktopus’

They had me at “Sharktopus.”

It wasn’t going to matter if the film was good or bad or laughable. With a name like that, I was in. All in.

After years of horror movies that were shrouded in the mystery of bland titles like “It,” “They” or “Them,” here was a film with a bold commitment to itself that was as clear as its name: “Sharktopus.”

The title was screaming that this was going to be a movie devoted entirely to jumping the shark with its outlandish idea of a creature that was part shark, part octopus.

To learn that the 2010 film was produced by the great Roger Corman only added to the anticipation and ultimate enjoyment. Like the movie’s title, you know what you are getting with Corman. There will be B-movie special effects, a basic plot with crazy ideas, babes in bikinis, blood and a lot of fun.

I am obsessed with “Sharktopus” and that’s why I chose it as my film to feature as part of Corman-Verse, the Roger Corman celebratory blogathon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews.

Yes, “Sharktopus” is a stretch. Even Corman – the man behind the films “She Gods of Shark Reef,” “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” “The Wasp Woman” (twice) and “Carnosaur” – thought it was ridiculous.

So when he was initially approached to make “Sharktopus,” he turned it down. To understand why, let’s go back to the start of his partnership with the network that was then known as Sci-Fi Channel. (In 2009, it rebranded under its current name Syfy – same pronunciation, different spelling.)

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From 2004 to 2015, Corman produced a series of films for the network that all had self-explanatory titles starting with “Dinocroc” about a – well, you already guessed.

After the success of “Dinocroc,” Corman understandably wanted to produce a sequel simply called “Dinocroc 2.” But at that point, sequels weren’t working for Sci-Fi and the network said no. (Things have since changed with the network, hence movies like “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming.”)

Undeterred, Corman made “Dinocroc 2” on his own under the title “Supergator” (2007). Sci-Fi quickly realized the error of its ways and Corman produced the sequels “Dinoshark” and “Dinocroc vs. Supergator,” both made in 2010, for the network.

He was then offered “Sharktopus,” but declined. He had his standards and was “not enthusiastic about that title,” as he shared later in multiple interviews to promote “Sharktopus.”

Now you’re probably asking the same question I did after learning this information: Why would Corman make films named “Dinocroc” and “Dinoshark,” but draw the line at “Sharktopus”?

Let Corman explain.

Roger Corman hesitated to make “Sharktopus,” but eventually produced it and appeared in a cameo on the beach.

“My theory is, you can go up to a certain level of insanity, and the audience is with you,” Corman told writer Clark Collis in a 2010 interview for Entertainment Weekly. “And ‘Dinocroc’ and ‘Dinoshark’ are within that level. But in my opinion, ‘Sharktopus’ goes beyond that feeling, and the audience turns and says, ‘Who wants to see this?’ ”

Well, I wanted to see it – and clearly so did plenty of others judging by the popularity of “Sharktopus” and its sequels.

Corman thought there was some science to back up creatures like a Dinocroc. Once he came up with a concept for the film and creature, “Sharktopus” was born. And it’s a beauty.

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Sharktopus is genetically engineered with a shiny metal head, shark gills with spikes and long pinkish tentacles with sharp daggers at their tips. Those colorings and its long, graceful tentacles can look almost pretty at times in the water. But Sharktopus will wrap you up in those tentacles, stab you with its daggers, then bite you with razor-sharp shark teeth. And that’s not pretty.

It can get you on land, in water or through the air. It swims, has the prowess of a gymnast (watch it wrap its tentacles around hard surfaces and swing its body) and, in one glorious scene, walk on land. Oh, and you might want to think twice about bungee jumping or participating in other outdoor activities.

Sharktopus has the skills of a gymnast on a high bar.

The movie also hearkens back to the classic creature feature movies of the 1950s and Corman’s B-movies of the same time. Our title monster was created in a lab by an initially well-meaning scientist. In this case it’s Dr. Nathan Sands (played by Eric Roberts) whose company, Blue Water, won a Navy contract to create a war weapon.

But something goes wrong, as it does in these films (otherwise why would they be made?). The creature, adoringly nicknamed S-11, discards an electromagnetic device that helps scientists control its actions, and swims to a Mexican resort where it feeds on humans.

The Navy is willing to destroy its expensive experiment. Sands wants it back unharmed as he spouts Dr. Frankenstein-worthy lines like “What’s your life compared to a miracle of science?”

Another group of sensibly minded smart people, led by his daughter and a former employee, hunt the creature (via computer) to find it before it kills again. (They are split, for a time, on whether it should be destroyed or saved.)

And there’s the obligatory person – in this case an “investigative journalist” in a skimpy top – who wants it for fame and fortune. A slightly lecherous fisherman helps her out.

The action cuts between those multiple groups as they cross paths seeking Sharktopus while he goes about his business doing what he has been programmed to do.

Sit back and enjoy. Laugh often – you are supposed to. Close your eyes if you must. (I do.) Just make sure to catch Corman’s cameo as the guy on the beach who watches as one of the film’s many bikini-clad beauties meets her fate.

The Pteracuda was a worthy – and colorful – adversary for Sharktopus in the aptly titled “Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda.”

The sequels

Two more “Sharktopus” (or is it Sharktopi?) movies followed. “Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda” (2014) celebrated the spirit of the original film, but “Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf” (2015) was sadly not worthy of either.

“Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda.” This sequel’s opening montage sets the scene with clips from “Sharktopus” including that tiny little thing we saw at the end of the original film. It’s discovered by marine biologist Lorena (Katie Savoy) who can pick up the adorable baby Sharktopus in her fingers. Their bond is immediate.

Some time later, she’s working with the now-grown Sharktopus at her uncle’s amusement park/aquarium where he’s planning a new attraction to make money off the creature. (We’ve seen this before; it will not go well.)

Look at the cute Baby Sharktopus – too bad they grow up so fast.

Meanwhile in a laboratory somewhere …

Dr. Rico Symes (Robert Carradine) has been harvesting prehistoric DNA to create a “living, breathing” creature that could fly, be amphibious and “just plain mean” as a replacement for military drones. His head of security Hamilton (Rib Hillis) isn’t happy about this mix of a pterodactyl and barracuda and his fears win out when a saboteur named Vladimir Futon (really) sets the Pteracuda loose.

Here we go again.

To make matters worse, Symes learns about the Sharktopus and figures that’s the answer to his problems with the Pteracuda.

For the rest of the film, the humans fight to either control or destroy the two monsters, while the colorful creatures duke it out repeatedly in fights that are like bloody ballets in the sea and air. There are moments where the swirling bodies and colors are strangely beautiful.  

It would be almost relaxing watching Sharktopus and Pteracuda twirl and dance through the water – if they weren’t trying to kill each other.

This film has a great sense of humor as evidence in the Sharktopus attraction, a Sharktopus kite and a cameo by Conan O’Brien.

Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf” (2015). Casper van Dien and his then-wife Catherine Oxenberg star in a film that is so bad – not in a good way – that at times it feels like a parody. Then you realize it’s not. Oxenberg is difficult to watch in an over-the-top performance and bad German accent.

The film opens promisingly enough with our pal Sharktopus interrupting a funeral on a boat that’s owned by a drunken, washed-up captain played by Van Dien. When he is arrested on charges of murder (no one believes his story about the Sharktopus), a voodoo priest offers to pay his bail if the captain will find him the heart of Sharktopus. (I could not make this up myself.)

Meanwhile, Oxenberg is a bizarre mad scientist (nothing “well-meaning” here) who injects a former baseball player with the genes of a killer whale and wolf, turning him into the odd looking Whalewolf.

It’s only a matter of time before the two creatures go at it.

Roger Corman’s “Dinocroc” series finished with “Dinocroc vs. Supergator.”

Roger Corman on Sci-Fi/Syfy

Here are the other films made in this time period.

“Dinocroc” (2004). A doctor (Bruce Weitz) experiments with the DNA of a dinosaur ancestor of the crocodile. With Costas Mandylor, Charlies Napier, Joanna Pacula.

“Supergator” (2007). Although this is the one Corman made on its own, it’s all part of the same film family. The title creature, created from fossilized DNA, is tracked by a geologist (Brad Johnson), scientist (Kelly McGillis) and alligator hunter (John Colton) after it escapes from a secret bio-engineering research lab.

Dinoshark (2010). Blame global warming. A baby prehistoric shark breaks free from an Arctic glacier and grows into a killer terrorizing tourists in Mexico. Eric Balfour is the guy who can’t convince anyone that it’s real. It is considered a remake to “Up from the Depths,” a 1979 release from Corman’s New World Pictures.

“Dinocroc vs. Supergator” (2010). David Carradine plays the head of a research lab in Hawaii where two creatures break free and go on a human-eating rampage.

The blogathon

Roger Corman made close to 500 films – some uncredited – in a multitude of roles. The Corman-Verse Blogathon celebrates that lengthy career. Please read posts about his other films through the hosting websites, Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews.