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Enter The Asylum: A Descent into B-Movie Hell!
A Guide to "Mockbusters" and Monster Mashes
If you're a regular SyFy Channel viewer, or simply a cinematic masochist who routinely trolls the "B Movie" section of your local video store or RedBox machine, you've probably run across at least one film produced by The Asylum by now. This studio has become notorious over the past several years thanks to their unusual, but highly successful, business model -- whipping up extremely low-budget knockoffs of popular blockbuster films, which are then released directly to home video or cable television. The release of these films is usually timed to coincide with the theatrical release of the "real" movie it's imitating, and they generally feature extremely cheap CGI special effects and casts of has-been actors from days gone by. The Asylum is often accused of "duping" the public by giving these films titles that are similar to the blockbusters they're borrowing from (i.e. " Transformers " begat "Transmorphers ," "Battle: Los Angeles" became "Battle Of Los Angeles," " Thor " equaled "Almighty Thor," etc.) but quite frankly, anyone dumb enough to rent or buy an Asylum film under the impression that it's a legitimate entry in a "real" franchise deserves what they get, as far as I'm concerned.
In addition to their so-called "mockbusters" (which the company prefers to call "tie-ins"), the Asylum has also become well known for its seemingly endless series of original "Versus" movies featuring giant-sized monsters bent on devouring everyone in their paths before fighting each other in a climactic Battle Royale. Whether it's a mockbuster or a giant creature feature, each new Asylum release is generally met with sneers of derision (not to mention accusations of plagiarism) from film snobs, but the studio carries on regardless, ignoring the naysayers and continuing to crank out assembly-line monster flicks and bare-bones alien invasion sagas for a growing cult of bad-film aficionados.
As a long time B-Movie geek and lover of "so bad they're good" films, I find myself irresistibly drawn to The Asylum's quickie schlock fests, and though I haven't seen all of their filmography yet, I believe that I have seen enough of them to present the following list of "Best 'n' Worst" recommendations. Please keep in mind that when talking about The Asylum, the word "Best" is a relative term. Make no mistake, all of these movies are BAD, but there are different levels of bad. Some of the Asylum's work is terrible, but in a hilariously awesome way, while others are simply godawful wastes of celluloid with no redeeming values whatsoever. With my DVD remote in hand, I now ask you to follow me into the Bad Movie Minefield...
Best Place to Start: "Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus" (2009)
"Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus" is probably the best film for Asylum newcomers to start with. If you can't appreciate the studio's twisted genius after watching this film, then you probably won't like any of their other movies, either. Thanks to an epic trailer which became an Internet viral-video hit, "Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus" has become the Asylum's most well known title and the Big Kahuna of their catalog. Seriously, how could anyone NOT want to watch this movie after seeing the clip of a giant CGI shark leaping out of the water to devour a passing airliner? "MS vs. GO" picks up where the 1960's series of " Godzilla Vs. _____" monster mashes left off and it helped resuscitate the fading career of '80s teen queen Debbie Gibson in the bargain. Whether or not that's a good thing depends on who you talk to, of course. This was followed by the 2010 sequel "Mega Shark Vs. Crocasaurus," without Debbie, but featuring Jaleel "Steve Urkel" White of "Family Matters" fame. (!!!)
Most Likely To Piss People Off: "Titanic II" (2011)
When I first heard of this movie, I really hoped that no one out there was expecting a legitimate sequel to the James Cameron epic, but lo and behold, before long the film's message board on IMDb was full of people asking "How DARE they?" and "How much input did James Cameron have?" Duh. In this fairly routine disaster flick, a replica of the original doomed ship (dubbed the "Titanic II," thus justifying the misleading title) is set to sail the same route as its predecessor to mark the 100th anniversary of the disaster. Apparently the people who came up with this idea have never heard of "karma," as a massive tsunami/tidal wave combo (caused by melting icebergs) soon puts the new ship in similar peril. It's up to pretty boy Shane Van Dyke (grandson of Dick Van Dyke; Shane also wrote and directed the film) to save his crew member girlfriend from the sinking vessel before history repeats itself. I think I may have actually liked this one better than the "real" " Titanic." For one thing, it's a hell of a lot shorter, and there's no annoying theme song by Celine Dion, either.
Most Fun: MEGA PIRANHA (2010)
Continuing the Asylum's proud tradition of mutant monster flicks with "Mega" in the title, "Mega Piranha " ups the carnage factor found in "Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus" with this tale of steroid-pumped piranhas eating their way upriver from South America. Debbie Gibson battled the last "Mega" critter, but this time we get her old teen-pop rival Tiffany (!) as a heroic scientist, plus Barry " Greg Brady " Williams as the Secretary of State! If nothing else, "Mega Piranha" deserves a spot in the Stunt Casting Hall of Fame for that pairing. Trust me folks, you haven't lived till you've seen badly CGI'd piranhas the size of Mack trucks leaping out of the water and devouring cast members in one gulp. Originally intended to capitalize on "Piranha 3D," this flick actually benefited when the "real" movie's release date was postponed for a few months, giving "Mega Piranha" plenty of time to drum up hype all by itself. It quickly became SyFy Channel's highest rated "Original Movie" when it premiered there in early 2010.
Possibly Better Than the Real Movie: "Battle of Los Angeles" (2011)
This clone of the big-budget "Battle: Los Angeles" appeared on SyFy Channel the night after the "real" movie opened in theatres. Did anyone tune in to SyFy thinking they were getting the "real" movie for free? If so, the joke's on them. Instead of big-name stars like Michelle ("Lost") Rodriguez and Aaron Eckhardt, "Battle Of Los Angeles" gives us Kel ("Good Burger") Mitchell and Nia ("The Party Machine") Peeples leading a small group of resistance fighters (Side note: have you ever noticed how many Asylum flicks revolve around "a small group of resistance fighters?") against an alien invasion. I haven't seen the "real" "Battle" movie but several people whose opinions I trust have assured me that it was terrible, so I probably didn't miss anything by opting for the free Asylum version instead. Added note: I noticed this past weekend that this film is now available from my cable TV system's On Demand selection, under the slightly-altered title "Attack: Los Angeles." I assume the Asylum must've gotten a phone call from the legal team at Columbia Pictures regarding the similarity to their "Battle: Los Angeles!"
Definitely Better than the Real Movie: "Transmorphers: Fall of Man" (2009)
Michael Bay's overblown, overlong, overrated "Transformers" movies give me a headache, therefore I actually preferred this uber-cheap rehash over the real thing. Shane Van Dyke turns up again in this prequel to 2007's "Transmorphers," as a former Army Ranger who's called back into active duty when alien machines suddenly start "transmorphing" around his California hometown and plotting to wipe out humanity. Don't blink or you'll miss Jennifer (" A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors") Rubin and Bruce ("Scarecrow and Mrs. King") Boxleitner slumming it in supporting roles. Those who expect to see tons of Michael Bay style metal clanging, robot fightin' action will be disappointed, as such scenes take up approximately one percent of the movie, and all of those are shown in the trailer. Oddly enough, even though a third "Transformers" film was released in 2011, no new installment in the "Transmorphers" series materialized. Perhaps we should be thankful.
Pure Awesomeness: "MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID" (2011)
Never mind the snakes-n-gators, this epic finally gave viewers what they REALLY wanted to see: a no-holds-barred, bare-fisted catfight between Debbie Gibson and Tiffany!! Each of the former '80s pop hotties had headlined an Asylum film before but this time they get to share the screen (Deb as an animal activist and Tiff as a Park Ranger) in a touching saga about mutant swamp critters overtaking the Florida Everglades. As a monster movie, it's absolutely ridiculous, but as an over the top, intentionally campy action comedy, "Mega Python vs. Gatoroid" is pure gold.
Most Likely to Inspire a Lawsuit: "The Terminators" (2009)
Notice the "s" at the end of " Terminator s," folks -- totally different movie. Here we've got a cheapie that manages to rip off both the "Terminator" saga and the " Battlestar Galactica " franchise, and fails miserably at both. When a rogue computer program commands Earth's army of human-looking robot servants to rise up against their masters, the only hope is for a small band of resistance fighters (there's that phrase again!) to invade the orbiting satellite that controls the androids before humanity is wiped out. Unfortunately, Sarah Connor and The Governator are nowhere to be found, but Jeremy ("Party of Five") London and A Martinez ("L.A. Law") happily stand up to fight for the human cause.
Worst: AVH: ALIEN VS. HUNTER (2007)
This knockoff of the " Alien Vs. Predator " franchise has the dubious distinction of being the worst Asylum film I've ever seen (and that's really sayin' something!) When his small mountain town becomes a battleground between extraterrestrials, William Katt of " The Greatest American Hero " fame (!) leads a cast of unlikable, untalented unknowns through a seemingly endless series of underground escape tunnels (?) to avoid getting caught in the middle of the title bout between a spider-like Alien and an armored, gun-toting Hunter. Save your money and your sanity. My last root canal was more fun than this flick.
This is only a handful of the horrors that await you in the Asylum's extensive catalog of films. If you're hungry for more once you've made it through these, feel free to hit your local video store (or just turn on the SyFy Channel and wait a while) for even more bargain-basement epics like "The Day the Earth Stopped," "The Da Vinci Treasure," "I Am Omega," and -- I swear I am not making these up -- "Sunday School Musical" (yes, really !) or " Snakes on a Train." This writer assumes no responsibility for the amount of time wasted, or cerebral damage that might result, from extended exposure to The Asylum. Happy hunting!