It’s hard to accuse the Syfy channel of jumping the shark in its new original movie.
Given how many of its B-caliber flicks have featured giant killer aquatic life and nature-goes-nuts themes, the network actually jumped the shark, an oft-used saying to describe when TV goes hopelessly over the top, long ago.
Syfy’s latest movie offering is Ghost Shark, premiering at 8 p.m. Thursday.
It’s a poor man’s poltergeist Jaws, a cheesy creature feature with a giddy but bloody plot and a cast headed up by barely famous TV stars (Mackenzie Rosman, a now-grown former 7th Heaven child actress who recently posed for Maxim, and Richard Moll, aka Bull the bald bailiff of Night Court).
Ghost Shark suffers in comparison with Syfy’s July pop-culture sensation, the so-over-the-top-it-was-brilliant Sharknado, but the new movie does have some inventively insane moments.
The story involves the ghost of a great white going on a rampage. It can strike anywhere there’s water, be it a swimming pool, a bubble bath or a bikini car wash.
“There’s just something about sharks in the summer,” says Thomas P. Vitale, Syfy’s executive vice president of programming and original movies. “Shark movies in summer are entertaining, escapist fun.”
To sweeten the deal, Syfy is re-airing Sharknado, which created so much buzz last month that the Internet sounded like a beehive, as a lead-in at 6 p.m., making Thursday a veritable Sharkapalooza.
Syfy’s original horror, science fiction and fantasy movies feel like throwbacks to cheap drive-in knockoff movies of the 1960s and ’70s.
They’re awful, but sometimes in a good way. They’re usually quite funny and occasionally even provide a few genuine scares and some valid social commentary.
And they do it on shoestring budgets of about $3 million.
As Sharknado director Anthony Ferrante says of his film, “This script was a $100 million movie if you took it to a studio. But we did it for the equivalent of the craft service budget on The Dark Knight.”
Vitale believes the challenges of making movies under severe time and budget constraints typically produce creative, outside-of-the-box thinking, which is why this movie franchise has become a cult favorite.
“Our filmmakers find themselves saying, ‘We have to find a solution to this problem,’ and it’s exciting to see when magic happens,” he says.
Previous Syfy masterpieces include 2012’s Jersey Shore Shark Attack (the title tells you everything you need to know), Chupacabra vs. the Alamo, which aired in March (the Daughters of the Republic of Texas was not amused), and 2011’s Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (memorable for its muddy catfight between 1980s pop stars Tiffany and Debbie Gibson).
Sometimes with these movies, Vitale admits, the amusing titles come first and then the scripts are written.
Sharknado, perhaps the most-watched and easily the best-publicized Syfy movie original, started that way.
“Anthony Ferrante used the title Sharknado in a throwaway line in a script he had written last year for a movie called Leprechaun’s Revenge,” Vitale says. “When we heard that line with that title, we were like, ‘You know what? That needs to be a movie.’”
The network recently solicited viewers for movie title suggestions to a Sharknado sequel. After reviewing more than 5,000 Twitter submissions, Syfy decided to name the follow-up film Sharknado 2: The Second One. The sequel will hit land in July 2014 and will be set in New York City.
Other Syfy classics that started with only a crazy title: Sharktopus (2010), produced by B-movie filmmaking legend Roger Corman, and Mansquito (2005).
“ Sharktopus was a movie title suggested by a woman in our marketing group,” Vitale recalls. “She said it as a joke. She said, ‘You know what would be great? You should make a movie called Sharktopus.’ She was kidding, but we did it anyway. Mansquito is another one that somebody who worked here suggested. We were like, ‘Yeah, great title. We can make that work.’”
That seems to be the mantra at Syfy when doing these movies: “We can make that work.”
“We want to entertain people — that’s the ultimate goal,” Vitale says. “We just want our viewers to have a good time.”