Monster Movie Madness Presents:
By Rob SmalesWelcome to Monster Movie Madness, where we take a look at flicks and films dealing with threats and things that aren’t exactly human. Hell, most of ’em aren’t human at all—and those are the really fun ones!
Okay, people, I’ve got the boat. It’s not big, but I think we can all fit. Just stow your rods and tackle boxes when you get in—and if you forgot your bug spray, don’t worry, I have plenty. Oh, and for the love of God, please tell me you updated your will before you came out here? You can never be too careful when heading out into the swamp in search of FRANKENFISH (2004)!
Written by Simon Barrett and Scott Clevenger
Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé
Warning: this review may contain spoilers.
Quiet. Pastoral. The twenty-five-horsepower Evinrude gurgles softly, pushing the small green bass boat down a flat, slow-moving river as an overalled, straw-hatted gentleman moves along his crabbing line, pulling up full pots and dropping in fresh traps. He moves to the next spot in the line, reaches to grab up the old pot—but the big Styrofoam float suddenly sinks underwater. It pops back up. He reaches for it again, but it moves sideways. He stretches for it, dipping his hand into the river to grip the float’s rope—and something yanks him right out of the boat. There is splashing. There is sputtering. There is blood in the water from a missing arm. He tries to get back to the boat, but something jerks him under. Seconds later, a blood cloud rises, spreading across the river as the now-unneeded Styrofoam float pops to the surface once more.
Welcome to the bayou.
Sam Rivers (Tory Kittles) is the medical examiner who’s been pulled off a potential murder case and sent on down to a town called Otley, where they’ve apparently found what’s left of John Crankton (Eugene Collier), one of their local crab men, floating in the swamp. They’ve got the remains in a blue, ice-filled tote in the walk-in refrigerator at Argiro’s Store and Deli—because nothing says professional like examining a savaged corpse surrounded by beer kegs and cases of processed meats. The local coroner’s verdict was alligator attack, but Sam and the sheriff agree: the marks on the body don’t look like any alligator attack they’ve ever seen. Sam decides he needs to see where they found the body; the next day he and Mary Callahan (China Chow), a biologist on loan from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, get into a green bass boat and head out into the deep swamp.
This motor’s a Mercury rather than an Evinrude, but am I seeing a pattern here?
They discuss photos of Crankton’s remains as they cruise slowly along, and Mary points out they’re not far enough upstream to completely rule out bull sharks. Then they find an alligator head by one bank. No body, just the head—but if there were a body attached, Mary estimates the creature would have been about twelve feet long. Can even a bull shark do that? Mary is unnerved when they round a bend and see a figure floating facedown in the water. She asks Sam if the man is okay (how Sam would know this I have no idea, he’s in the boat behind her)—when the old redneck bursts up out of the water, hooting with triumph, a good-sized catfish fastened to his hand.
Elmer (Muse Watson) is out noodling.
What follows are, in my opinion, the best lines in the movie:
Mary: Is that fish biting you?
Elmer: Hell yeah! Some strange man stick his hand in your hole, wouldn’t you bite him?
Mary (turning to Sam): Okay, this is like the dark side of Hee Haw.
Elmer takes them to a collection of houseboats on the river where he lives; also in the little watertop colony is John Crankton’s widow, Gloria (Donna Biscoe); Elmer’s niece, Bobbie (Noelle Evans) and her husband, Roland (Richard Edson); and Ricardo (Raoul Max Trujillo), the man who found the body and Crankton’s best friend from ’Nam.
Gloria—the local voodoo practitioner, because hey, you gotta have one—maintains there’s some kind of curse in the area, an evil thing she has a circle of protection against. Her husband, she says, went outside the circle and died. When asked where this evil might come from, she and the others tell of a hurricane a while back, and the wreck of the strange boat that appeared on the river—that, says Gloria, was when the evil came. She wants Sam and Mary to stop the evil now, before it kills anyone else. She gives them each a little protective grigri, and orders Elmer to take them to the boat.
The wreck is of a good-sized fishing boat, maybe twenty to twenty-five feet. Mary examines some of the stores and says there was a Chinese crew, while Sam checks all the electrical equipment, but nothing appears to work. When he walks away, however, we see a light has begun flashing down where he can’t see it—did he inadvertently activate a homing device, perhaps?
The hold is dark, and the smell is incredible. Sam takes pictures of all the corners they can’t see into, and his flash reveals a few decomposing bodies. He scoots Mary out of the hold, but she still leans over the side to vomit, spitting out a healthy mouthful of what looks suspiciously like Cream of Wheat.
I’ve always hated Cream of Wheat.
While squatting on the deck, she finds a fish scale larger than any she’s ever seen (a little larger than a Dorito, according to my snack-eating moviegoer’s eye). Deciding they need to get out of there now, they rush for Elmer’s boat. Mary, still nauseous, stumbles and knocks Elmer into the water. He pops up laughing about it. He’s moving to get back into the boat when something beneath the surface hits him like a runaway truck, propelling him backward along the river like he’s just sprouted a high powered inboard motor. There’s screaming, there’s blood, and it’s goodbye Elmer.
The Frankenfish has arrived.
Warning: Here There Be Spoilers.
Okay, I have to say I enjoyed this movie. Perhaps it’s because I used to spend quite a bit of time fishing on a quiet river—in Massachusetts, not Louisiana, but still—so I completely get the can’t see around the bend, don’t know what’s under that water vibe this film was projecting, but it was more than that. There was a reason for the heroes of this film to go into that swamp and isolate themselves—and it was a damn sight less worn out than college kids looking for a place to party: it was their jobs. There was a reason for the monster to be where it was: a storm wrecked the boat secretly transporting an experimental animal, pushing it a lot farther upstream than it could otherwise have ever gotten, so recovery teams never thought to look for it there. That does happen—well, okay, not necessarily with a monster in the hold, but it happens. And best of all, they gave us a logical reason for the monster itself: greed.
The monster in this film is a genetically manipulated form of the Northern snakehead, an incredibly invasive species of fish brought to America from China. They became a national news topic in the United States because of their appearance in a Crofton, Maryland, pond in 2002 (I still recall the newspaper and magazine articles at the time referring to them as “frankenfish”), and their becoming permanently established in the Potomac River around 2004.
What makes this fish-as-a-monster film so plausible is that the snakehead, though not (to my knowledge) a huge seller in the States, is a very popular food fish in China and other parts of Asia. There’s already a huge market for GMO salmon and beef in this country. There may be a GMO snakehead industry in China—I really have no idea—but within the framework of this story there is. And what’s to stop some unscrupulous businessman, a rich guy who feels he can—and should—get away with anything, from trumping his competition and using the genetic knowledge gleaned by these farming industries to help him create the world’s best (and most expensive) game fish out of something that’s already faster, stronger, and more aggressive than the ever-popular bass (largemouth and small)?
That’s not to say this film is all about scientific plausibility; this is a fun time, not fine art. There are several instances of ridiculousness, impracticability, and just plain huh? in FRANKENFISH. Here are a few of them, just off the top of my head:
- Mary’s oddly changing wardrobe. Because, let’s face it: boobs.
- Wimpy white guy. I can’t explain it here . . . you’ll just have to watch the movie.
- The nudists. Because, let’s face it: boobs!
- The ocelot. Because every Bond villain on a budget has to have an ocelot.
- The actual line, “The house shot her! This is insane!”
- The missile, by Blue Rhino.
There was more, but I just want to point out that, even after all that, the ending was priceless!*
(*I want you to imagine I said priceless in a spooky whisper, then followed it up with a creeperiffic Vincent Price laugh, like at the end of the “Thriller” video. Because that’s what I just did.)
So, my final thoughts on FRANKENFISH? As I said, I liked it. It’s not high art, and I’d not like to base a scientific paper on the mad-sciencefictionist dialogue you’ll find in there, but it’s a good mix of creepiness and ridiculousness and just enough boobs that I might watch it with my fourteen-year-old; he’d feel like he’d put one over on me, and that’s always fun.
If you’ve got a film you’d like to shout out about, a monster movie you feel the world’s just got to see, please, let me know about it in the comments below—or if you’re shy, you can always shoot me a line through the Contact Us page.
I’d love to hear from you.
I do love me some monster movies.
© Copyright 2017 by Rob Smales