Trigger Warning: Out of respect for anyone reading this who might be struggling with trauma or post-traumatic stress, this posting deals with child sexual abuse, torture and rape in the paragraphs that begin under the heading “Other Movies.”
The SyFy Channel has some good programming right now. Lost Girls is original, brilliant, dark and funny. Defiance is solid, good science fiction with a sociological flavor, despite the video game roots. Haven doesn’t make a lick of sense, but episode by episode it’s fascinating. The channel’s competition show, Face Off, is exciting and educational, as we learn about movie make up, costumes and appliances. Wil Wheaton’s clip show The Wil Wheaton Project has great potential and is growing each week.
And then there are the movies. Ahhh, the SyFy movies; especially the Syfy Originals. The channel receives great internet acclaim, and justly, for movies like Frankenfish, Lake Placid II and III, Ghost Shark, Shark in Venice and Sharktopuss. And who could ever forget the channel’s most-watched Syfy Original Film, Sharknado?
But there are other movies on SyFy. Let’s a take a few minutes to browse the channel’s extensive catalogue of choices for you viewing pleasure.
With a Syfy Original, you always know exactly what you are getting. In fact, my friend Greg Varley, a visionary, predicted SyFy Originals when he initiated Bad Movie day at his house (he even anticipated Mystery Science Theater 3000 by a year or two). Greg intuited the thing that SyFy would capitalize on; when viewed in a group, in a venue where you can talk, bad movies – really bad movies – are awesome fun.
SyFy Originals are made to premiere on the SyFy channel. Think about that for a minute. They actually approached someone to write the screenplay for Sharknado. I picture employees of the channel lurking quietly at the back of film school graduations, waiting to grab—er, recruit – eager young talent to make these dirt-cheap, laughable horror flicks.
With a SyFy Original, here’s all you need: a couple of pitchers of margaritas, some salsa and chips, and a bunch of friends. Party on!
SyFy Presents is a little more complicated. These seem to be independent films that the channel has purchased or rented. These films might have actual production values and name talent attached to them. In other word, they look like they could be good, but beware.
On June 16, 2014, for example, SyFy showed a series of movies. This included Boogeyman, made in 2012; directed by Jeffrey Lando and written by David Reed. It stars Eddie McClintock. McClintock did his share of episodic TV and even co-starred in SyFy’s SF-steampunk-comedy series Warehouse 13. He is an appealing actor with an emotionally accessible style. He couldn’t quite save Boogeyman, though, a horror tale about… well, you guessed it. The story had a couple of nice twists; my favorite was the blending in of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Another nice spin was the fact that copper, not silver, damaged the monster. The movie looks cheaply made but not completely shoddy, and has some tender moments between McClintock’s character and his sons.
David Reed, the writer, has experience on the TV shows Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica and Revolution. Those aren’t bad shows to have experience on, and also goes a long way toward explaining the movie.
Boogeyman was followed by Vampyre Nation, and later in the day by Monsterwolf, both SyFy Originals.
Then there are just a bunch of movies that the channel shows when it has them; things like Priest, Van Helsing, and some that aren’t SF at all. Casino Royale? Quantum of Solace? Some of the movies they get are strange but not as bad as you’d expect, like the Wolfman remake or that odd retelling of Red Riding Hood. They show films like the well-acted, special-effectsy and basically baffling Skyline.
Once in a while they show theatrical release films that were big box-office failures, or designed-to-be-cult films like the genuinely terrible Splice, directed by Vincinzo Natali of Cube fame. Natali also has a screenplay credit, so we know just who to blame. The movie has high quality production values and Adrian Brody as a star, alongside Sarah Polley. There is no excuse for this movie, in which two geneticists whip up a Mulligan-stew of DNA (animal and human, because Polley’s character sneaks in her own DNA—get it?) and create a new being they call Dren. As Dren matures it becomes obviously female, but we have a big clue from other events about that gender choice. Clive and Elsa, the two scientists, steal Dren and take it to the creepy isolated farm where Elsa grew up. They use Dren to play out their various twisted psycho-sexual issues. Psycho Mom El coos to Dren and puts make-up on it – and then mutilates it “for science.” Clive plays Seductive Daddy; taking Dren’s side when it behaves in a way Elsa doesn’t like, dancing with Dren, pushing Dren away, (“No, Dren. This is wrong!”) and ultimately having sex with Dren. Then Dren starts to change, and the tables turn.
The movie is basically well-written, line-by-line. Cinematography is gorgeous. If you’re going to make a movie that pushes so far into the issues of rape and torture, you better make the others things in your movie – like the pseudoscience – plausible. That didn’t happen here. The continuity is terrible; the Magic Barn is practically laughable, and the ending is bill-boarded for the viewer so early in the movie that our two supposedly brilliant scientists look appallingly stupid for not seeing it. As bad as it is, there is a real question asked about the nature of life and who “owns” life… and a dark, interesting take on the real nature of innocence. Somehow the movie is simultaneously a little too good for Syfy and much too bad for the channel.
For the reliable, the sure thing, look for a SyFy Original (Saturdays at 9:00 pm) and be sure to stock up on tequila. Coming this July, Sharknado Two!
Syfy Presents; you might stumble across a movie that’s not half bad. More likely, you’ll find some original writing or see an early performance by a now-established actor. The website IMDb.com can be a helpful resource here, if you aren’t sure you want to invest your time.
Other movies, again, I’d use IMDb.com. Avoid Splice like you would a serving of tainted fish.
I hope this brief tour of the SyFy catalogue proves useful.