SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE
This is a review for the pre-release, Region 3 DVD of “Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre” Directed by Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall and Piranhaconda). Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre is a made for TV esq, Sci-fi/Creature feature about a group of women offenders who escape while on routine prison detail in a remote and heavily wooded area. Carl (played by John Callahan) is the officer in charge of keeping the group of colorful characters in line. With two law enforcement agents, Detective Patterson (Traci Lords) and Levine (Corey Landis) hot on the tail of the escaped inmates both parties are unaware that nearby fracking has accidentally opened a waterway where a prehistoric shark has entered. This group of misfits must band together if they’re to put a stop to the ancient beast. The film also stars Dominique Swain, Cindy Lucas, Christine Nguyen, Amy Holt, Skye McDonald, Oscar DeRosa, Chris Christopher and Tabitha Marie.
I’ve followed Jim’s work on and off over the years, he’s been at it since the early 80’s with films like “The Lost Empire” and “Chopping Mall”. I didn’t see any of his work through the 90’s but in the early 2000’s I started noticing his name popping up on hilariously amazing, pun filled titles like “The Bare Wench Project”, “Alabama Jones and The Busty Crusade”, “The Devil Wears Nada” and “The Hills Have Thighs”…. just to name a few (I could go on). I know what you’re thinking, Surely these must be porn right? Answer, yes some are. They tend to be on the soft core side but always showcasing a variety of buxom women. I’ve got four or five of Jim’s more serious films in my collection (most of which I still haven’t seen yet) Oh yeah and when I say serious I mean about as serious as this title I’m about to start critiquing (haha). What I can say about Wynorski thus far, is that he appears to have a great rapport with those he works with and is clearly all about just having a blast and it shows in the result.
These days we’ve come to know what to expect from the modern creature feature. They’re usually pretty standard fare which involve either small groups of survivors post catastrophe, or a wealthy and untouchable corporation who while up to no good unleash a water/land dwelling, mammoth hybrid of sorts (or something to that effect). Now you’re thinking I’m going to say Wynorksi takes a different approach aren’t you? Well sorry to disappoint, he doesn’t but that’s part of the charm of this style of B movie. Sharkansas has a wonderful production value that instantly elevates it from the majority of films that air on the SyFy channel. This was shot in Marianna, Florida which looks like a gorgeous place. The arboreaceous landscape and its gullies of water make for some truly sublime cinematography early in the film. There’s a real cheesy but awesome piece of synth music with guitar backing it during the opening credits. Most of the soundtrack is fairly generic but that opening song was so damn catchy!
Tony Randel should be commended on his slick editing. The film only runs about 80 minutes, so there isn’t any of that pointless exposition no one cares about dragging it out unnecessarily. The sound department did a nice job of maintaining a consistency between dialogue audio and special/sound fx. I’m not sure if it was Jim’s decision to light the film like an episode of “The Bold and Beautiful” or whether you can chalk it up to the gaffers creative input, either way I thought it was done to parody those terrible day time shows, and though I found it off-putting it was also very funny. Even all the external shots have that white glow wash over the actresses faces. It’s like you’d expect to see them on a cloud of fairy floss or in someone’s dream or something, it was very odd. Given the genre and its usually lazy, by the book method I was surprised at the quality of the cinematography. There’s a lot of steady framing and smart shot choices, as well as some nice wide shots and careful tracking in the lead up to when we first see the shark. Hell, even most of the stock footage looks decent and is matched accordingly, which is extremely rare in these types of films. David DeCoteau take note.
If there’s a constant in Wynorski’s modus operandi it’s that he has a knack for casting some of the most gorgeous women, I’m not sure how he does it (haha) but I’m bloody glad he does! You can be sure anything of his is bound to shell out exuberant amounts of T & A, let’s face it that’s a big part of the reason you’d watch a film called “Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre” or “Cleavagefield”, “The Breastford Wives” I could go on, and on and on and on (haha). Okay, so the women, Where do I start? Right off the bat we are introduced to our 5 delinquents who are on route for some slave labor. Anita Connors (played by the voluptuous Cindy Lucas), starts off as the more discreet member of the group, that is until things go pear-shaped. Shannon (played by the lovely Amy Holt from Jim’s film “Dinocroc Vs Supergator”) is a sweetie (as much as a felon can be) and happens to be a pretty strong female character. Sarah (the gorgeous Sky McDonald) has a tonne of sass and isn’t one to take any attitude from her peers. Michelle (Christine Nguyen “Bitch Slap” and “The Devil Wears Nada”) is the oriental girl, constantly referred to as “Soy sauce” or any number of other racial slurs by her fellow convicts. She remains the nicest and most relatable of the characters. Lastly there’s Samantha (the pretty Tabitha Marie in her acting debut).
The most ludicrous thing about this group of attractive felons (besides the fact that they’re all far too attractive) is that they wouldn’t all be wearing cleavage exposed, white shirts and denim short shorts (haha). If they were potentially a danger to the guards or those around them they’d probably be wearing handcuffs and sporting orange jumpsuits, not frolicking around in the autumn leaves and that’s one of several things that make this movie hilarious. Check your attitudes at the door people, if you can’t tell this is intentionally B movie schlock you probably shouldn’t be watching it. As you can see I’m dissecting it like I would any other film, but at the same time fully understanding the end goal. Before I go any further I want to mention the sweet and bubbly, Dominique Swain who plays Honey in the film. I can’t say much about her character without some heavy spoilage but just encase you saw the IMDB and thought I missed her, I thought I better mention it. Most of the acting from this group of girls is pretty even. A few reactions here and there felt a bit forced and I really didn’t feel threatened by the ringleaders behind the groups escape (they shall remain unnamed). I’m not sure it was all down to their acting, probably more to do with the writing. I thought overall Nguyen and Holt delivered the best performances but most of the cast do enough.
Wynorski’s and Co’s Screenplay is laced with little cheeky jabs and moments of comedy, or on several occasions “attempted comedy”. Most of the banter feels natural enough and there’s some great insults thrown around by Honey, Anita and Sarah usually directed at Michelle. Some of the sequences don’t pay much attention to those before them and the attitudes of the girls end up changing on a dime. One minute we get a completely self-aware, hot girl montage with our wet-shirt, bombshells firmly gripping shovels and picks and slowly penetrating the earth’s core with them (much like that dance film clip…. yeah you know the one) then next they’re holding people against their will and getting in scraps with each other over nothing and tossing in jokes about “The Fugitive”, it’s all kind of uneven. I’ll make a quick mention of the CG and shark effects which were another element of Wynorski’s film that surprised me. Okay, so we don’t get to see the shark anywhere near as much as I would’ve liked. However, I acknowledge that’s clever in its own way especially if you don’t have a sizable budget to make it look good. Instead Jim opts for a realistic looking fin and when half of the shark comes out of the water it looks practical and far better than anything we’ve seen on the aforementioned SyFy channel, so kudos!
You’d think with so many positive things to say about Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre there wouldn’t be much left to cover. However, with these types of films I like to be thorough and give readers a sufficient amount of information to base their decision on whether to watch it or not. From a technical point of view this is probably one of the best creature feature’s that I’ve seen in a long time. My only nit-pick is that some of the external shots show glimpses of harsh light, shining through the trees into the frame which is a little off-putting but other than that all the aesthetics are great. All of my complaints lie in the writing and some shortcuts that were taken in creative choices that could have improved the overall result. Traci Lords was the one person that missed the mark in a huge part of this film. She’s the most experienced member of the cast so naturally I was thrown off by her stumbling through scenes, unassured one moment to jittery the next, I’m not sure if it was the OCD style character or her acting but either way it missed the mark. Corey Landis playing her partner Adam Levine (not Maroon 5’s front man) was only marginally better. The detective work, minus a quick scene was essentially non-existent and they don’t ever share any scenes with the women in question. Both roles seemed to lead to dead ends and in the greater scheme of the narrative they weren’t needed.
A couple of unnecessary characters are just the first hiccup in the script, some of the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired too. I get that it’s a stupid idea and all the specifics are completely impractical so why would the interactions be any different? But lines like “More sooner than later” and the constant use of “Crap on a cracker” when things don’t go according to Honey’s plans gets a bit much to swallow after a while. On the upside, other than the light-hearted racial taunts Jim’s film doesn’t have any profanity (a rarity these days) so I’ll commend it on that maybe just try something like “H E double hockey sticks” or something equally corny as to mix it up so it’s not all about crackers and crap. Segueing me perfectly into a couple of the downright dumb sequences that desperately needed a re-write. At one stage, Carl and the group of women are supposed to be looking for something or someone (I don’t remember who, Sarah I think?). They are all out in the woods standing around, no more than 5 or 6 meters apart pretending to look for something when just over to the side lay a body part which one of the girls discovers, and then proceeds to yell out to the others who are right within earshot…. come on guys, that’s lazy writing Didn’t anyone pick up on that on set? Obviously not, but I did. Carl being the brains trust that he is, also decides the girls should make a dummy and smear some blood on it to attract the sharks who are circling around the lake house the group are hole up in. Let’s just say that the shark thought it was as stupid as I did. Of all the potential plot points to act as a catalyst that was the best option? Surely not.
The other key aspect to the success of a creature feature comes down to effects and action sequences you introduce. Overall there’s a lot of shortcuts and lack of details in that part of Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre. The makeup application to the characters wounds lacked attention to detail. They opted to only use some basic makeup patching and put a few blood stains here and there, on the actors arm or on their clothing to try to maintain the continuity. The first sight of a decomposing body should have been gruesome and stomach turning instead, the body prosthetics even from a distance look cheap and fake with complimentary sound effects of flies added to the mix. I always go into a film like this hoping to get the three core basics, Nudity, Action and Gore, if I get two out of three I’m usually satisfied. Although these women make for some lovely eye candy no one get’s naked, partially or otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it PG but one has a certain expectation especially if they know Jim’s previous work. I can forgive that side of it but unfortunately the lack of on-screen kills and missing blood and gore, minus a couple of average CG sprays puts a damper on the re-watch ability factor. If the estimated budget is anywhere near close to the IMDB figure, there was plenty of funding for the whole nine yards and I’m disappointed to not have gotten that.
Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre is the first film of Jim Wynorski’s that I’ve reviewed here at Adamthemoviegod and I’m sure it won’t be the last. He’s had over 30 years in the industry and it shows on-screen and with his cast and crew. I was pretty excited for Sharkansas and from a technical point of view I wasn’t let down. The production value is impressive, the strongest characteristics being the location and standard of cinematography. As expected, the film is carried by a cast of stunning women who for the most part do a solid job of bringing their characters to life and making them entertaining. Some of the banter is humorous and the absurdities of the finer points of the writing make for a very fun 80 minutes. To top it off, what we do see of the prehistoric shark looks surprisingly good. Much to my surprise, whenever Lords was on the screen it was a hard sell and the scenes involving her and her partner never felt like they fit. The script has some embarrassing dialogue at times and a couple of dim-witted scenes to help advance the plot didn’t bolster it. The kicker is that Wynorski’s film doesn’t have the Nudity and Action one might be expecting, so just a heads up. As I’ve advised filmmakers before, if you’re going to make one of these films make it action packed, use detailed gags and plenty of the red stuff because it’s what your target audience hopes to see. Regardless, I still had fun with this and I look forward to watching Jim’s other films that are in my collection. Bring on his next venture CobraGator!
My rating for “Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre” is 6/10