Mladen and Del review ‘The Black Demon’
Starring Fernanda Urrejola as “Ines,” Josh Lucas as “Paul,” Venus Ariel as “Audrey,” Julio Cesar Cedillo as “Chato,” and Jorge A. Jimenez as “Junior” and others; Directed by Adrian Grunberg; Rated R; 100 minutes; Amazon Prime
Like a good movie can be ruined by one bad scene, a bad movie can be redeemed with one good bit of filmmaking. The problem with “The Black Demon” is that you must watch the mostly bad movie to the end to see that one good scene. You’ll know when you see it because the antagonist and the protagonist are calm when death arrives.
“The Black Demon” offers a duel between a big shark body armored with sturgeon-like scutes and humans of varied races and socioeconomic status. The big shark is the Aztec god Tlaloc incarnate. Come to think of it, maybe that’s also a reason I found the film good enough. The gringos in “The Black Demon” are unable to pronounce the name of the god without help from native Spanish speakers. The “Tl” in Tlaloc throws English speakers off balance. As a guy with a first name that also juxtaposes two seldom, if ever, side-to-side consonants in the English language, “Ml,” I sympathized with the villagers trying to teach Americans the correct pronunciation.
Anyway, Tlaloc, the god in shark’s clothing, appears as a deformed megalodon to avenge the destruction of a riveting sea polluted by the unchecked gush of oil from an offshore rig. Huh, a riveting sea polluted by the unchecked gush of oil from an offshore rig. Sound familiar? You’ve already forgotten the months-long British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil hemorrhage in 2010 that all but wrecked my beloved Gulf of Mexico, haven’t you?
Of course, the humans hunted by the black demon find themselves stranded on the oil rig without a way to communicate with shore or hope that some boater will come along to rescue them. And, there’s no way for the humans to wait for someone on land to realize they’re missing and send a search party because the rig is falling apart. Its demise is aided by Tlaloc occasionally ramming it. Oh, the shark god has some sort of telepathic power that allows it to conjure foreboding hallucinations in humans when they’re in the water.
The movie’s cheap thrills come along by placing children in harm’s way. I hate that. And, there’s always the accidental fall into the water or the decision to kill the shark by using a person as live bait and then what? Poison the multi-ton shark by pricking it in the mouth with a 5-inch-long, 25-gauge hypodermic needle? No, no, that was “Jaws.” Explode the shark with a jerry-rigged dart bomb triggered by attaching the contraption via cable to a car battery? No, that was “Deep Blue Sea.” Damn, how was the meg in “Meg” whacked?
Del will belly ache about the movie’s derivative character. He’ll complain about the mediocre CGI. All of that will come after he details to the nth minutia the history of big shark movies and their impact on pop culture, our eating habits, environmental preservation, and treatment of toenail fungus. My advice to you? See the movie because it’s good enough to be entertaining and among the better of the B-schlock films that have blazed across the big screen since pictures started moving.
By the way, I pronounce that “muh-LAH-den.” As far as I know, that’s correct. I pronounce the Aztec god Tlaloc “tuh-LAL-oc.” I think that’s correct. And Mladen thinks I dwell too much on detail.
Yes, I’m a gringo who mispronounces the names of Aztec fish gods. I also recognize the role sharks play in the environment, but like many gringos who can’t pronounce the names of Aztec fish gods, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that environmental role when it means having the lower half of my body reduced to shark kibble. So I’m a fan of sharks only if they come no closer than the movie screen – speaking of which, did I mention I’m tired of movies about sharks. I mean, what are we up to now? “Jaws 47”? “Meg XXXI”? “Deep Blue Sea: The Neverending Story”?
Mladen, by making me watch “The Black Demon,” thought he was punishing me for inflicting “Chopping Mall” and “Barbie” on him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d already seen “The Black Demon,” already noted the shitty FX, and yes, already thought it was stupid.
“The Black Demon” is a good example of the chaff Amazon Prime uses to flesh out its movie offerings. While there’s room in my heart for bad sci-fi and horror movies, that room is leavened by nostalgia. I don’t watch “The Tingler” or “The Giant Claw” for their riveting depictions of human drama. I watch them because they remind me of when I was a little kid and believed that crap could actually happen. Alas, “The Black Demon” does not evoke such happy memories. It’s the seaside version of “Maximum Overdrive.” I watched it, didn’t like it, and flushed it down the toilet, like you would that favorite swordtail you found floating belly up in your aquarium.
I mean, c’mon. The premise of “The Black Demon” is idiotic. An American petrochemical engineer takes his wife and kids on one last job in Mexico, leaves them in a town full of hostile locals, makes his way to a haunted oil rig, the wife and kids follow along, everyone except one altruistic soul are in league with the shark, and somehow they’re supposed to defeat this – this creature that’s big enough to take out an oil rig and swims faster than a speeding cigarette boat? Next you’ll be telling me Marjorie Taylor Greene has an IQ higher than a cement block.
One point on which I and the movie agree: The real villain is the corporation responsible for the leaky oil rig, in this case an outfit called “Nixon.” Get it? Nixon, so very, very subtle. Why didn’t they just call it “Satan” and be done with it? And the real black demon may not be the shark or the pissed-off fish god, but the stuff leaking from the oil rig. But somehow I doubt that much thought was put into the movie’s subtext. In fact, I don’t think there is any subtext. I think “The Black Demon” is a movie about a supernatural shark picking off people responsible for trashing the environment in and around the oil rig. Or more basically, a movie about a scary shark-like something-or-other.
I’ll grade this movie a C- because I’ve spent worse hour-and-forty-minute time spans of my life, but unless you’re a fan of modern schlock, which I’m not, then stay out of the water.
For a real shark movie check out “Blue Water, White Death,” a darned good doc from the early ’70s. They don’t make those, or schlocky B-movies, like they used to.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.
“Avalanche Sharks” Starring Alexander Mendeluk, Kate Nauta, Benjamin Easterday, Eric Scott Woods, and others. Directed (if you can call it that) by Scott Wheeler. Amazon Prime. 82 minutes. Not Rated
This is an embarrassing confession. Maybe the error was caused by my growing age precipitating a memory malfunction. It certainly wasn’t caused by me worrying about wasting Del’s time. He needs some sort of life that doesn’t include moping. I asked Del to watch the wrong film. I recommended that we review “Avalanche Sharks,” a movie that was far worse than I recalled – see, there goes the bad memory thing again – but I intended for us to watch “Ice Spiders,” which is a pretty good film. Why the confusion? Well, both take place at ski resorts and both involve unnatural animals. The difference is that “Ice Spiders” has a dose of decent acting lead by Patrick Muldoon. You may remember him as the pilot in “Starship Troopers” who got his brain sucked graphically by a very large, maggot-y bug through its hinged, two-piece, straw-like proboscis.
“Avalanche Sharks” is a nearly perfectly bad movie. I give it a generous D-. Paradoxically, that grade makes it worth watching. It’s the script and the acting combined that render the film so damn crappy and entertaining. The crappiness generated a giggle or two as the movie shifted from portraying one dumb-ass victim to another. In between, I was bewildered by the crappy script and the crappy acting. Am I repeating myself? Have I already said that the script and acting were crappy? Damn memory.
None of the characters in “Avalanche Sharks” were likeable, so who cared what happened to them or their dogs. The good guy was a dork. I didn’t care that he was a Marine on R&R after fighting somewhere. I assumed he had been to Afghanistan or Iraq, which was the movie’s vague attempt to add a sense of the real and create empathy for our hero. The bad guy and his Olympics skiing bronze medal were annoying. The women in the film were nicely configured, but terribly uninteresting as humans. The kook who tells the spring breakers at the ski resort that they’ll all die was among the worst actors I’ve ever seen. There was the nerd always trying to pick up babes, but, to be honest, I can’t remember why he had to be in the movie. Wait, it just came back. About halfway through “Avalanche Sharks” he explained to a gum-chewing snow bunny in tight leggings what they were and who cast the spell that created them. The shark maker was a shaman called Snookum, Skoonum, Spoonim, Spatula, something like that. His sharks existed to avenge the deaths of a native people extinguished by greedy settlers and protect their once-home, the mountain where the ski resort was built.
Snow sharks defending sacred ground is a neat idea for a movie. Had “Avalanche Sharks” been executed properly, like the movie “Big Ass Spider!” Del and I reviewed most recently, I’d be clamoring for a sequel. Instead, because I’m always searching for the slimmest glimmer of good in the very bad such as the Donald Moron Trump poser presidency and its straight-up lying about the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m forced to conclude the unearthly man-eating spirits in “Avalanche Sharks” were the movie’s only redeeming quality. Some effort and a little bit of computing power was spent to present the light blue predators. Their crystalline and armored dorsal fins looked pretty cool slicing through snow. The fins left narrow ruts. Nice touch. When the sharks lunged from the snow to snack on humans, the special effects, including whole shark bodies and blood splatter, were good. The practical physical effects were misses much more often than hits. Yes, the legs severed mid-chin with boots still on or the disembowelment looked not bad. “Avalanche Sharks” failed miserably when it tried to make snow look blood stained, however. That mattered because there was a lot of snow turning red in the movie. The color of the blood was neither deep red to suggest low oxygenation nor bright red to illustrate oxygen saturation. Rather, it was a semi-fluorescent-pinky-not-quite-chartreuse that looked like the color a kindergartner might choose to draw a tomato.
Look, the bars are closed or should be. Eating at a restaurant is absurd. The shopping mall was long ago buried by Amazon. It isn’t a good idea to visit your grandma or work out at the gym. You’ve already re-watched the Brady Bunch reunion 13 times. Like Del, see “Avalanche Sharks” because you have nothing better to do.
If I croak tomorrow I won’t finish “Away” Season 1, and it’ll be Mladen’s fault for making me watch the dreadful “Avalanche Sharks.” I hope feeling guilty about that keeps him awake an extra hour tonight.
Did I say “Avalanche Sharks” was “dreadful”? I meant “awful” – not the towering awful of a “Plan 9 From Outer Space” or the hilarious awful of its obvious progenitor, “Sharknado,” but a tired, shopworn awful, apparently from people trying to pull off a low-fi cash grab, a Monday morning Yugo of movies.
The story goes like this: A group of spring breakers descends (ascends?) on a ski lodge for some mid-semester fun. Unfortunately for them – and the local sheriff who was hoping for a quiet season – some unknown entity is devouring the tourists. There’s a crazy old coot from the deep forest who warns the sheriff, ski lodge owner and town mayor that they have returned, but the mayor is having none of this talk about theys, thems or any other sinister-sounding pronoun, to the agreement and delight of the ski lodge owner. The sheriff and brother of one of the disappeared set out to solve the riddle of the missing fratboys with their fatty liver disease, and that’s when the fake bloody snow flies.
Where to begin enumerating “Avalanche Sharks’ ” avalanche of sin?
The script appears to have been written by a study hall committee of horny teenage middle school boys. Acting was on par with the displays at Madame Tussauds. Every character in the movie is so unlikeable in some way you hope they end up being chomped in half by the “sharks.” If you took the essential parts of “Jaws” and “Animal House,” stapled them together and made them awful, you’d have the plot.
I mean, throughout the 82 minutes required to endure this crap, I felt like I was watching a version of “Alien” edited for C-Span.
The charm, if that is the right word, of these crappy D-level movies is that their makers usually know they are crappy D-level movies and play off the crappiness for laughs. “Sharknado” is a prime example. But “Avalanche Shark” neither acknowledges its crap quotient nor tries to capitalize on it. It is a long, dreary slide down the bunny run of cinematic stupidness that would not even pass muster on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
Mladen gave “Avalanche Sharks” a D- and that sounds about right for me. I am saving my F’s for movies that infuriate me with their incompetence and this one didn’t do that. I just didn’t care enough to hate it.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.