Episode #34 of The Swampflix Podcast: #ReelTimeJaws & The Butcher’s Wife (1991)

Welcome to Episode #34 of The Swampflix Podcast! For our thirty-fourth episode, Britnee makes Brandon watch the Demi Moore magical realism romcom The Butcher’s Wife (1991) for the first time. Also, Brandon & Britnee discuss #ReelTimeJaws, a Jaws-themed movie-watching project created by stand-up comedian & podcaster Howard Kremer. Enjoy!

-Britnee Lombas & Brandon Ledet

47 Meters Down (2017)

As The Shallows & 47 Meters Down have stalked American theaters like so many bloodthirsty shark movies past in two consecutive summers, it’s been exciting to think that we’re in the midst of another post-Jaws sharksploitation boom, one where we’ll see a new woman-vs-shark horror pic every year. 47 Meters Down‘s voyage to the big screen is unconventional in the modern distribution era, following a path that feels more appropriate for horror’s straight-to-VHS days in the 80s & 90s. 47 Meters Down was actually released the same summer as the Blake Lively-vs.-shark surprise money-earner The Shallows, except that it went straight to VOD & home video under the title In the Deep. A bigger production company then bought the rights to the film, changed its title, and pulled it from the market for a proper nationwide theatrical release. The thinking there might have partially been that The Shallows was a surprise financial success that could easily be repeated, but I think that decision actually had a lot less to do with its genre than it does with its star: Mandy Moore. A year ago, Mandy Moore was a has-been pop star whose career as an actor died with long forgotten titles like A Walk to Remember & (my personal favorite) Saved!. Since then, she’s re-entered the public consciousness as the star of the hit NBC melodrama This Is Us, raising her profile just enough that it’s believable she could at least sell Blake Lively levels of theater tickets fighting off a shark or two. The problem is that, while Mandy Moore may have been ready to make the jump to the big screen again, 47 Meters Down was not; the movie still carries the stink of VOD chum no matter how large or loud it’s projected.

Moore stars as a young woman vacationing in Mexico while recovering from a significant romantic breakup. Her more adventurous sister urges her to be daring and live it up while away from home & freed from romantic shackles. The movie’s pre-shark narrative set-up mostly follows the pair as they club with cute boys until dawn to painfully generic dance music. This urging to try new things & stray from her normal, boring life leads Moore’s protagonist to risk her life with an illegal, unlicensed tourist attraction that submerges SCUBA divers in a steel cage & baits the water with chum to attract sharks. Huge sharks. While submerged, the two sisters are inevitably dropped by the rusty, rickety crane that was hoisting their cage and plummet to the ocean floor. What follows is a combination of a tag team steel cage straight from a pro wrestling PPV and an aquatic version of Gravity where the women have to find their way to the surface of the water while avoiding getting eaten, oxygen depravation, and the bends. I suppose there’s some interesting visual play with the endless voids of vast ocean settings and the dispersal of red liquids that could attract predators: blood, chum, sugary cocktails. For the most part, though, the movie plays out exactly as you’d expect a cheap summertime sharksploitation to until its concluding ten minutes, when it expends all of its creative energy on its one distinctive idea. At the last minute, 47 Meters Down decides it wants to play with the narrative potentials of nitrogen narcosis, introducing the paranoia of hallucination to its already tense underwater hell of circling sharks & dwindling oxygen. In a way, it’s disappointing that the movie bothers to distinguish itself with that weird energy so late in its runtime, since it already felt like a decidedly generic affair. All the film’s last minute hypnotic rug pull does is make you wish those ideas had come through weirder, stronger, earlier, and more often.

There’s not much substance to 47 Meters Down in terms of the variety & brutality of its shark attacks. The film seems more invested in building tension in confinement and staging its last minute toying with underwater psychosis than it does in its shark content. This might be a blessing in regards to distracting the audience from the VOD quality of the sharks’ CGI, but as an air-headed sharksploitation pic with only one or two unique ideas it could have easily made more room for a few more shark attacks. Whenever the sharks are out of view and the submerged sisters are fretting over their oxygen supply & the bends, the film’s inherent cheapness becomes blatantly obvious. Underwater & communicating via walkie talkies, much of 47 Meters Down is propelled by dubbed-after-the-fact dialogue. There’s some amusing irony in lines like, “Trust me, once you get down there, you’re never gonna want to come back up” before the cage breaks free & plummets, but much of the dialogue feel like treading water between the sparse shark attacks. 47 Meters Down is an almost-decent summertime horror cheapie that leaves you on a bizarre high note just before the end credits roll, but I have to admit I’m ultimately more fascinated with its path to theater screens than I am with what it did once it got there. For instance, how did a nobody director negotiate the title card “Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down” as if his name meant something to audiences? That small act of self-promotion feels just as oddly archaic as the film’s unconventional distribution path. Since its shark attacks brutality & third act imagery weren’t pushed far as they could have been, it’s those kinds of production details that jump out at you as oddly significant to the film’s basic unlikely existence. I did not appreciate 47 Meters Down as much as the campier & more distinctly violent The Shallows, but I did find it at least mildly interesting as a kind of cultural object and if another female-led sharksploitation piece pops up in theaters next summer, I’ll certainly be returning to the well.

-Brandon Ledet

Howard Kremer’s #JawsReelTime Project

Stand-up comedian Howard Kremer has a recurring bit on his weekly pop culture podcast Who Charted? (co-hosted by fellow comedy mainstay and Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ showrunner Kulap Vilaysack) called “Jaws is Better” that’s consistently hilarious, although spontaneously employed. Basically, if a guest on the show happens to mention the title of their favorite movie, Kremer’s “Jaws is Better” theme music plays and the comedian immediately launches into a tirade that “proves” that his own favorite film, the classic Steven Spielberg creature feature Jaws (1975), is objectively “better.” I don’t personally have much of a connection with Jaws. I’ve only seen the movie once, in my 20s, screened at the Prytania as part of a Shark Week-themed midnight movie series. I also fall firmly on the wrong side of Kremer’s Oceans Vs. Space dichotomy, which suggests that movies set in Earth’s waters are automatically better than sci-fi “make-em-ups” set outside Earth’s atmosphere. Still, the consistency & conviction of the bit always tickles me and I’m excited that Kremer lately seems to be determined to take it to another level in a project he’s calling #JawsReelTime.

The events depicted in the film Jaws occur over an eleven day span from June 28 to July 8 on the calendar. Kremer’s proposition is for Jaws fans (or just any dedicated “Chartists”) to watch the movie in sectioned-off parts on the corresponding calendar day those (fictional) events took place, effectively watching it “in real time.” From what I can tell, the rigidity of this eleven day timeline is much clearer in the novel Jaws is based on than it is in the movie version. It’s still an easily achievable goal, though, one that offers a new way to look at a modern classic that’s already been meticulously dissected by those who’ve seen it many more times than I have (i.e. most people). The project starts off easily enough, with landmarks like Fourth of July celebrations to guide the way. Where #JawsReelTime gets very tricky is in the film’s climactic shark hunt, a three day journey without clear makers differentiating between its individual calendar dates. Kremer has suggested “winging it” without timestamps to help determine where to stop & start watching on each day, rightly explaining that it’ll help participants keep a fresh perspective. However, for a Jaws novice such as myself, a guided, timestamped timeline might be necessary to keep the project in order. Otherwise, I’d likely get lost at sea, like so many Richard Dreyfusses past.

I encourage you to join us for the #JawsReelTime project! At the very least, give a listen to Kremer explaining the project in recent episodes of Who Charted? (episodes 340 & 341 have the most detailed discussions of it so far). If you, like me, need a timestamped timeline of the events in Jaws to help guide your way, I did my best to create one below by cross-referencing its plot points as detailed on themovietimeline.com with the clearest corresponding scene breaks I could find in the film. Again, the divisions between these events become a little muddled in the third act, but I did my best to create an accurate game plan here. I’m not sure what, if anything, watching what Kremer would call the perfect “Summah” movie this way will add to its overall experience, but I’m excited to find out and will be discussing the results with Britnee on our own podcast soon after the #JawsReelTime project concludes. If you’re joining us for the journey, be sure to hashtag your progress #JawsReelTime on Twitter so Kremer knows he’s not alone on the waters, hunting down a monstrously huge shark all by his lonesome.

June 28 (0:00-5:05): Chrissie Watkins is killed by a shark while skinny-dipping.

June 29 (5:05-18:39): Alex M. Kintner is killed by a shark.

June 30 (18-39-23:01): A $3000 bounty is placed on the shark.

July 1 (23:01-27:53): Michael Brody’s birthday.

July 2 (27:53-50:09): A caught tiger shark is shown to the public but does not contain human remains.

July 3 (50:09-53:27): Mayor Vaughn refuses to close the beach.

July 4 (53:27-1:07:02): The 50th Annual Regatta is interrupted by a shark.

July 5 (1:07:02-1:20:39): Martin Brody and Matt Hooper sail with Quint in search of the shark.

July 6 (1:20:39-1:36:23): The search for the shark continues.

July 7 (1:36:23-1:50:01): The shark damages the boat’s hull.

July 8 (1:50:51-2:03:55): Quint dies and the shark is blown up.

Have fun! And remember, “Don’t go in the water.”

-Brandon Ledet

Shark Exorcist (2016)

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According to the Internet, schlock director Donald Farmer has dedicated fans. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that after watching Farmer’s latest release, a CG-plagued digital horror about a demonically-possessed shark. Shark Exorcist is a dirt cheap production, a winking, lazy B-picture that can’t even clear the low bar set by SyFy Channel mockbusters like Cowboys vs Dinosaurs and Lavalantula. It’s a shame, too, because the idea of Satan possessing a shark in a cheap slice of modern schlock was obviously enough of a hook to grab my attention, but the film has very little interest in following through on the potential of its own premise. Much like the carnie-esque film promoters of old, Donald Farmer seems like the kind of director who promises the world in his posters & trailers, but doesn’t care about actually delivering the goods once the tickets are sold.

A Satanic nun stabs an accuser to death near an urban lake & disposes of the body. She pleads to the water, “Lord Satan, accept my sacrifice! Send me an avenger.” Satan, the kindly obliging Lord that He is, answers her prayer in the form of a shark, or a red-tinted CG rendering of a shark. A year later a group of young girls are enjoying summertime leisure at the same lake, planning to “swim, work on your tan, just lake stuff.” One girl is bitten on the leg by the demon shark, naturally, and becomes possessed with its Satanic spirit. She freaks her friends out with her rapid recovery from the bite, sudden obsession with water, and (not least of all) serial murders using a vampiric set of shark’s teeth. A Catholic priest catches wind of the strange happenings of the demonic shark girl and makes it a personal mission to exorcise her body of the evil spirit. This lazy hybrid of The Exorcist & Jaws finally culminates with its natural conclusion, a reading of the line “We’re going to need a bigger cross!,” revealing the entire production to be a long setup to an empty punchline.

Normally, I would be all over a film with that exact plot, but Shark Exorcist is dedicated to a distinct lack of effort that makes the whole ordeal frustrating when it should be cheap fun. The bargain basement digital photography & soft core porn quality acting recall the midnight crowd favorite Birdemic, but without that film’s authentic, if misguided, sincerity. Characters in Shark Exorcist use smart phones that could easily make a higher quality picture than the one delivered (just look to last year’s Tangerine for proof). Local news reports & a reality television spoof called Ghostwalkers have a kind of Tim & Eric quality to their awkwardness in passing, but become frustratingly dull after long stretches. If this were a home movie or a high school project I might be able to give it a pass. I might even think it was kind of cute. As a production from an adult director who apparently has been making cult-minded schlock for decades, it registers as a lazy annoyance. The move is only 70 minutes long, but I got everything I could out of it in the first ten, which is not a great sign.

Still, because the premise is so damn silly, I could have forgiven all of Shark Exorcist’s sins if it had just delivered one simple thing: shark attacks. That’s all I ask. There are gallons of (embarrassingly unconvincing) blood in the film, but no true gore. After a shark bite the blood rests on the victims’ skin, with no attempt to give the illusion of a wound. Worse yet, there is not a single frame in Shark Exorcist where the demonic shark or its unsuspecting victim share the screen. The shark swims in a CG void and prepares to chomp. The victim, above water, screams. We then see their lifeless body, no point of contact depicted & no evidence of a wound.

I’m honestly curious about Donald Farmer’s career at this point, almost enough to double back and watch titles like Chainsaw Cheerleaders, Cannibal Hookers, and Vampire Cop. Surely as a man who’s been making B-pictures for decades he knows that a film this cheap needs to deliver the goods in term of gore or sex or something in order to make the price of admission worthwhile to his audience. The impression I get after watching Shark Exorcist is that he does, but he also doesn’t give a shit, which is a shame given the promise in this film’s premise. This is the rare case where a film might’ve actually benefited had its creator sold their idea to SyFy instead of making it themselves.

-Brandon Ledet

The Shallows (2016)

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In the four decades since Jaws first stalked theaters & nightmares, shark movies (along with a sharkless brand of Jaws knockoffs) have become something of a summertime tradition. The 2016 version of the giant shark creature feature is smart to recognize its place within this trashiest of cinematic traditions. The popcorn thriller The Shallows is brilliant in the way it keeps things simple. It’s Blake Lively in a neon bikini fighting off a CGI shark for 90min. What do you need, a road map? The film makes a few moves to update the summer shark flick formula for 2016 tastes, but for the most part keeps it simple as a lean, mean, and above all campy survival horror that plays surprisingly fresh in its earnest adoption of stale tropes & cheap surface pleasures.

In the opening scene a mysterious GoPro washes up on a secluded Mexican beach revealing footage of a vicious shark attack. Anyone conscious of horror trends over the last 15 years would be smart to worry in that moment that The Shallows might devolve into some dreadful found footage territory, but that mistake would make it a hangover from the post-Blair Witch aughts, when this film is very much concerned with being up to date (and instantly dated) with the cultural markers of 2016.The GoPro footage is just one aspect of a modern digital tapestry of Instagram, FaceTime, text message scrolling, and what have you. There’s a small pinch of cellphone addiction shaming mixed in that cocktail as our shark bait protagonist finds herself staring at a rectangular screen instead of the picturesque beach that surrounds her, but given the dangers that are lurking in that jaw-dropping slice of paradise, there isn’t much of a viable alternative to modern living presented. There’s also a vague metaphor about learning to fight against the odds in which battling the film’s gigantic shark antagonist is likened to battling cancer, but even that’s just a weak excuse for a visual feast of CGI shark mayhem, totally rad surfing montages, an sick ass pop music beats.

Watching a bodacious babe rip some waves in a neon bikini on a gorgeous beach setting at first recalls something like a Baywatch horror, but The Shallows has no problem delivering sheer terror when it has to. There’s so much swinging The Shallows in the direction of goofball camp: a couple especially silly encounters with CGI dolphins & jellyfish, a gratuitous explosion, a hideous model of a whale carcass, a caricature of a witless drunk so over the top it could’ve existed in the 1930s, a puke-eating sidekick named Steven Seagull (who’s easily up there with Black Phillip for Animal of the Year), etc. Even the film’s basic 1-shark-vs.-1-woman premise has a campy appeal to it. However, the shark attacks do have a real gravity to them as well. There’s intense gore in the film’s moments of self surgery & genuine heart-racing thriller beats when our hero & her friend the seagull have to stave off real-life dehydration & cabin fever. The Shallows is satisfied relegating itself to a 100% trashy surface pleasure ethos, but it doesn’t let up on the practical results of its central scenario’s violence & confinement and that dual goofy/scary balance is what makes this such effective summertime schlock.

It’s also worth noting that this woman-vs.-shark surf pop horror flick is also elevated by a really sharp, vibrant style of cinematography. The film’s set can look a little artificial in a corny way at night, as does its onscreen smartphone gimmickry, but its daytime photography can be strikingly beautiful, especially underwater. It’s tempting to give some of the credit for that effect to the scenic locale, but cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano (who also shot the minor cult classic Timecrimes) certainly deserves credit for affording this film a distinct sense of style. In certain moments of Blake Lively surfing or water turning blood red, Labiano’s lens recalls Spring Breakers hedonism turned into straightforward genre fare and the film looks way better than it has any right to. On top of being a surprisingly efficient little summertime thriller with killer shark mayhem & seagull humor, The Shallows is also purty to look at, however vapid its genre trappings may be. As far as escaping the season’s oppressive heat goes, there’s certainly far less satisfying ways to spend 90min enjoying darkness & the AC and, since this seasonal subgenre will likely never die, you’re sure to see way worse examples of shark horror in the future. You might as well enjoy one of the better examples we have in recent memory.

-Brandon Ledet