90210 Shark Attack (2014)


To understand what you are seeing in 90210 Shark Attack, you have to go in with some basic knowledge of director/producer David DeCoteau.

In the late '80s and early '90s, David DeCoteau's films could be counted on for two things: boobies. Lots of them. Specifically, the boobies of scream queens like Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, Julie Strain, and Brinke Stevens (my personal fave of the bunch, and ex-wife and model of the late Rocketeer creator, Dave Stevens). I got to know his name well and count on him for quality in that department (and that department only, really). In films like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Creepozoids, Nightmare Sisters, and Dr. Alien, DeCoteau kept scream queen fans happy while also providing Joe Bob Briggs with plenty of material on his Drive-In Theatre show. DeCoteau also released films under the name "Ellen Cabot" as well, such as Beach Babes from Beyond, and its sequel, Cave Girl Island (which each featured Roxanne Blaze aka Sara Bellomo, a former porn actress turned scream queen). He even found time to direct Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge in that period.

DeCoteau started out as a teenager working for Roger Corman, got into editing, writing and producing, had a brief spin directing hardcore XXX features in the mid '80s (both gay and straight), and started his run of over 100 direct-to-video (and now on-demand) features with Dreamaniac in 1986. In 1997, he had a more public coming out with a personal film titled Leather Jacket Love Story, that played the festival circuit, his only film to do so. Since then, DeCoteau's films became more aggressive in their gay content, and where it used to be standard for his scream queens to take off their bikinis and get in a hot tub, he now uses those scenes to have hot young studs slowly strip off their shirts and step into softcore soapy shower scenes.


I don't think he came to eat dinner...
He still makes film after film, and most are made in three days to a week's time. He started a successful gay horror series (for its target market) called 1313, and he now balances his productions between mostly horror films and occasional children's movies such as A Talking Cat!?! and An Easter Bunny Puppy. That DeCoteau is an industry unto himself is evidenced by the fact that he has already released six films in 2016 with two more completed and ready for release.


Marcie and Bryce... the Howells
of this Gilligan's Island.
Which brings me to 90210 Shark Attack. Naturally, the name conjures up an immediate connection to the old show from the '90s, Beverly Hills 90210. Assuming before watching it that this film is supposed to be a spoof of the show, and knowing that Beverly Hills is rather landlocked, I had guessed the characters would either have to make an outing to a local beach area to have a shark attack them or there would have to be some otherworldly or supernatural means to convey the sharks to Beverly Hills. Well, apart from its name, its habit of using stock footage shots of the Beverly Hills area and its famous street signs, and the fact that its characters are supposed to be high school students (I guess?) on a field trip, 90210 Shark Attack is not really a spoof of the show. None of the characters are named even close to the show's characters, nor are personalities of the characters replicated or even attempted. It takes place in Beverly Hills, nothing more. But I was right in guessing that something supernatural brings the shark into the area: a cursed shark-tooth necklace worn by the main character.


Alyssa has a secret, but it's probably not
about who did her highlights...
The film starts out with the stock footage that I mentioned, accompanied by bland '90s-style synth music and "wacky" animation of a guy, a shark wearing sunglasses, and a turtle riding on top of a wave on surfboards. The guy screams and goes under the wave as the shark practically drools over the sight of the guy (or at least a badly animated approximation of it; for all this, the shark could be a stand-in for the director filming a young stud in a soapy shower scene). We see a shot of the Beverly Hills Hotel and a sign for Beverly Hills and then a shark rushes right at the camera underwater.


This is not a great white shark...
Following a generic shot of a beach, we hear a narrator talk about the beauty and power of the great white shark and how she didn't realize just how powerful it was until today. The problem is the first shot of a shark that we see is not a great white shark. The next shot actually is a great white, but grunting and growling noises have been added as it snacks on some bait (sharks don't make noise), the third shot is a computerized graphic of a white, and the fourth is full-on computer animation of two great whites. It's quite a mix, but it shows that DeCoteau really didn't care what shark footage he used as long as he had any footage of sharks at all. We are then shown a black-and-white scene, seemingly a flashback (which always looks odd with video because all they did was desaturate it of color) of the lead character, Alyssa, being told that she should talk to someone about what happened, and then we see a beheaded man lying on the ground (actually a guy in swim trunks lying face down with his head over the side of the pool to save money on a more expensive effect).


Just so you know what has her
(and the director's) interest...
The film then shows us a graphic that says "24 Hours Earlier" after which we are introduced to a series of "high schoolers," who all look far too old to be such (not anything new with that in Hollywood), as they gradually enter a quite palatial BH estate that has been rented for the class to stay in during their "field trip". In no time at all, one spoiled rich kid couple, Bryce (whose dad owns the house) and Marcie, end up getting it on upstairs, but DeCoteau, as a director, is not really interested in their idiotic lovemaking session. He is more interested in another guy downstairs, Tyler, who strips down to his shorts by the pool while standard softcore movie seduction music plays (it would be interesting to find out how often DeCoteau has used the same piece of music over the years, but I really don't want to watch the films to find out). Tyler is unknowingly watched from inside by one of the other girls, Jess, who kind of gets a weird look on her face, you know, the kind you get in a movie where you turn from the normal, possibly good girl early on in a film to leering voyeur in the turn of fourteen seconds. The camera then practically fondles Tyler for several minutes while he takes a slow, rather boring swim.


Scream queen Donna Wilkes now...
Soon enough, we meet the "kids'" teacher, Miss Pamela, who is played by Donna Wilkes, a rather important cog in the film. In the DeCoteau style that still stands to this day, hiring a scream queen – even a former scream queen – means getting more people to check the movie out in the video store (once upon a time) and now on demand. Wilkes has definite scream queen credentials, serving as the teen female lead in Jaws 2 (she was described in that film as having "tits like a sparrow" but damn, we thought she was cute back in the day), creepy Klaus Kinski's daughter in Schizoid (1980), and the lead in Angel (1984), where she played a teenage prostitute being stalked by a serial killer. (The cult classic sparked a series, but she was not in the sequels, her character taken over first by the even cuter Betsy (Tomboy) Russell, then Mitzi Kapture, and finally saw Angel going blonde in the form of Darlene Vogel.) Wilkes was also in Hello, Larry, a spinoff of Diff'rent Strokes, where she played MacLean Stevenson's teenage daughter, and if those aren't scary credentials, then nothing is. Hell, I was so into her back as a teenager that I remember her being in episodes of The Incredible Hulk and Gimme a Break. Wilkes stopped acting around 1991, until DeCoteau brought her back for a couple of his films including this one, and I can't imagine the pay was all that great judging from the budget of the film.


...and Wilkes in her heyday as
Angel in 1984.
Surprisingly, Wilkes is not bad in the film, or else I am just really grasping for something – anything! – even casually worthwhile in what is a pretty threadbare production. She at least does the best she can with the role, and there is a marked difference between her acting style (rather more professional) than that of her "born on third base" co-stars. (I'm just saying that she paid her dues...) While Wilkes may no longer be the thin, young thing she used to be, DeCoteau not only wrote his only name actress a villainous role but also gave her character an ongoing affair with the handsome twink from the pool scene, which I am sure Wilkes must have enjoyed greatly. Since it is alleged that a fair-sized section of DeCoteau's audience is also comprised of women who enjoy the well-shot scenes of scantily clad, buff men (the scenes are never raunchy or even close to pornographic, just racy and teasing; he knows his various crowds), I can imagine there is some Harlequin Romance wish fulfillment at play here for that set as well. (More on this creepy teacher-student junk after a couple more paragraphs; I can only handle so much at a time.)


Tyler could never get "Blue Steel" quite right...
The main character, Alyssa, is a troubled girl that is much put upon by the rest of the kids, and is seen as a nerd and an outcast in the mold of Carrie White (as in, you know, Stephen King's Carrie). The problem with this angle is that Alyssa is every bit as attractive as the other girls in the film, and frankly, from my viewpoint, more so. But they call her stupid, and make fun of her for being quiet and withdrawn, all because her dad was a famous oceanographer who died under mysterious circumstances amongst a tribe of Indians who worshipped the great white shark. Since she was there when he died, and also wears a shark tooth necklace in memory of her father, which she fingers constantly throughout the film, it is not hard to figure out where this is going.

There is a funny bit where Miss Pamela is running through the course for the class, and Marcie asks that since her parents live in La Jolla, can she just interview them for her term paper. Miss Hanson says she "needs to choose a slightly older indigenous culture," but Marcie counters that her folks "have been members of the yacht club for, like, twenty years." It would be nice if more of the film were clever, even in little bits, but so much of the film is simply watching DeCoteau spinning his wheels while he builds to his meager effects scenes in what is actually a quite short film (only 75 minutes, and the credits kick in at the 68 minute mark).

As a result, 90210 Shark Attack does play like any standard softcore "Skinemax" flick for most of its running time. For example, in one scene, Tyler sneaks around at night and calls out the teacher's name. She doesn't answer and so he goes into her room and explores. Because it is exactly this type of film (and mind you, we don't know about their quite illegal "relationship" as of yet), he turns on the shower and takes off his clothes, the seductive music starts again, and there are several closeups of his lower torso just above "that region". It is twink paradise. We get a shot of the ocean. Alyssa plays absentmindedly with her necklace on her bed, while Pamela checks on her from the door. Pamela then goes to her own room and sees her door is open. Curious, she hears the shower running and walks in to see Tyler taking a shower. Just as we are expecting her to be shocked, she smiles and watches him slowly massage his chest and shoulders. The camera lingers on his lower torso again and she licks her lips slightly. She is a dirty old lady. He stops the shower, turns and sees her, smiles and asks, "So teach, like what you see?" "I do, but you'll have to do some extra credit." He says she should be paying him by now, and she replies angrily that he'll get his when she gets hers, and that's always been their agreement. She storms off and he says he was only kidding. It turns out that Pamela is planning a book about Alyssa's father and that the caring teacher thing is only a ruse to get closer to the girl. She wants a bestseller and a movie based on the bestseller out of it, and Tyler wants to play himself in the movie. Just as they are about to kiss, there is a crashing noise. They both think it is Bryce, and Tyler says, "If you don't kill Bryce, I will." (Please, someone kill someone... we are 38 minutes into the film, and no one has been killed yet, by a shark or anyone else.)


It's time to meet the Muppets...
And what about those sharks? I mean, apart from quite frequent interruptions by even more stock footage sharks, most of them not great whites, interspersed with more generic beach shots and Beverly Hills stock footage of signs and buildings. Well, for actual shark scenes that are involved in the plot of the film we get seemingly sweet but put-upon Alyssa and her magical shark tooth necklace. It is going to come as no surprise to anyone who watches even two minutes of this film that the necklace is going to play a part and that Alyssa is secretly evil. It just takes the film 46 minutes to show us the first non-flashback sample of what she can do. Because of how her father treated the Indians he discovered on his travels, a curse placed on his daughter via the necklace allows the top half of her body to change briefly into a small great white shark. In moments of passion or anger, she starts to glow, and then transform, and bite the heads off of her victims. 


...on The Muppet Show tonight!
The effect is really silly and destroys any horror that is meant to be conveyed by the scenes. The shark looks more like a hand-puppet than anything else and we only see the creature for about a second or two at any given time, and never see anything more than the quite sudden transformation. (There are no actual shots of the Alyssa Shark attempting to clumsily chomp onto someone's head or grab their arm. If there had, though, I may have rated this film higher, because how hilarious would that have been?) Any violence is off-camera and nothing is seen until a body is found later (though only in a couple of cases). So, technically, you never actually even see a "shark attack" within the film.

Not that DeCoteau really cares. He gets his slow swimming scene, he gets his soapy shower scene, he gets his scream queen appearance to wrangle a few more of the curious to his film, and he gets to put it out with a poster that in no way shows anything that even approximates what happens inside the film. The poster shows the three "teen" female leads in their bikinis (which we never fully get) standing in the ocean surrounded by sharks (the girls standing in the ocean never happens nor do we ever shark fins surrounding anyone at any time). As I just mentioned, there is also no real shark attack seen in the movie. If one could sue DeCoteau for false advertising, one might have a slim case. Hell, the class is never even seen out on their ocean field trip, or even near the goddamned ocean, in the film; they could have spent less than $500 for the lot of them on a dolphin cruise in an afternoon and used the footage to convince us they went as a class. Instead, we just get more stock footage – shot after dull shot – of sharks that are mostly not great whites.


The "beheading" pool scene, first in color,
 and then in fake "black and white"...
90210 Shark Attack seems to be caught in a strange place for me. Given DeCoteau's background, and the setting and characters in the film, if he had just made a flat-out pornographic film with the same plot, I would probably rank this higher. Why? Honesty. If that sounds odd to you, imagine you just watched a film called 90210 Shark Attack, that never really acts or gets near being a real spoof of the TV show it is clearly playing (and trying to make a dime) off, that never gives us a visible shark attack within its frames despite its title, and that talks about the power of the great white shark but does it (without tongue in cheek) over stock shots of sand tigers and other sharks. And when DeCoteau does show great whites, half the time they are CGI sharks (as is the monster in the film). I feel that, as a viewer of the film, I have been ripped off in watching it.

If he had made a hardcore film with the same plot, the film may be equally as shitty, but I may not feel quite as ripped off overall. DeCoteau already has a solid porno set-up (groups of young adults pretending to be teens breaking off into various sexual pairings into a gorgeous house that was rented for the occasion, pool scenes, shower scenes, and a teacher-student affair), it would have been far more honest. I know its common to look down one's nose at an X-rated scene and say (in a pinched voice effect) "That's not what sex is like in real life" and in many instances, yes, depending on the scene, number of participants, orifices included, and when and how it finishes, you might be right. For most people, that's not what sex is like. But the "act" of sex onscreen is a real act. However false the emotions involved on the part of the players (if they are even necessary to the scene in question), we see it being committed to onscreen, and for the viewer, it gives you something solid (pun absolutely intended) in return for your time spent watching it and possible investment in its viewing. 90210 Shark Attack could even remain the same film the rest of the way through, with the addition of hardcore sequences – DeCoteau could keep the same stupid stock footage, blah, blah, blah – and it would immediately seem like a more honest effort than the tripe with light softcore moves he put out in real life.


Beware anyone with a shark tooth necklace... Hey!
Wait a minute... I have one of those!
I would be tempted to rate this film even lower, but there is a small hitch. There is a certain competency to what looks like a piss poor end product. You can look at DeCocteau's low-budget films and think they are just crap across the board, but for all their faults, these films are still proficiently manufactured crap from an assembly line that knows exactly what it wants to put out and for whom they are making it. The actors may not be great, but there are far worse actors out there, the video camerawork is professional porno studio competent, the settings are well-chosen for a sort of aesthetically bland beauty, and the cast is mostly rather attractive. You could do a lot worse in a visual sense. Sure, it falls apart in every other category that I have already discussed.

But what we have really learned here are two things: 1) DeCoteau needs a far deeper stock footage library or at least an account with a good online resource, and 2) the next time he decides to do a stupid shark film, he needs to hire someone who can do some basic research into sharks. I believe that I may be available...

RTJ


90210 Shark Attack (2014)
Dir.: David DeCoteau
TC4P Rating: 2/9
Species: great whites (in stock footage and computer-generated images), a cartoon shark on a surfboard in the opening, and a bunch of other sharks in obvious aquarium shots that are supposed to be in the ocean and other stock footage shots that are sometimes supposed to be great whites because the filmmakers either don't know the difference or don't care. And then a girl with a magical necklace whose top half transforms into a miniature great white shark... don't ask.
Post a Comment

Popular Posts