For me, it started a few Christmases ago when my friend Pixie gave me a copy of Snakes on a Train as a present.
As I gave the film a spin on my DVD player, I was bored to death by the hackneyed dialogue and attempts at grossing me out. I stuck with it as something was telling me this could be a sign of something really special brewing. Very often, in the advanced stages of “bad movie watching” the reward comes in the form of a massively goofy scene rewarding your patience for having endured the rest of the filler.
Many people call me crazy for having that sort of patience but I equate it to watching football where you spend up to three hours vegetating in front of the TV so you can be sure to catch that most exciting 5 second play the color commentator will go ballistic over, calling it historic and what not.
So as I watched the curse of the snake god cause passengers to barf up jelly worms into mason jars, I was lulled into the perfect state of mind to question my own sanity when this happened:
Needless to say, I stood up and paid attention. This was my first encounter with The Asylum’s house specialty “The mockbuster”.
Mockbuster titles are the perfect blend of “Direct to video” clone and “Variation on a popular title” title which, during most of the VHS era, was really the domain of porn (Remember Edward Penishands? How about Foreskin Gump?).
But it was really during an interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC radio’s Q (which I would link to if it wasnt for CBC’s site being so unreliable and tortuous) that Company founder David Michael Latt really caught my attention. During the course of the interview, Ghomeshi- an incurable Torontonian hipster- clowingly asked “So who makes up your audience? Stoners?”. Latt answered very succinctly “You know what? We don’t know. And …I know this is going to sound terrible… we don’t care!”. Latt went on to explain how he used to starve waiting to line up a film for the “respectable” festival circuit where it took years to get a film financed and even longer to see money from it. “We’re like really bad drug addicts” he continued. “We’re addicted to making movies and telling stories.”
A trip to their website will convince you. They are proud of their “attitude problem”.
Turns out, the first “mockbuster” came about when a buyer for a large chain asked Latt what he really wanted to do. Latt responded by mentioning he always wanted to do H.G.Wells’ War of the Worlds but now Spielberg had beaten him to it. The client pointed out the novel was in the public domain and that he’d take 100 000 copies of Latt’s version. It was released on video the day before Spielberg’s version came out.
To Latt, this was quite a change from the usual “get ready to starve” route of respectable film financing. And so began a long series of film titles that both amuse and confuse denizens of the video aisles: Transmorphers, The Day the Earth Stopped, The Almighty Thor and what has to be the greatest direct-to-video expoitation title of all time (although the movie is really baaaaaad) Titanic II.
So it’s really about a boat named the Titanic II which sets sail on the 100th anniversary with high tech equipment which will make collision with an iceberg impossible- unless the iceberg is thrown at the ship by a giant tsunami. Roland Emerich, eat your heart out!
What Latt has achieved is a business model which allows him and his crew to make up to 15 films a year that all make money. It’s the ultimate throwback to the golden days of Roger Corman at AIP or the early days of Troma.
But what makes films from The Asylum so fun watch is that hey have absolutely no shame! Case in point: this scene from MegaShark vs Giant Octopus which they themselves have posted on YouTube as “The Greatest Movie Scene Ever”.
Now this is one company that has grasped Exploitation King Kroger Babb’s motto: “Sell the sizzle- not the steak.”
It doesn’t stop there. In the follow-up, MegaShark vs Crocosaurus, there’s a scene where the Megalodon swallows an entire nuclear submarine which leads to the best line of dialogue fro 2010: “You can’t fire now: THE SHARK’S GONE NUCLEAR!”
The age old formula of hiring “name actors” ( has-beens, frankly) is carried over from the days of the drive-in. Today’s faded stars finding new fame on SyFy and the DVD bargain bin include disgraced sitcom stars like Jaleel (“Urkel”) White (paying the fees generated by being a defendant in a domestic violence case) or near forgotten blips of the pop music scene like Debbie Gibson and Tiffany (who get in some violence of their own in a onscreen catfight in MegaPython vs Gatoroid.).
Perhaps the best compliment that’s been paid The Asylum is by Roger Corman who has rebooted his B-movie production with a vengeance, selling to the same customers films that sound similar like DinoShark, Sharktopus or the recently announced Pyrhanaconda.
I’d venture to say that they are the only filmmakers in America who are NOT in denial of what they do. They don’t spend hundreds of millions to convince us their films are high art. They make crap and they know it. They embrace whole heartedly the genres they exploit and they do deliver the goods with extra cheese and gravy.
For a cinemasochist, watching a movie from The Asylum is like a trip to the Dominatrix!
But there is more to The Asylum than just providing similar titles to big Hollywood hits. They also advance the cause of literature. Remember how comics used to adapt classic novels and those adaptations would serve as the basis of so many book reports? Well now the Asylum also adavances the cause of reading by offering steroid-enhanced adaptations of the classics such as tis version of Moby Dick where a nuclear sub commander goes after the giant prehistoric whale that got his leg.
Somewhere there’s a grade 4 teacher reading a book report and going “nuclear, really”?
And, just like Kroger Babb had The Prince of Peace (a staging of the Passion of the Christ by actors with southern accents) to sell to theatres which didn’t care for his sexy exploitation titles, they also have branched out into a sister company called Faith Films with asininely family-safe titles like The Princess and The Pony.
Now THAT, is audacity!