Frankenfish (2004)
By: Mr Intolerance on October 28, 2010  | 
Columbia Tristar | Region 2, PAL | 1.78: 1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 81 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Mark Dippe
Starring: Tory Kittles, KD Aubert, China Chow, Matt Rauch, Muse Watson, Raoul Trujillo
Screenplay: Simon Barrett, Scott Clevenger
Country: USA
External Links
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I love creature-features. As a kid, they were staples of my video diet, and as an adult (supposedly), my love for them has led me to some pretty rewarding films (can you say Boa Vs Python?), and at times, some that were not so hot (Alligator 2, anyone?). Frankenfish is a film that, if like me you dig the idea of fish genetically mutated with snakes so that not only do they become homicidally predatory but can exist on land as well as in the water, entertains admirably, without being the Next Big Thing in horror movies. The format of the 1950s horror/sci-fi film is adhered to quite well, smothered as it is by a truckload of (admittedly very tasty) cheese.

Something down in Otley, in the middle of the Louisiana bayou, is killing people. And it's not satisfied with merely killing them, it's eating them as well. So Sam Rivers, a Medical Examiner, and Mary Callahan (one hot tamale indeed – we like a female scientist in a skimpy bikini-top, 'round these parts), a biologist from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries are sent to examine what at first are written off as alligator attacks, or maybe the work of a bull shark. Whatever it is, it's something that's capable of tearing the head off of a fully grown alligator, which Rae and Sam find when getting near the small, reclusive swamp community that's about to be targeted by some nasty pieces of work indeed.

And in short order, we get to meet the rest of said community – Ricardo, a loopy and violent Vietnam vet, a couple of dope-smoking nudist hippies, Elmer, a nice enough old-timer with a novel way of catching cat-fish, and the family of the dearly departed – Gloria, who's got more than a passing interest in voodoo (and who believes that the bayou is cursed), her smokin' hot daughter Eliza (who, it is revealed in the most unlikely plot device of all time, used to have a crush on Sam in high school – yes, he was a part of this community too), and Eliza's drunken, self-piteous boyfriend Dan, who plays a part kind of like that of Cooper in Night Of The Living Dead – annoying, unlikeable and yet the only person who'll talk about the elephant in the room. That's not the only similarity this film has to Romero's zombie classic, either. Oh, and it's important to note that all of these people live on houseboats on the river.

Now that we've established our cast and crew, we need a bit more in the way of plot. So we find out that John (the first of many victims, whose death we see in the opening scene of the film) had been fishing near some strange boat that had drifted upstream after a hurricane. And in turn, we find that the boat had a very special, and very deadly, cargo. When Elmer takes Sam and Mary to investigate said boat, more clues come to light, and Sam unwittingly triggers a homing beacon that immediately gets the interest and attention of the boat's owner, who is extremely keen to meet up with his cargo – or more precisely, to hunt them down.

Sam and Mary also find the remains of the crew on the boat, prompting Mary to vomit over the side of the boat. This protein spill of hers ends up attracting some very unwanted attention – namely, one Frankenfish, which Sam and Mary unfortunately lead back to the houseboat coomunity in the middle of the swamp. Tom Stoppard once wrote about tragedy saying "the bad end unhappily, the good die unluckily" – and we're about to see that dictum put to the test right here. Oh, and that reference I made to Night Of The Living Dead before comes back again, as we enter a deadly siege situation that can't be fixed by the protagonists we already have on stage, as it were – remember that they're all on houseboats, therefore surrounded by water, which the fish live in, although these genetically modified bloodthirsty bastards are basically amphibious and do very well on dry land, thank you very much. And it's a very effective and tense stand-off between man and fish, let me tell you. A lot of the characters come to some superbly bloody ends, and the director makes the most of the isolated context of the characters, and their lack of weaponry (one handgun, one shotgun, both with limited ammo) to really amp up the white-knuckle, edge-of-the-seat feeling this part of the film provokes. And it does so surprisingly well, admirably well in fact, given the low budget constraints of the film.

However, help does arrive on a fanboat in the shape of Geoff, the hunter who commissioned the creation of the Frankenfish (he wanted something more exciting to hunt – apparently, if it can hunt you back, that's a better experience), and a bunch of his henchmen (one of whom I'd swear is Al Swearengen's right hand man in Deadwood) and some high-powered weaponry, who have turned up for the thrill of the hunt – but really not as well prepared as they'd like to think. I think we all know the fate of macho arseholes in the average horror film, but given that our heroes' lives are now attached to theirs, the tension remains, even if the last act of the film basically turns into a pretty pat action sequence that kind of lets down the previous third of the running time – although only a little, and there's one bit of goodness you will probably applaud right at the very end of the film – not to mention one totally outrageous method of dispatch for one of the Frankenfish which had me fall of my sofa at its level of awesomeness (and possibly due to the fact that by that stage of the film, I totally had my drink on).

One thing I will say about Frankenfish is that it doesn't skimp on the nasty. It's a very bloody film, to say the least, even if much of the gore is CG – although the appliance gags are pretty good; the comedy decapitation of one character is hilarious. And despite the fact that it's a tremendously likeable film, at times with the kind of vibe that Tremors possesses, it is utterly unsympathetic to its cast of characters. I was particularly surprised by one character's untimely demise, having half of their face blown off in a totally random shotgun accident. That all said, there's also a fair amount of comedy in Frankenfish, often found in Dan's ironic commentary on the events as they unfold, or occasionally through the almost slapstick black comedic violence the Frankenfish unleash upon our heroes.

Oddly enough, the story has a kind of factual basis on an incident in Crofton, Maryland, in the US, where an invasive species of snakehead fish (apparently a delicacy, as well as being vicious appetites with fins who can actually walk short distances on land) took up residence in a municipal pond. After the pond was poisoned to kill the unwanted visitors, six adult snakeheads were found, and over one thousand young – which is kind of scary, when you think about it. Oh, and bear that last fact in mind when you watch the film, by the way. Although the adult snakeheads certainly weren't anywhere near as big as the bastards in this film. The premise was mined again in another low budget film from about the same time called The Snakehead Terror, although I've not seen that one, so no comment from me on that. Ahh, the exploitation industry – capitalising on the fears of the populace for over a hundred years…

Let Frankenfish into your life. It will entertain you greatly, and you can't ask for more than that from a film. At 81 minutes, there's not a wasted second, and while the basic premise might read as a little silly, it's a great deal of fun at the same time. Part Night Of The Living Dead, part Tremors, part Jaws, part every 50s creature-feature you've ever seen, it's an absolute hoot, especially, as I can tell you from personal experience, if you watch it with a pissed-up bunch of like-minded folks. Go on – you know you want to!
Frankenfish has a DTV feel to it which the editing and averagely rendered CG wasn't helping. Mind you, that's just one more endearingly hokey element to bring you into the film and love it. An anamorphic picture presented in the OAR, sharp and clear, although I found the contrast levels quite glaring at times, given its generally dark picture.
The 5.1 audio track is more than adequate to the task at hand. Although I had to ask myself, do fish actually growl?
Extra Features
Absolutely nothing.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Frankly (sorry), they had me at the title. And while despite the connotations that the prefix "Franken" might indicate (sadly there are no Victor Frankenstein mad scientist types on offer here), what you get here is a taut and effective slice of cheesy creature-feature mayhem and carnage that goes all out to entertain at all costs. This is best viewed with mates and beer (watching it by yourself is not quite as much fun, as I discovered to my chagrin) as it gleefully plays with the conventions of the monster movie films of yore, updated with gore and some occasional boobs - and a knowing wink to the audience. Playful and self-aware with some great boo-scares, Frankenfish is a worthy, if not essential, addition to your collection.

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