The Film: 3.5/5
At the same time a small group of prisoners from an Arkansas women’s prison are being transported to a work assignment, a fracking accident rips Earth a new hole and unleashes some vicious sharks whose existence dates back to prehistoric times and who are seriously hungry for some warm human flesh. Even before they notice the aquatic killing machines cutting a bloody swath through the backwoods bayou, the comely felons have another difficult dilemma on their well-manicured hands: gorgeous inmate Anita (Cindy Lucas) has been in cahoots with her fiery redhead lesbian lover Honey (Dominique Swain) to orchestrate a daring escape from federal custody while the prison van is on the road. The breakout goes according to plan at the start, but once the shark attacks begin our hostages and their curvaceous captors must take shelter in a nearby cabin that happens to come equipped with a hot tub for the ladies to get in the occasional relaxing soak. Their downtime doesn’t last long because these toothy beasts are blessed (for them anyway) with the ability to leave the water and burrow beneath the earth to pursue their prey. Honey and Anita are forced to unite with the other prisoners, their law-abiding guards, and a private stockpile of heavy artillery as their escape plan becomes an intense battle for their survival and the future of the human race. A few miles away in a moderately related B-plot, detectives Patterson (Traci Lords) and Levine (Corey Landis) track the fleeing felons’ every movement and stay conveniently five steps behind the rest of the story.
Sexy women in t-shirts so tight you can count their every areola, lusty lesbian kiss exchanges, and monsters making meals out of moronic meatballs. Smells like Jim Wynorski spirit. The Roger Corman protégé who made such shamelessly entertaining drive-in exploitation masterpieces as The Lost Empire, Not of the This Earth, The Return of Swamp Thing, and Sorceress is back with his latest mutant beast run amok epic for SyFy. The beautifully titled Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre is one tasty hunk of B-movie goodness, chock full of schlock and loaded with everything that makes for a memorable film viewing experience (with the notable exception of wall-to-wall female nudity – damn you, SyFy). Massacre wastes no time in unleashing the beasts and introducing us to a savory menu of their potential lunchtime indulgences, but you might be pleasantly surprised at who survives and who doesn’t, and what is left of them. This is Wynorski doing what he does best; SyFy’s “original” monster movies are usually tepid wannabe spectacles that can’t even succeed at being mildly engaging diversions, but when Wynorski takes the helm of one of them, you know it’s going to be loads of unpretentious enjoyment.
Each character postures as if they were posing for their own movie poster and speak strictly in the pulpiest of clichés, but the cast performs their roles competently and no one ever threatens to fall prey to stage fright when they’re in front of the camera. Dominique Swain, whose most memorable screen credits include Adrian Lyne’s adaptation of Lolita and John Woo’s best American feature Face/Off, brings plenty of attitude and presence to her role, while her on-screen girlfriend Cindy Lucas delivers some much desired tenderness during their romantic interludes. The lovely Christina Nguyen, a veteran of countless late night softcore cable skin flicks, is funny and gutsy as one of the braver inmates battling the hordes of flesh-starved creatures. Traci Lords’ starring role in Wynorski’s Not of This Earth remake helped her to build a legitimate acting career after leaving the West Coast XXX scene behind – and nearly in legal ruin – so she returns the favor nearly three decades later with a solid turn as the seasoned detective hot on the trail of the convicts. She has good chemistry with Corey Landis, playing her wise-cracking partner. That about does it for the standouts, but everyone does very well.
The visual effects rely as much on the practical as they do the digital, and the two worlds manage to work well together without cancelling each other out. Wynorski, who co-wrote the script with his Camel Spiders/Monster Cruise writer/producer William Dever (actor Landis is credited with “additional material”), keeps the pace from dragging with the help of editor Tony Randel (who served the same role on the director’s Dinocroc Vs. Supergator and Piranhaconda, among others, and also directed Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Ticks) and another ace music score from his longtime composer Chuck Cirino (Chopping Mall, Hard to Die).
Scream Factory’s 1080p high-definition transfer of Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre is framed in the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and presents the cinematography by David M. Rakoczy with vibrant colors and an unobtrusive clarity that doesn’t look overly digitized or sterile and manages to capture the swampy Florida filming locations in all of their mucky, humid glory. The mildly diffused appearance of the outdoor scenes never become distracting. The Blu-ray comes with two English language DTD-HD Master Audio options; the 5.1 track is very spacious, uncluttered, and boasts audible dialogue and solid volume levels and is definitely the best way to go if you’re watching the movie on a home theater, but the 2.0 track works just as well if you’re not. English subtitles have also been included.
Special features include a stills gallery and a trailer, but the crown jewel here is a raucous commentary with director Wynorski and two of his fetching leading ladies, Cindy Lucas and Amy Holt. Clearly the trio is having a ball recording the track and it often veers off in directions unrelated to the main feature much to Wynorski’s amused consternation. The mood is infectious and the commentators do get to share many memories of the filming of Sharkansas, how they came to be involved with it, homages to classic creature features past, and their thoughts on the final product. Wynorski commentaries usually don’t disappoint, so I’m happy to report this one doesn’t prove to be the exception to the rule.
Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre promises sexy women fighting mean monsters with energy and humor and it delivers. The result is less than ninety minutes of wholesome mindless fun made with intelligence and performed with boundless enthusiasm. Considering that most big-budget Hollywood spectacles typically fail to make good on a fraction of what they promise, Sharkansas is quite the achievement. The Scream Factory Blu-ray is worth at least one watch, maybe two if you feel like firing it up again to enjoy that terrific commentary track.