Thursday, June 6, 2013

Soppy Cinema: THEY BITE (1996)

Pardon the nearly two week delay in our blogging.  I’m sure we were missed.  Truth is I’ve been busy saving the world from unwatched DVD-Rs while Tom has been traveling up and down the Golden State in an effort to avoid watching Albert Pyun’s COOL AIR (can you blame him?).  Anyway, we’ve got to get back into the swing of things so here is a tiny review about things that go bump in the night.  Or, more appropriately, things that go splash in the sea!

THEY BITE centers on some humanoids from the deep that are causing all sorts of problems down in Florida.  The film opens with a model and her photographer out on a pier.  She refuses to do topless shots for him but eventually relents on the condition that he stays far away for his shots.  Ah, the innocence of not knowing about a zoom lens. Anyway, he gets his shots and, showing she is such a free spirit, she dives into the water for a swim.  Bad move as an aquatic monster is lurking nearby and decides to chow down.  The photog does the responsible thing and leaps in to save her in the nick of time.  Just kidding…he stands with his mouth agape while taking pictures of her being clawed into a bloody mess.  Naturally, someone with such sharp fight-or-flight instincts does the next logical thing and anonymously mails his photos to the local police department.


And this is where our chaotic plot begins. A deputy decides to mail the photos to Melody Duncan (Donna Frotscher), an ichthyologist (one who studies fish) friend of his.  She is staying at a hotel where she is constantly being annoyed by the sounds of moaning and groaning coming from the adjacent room.  What exactly is going on in there?  Well, seems a porn company (including Ron Jeremy cast as a crew member…what!?!) is shooting their latest film, a porn parody of Rambo. Leading a scant crew of two on this magnum (condom) opus is director Mel Duncan (Nick Baldasare, star of the totally weird BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR).  Wait a sec…Melody Duncan…Mel Duncan?  I suspect some wacky mix up hijinx in the film’s near future. Indeed, Mel Duncan, porn auteur, ends up getting the highly secretive pics sent to Mel Duncan, fish fan.  Soon our director in charge is snooping to try and figure out just what these things are.  To help the locals?  Nah, his producer has totally fallen in love with making a movie called INVASION OF THE FISHFUCKERS. Naturally, these two name sharers must eventually team up and they better hurry because the beasts coming out of the sea seem to be growing in numbers and appear to be out of this world.

THEY BITE is a flick that has been on my radar ever since Gorezone mentioned it in a piece on independent horror cinema in the early 90s.  It eventually came out on VHS from MTI Entertainment in 1996, but trying to locate a copy to rent was a challenge in itself.  And this monster mash has inexplicably not hit DVD yet. However, thanks to recently becoming independently wealthy, I decided to take a plunge on the VHS.  Director Brett Piper was also familiar due to his involvement in the incredibly convoluted saga of what eventually became RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD (1986).  The one thing I knew about him is he loved to use practical and stop motion effects in his films and THEY BITE is no exception.  If you love some HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980), you’ll dig this film.  The monster suits are suitably gooey with lots of nice detail and there is a ton of cool FX throughout the film.  There is also a great faux trailer for INVASION OF THE FISHFUCKERS done in a 1950s style midway through the film. Perhaps the film’s highlight is a scene that feels like it was added after initial photography in order to up the blood, breasts and beasts factor. Playboy Playmate Susie Owens gets attacked by one of the beasts on the beach and ends up later attacking her lover with her fang-sporting lady parts.  Reminds me of a girl I once dated.  Anyway, it is true a one-of-a-kind moment in movie history (according to FEMME FATALES magazine, it garnered the film an NC-17 rating) and when you’re dealing with low budget cinema, moments like that can only raise a film in one’s esteem.


Such moments are important in helping the film surmount a rather wonky plot.  I’m not quite sure why Piper opted for such an odd porn filmmaker vs. fish doc set up – complete with the goofy “you got my mail” happenstance – that occasionally drags the film down as it splinters into odd directions.  The truth is the scattershot plot, which also includes some religious zealots, hurts the film at times when a straight up “monsters attack the locals” would have been sufficient.  Honestly, I wish Piper had done a more straightforward JAWS-type parody.  The film is, after all, a comedy of sorts and I’m saddened about the missed opportunities to poke fun at years of classic aquatic cinema. Perhaps the film is best known for being one of the first mainstream flicks to give porn legend Ron Jeremy as substantial supporting role.  He’s decent in his role and this was shot in the period before the Hedgehog – as Rodney Dangerfield as Thornton Mellon would say – ballooned up nicely.  And, contrary to what the Jeremy documentary PORN STAR (2001) would lead you to believe, he isn’t killed in this one.  Also, THEY BITE casts NYC comedian Charlie Barnett in one of his few acting roles (he was a supporting player on MIAMI VICE at the time).  Those are just two more reasons to see out this entertaining entry in the water logged history of soppy cinema, which also might win the award for best title of the 1990s.

Moments of Clarity:

5 Reactions:

  1. This sounds pretty awesome, although I agree that Piper doesn't do such a great job of closing the deal. I've seen a couple of his flicks at this point and they all are semi-enjoyable, but come up short of me actually recommending them.

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  2. Wiiliam - sorry to say, you were not missed and worse, no one noticed you gone. I feel sorry that Cool Air made Tom flee but I hope he doesn't get into a head on collision while texting words of gold. I really recommend you and your good friend Tom just ignore my films in the future as the films certainly ignore you both and only know that you ,exist because of your need to write about them. So make life better for all of us and stick to movies you don't mind writing about. You'll feel better and so will your vast audience. plus it gets real boring when you say the say thing 1000 different unimaginative and poorly written ways. I've had three films released so far this year and 3 more will come out before December. There's no way for you to stop it, so maybe cut to the chase just say you hate them now in advance and get that out of the way and your system. Then move on. My movies feel about you exactly the way you feel about them - in terms of writing, creative thought and entertainment value. So do everyone a favor and skip them, please (is there one?). The past two weeks the world's been a happier place, don't muck it up now. You can keep trying to become a decent writer but keep your day job.

    Albert Pyun

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  3. Oh wow, that is...something.

    Man, I don't know how Tom will feel knowing a director whose work he enjoys wishes that he died in a head on collision. And I thought we had fun letting you give some behind the scenes info on TALES and CAPTAIN AMERICA. I guess not. Oh well, Cynthia...er, Albert, your words are duly noted and we will reinforce the A.P.B. (Albert Pyun Ban)...after Tom watches COOL AIR.

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  4. Welcome Back William. Excellent review. Really funny stuff. I love Humanoids so I got my They Bite VHS on order.

    I'll watch Albert's RAVENHAWK tonight so Tom won't have to suffer alone.

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  5. Thanks Jason! Actually RAVENHAWK ain't so bad. It was made in the pre-Curnan era, shot on film with professional actors and crew, so it's quite watchable. At the time it was disappointing because I was expecting something in the league of SWORD AND THE SORCERER, NEMESIS or DOLLMAN. It's probably pretty entertaining in this era.

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