WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
Roger Corman, the mighty “King of the B’s” has always had an eye for discovering new talent. Because of him, the world was introduced to the likes of Jack Nicholson, Ron Howard, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Rob Bottin, and a slew of others who have left an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape. But among this pantheon of famous names, there is another man who has managed to carve out his own impressive b-movie fiefdom within Corman’s domain: Jim Wynorski!
With over a hundred films under his belt as a director, Wynorski (the uh… Prince of the B’s? The Duke of the B’s, A-Number-1?) is still going strong today, with a constantly expanding filmography of creature features and skin-flicks. Though I honestly haven’t watched a lot of his more recent films, I hold many of Wynorski’s earlier efforts in high regard, most notably CHOPPING MALL, THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING, SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE II, and yes, even his two MUNCHIE flicks!
So you can imagine my delight when I got my paws on a Blu-ray of Jim Wynorski’s SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE! One of my favorite low-budget directors helmed a movie that contained elements from women in prison films, and killer shark movies?! It sounded like a winning combination! I anticipated boobs, blood, and shark attacks galore, but unfortunately, this movie failed to meet my (not so lofty) expectations.
SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE features prehistoric sharks that are unwittingly released into an Arkansas swamp by a fracking company. Naturally this happens just as a group of gals from the Arkansas Women’s Prison are taken out to muck-country on a work detail. The crew, made up of Michelle (Christine Nguyen), Anita (Cindy Lucas), Shannon (Amy Holt), Sarah (Skye McDonald), and Samantha (Tabitha Marie), has a gratuitous shoveling montage (lots of slo-mo shots of ladies pouring water down their chests to cool off) before they hop back in a van to return to jail.
Along the way, they are hijacked by Honey (Dominique Swain), Anita’s lesbian lover. She forces the two guards and unwilling convicts to drive to a secluded hideout, where they soon come under attack by the film’s antagonists. Now, you may be rolling your eyes and thinking “why don’t they all just stay out of the water?” Under normal circumstances, you would be entirely correct to ask this question. However, Wynorski’s sharks have the ability to leave water and literally swim through mud and soil: These things are landsharks!
As the film reaches its final act, the surviving cons find a weapons stash, then team up with a lone prison guard, and a pair of geologists. They flee into a subterranean cave system to escape the sharks, because the creatures cannot burrow through stone. However they soon find that their exit to freedom is blocked by a deep underground pool that may or may not harbor unseen dangers just under the surface.
SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE promises so much, but delivers so little. It’s not fully a women in prison film (though it certainly contains numerous elements of the subgenre), and the much-promised sharks are hardly in the movie. There’s very little blood and no bare breasts, but I suppose that’s because this production was made for TV, which explains why this movie feels like a SyFy Original Picture.
This proves to be disappointing, because the premise would have been perfect for an over-the-top exploitation flick. But sadly, the proceedings are all very tame and watered down, resulting in an ultimately forgettable eighty-three minutes. With all that being said, I still found things to enjoy in SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE. There’s plenty of eye-candy on display here, and though there isn’t any nudity, that did not stop Jim Wynorski from tossing in plenty of cleavage shots, and even a brief hot tub scene.
The effects are a mixed bag, with the bulk of them being created with CGI, and some of it is surprisingly good. However, the sharks are never on the screen long enough to fully appreciate the hard work that went into their creation. (I suppose you could chalk that up to the film’s budget.) On the plus side, Wynorski regular Chuck Cirino composed some pretty cool music for the film, that definitely helps raise the bar.
The cast is mostly good, and everyone seems to be having a fun time, but I honestly can’t figure out why Corey Landis and Traci Lords are in this film. I’m not knocking their acting, as they are perfectly fine in their roles, but the characters they portray (Detectives Levine and Patterson respectively) don’t really accomplish much. Their presence doesn’t add anything more than some additional padding to the film’s run time.
In the end, I was pretty lukewarm towards SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE. It has all the elements of what could have been a hugely entertaining exploitation flick, but it just plays things way too safe. I realize it was made for TV, and that the production had a limited budget, but if you’re going to have busty women battling sharks that can swim on land, you’ve got to go big or go home.
SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE sadly falls short of getting a recommendation from yours truly, and seems destined to quickly fade away into obscurity. Though it pains me to do it, I can’t bring myself to give this movie anything more than:
The Packaging: The film comes in a standard Blu-ray case with slightly altered version of the original cover art. As a bonus, the back of the cover sleeve has a fun group photo of the film’s lady convicts.
Audio & Video: SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE is presented in 1080p high-definition in a 1.78:1 widescreen ratio. Since this movie was shot on digital a mere five months ago (as of my writing this review) I’m not shocked that the picture quality is crystal clear. The lone audio option on this disc is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and it is more than adequate. Every bit of dialogue, Chuck Cirino’s music, gunfire, and screams came through perfectly on my surround sound speakers.
The Extras: This release comes with a trailer, a four-minute still gallery that contains behind-the-scenes photos and some concept art, and a feature-length commentary track with Director Jim Wynorski, and actresses Amy Holt and Cindy Lucas. Said commentary is often disorganized (a moderator would have come in handy) but is definitely worth a listen.
It contains several fun anecdotes about the production (e.g. both Amy and Cindy complain about having to wear next to nothing in a cold swamp, then having to douse themselves with water for the film’s titillating “stump digging” montage), plus Wynorski points out all the women in prison moments he placed into the film (e.g. lesbianism, catfights, etc.), while Cindy Lucas marvels over Skye McDonald’s fantastic natural breasts.
Final Verdict: Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE isn’t anything special: The movie looks and sounds great, and the disc contains enough extras to warrant its fifteen dollar price-tag. If you’re hellbent on owning all of Scream Factory’s titles, then add this Blu-ray to your collection. Otherwise, I’d suggest you save your money for some of their bigger titles that are coming out this Summer. (Which include BAD MOON, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, JEEPERS CREEPERS, and MANHUNTER.)
While the movie itself didn’t totally rock my world, the disc is more than serviceable, and worthy of: