Marla’s Gardens Company/ United Film Organization. Director: Daniel Grodnik.
Creature Feature Bleacher Award: Most Successfully Comedic.
“Blue Demon” is a comedy in spurts. I can’t really classify it as a full-on sharksploitation farce, because many of its aspects remain serious, including— oddly enough— the sharks. Still, the film has enough bizarre humor and surreal situations to set it aside in a class of its own. I’m frankly surprised that I’d never heard of this film prior to my journey through the world of sharksploitation; it belongs at the fringes of our mainstream cultural memory. But perhaps, like a slab of beef being pounded by a meat tenderizer, I’ve become pliable and easy to impress. After all, after more than 30 of these sharksploitation travesties, “Blue Demon” was able to offer me something new.
Doctors Marla and Nathan Collins (Dedee Pfeiffer and Randall Batinkoff) work together on the U.S. military’s top-secret “Blue Demon” project, an attempt to genetically modify sharks into a coastal bomb defense network. Unfortunately for the doctors, the project is proceeding much better than their marriage, which is just about to end. But wait, perhaps I spoke too soon! The project takes a turn for the worse as the sharks escape and begin threatening the civilian population! They won’t respond to their computer controls, and boss Lawrence Van Allen (Danny Woodburn) begins breathing down the Collinses’ necks to fix the problem. Could it be that General Remora (Jeff Fahey) or lab assistant Avery (Josh Hammond) have something to do with the malfunctions?
As I said, “Blue Demon” has a decidedly comedic side to it, including a “Doctor Strangelove”-worthy performance by Jeff Fahey as General Remora (argh, stupid shark puns…). The actors handle themselves well, and there are some pretty good jokes to be had. Adding to the atmosphere is an oddly funky soundtrack and some clever editing (for example, a cut from a screaming girl’s mouth to the gaping maw of Nathan as he bites down on a sandwich). As far as humor and entertainment value goes, “Blue Demon” rates fairly high (relatively speaking, of course). If you enjoy sight gags, you won’t be disappointed, either.
Another sign of the film’s high quality is the attention it gives to its background characters. I especially enjoy the maintenance workers. It’s like the filmmakers thought, “We need a bikini babe and some guys to get eaten. Why not make them interesting?” Despite having only a few minutes of screen time, Ed, Jimmy and Jen provide more entertainment as supporting characters than most protagonists do in the course of an entire sharksploitation film. We immediately pick up on the fact that these three are good friends who genuinely care about and like each other. We know, for example, that they do shots together and playfully hide each other’s equipment. The fact that Ed and Jimmy never speak a word merely adds to the friendship. I wish all characters could be this simple and enjoyable.
Something that’s never quite explained in the film is why the U.S. military entrusted the Blue Demon project to the Air Force. I’m no military expert, but it seems to me that a bomb delivered by aquatic means to a target along the U.S. coast would more properly be the domain of the U.S. Coast Guard, or possibly the Navy. No one ever specifically mentions the fact that the Air Force is heading the operation, but it seems fairly obvious from the uniforms.
That being said, “Blue Demon” takes an interesting stance on the War on Terror. As the presidentially-appointed head of the Blue Demon project, General Remora covers up the escape of the killer sharks, justifying the resulting deaths as casualties of war. When Dr. Nathan Collins attempts to warn the public, Remora arrests and detains him on charges of terrorism. Collins then discovers that he can be held indefinitely, merely on the suspicion of being a terrorist. Though probably not destined to become a classic, “Blue Demon” reminds me very much of a modern-day “Doctor Strangelove.” I take it as a sign of our maturation as a country that we’ve replaced communist threats to our bodily fluids with shark-delivered dirty bombs.
The trailer reinforces the fact that “Blue Demon” isn’t a straight-up farce:
“Blue Demon” is available on Amazon.