Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus
December 29, 2010
As someone who is genuinely disappointed not to live in a time where true “cult cinema” exists anymore I am in the very least fascinated by contemporary attempts to relive or reinvent these practices (the true meaning of cult cinema being an actually subversive act of viewing that resists and counters mainstream cinema-going culture as well as the dominant political and social ideological and repressive state apparatuses – for more on ISAs & RSAs see Louis Althusser). Having been to see Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003) not once but twice at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, I realised that contemporary attempts at acts of “cult cinema” have taken an entirely new direction and become, as is so often the case with popular culture’s willingness to adopt both the aesthetics and universalizing practices of postmodernism, ironically anti-cult.
Where audiences once went along to cinemas to see subversive content and innovative, artistic aesthetic modes of expressing that content, they now seem to go along in the hope that they can “ironically” enjoy something that is “so bad it is good”. Considering the original “midnight movies” (George A Romeo’s Night of the Living Dead 1968, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo 1970, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos 1972, Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come 1972, Jim Sharman & Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead 1977) and their strong anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-segregation aesthetic and moral projects, it almost seems as though contemporary efforts at cult are closer to being subject to a universalizing neo-liberalism than they are to counter-cultural intent.
As was the case with The Room, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009) is a film that has little to “say” and unlike the “bad taste” aesthetics attributed to the likes of John Waters, the “bad taste” here is bad “bad taste” and the only pleasure that an audience can derive from the viewing experience comes from derision in the first instance. Whilst low-budget aesthetics and a lack of formal sophistication might well be consistent with early forms of cult cinema it is difficult to reconcile that what was traditionally set up in opposition to the mainstream is now consumed very much in accordance with the mainstream. Certainly it is a lot harder to go along to a screening these days where you risk arrest than it was in the early 1970s and there is always in affording the resistant past with such intense nostalgia the risk of subsequently romanticising the oppression that it necessarily fought against, neither of which I am suggesting are desirable. However, what I am suggesting is that the risk only came because audiences were engaging in an actual act of subversion which is something that seems now to be entirely lost.
To return to the film at hand, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus is a low-budget, bad bad taste film that ultimately has as little subversive imagination as it has production values. And where this film has its greatest success is in itself becoming a type of ideological state apparatus. To explain that: in selling itself as a cult film that offers a contemporary version of cult cinema, the “event” of viewing this film appears to give audiences an outlet for revelry (much like Chaucer describes the annual revelry allowed to the masses during medieval times). However this outlet only further acts as an oppressant as it allows audiences to engage in the belief that they no longer need to rebel.
Now, what this means for audiences who want to attend Cinema Nova’s “Cult Cravings” remains to be seen. Certainly with enough alcohol and surrounded by good friends this can no doubt be an entertaining and enjoyable cinema experience. But as enjoyable or even as raucous as it has the potential to be, there is no doubt in my mind that without any real political or social subversion at play, it can never really satiate the true appetite of a “cult craving”.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.