Ever since Jaws defined the modern summer blockbuster, there’s been something about sharks that has bitten into the human mind and never let go. More than any other animal and even more than some monsters like vampires, sharks remain a go-to symbol of evil for aspiring (and hack) horror filmmakers.
As the concept of the killer shark has aged and be iterated upon, it’s led to some truly bizarre films. It’s gotten to the point where even the vaunted Sharknado is so mainstream that the Houston Museum of Natural Science once included footage of it in an exhibit about sharks. No, if you want to get really weird, you have to go digging.
Luckily, I got a press copy of Susan Snyder’s new book Encyclopedia Sharksploitanica. The Austin author is absolutely obsessed with the portrayals of sharks in film, and chronicles the best and worst in her blog, Sharksploitation Sunday. Using her work, I found what I think are the seven most bananas (and yet still watchable) shark movies out there.
This is the only feel-good movie on the list, but boy howdy does it make you feel good. An alien meteorite lands in the ocean only to be swallowed by a Great White. It turns into Roboshark, your Apex Predator That’s Fun to Be With. The shark uses its new robot powers to attack a nuclear submarine, earning the ire of the Navy, but BitE.T. just wants to go home. Luckily, he is W-Fi enabled and makes friends with a teenage girl on Twitter (that sounded less creepy in my head), who helps the shark send a distress beacon via the Seattle Space Needle. You will love the Roboshark.
Santa Jaws (2018)
Imagine if Home Alone had been written by a 12-year-old Redditor and you have the gist of Santa Jaws. A young comic fan is given a magic pen that brings his drawings to life, one of which is the mystical, Santa hat-wearing, ho ho ho-ing Santa Jaws. It swims around and eats all things Christmas. I think the weirdness of this film is best summed up by Google because one of the top suggestions when you type the title is “Is Santa Jaws a real movie?” Yes, it is, and it’s amazing.
Ghost Shark (2013)
A lot of people point to Sharknado as the moment shark films took meth and ran around a Walmart declaring themselves the Queen of Texas, but I believe it was actually Ghost Shark that set the tone for the next decade. The title says it all. The shark is a ghost, and it can appear in any amount of water no matter its salinity or size. Eventually a drunken lighthouse keeper uses voodoo to help fight the monster. Believe it or not, that is an unused plot point from the fourth Jaws movie script.
House Shark (2017)
A sub-sub-genre of shark films is the “sharks in places sharks don’t go,” which includes lakes, Venice, sand dunes, and corn fields. Of these, I like House Shark the best because I am a deeply immature person who thinks it’s funny when a shark drags someone to death inside a toilet. The shark isn’t a ghost or a demon or anything. It just lives in the plumbing. Oh, and all the characters are named after former presidents for reasons that amount to fuck you for asking. It’s a bit long, but it’s honestly a lot of fun to watch as long as you leave your dignity behind.
Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre (2015)
Two great grindhouse tastes that taste great together: women in prison films and shark movies. Sadly, this is not about sharks infiltrating a flooded women’s prison because that costs more than the $20 this movie had in its budget, but it’s still a lot of barely dressed bad girls hanging out in a swamp full of sharks that can travel through the marsh and the mud. The reason? Fracking. Okay, sure. Traci Lords plays the chief of police and I loved that the most of all.
Sky Sharks (2021)
No, this isn’t a “sharks in places sharks don’t go” movie and don’t you forget it. This is actually a tour de WTF in the sub-sub-sub-genre of Nazi shark experiments (pioneered by Peter Benchley himself in White Shark). The sharks in this case can fly, turn invisible, and are piloted by Nazi zombies with machine guns. The terrors of the Reich were released thanks to global warming because if there is one consistently redeeming quality about every modern shark orgy of blood it’s that they have solid messages about the environment. If the next Resident Evil game doesn’t look exactly like this then as far as I’m concerned, the franchise is worthless. I mean, they already ripped off Frankenstein’s Army .
Shark Week (2012)
This is the only film on the list that honestly scared me a little. The premise is Saw with sharks. Literally. People are kidnapped and forced to participate in a series of games where they are pitted against hungry sharks. Survive the week, and you go free. There are a lot of baby sharks, which is kind of darling, but there are also grim matches between man and beast. It’s still not, like, good, but buried somewhere in the chum-filled waters is a concept that did actually make my skin crawl.
Honestly, this is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to sharkploitation, and I highly recommend picking up Snyder’s book for its remarkable combination of thoroughness and humor. If the number of films made in the last decade a lone are any indication, she’ll be penning a sequel sooner rather than later.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.