Long Before ‘Sharknado,’ SyFy Found Formula for Hybrid Horror

Hey, turn around and look up! An airborne shark menaces Ashley Peeples in SyFy's sensational "Sharknado." (Photo: SyFy)

“Sharknado” might be the one that has drawn the most attention, but SyFy has long plied the campy waters of hybrid horror.

Like previous made-for-SyFy films, “Sharknado” combined the well-worn elements of previous movies with a cast of unknowns and past-their-prime stars (in this case, Chippendale’s dancer and former “Beverly Hills 90210” star Ian Ziering and “American Pie” star Tara Reid).

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“Sharknado,” which premiered this past Thursday (and will re-air next Thursday, July 18, on SyFy), was a shark movie combined with a storm-disaster movie.

The premise: A powerful super-tornado sweeps up scores of sharks from an ocean and then deposits them on land, where they bite off bits of every human being they encounter. The premise is patently absurd, of course, which is one of the reasons the movie caught on, as people who apparently came across it Thursday night took to social media to comment on its camp quality.

In addition to adopting a ridiculous premise, the movie contained another ingredient in the SyFy movie recipe: Apply various elements of production to make the films look as unrealistic as their premises. We noticed this particular attribute just a few weeks ago when we happened to catch a rebroadcast of a previous SyFy effort — 2012’s “Bigfoot.”

In that movie, a very unrealistic-looking Bigfoot was about a hundred feet tall and he was being pursued by (or pursuing, depending on the scene) Danny Bonaduce of “The Partridge Family,” Barry Williams of “The Brady Bunch,” Sherilyn Fenn of “Twin Peaks,” Andre Royo of “The Wire” and Alice Cooper (among other cast members).

Like “Sharknado,” “Bigfoot” was so eye-catching that we could not look away. We caught the movie somewhere in the middle, when Danny Bonaduce seemed to be “hunting” Bigfoot from a helicopter while Barry Williams and Sherilyn Fenn were attempting to flee from the beast in a police car (it was the Fenn character’s car — she was playing a local sheriff) and stayed with it ’til the end.

While the sudden fame of “Sharknado” no doubt has some observers thinking that this kind of movie is something new for SyFy, the truth is that the NBC-owned channel has been ordering and airing these movies for a number of years. Others we recall, among the many that have come and gone, include 2005’s “Mansquito” (the title is self-explanatory, right?) and last year’s “Chupacabra Vs. the Alamo,” which had Erik Estrada of “CHiPs” battling a beast straight out of Mexican folklore that suddenly attacked modern-day San Antonio.

So why did “Sharknado” catch on the way it did? Our take: It was a sleepy Thursday night in July, little else was on and nothing else was going on. Then, social media became like a lit match igniting dry brush and the word spread.

The thing is, despite all the noise on Twitter, the premiere airing of “Sharknado” scored low ratings. Now, though, with the movie making headlines, we expect it to do well when it re-airs next Thursday at 7/6c. Why’s it on so early? Because another new, campy SyFy movie is scheduled for 9/8c that night.

This new one is called “Blast Vegas,” and it stars Frankie Muniz of “Malcolm in the Middle” and Barry Bostwick of “Spin City.” Formerly, we would have expected this movie to be quickly forgotten. But now, with all the sudden buzz surrounding SyFy and its quirky movies, “Blast Vegas” might do surprisingly well.

Here’s the premise of “Blast Vegas,” as described by SyFy: “A group of wild frat bros and their nerdy tag-along Nelson (Muniz) head to Las Vegas for the spring break of a lifetime. When one of them steals an Egyptian relic from a casino, an ancient curse is unleashed on the fabled strip.” With a premise like that, how can it miss?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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