Saturday, 22 January 2011

When popstars attack

Back in the 1950, monster B-movies were all the rage. Anxiety over the nuclear threat, combined with the rise of the drive-in, and developments in special effects, meant that pretty much any kind of animal could be transformed into a people-munching monster. The films were awful but audiences didn't seem to mind, as long as there was a woman who could scream, a professor who could deliver paragraphs of exposition whilst chewing on a pipe, and countless extras who knew how to cower in fear at the sight of a giant stop-motion beastie.

These days, audiences claim to be more sophisticated. But although we may profess to love the multi-layered back catalogue of Alejandro González Iñárritu, we secretly hanker after those more innocent times. So I guess we shouldn't be too surprised that SyFy's Saturday night monster movies are proving to be such a guilty pleasure.

The films themselves aren't so much written, as brainstormed in a room full of junior marketing executives. They mix a couple of animal names together, recruit a handful of actors too inauspicious to be asked to take part in 'Celebrity Rehab', and dust off the Etch-A-Sketch to take care of the low-grade effects work. Then sit back and watch as two million stoners with very low expectations tune in. 

Last year, SyFy hit an all-time high with the preposterously engaging 'Sharktopus', which featured a tentacled Great White terrorising the Mexican Riviera. Master of both schlocky horror and understatement, producer Roger Corman said at the time "It's not easy to take a computer-generated shark that can walk on a beach with octopus legs and make it seem believable." And yet, despite his five decades of experience, Corman's informed cynicism was actually misplaced, since TV viewers lapped up the off-the-wall-and-onto-the-beach concept.

This year, SyFy has a different kind of mutant cross-breed in mind to keep its ratings as high as its concepts. Of course there are still gigantic lizards doing battle, but this time people will be tuning in to see what happens when Eighties relics Deborah (Debbie) Gibson and Tiffany go head-to-head.

Mega Python Vs Gatoroid sees the one-time pop stars finally address their long-standing rivalry in a knock-down, hair-pulling, lizard-throwing fight. Their battle for chart supremacy may be a dim and distant memory, but producers are hoping that they still have enough name recognition to intrigue movie fans with a high camp tolerance threshold.

In the late 80s, the two pop tarts took up near permanent residency in America's shopping malls, like McDonalds and Army recruiters. And for a couple of years, their pastel knitwear and disposable music were everywhere. But pop is a ruthless game, and by the early 90s they were as washed up as the remains of a partially digested beach-goer.

A combination of borderline anonymity and cheap surgery has left them both looking curiously artificial, which should work fine for them when sharing the screen with a poorly rendered menagerie of monsters. Apparently, Gibson even "visited a nature preserve to learn how to look natural while handling pythons". She may be fine with the snakes, but acting naturally elsewhere is still going to be something of a stretch, if her performance in Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is anything to go by.

Although the film is being marketed with the strapline "Screaming, scratching, biting... and that's just the girls", Debbie and Tiffany are clearly unconcerned with the long-standing, media-created rivalry between them. On the publicity circuit they're being tediously complimentary about one another.

That's not to say that everyone has escaped unscathed from the love-in. When appearing on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live, Tiffany was asked about her relationship with New Kids On The Block singer Jonathan Knight. She told the interviewer, "He's fabulous. But he became gay later... now looking back when we were dating, he was so much fun — we used to do facials together, he was so easy to talk to.”

Jon's sexuality is considered to be a fairly open secret, but he's yet to make any public statement about it. And his fans are not happy about Tiffany's indiscreet comments. Still, it just goes to show, sometimes it's not the giant mutated beasts that you have to watch out for.

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