Saturday, November 7, 2015

DVDebut: Mike Mendez goes after those giant spiders -- again! -- with LAVALANTULA

If the Syfy Channel, where the film LAVALANTUAL made its debut, was expecting another Sharknado -- the campy, now-classic, so-bad-it's-good, would-be scary movie -- I'm afraid they were disap-pointed. They should not have been. This newer film, which combines tarantulas and volcanoes much more cleverly and intelligently than its predecessor managed sharks and tornadoes, is simply a model of straight-ahead B-movie smarts with A-level special effects.

Written by Neil Elman and Ashley O'Neil and directed by Mike Mendez (shown at right), who back in 2013 gave us the wonderful little monster comedy Big Ass Spider!, this new film manages to combine comedy, camp, chills, thrills and terrific special effects with a story that starts fast and keeps up that pace for almost its entire 83-minute running time. That's exactly what a good B movie is supposed to do. Everything else--style, charm, wit and some decent performances (all of which there are plenty of here)--is gravy.

Lavalantula is lucky to have as its star, the under-rated Steve Guttenberg, (above, right) who, for nearly 40 years now, has been in the limelight. Remember The Chicken Chronicles and the Police Academy series, not to mention Can't Stop the Music, which might easily have qualified in its day as the Sharknado of musical comedies? Well, Mr. Guttenberg is still at it, entertaining us easily with his off-the-cuff charm, humor and sex appeal, almost none of which have drained away over the intervening decades. The guy still looks great, acts easily and seems to have actually gained some additional charm en route.

Here Guttenberg plays an over-the-hill actor who once had a successful franchise but is now making C and D movies for a living. He has just walked out on one of these after an altercation with its director when a series of earthquakes and volcanic activity seize Southern California, releasing those titular Lavalantulas all over the place.

As in all thee B horror/monsters flicks, protecting family becomes paramount and so our hero rushes to save mom (Nia Peeples, above) and teenage son (Noah Hunt). The filmmakers use their hero's "star" status to make good, loving fun of Hollywood, agents, the industry and especially fan worship, and all this is blended quite well with the thrills and chills, as what looks like about half of Hollywood gets incinerated by these fire-breathing spiders.

There's a nice balance of excitement, storytelling, humor, and inside-the-industry that should keep audiences happy and on their toes throughout, as Guttenberg commandeers a tour bus, which leads to a lovely turn from Patrick Renna (above, left) as one of its passengers.

If there is nothing great here (the ending is a little bit of a let-down, given what's comes before), it is still quite pleasant to view a good B movie from a bunch of professionals who know what they're doing and do it this well.

Released to DVD from Alchemy, after its Syfy debut, the disc hit the streets this past week, for purchase and/or rental.

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