- Posted by John Squires
- On July 25, 2015
- 0 Comments
Coming in the wake of Discovery’s Shark Week, Syfy’s Sharknado Week took over the network the past several days, and the highlight of this year’s programming block was of course the third installment in the Sharknado franchise. A handful of similarly silly new movies saw their premieres throughout the week, and though I must confess to avoiding them all, I simply couldn’t resist the allure of Lavalantula.
Directed by Mike Mendez, the man responsible for 2013’s hugely entertaining Big Ass Spider!, Lavalantula is set in Los Angeles, where a series of earthquakes unleash a new breed of human-sized spider that is literally born out of molten lava. When all hell breaks loose, it’s up to a down-on-his-luck 90s action star to save the world – but first he must find and rescue his teenage son.
When watching Syfy original movies you need to be in a certain mindset, and the same goes for reviewing them. To judge a movie like Lavalantula by the same criteria that you judge a serious horror movie would be completely missing the point, as the only real requirement for a movie such as this is that it’s entertaining. And like Big Ass Spider! before it, Mendez’ latest spider-fest is a whole lot of fun.
While many Syfy movies don’t seem to understand what they are, and others – like the Sharknado films – try way too hard to be bad, Lavalantula falls somewhere in between, knowing precisely the audience it’s appealing to but never crossing so far into stupidity that it’s painful to watch. Unlike most movies you’ll find on Syfy, this one checks off all the right boxes, while avoiding nearly all of the wrong ones.
For starters, the monsters are pretty damn cool and they manage to not look laughably bad, despite the fact that the effects are entirely computer-generated. The beasties in this particular Syfy effort are massive spiders that literally breathe fire, both comprised of lava and capable of spitting it at their victims. They feel like worthy horror movie monsters, rather than hybrid creations intended for laughs.
You can’t have a Syfy movie without a D-list star, and Lavalantula‘s hero is none other than Steve Guttenberg. The 80s icon plays Colton West in what will easily be his most watched film of the last 20 years, an actor who had his greatest success in the 90s as big screen superhero Red Rocket. I
suppose hope that makes Lavalantula a sort of B-movie Birdman, ushering Guttenberg back into the public eye.
As if watching ‘The Gute’ blast away lava spiders with a shotgun wasn’t entertaining enough, and it certainly is, Lavalantula features a fun cast all around, including some cameo surprises. The most notable thing about the cast is that it reunites Guttenberg with three other actors from the original Police Academy, with Leslie Easterbrook, Marion Ramsey, and Michael Winslow all popping up.
Other notable cast members include Nia Peeples, who starred alongside Guttenberg in Tower of Terror, as Colton’s badass wife Olivia West, Ralph Garman as a Hollywood Boulevard pirate-for-hire, and The Sandlot star Patrick Renna as a super fan of West’s who briefly tags along to do some spider-slaying. It’s one of the most fun Syfy movie ensembles of them all, especially for fans of 80s/90s cinema.
Director Mike Mendez was live-tweeting Lavalantula as it aired and he noted that Syfy nixed a lot of stuff he had either shot or originally planned, including fun movie references and more memorable death scenes. It’s not hard to imagine how much more entertaining the film could’ve been if he had full control, but there’s thankfully enough of his personality in there to make it a standout Syfy effort.
With the perfect blend of stupidity and genuine entertainment, including what is easily the most charmingly awful Syfy finale of all time, Lavalantula is a B-movie done right, packed with fun characters and full of monster action. It’s fun without trying too hard to become the next big hashtag trend, making it a nice antidote to Sharknado fever that plays around in the same silly ballpark.
If there’s any filmmaker who understands precisely what one wants to see when sitting down on the couch to watch a Syfy original movie, it’s Mike Mendez. And with Lavalantula, he officially establishes himself as the reigning king of big ass spider cinema. In my world, that’s a crown worth being proud of.