Some Monster Movies Ideas

It takes great minds to come up with a movie as gloriously horrible as “Sharknado.”

We know, because we tried. And failed.

The B-movie maestros at Syfy welcomed a pair of Newsers into a closed-door pitch meeting to see how the magic — if your definition of magic includes terrible special effects and the use of “shark” as a prefix — is made.

“Sharknado” is the most successful flick in network history, airing four times so far and drawing more eyeballs with each telecast. Its peak at 2.1 million viewers is a record for a Syfy original movie — but now the network wants to catch lightning in a bottle again, and it’s our job to whip up a new campy classic.

First rule: If it’s not scary small, it’s not scary big.
“There’s no point in a making a movie where something like a koala bear becomes a monster,” says Thomas Vitale, executive vice president of original programming and movies. “It’s a cute, eucalyptus tree-eating animal. No one is afraid of that.”

Out goes what we believed to be our million-dollar movie idea: “Hamstergator.”

But we had others, like “Blood Bug” — a Kafka-esque horror film about radioactive bedbugs, tainted by nuclear waste as larvae, that spawn giant half-bedbug, half-human monsters. We could already see a bug guts-soaked Times Square finale with our heroes zapping critters as big as Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons — when the execs squashed it.

“You would never believe how many bedbug movies we’ve been pitched. And we’ve stayed away, although this might be a way in,” Vitale says, being kind.

Bedbugs, it turns out, give too many people the creeps. Since the resurgence of the pests, a movie featuring the little monsters could be more unsettling than Freddy, Jason and Sharktopus (“Half shark. Half octopus. All Killer”) combined. Think about it: Millions cringe when they hear the “b” word, but only a fraction of the world’s population has ever been attacked by a shark, let alone one with tentacles.

Syfy wants B-movies that are escapist. Big, unbelievable monsters like the ones in Roger Corman’s upcoming sequel “Sharktopus Vs. Pteracuda” (yes, that’s a pterodactyl crossed with a barracuda) sound ridiculous, but wind up more watchable than scary movies about real-life nightmares like bedbugs, rats, taxes or disease.

Watching “Youngzheimers,” our pitch about med students who fall ill and lose their memory, doesn’t sound like fun. Especially compared to “Piranhaconda.”

Syfy makes creature features, horror, alien films and what Vitale calls unnatural natural disasters (“A volcano in Hawaii is just not interesting,” he said).

Many of Syfy’s biggest hits start with a great title, (“Jersey Shore Shark Attack”), others are ripped from the headlines (“Snakehead Terror”) — but anyone can come up with a great idea. Independent producers pitch the films. If they’re good, Vitale and his team — network brass Karen O’Hara and Chris Regina — take over.
From right to left, Syfy’s Thomas Vitale, Karen O’Hara and Michael Engleman listen to Newsers’ ideas.
Christie M. Farriella for New York Daily News
From right to left, Syfy’s Thomas Vitale, Karen O’Hara and Michael Engleman listen to Newsers’ ideas.

The execs take the best ideas overseas for funding, and let small production houses handle the making of the movies.

“Like everything in television, its a group effort,” said Vitale.

But Syfy is very picky about what gets the green light. Our idea for “Global Winding,” an end-of-the-world thriller about climate change’s blustery effects, got nixed because it sounds like “a fart movie,” said O’Hara.

After the title, they look for a catchy tag line. Sharknado’s brilliantly simple sloga n — “Enough said!” — catapulted the film into the social media stratosphere long before it aired. “Wait until you see the tagline for ‘Sharknado 2,’” said Syfy marketing chief Michael Engleman.

The tag line was all we had going for us when we pitched “Very Accurate Lightning” (“Cloudy, with a chance of death”). “It sounds like a science show,” said Engleman, who shot us down, but was mildly impressed that we took the time to Photoshop a few clip art silhouettes getting struck by lightning.

In fact, Syfy already turned the weather phenomena into a villain in 2009’s “Lightning Strikes” — and it flopped.

“There’s no flesh and blood, nothing organic, nothing to chase,” said Vitale. “Lightning is a little scientific, a little detached. It just didn’t work.”

Turns out, movies are scarier and more exciting when there’s a tactile villain for the heroes to fight. And it helps if that foe has numerous and graphic ways of turning people into pulp.

Our pitch for “Elephants on Steroids” (players of pachyderm polo juice their steeds to horrific results) fell flat because all elephants can do is trample.

“Where are the teeth, claws and fangs?” Vitale asked.

Those fangs and claws have been a boon to Syfy for more than a decade. The network has produced around 250 of the flicks, each on a shoestring budget of around $2 million for 90 minutes of entertainment — about half the cost of an episode of most one-hour broadcast network dramas.

Their programming is silly, but Syfy takes its work seriously. While making “Sharknado,” staffers actually spent days fighting about the physics of flying sharks.

“We had long arguments over how when the sharks are flung out of the tornado they can’t glide like hang-gliders,” said O’Hara. “That’s the way it was in an early version of the script. I said, ‘No, they have to just be flung out and flop around.’ You’d think we wouldn’t go that far, discussing how the sharks move, but within that space it has to have a certain kind of internal logic.”

Treating the most absurd subject with that kind of attention to detail is part of what makes Syfy’s B-movies special.

So be campy — but not too campy. Like our pitch for “Red Mobster,” about a human-lobster hybrid avenging fishermen for its ancestors’ buttery deaths.

“Close your eyes and think of a giant lobster waddling around,” said Vitale. “It’s like a Saturday morning cartoon. Too silly.”

It’s hard to know where, or if, Syfy draws the line — these are the folks who made “Mansquito.”

But there is a line, and we crossed it with our pitch for “Adolfin,” about a Nazi marine biologist who trains a dolphin to kill.

“No,” said Vitale. “Just… no.”

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