Summer is upon us and the season for Sharksploitation mayhem begins with Adrian Grunberg’s The Black Demon starring Josh Lucas and Julio Cesar Cedillo. The film is rife with dodgy CGI, odd intensely dramatic performances from a great cast, and enough environmentalism messages to choke the Megalodon back into extinction. It’s certainly entertaining for the inebriated or those who love to chomp on shark flicks but a genre-defining entry, this is not. Rent It
“No… the Black Demon!”
When it comes time to ingest another questionable entry in my weirdly favorite sub-genre, I feel the need to prepare a range of libations. I’m a whiskey man and the base note is always my favorite mixer, Evan Williams. After that I tend to have those small cheap airplane-sized cans of soda about; 7-Up and Peps are basics but Strawberry Fago is oddly good too. Not to say I’m a prolific drinker nor that I am someone who needs 86-proof assistance to enjoy films, but for what passes as an average Sharksploitation movie these days, it helps to have a kick.
So when it came down to enjoying The Black Demon starring everyone’s favorite Home Depot voice - I oddly found myself with the bottle of Evan Williams and only Blueberry Lemonade, Strawberry Watermelon, and Fruit Punch Mio water enhancers for mixers. Eager for a shark flick and too lazy to go to the store, I figured “What the heck!” and went for it. When Julio Cesar Cedillo’s Chato utters his bizarre opening monologue to set up the film, I knew I needed to try the Blueberry Lemonade Mio mixed with two parts water to one part whiskey.
For the opening sequence that should run cold water through your veins with blood-chilling terror, I was glad for the libation. The flavor wasn’t the best, whiskey and blueberry with fake lemon kinda stung the tongue, but it did its work. The weightless murky-looking underwater visual effects were already proving to be a test of patience as two divers descend to the base of an offshore oil rig for nefarious reasons. We know a shark is coming, it’s implied, but unfortunately, you can’t see a damned thing. It’s just a mess of aqua-teel-black CGI nonsense with what seriously looks like human faces in aqua gear composited onto weightless PS2-generation character bodies. It was a rough start, but the cheap economy-priced bottle of bourbon was already working.
From there, the film segues to Nixon Oil's best man, executive Paul (Josh Lucas), and his wife Ines (Fernanda Urrejola), and their two kids Audrey (Vinus Ariel) and Tommy (Carlos Solórzano) on their way to Baja for a little vacation while Paul sees to an over-due inspection of the offshore platform. The movie gets interesting as the family arrives they discover the once thriving community is rundown and crime-ridden. As they seek answers, the only thing they get in reply is “The Black Demon” - ooooh spooky. A thin setup for thin supernatural hokum but it’s well-acted and the film sets some stakes for our killer shark as we get to know the family. When Paul is called onto the rig to get the inspection over with immediately, his family stays behind with the encroaching unsavory elements of the town. By now I’m thinking this film has something going for it and I might not need much more extra motivation to persevere.
When Paul arrives on the rig he’s shocked to see it in extreme disrepair, nearly falling to pieces with oil slicks floating in the water and only two men aboard Chato (Julio Cesar Cedillo’s) and Junior (Jorge A. Jimenez). And when those unsavory elements threaten Ines and the kids, it’s not long before the family is reunited on the crumbling oil rig. It’s here we get our first real solid shocker as Audrey falls from the boat and into a mass of floating half-devoured carcasses and shredded limbs. It may have been a sequence filled with cheesy CGI underwater effects, but dang I'll hand it to the filmmakers, it was creepy and genuinely well-acted by the cast. I was feeling pretty good about the overall prospects. Then the first CGI fin crests out of the water before the shark bursts out of the surf lifting an entire boat of out of the water and snapping it in half like it was little Alex Kintner.
It’s here that I tried the two-part Strawberry Watermelon Mio to one-part Evan Willaims combination. Not good. Slowly sipping in as the next few minutes of the film played out, the acrid taste of fake sugar-free fruit and whiskey left my mouth tasting increasingly sour and unpleasant. Almost like trying to drink orange juice after brushing your teeth only without the unpleasant grittiness. It was a combination I could feel in my nose long after I was done with that experiment. Resigned that my drink combinations were just not going to work, I gave up the “juice” and settled in for the rest of the ride.
To be fair to the cast of The Black Demon, they’re all good and really delivering. Josh Lucas, Julio Cesar Cedillo, and Fernanda Urrejola are all in great form trying to make the best of what they have to work with. He may not get a lot to do but Jorge A. Jimenez was a fine addition as well. Likewise, the child actors do wonders with dialog that woefully misunderstands what a real child sounds like. And oddly enough the longer the film goes without trying to feed an audience a shark (CGI or otherwise), the film held together. The excessive and repetitively long environmental monologues (at least three) are so painfully on the nose they made Birdemic look subtle, but that started to add to the flavor and admittedly I was kinda enjoying the film.
Then came the big exciting emotional grand finale climax sequence, and seeing where this film was going a league off, I needed another drink. Trying the Fruit Punch Mio with Evan Williams, I opted for a splash of ice-cold Lemon Celo La Croix and that was actually pretty good. The flavor was a little intense but the carbonated lemony-fruity-punchy-whiskey was a pleasant experience as Josh Lucas swam around a murky indiscernible watery CGI wasteland with a bomb and a shadowy weightless shark lurking around. By this point, I was just hoping for even one good clear look at our impossibly gigantic shark and I wasn’t disappointed! It’s a ridiculous final sequence that defies all logic or reason or even physics all of which are hallmarks for a terrible but entertaining Sharksploitation film.
Even lightly buzzed by questionable mixer choices, I had a really tough time with The Black Demon. I normally love this kind of movie as I eagerly await this summer’s shark-themed shenanigans (Cocaine Shark looks amazingly bad, by the way), but this one was a stretch. I didn’t feel Adrian Grunberg did very well with Rambo: Last Blood and things aren’t much better here. Just because you have a budget for cheap crappy CGI doesn’t mean you should use it for that. If The Black Demon had just been a ticking-clock survival film about a man trying to save his family from a sinking oil rig, that could have been a pretty cool flick. The goofy supernatural elements with horribly executed CGI underwater sequences just choke this solid cast’s best efforts. It’s weird to suggest a Sharksploitation movie could be better without a shark, but there you have it. With a full summer yet to come and so many better flicks of the sub-genre like 47 Meters Down: Uncaged or Bait 3D already available, you can better spend your time and libation budget elsewhere. If you feel you must see The Black Demon, first ask yourself why, but then only Rent It.