For over two decades, American film company The Asylum has specialized in a micro-budgeted horror schlock movies. Often referred to as mockbusters, The Asylum strategically releases movies with similar titles and/or premises to major blockbusters. The big difference – Asylum movies are micro-budgeted retreads designed to exploit inattentive filmgoers. Want to watch The Amityville Horror remake? Don’t get it confused with the The Asylum’s The Amityville Haunting. But we can thank The Asylum for gifting us the mid-2010s summer tradition of Sharknado movies. Now the same studio looks to cash in on the zombie craze with its latest release – Aquarium of the Dead.
When an aquarium octopus falls ill, the Shining Sea Aquarium staff use bad batch of epinephrine to save it. But the serum inadvertently re-animates the dead octopus, which escapes into the aquarium venting system. As staff take a local senator on a facility tour in hopes of securing more funding, the undead octopus rapidly infects the marine life. Locked down and trapped, the staff must find a way to escape as zombified sea creatures escape from their exhibits.
Aquarium of the Dead Has More Dead Time Than Undead
For Asylum movies, and other intentionally cheesy B-movies, it’s easy to give a free past. They’re critic-proof movies, we argue. And, to a large extent, that true. I’m not watching a movie called Zombeavers or Killer Klowns from Outer Space for the acting, special effects, or story. But that doesn’t mean these movies get a free pass. Silly B-movies should still entertain based on their own guidelines. Cheesy effects can still prompt juvenile giggles and gross out moments. Willy’s Wonderland, Feast, Sharknado, Bad Taste, The Toxic Avenger – they’re all low-budget B-movies that grossed out audiences with chintzy practical or CGI effects, adolescent humor, and a manic delight for their visions. In contrast, Aquarium of the Dead is as lifeless as its undead marine life.
Aquarium of the Dead is the most understaffed facility since Halloween II’s Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.
Apparently, director Glenn Miller is also responsible for the connected Zoombies movies, creating something of an insipid shared B-movie universe. Things actually start off with promise. Miller wastes little time unleashing a zombie octopus, promising the same kind of laugh-out-loud CGI schlock from the Sharknado series. Too bad there’s little follow up. Instead of 90 minutes of hokey fun, Aquarium of the Dead spends a lot of time following around the same characters. They wander the marine’s halls or exhibits, talking endlessly, while not much happens. Forget any hopes of over-the-top chaos as escaped undead marine life attack hapless tourists and staff. Aquarium of the Dead is the most understaffed facility since Halloween II’s Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Miller breaks a cardinal rule of B-movies. His movie is dreadfully dull.
Aquarium of the Dead Doesn’t Deliver on Its Undead Marine Horrors
Low-budget, or cost-effective, doesn’t mean non-existent. Some of most innovative practical effects have come from micro-budgeted movies. Ian Ziering cutting a shark in half with a chainsaw – in slow motion – wasn’t Jaws. But it’s still the stuff of bad movie legend. Not since 70s B-movie killer animal movies, however, have I seen a director try so hard to avoid showing his monsters. Yes, Aquarium of the Dead gives us undead starfish, crabs, a walrus, crocodile, and octopus. But these are in very small doses. Most of the movie settles for characters screaming at something offscreen. Maybe you’re hoping to see faces peeled off by starfish. Or bodies mangled by sharks in ridiculous CGI glory. Forget about it. Even when the walrus finally impales a victim, it’s bloodlessly unimaginative.
Maybe Miller blew his budget casting Vivica A Fox.
If the promise of undead marine life running amok goes unfulfilled, you won’t be surprised by the listless cast. Clearly, the budget didn’t allow for extras. Seriously, where are all the patrons of this Aquarium of the Dead? Maybe Miller blew his budget casting Vivica A Fox. Remember when Fox had roles in Independence Day and Kill Bill? Neither does she. At least Fox can say she’s hardly in the movie. Despite her name being plastered all over promotional material, Fox has little more than a glorified cameo, so you can’t blame her for this dead fish.
Aquarium of the Dead Commits the Worst Mistake – It’s Boring
Next time someone complains that the Sharknado movies would have been easy to make, just show them Aquarium of the Dead. Here’s a mockbuster that fails to hit the lowest of bars. Consider it a case of a ‘not-buster’. That is, Aquarium of the Dead often avoid any effects in place of just silly, bad effects. The jokes aren’t juvenile – for most of its runtime, the movie can’t seem to decide if it’s a joke or not. Like the rest of the movie, the performances aren’t so much over-the-top or bad as they are flat and bored. Regardless Aquarium of the Dead makes the one mistake this type of movie can’t afford – it’s terminally dull. Do yourself a favour and re-watch the Sharknado series or pull out an old Troma movie.