If you were paying attention to the New Releases section at blinkbox a few weeks back, you may have noticed something strange. There was a film released to rent in mid-July that featured giant robots battling alien creatures: a science-fiction/fantasy movie seeming inspired by the Japanese kaiju films of 60s, 70s and 80s. And if you thought for one moment that Guillermo del Toro’s summer hit of that description made its way to video early, the producers of Atlantic Rim will be very pleased.
That’s right. Not Pacific Rim. Atlantic Rim.
Here are the posters for the two films, side by side.
Watch the trailer here.
Aficionados of straight-to-video movies will be aware of what’s going on — but for the others among you, please allow us to introduce you to the strange world of The Asylum.
Established in the mid-90s to produce low-budget horror films, The Asylum saw its business take off after their cut-price version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds received an inordinately large number of orders from Blockbuster video, perhaps thanks to the release of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the same story that very year.
Since then, the company’s bread-and-butter has been the production of movies now lovingly referred to as ‘mockbusters’: films that are similar –but legally distinct– to big Hollywood productions.
By releasing them on the market weeks (if not days) before those blockbusters’ theatrical openings, Asylum are able to piggy-back on the big studios’ marketing spends. We can’t imagine this tactic has made them very popular among the established industry players, but you have to see the genius in it.
Defined by their low production values and starring actors you’ve either never heard of (or assumed were dead), these films are regularly profitable in part thanks to their tiny budgets. But there is also no supply without demand: Asylum has found a niche market of hip movie fans who love their Ed Wood-like ambition and ineptitude. Sure, some of these titles are bad; but some of them are so bad that they become immensely fun.
Here are just some typical films produced by The Asylum:
Snakes on a Train
Not to be confused with: Snakes on a Plane.
Official synopsis: Under a powerful Zombie curse, a young woman is being slowly devoured from within by snakes that have hatched inside her. Her only chance of survival is a powerful Shaman who lives across the border. With only hours to live, she jumps aboard a train headed for Los Angeles. Unfortunately for the passengers aboard, they are now trapped, soon to be victims of these flesh-eating vipers… Watch Trailer
Notable for: the scene where a giant viper appear and EATS THE TRAIN! Just like on the poster!
Pirates of Treasure Island
Not to be confused with: Pirates of the Caribbean
Official Synopsis: Adventure in which an innkeeper’s life of monotony suddenly changes when he comes into possession of a treasure map. Enlisting the help of Long John Silver (Lance Henriksen) and his band of cutthroat pirates, he sets off in search of the cursed Skeleton Island.
Notable for: the belief that Lance Henriksen is a suitable replacement for Johnny Depp.
Not to be confused with: Battleship
Official Synopsis: When a Fleet of mysterious ships wage war against the Earth, only the crew of the USS Iowa, the last American Warship, can prevent global Armageddon. Watch Trailer
Notable for: the fact that all actors are shot from low-angles so that you can’t see the ocean (or the fact that they’re standing on a museum ship).
Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies
Not to be confused with: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Official Synopsis: With the country torn apart by an ongoing civil war and a proposed end to slavery, Lincoln may already have believed himself to have his hands full. However, when he hears of a zombie outbreak in Savannah, Georgia, the US President leads a team of Secret Service agents to the area to try and contain the disaster. Watch Trailer
Notable for: Lincoln’s weapon of choice. In AL: Vampire Hunter, Honest Abe wields an axe just as he did in many historical representations. In AL vs Zombies, he uses a scythe because… who knows why!?
Grimm’s Snow White
Not to be confused with: Snow White and Huntsman
Official Synopsis: When the King is killed by a ferocious reptile beast, his Queen takes control of the kingdom. She tries to kill her beautiful stepdaughter SNOW, but she escapes into the enchanted forest… Watch Trailer
Notable for: being a lizard-heavy retelling of the classic fairy tale. And for starring a trio of embarrassed-looking British actors.
And perhaps the most brazen mockbuster ever made…
Not to be confused with: Transformers
Official Synopsis: A race of alien robots has conquered the Earth and forced humanity underground. After 300 years of domination, a small group of humans develop a plan to defeat the mechanical invaders in the ultimate battle between man and machine. Watch Trailer
Notable for: it’s unflinching portrayal of women in the military as leather-clad lesbians who make out all the time.
As well as producing these ‘mockbusters’, Asylum have also produced a lucrative range of shark films, some of which you may have heard of:
Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus has become one of the big cult films of the 2000s alongside The Room and Birdemic. Its success can mostly be attributed to the crazy title and this clip in particular. MS vs GO proved so popular, that it spawned a sequel in the form of Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus.
While the Mega Shark films are rip-offs of nothing in particular, 2 Headed Shark Attack is an obvious take on Piranha 3D that goes the extra mile by casting Jerry O’Connell [’s brother] in the lead.
And lest we forget, Sharknado recently set the internet alight, with many B-movie fans claiming to enjoy the experience unironically!
PREACHING TO THE CHOIR
In 2008, Asylum began to recognise a space in the market for religiously-oriented content and set about creating Faith Films, an imprint which would put out movies for Middle America’s enormous Christian audiences. Their first effort was Sunday School Musical: a movie that is definitely not a rip-off of the High School Musical series:
Perhaps Sunday School Musical didn’t sell as well as they had hoped, or maybe the creatives at the company didn’t want to make another feel-good film. Either way, the following Christian features from Faith Films were less about praising The Lord’s warm embrace as they were about fearing of His Almighty Wrath:
Inspired by the direct-to-video successes of two films called The Omega Code and Left Behind, these films are all about the End Days and how non-believers are really going to suck it come the apocalypse. Three of these DVD covers even feature quotes from Revelations! And if you reckon there isn’t much of a market for these cynically pious Fundamentalist Christian fantasies, you would be dead wrong.
If there’s a market for a certain type of movie, you can be sure that Asylum is already trying to figure out how to make it as cheap as they can. And for this enterprising spirit, we salute them today.
For a taste of the Asylum experience, the following films are now available for your perusal at blinkbox:
Grimm’s Snow White
Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus
Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus
2 Headed Shark Attack