Monday, March 25, 2013

Surviving the SyFy Movies: Chupacabra vs. the Alamo

I have to admit to having a slight fondness for some of the Saturday-night SyFy movies. I prefer the Fantasy Cheese genre to the Mockbusters or the Horror/Monster types (though Mansquito was highly entertaining), but any of them can be fun when I'm in the right mood.

I was really looking forward to Chupacabra vs. the Alamo because it pretty much writes itself. You know from the title exactly what's going to happen. Sadly, this one was just plain bad, not awesomely, entertainingly bad. Spoilers below, as if you can't figure out everything based on the title.

To start with, I suspect that no one involved with the film has ever been to the Alamo, to San Antonio or to Texas (after this movie, they probably won't be allowed to visit Texas). They also apparently haven't looked at a map of Texas. The basic plot is that the chupacabras have migrated from Mexico to near San Antonio via the drug smuggling tunnels. That's some pretty impressive tunneling technology, considering that San Antonio isn't a border city and that would be a really, really long tunnel, not to mention the fact that there's a <i>river</i> between Mexico and Texas. Oh, and there's apparently a lush forest with ferns all over the ground 80 miles from San Antonio.

So, anyway, Erik Estrada (who has not aged badly since his CHiPs glory days, but who also hasn't taken acting lessons since then) plays a DEA agent (with the troubled relationships with his teenage kids that seems to have become mandatory in these movies -- the horror will end up bringing them together as a family) investigating the slaughter of a group of cartel members in one of these tunnels right outside San Antonio. But those wounds don't look like anything a human would have made! From there, we get a lot of badly CGIed "chupacabra" attacks, with the chupacabras looking like they took photos of chihuahuas and digitally altered them. The effects are so bad that the actors look like they're just flailing for no reason and the CGI chihuahuas are in a different plane of existence. But that's not the worst effects failure.

You know how in old movies, it's pretty obvious that Cary Grant is sitting in a car in a studio while scenery is being projected on a screen behind him? There's a lot of that here, where Erik Estrada rides his motorcycle past all the major San Antonio landmarks on his way to the crime scene outside the city, and it's so fake that it's laughable. In fact, the effects are at "spoof" level, without the filmmakers seemingly being in on the joke. I know these movies generally have a "here's five bucks, go make a movie, kid" budget, but if you can't fake it well, fake it with style.

I will give them props for a scene in which two teenage girls are in the house alone when the monsters invade (we won't get into how the rabid CGI chihuahuas can get through closed and locked doors), and they actually do things that make sense instead of just screaming like idiots. The girl in the kitchen takes out one with an electric carving knife and pulls a Gremlins on another in the microwave (yes, our fearsome monsters are small enough to fit in the microwave). The girl in the bedroom takes out one with a hot steam iron to the face.

I skipped past a few more scenes of various attacks, though it does look like the beasties followed the DEA agent home and are now on his trail through San Antonio, but somehow, a hardy group of random people who've survived previous attacks ends up at the Alamo (of course, given the title) right at closing time, where they team up with the tour guide in a Davy Crockett hat (of course) who knows the place better than anyone, and they prepare for a last stand, using antique weapons they take from display cases. No mention is made of finding ammunition for these weapons. In fact, they fire them without having to load them, so I guess loaded weapons were on display, and they still work more than 150 years later. But when all their plans fail, they mention the legend that there was an escape tunnel dug, but no one's ever been able to find it, in all these years of the Alamo being thoroughly explored -- oh, wait, here it is, behind this crudely boarded-up wall in a utility room (yes, a utility room that apparently existed in an early 19th century mission/fort). And since they have an escape route, they decide to trap all the chupacabras in the Alamo, rig a bunch of explosives (that they conveniently happen to have handy) and escape through the tunnel. Mind you, the tunnel -- supposedly built in 1836 and lost since then -- comes out in a parking lot, where there's an easy-access hatch. Yes, the parking lot pavers somehow knew to put in a hatch over a tunnel lost since 1836.

So, yeah, not only do they blow up the Alamo (sacrilege!), but they don't seem to realize that the Alamo is right smack downtown in a major city. Why would the wee beasties focus on chasing a handful of people into the Alamo when there's an entire smorgasbord of people just milling around on the Riverwalk across the street? Not to mention that San Antonio is a military city. If they're under attack from an invasion of strange creatures, they aren't going to have to rely on a few DEA agents, a couple of street thugs and an overeager tour guide. If it's anything like my last visit to San Antonio, about half the US Air Force is probably across the street at the Riverwalk. Also, the Alamo itself isn't all that big.  Here's a picture from my last trip. If you tortured yourself with this movie, you can see the difference. It's no longer a highly fortified position you'd retreat to in a crisis.