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Other // Unrated // November 3, 2015
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 16, 2015 | E-mail the Author
As is the norm for someone standing in the wake of a catastrophe, one watches Lavalantula and reflects on what brought us to this terrible moment. As DVD became the most popular home video format in history, it provided a new venue for cult films, which often had a troubled life on VHS, to gain a certain prominence in the pop culture landscape. Anchor Bay, in particular, staked its entire business model on deluxe editions of movies that horror fans had been trying to track down in uncut or pristine forms for decades. Sometime between then and now, that love of genuine cult, the authentically weird (and sometimes bad), has curdled into entirely ironic affairs like Sharknado. Even on that standard, Lavalantula feels like a new nadir, ironic even in its irony.

Steve Guttenberg plays Colton West, a former action star who storms off the set of his latest movie when he throws a tantrum about the professionalism and quality of the filmmaking (get it?). He's on his way home when he witnesses a truly unexpected phenomenon: a volcano bursts out of the LA landscape and erupts, jettisoning giant, spider-like lava creatures who breathe fire and burn their victims to a crisp. Upon seeing this, his number one priority becomes reuniting with his wife, Olivia (Nia Peeples), and son, Wyatt (Noah Hunt). To do so, he hijacks a tour bus and teams up with his number one fan, Chris (Patrick Renna), as well as his former co-workers, Marty (Michael Winslow) and Teddie (Marion Ramsey).

From beginning to end, I only had one word in my mind watching Lavalantula: insincere. It's fine to make a B-grade comedy monster movie, but what's sad is to make one in which nobody is invested except as a goof. Over the course of 84 minutes, there's exactly one moment in Lavalantula where director Mike Mendez (who co-wrote with Ashley O'Neil and Neil Elman) seems to take his title creature seriously (the death of a couple of Wyatt's friends), and it's the moment in the movie that cements the whole enterprise as not just bad, but depressing. If Mendez and his team had any shame, it would be easy for the movie to be kinda fun, but none of them can be bothered to give a crap. That includes Guttenberg, who is not just unconvincing as a former action star but even as a tired C-lister. The idea of Colton being a bad actor slumming it in a crummy monster movie loses any chance at being funny when the guy cast to be him is so obviously, blatantly doing the same thing.

Guttenberg is accompanied by several former co-stars, all of whom are clearly more interested in being there than he is. Nia Peeples (who co-starred with Guttenberg in Tower of Terror) has a minor amount of fun shotgunning lavalantulas, but can't even react to the radio without it coming off as intentionally hammy. Patrick Renna, who many '90s kids will recognize from The Big Green, is having the most fun as Colton's megafan. Of course, the "headline" cameos are Winslow, Ramsey, and Leslie Easterbrook from Police Academy. Easterbrook's cameo is incredibly brief, but Winslow and Ramsey are present for the beginning and end of the movie, into which Mendez offers them chance to do their schtick (Winslow especially), just because.

The lavalantulas themselves easily rank among the most unconvincing CGI creations in history: completely weightless, extremely inflexible, utterly removed from the settings in which they appear. There is no satisfaction whatsoever to seeing the characters blast them, because they never seem like a threat. In one scene, Mendez appears to use the exact same poorly-framed shot of the creatures crawling around a parking lot to illustrate Ramsey mowing them down with a machine gun, and then, moments later, a sign that they're threatening to overtake her. In another scene, "cell phone video" of the Lavalantulas attacking is footage from the movie itself, with fake static over it. Of course, Mendez then relies on these awful graphics for a finale that manages to embarrass even further than the rest of the movie, in which a tiny Colton wearing a jetpack bounces weightlessly off a giant weightless spider climbing a completely unconvincing building. Lavalantula is the nadir of an already depressing trend: genuinely bad filmmaking that is supposed to be forgiven because the filmmakers tell you it's meant to be funny.

Lavalantula arrives in an eco-friendly Amaray case, with a CGI artwork of a Lavalantula destroying the Hollywood sign that is infinitely more detailed and convincing than anything in the movie itself. Surprisingly, the artwork relegates Guttenberg, Peeples, Winslow, and Ramsey to the back cover. (Note also that Easterbrook, who is in the movie for about a minute, gets higher billing than Ramsey, but the art properly includes Ramsey's image rather than Easterbrook's.) The single-disc release slides into a foil slipcover, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Lavalantula's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation are about as convincing as the movie itself: adequate, but often underwhelming. The picture is the more adequate of the two, offering a pretty basic, clean, digital appearance that has a certain cheapness to it. Detail is fine, color is fine, clarity is crisp. Nothing wrong with it, but totally no-frills and arguably a bit unpolished. The sound is the more disappointing aspect, with sound effects as mediocre and unconvincing as the computer graphics. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
None. Trailers for Parts Per Billion, and Hell Baby play before the main menu and are replayable under "Special Features." A trailer for Lavalantula is also included.

It's fine to watch trash. Statistically, the majority of movies ever made have been trash. However, at least older trash, trash that was made earnestly, in good faith, by people who were invested in it -- that kind of trash might have pop cultural value beyond the fact that it is trash. It could be weird or unique or bizarre or strange or completely and utterly outrageous. Lavalantula can never be any of those things: it's a calculated, commercial attempt to make money off of bad filmmaking, under the embarrassingly flimsy guise that admitting it's bad absolves it. It doesn't. Skip it.

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