“Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre” (2016) Directed by Jim Wynorski. Starring Traci Lords, Dominique Swain and Christine Nguyen. This made for TV B-movie extravaganza features buxom women being attacked by sharks. But, not the way you’d think. No, these are subterranean, prehistoric sharks that are sent to the surface after a fracking accident. Yep. That’s right. Ancient, underground sharks…Yup.
In the opening scene of “Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre,” distinguished master thespian Sir Ian McKellen squares off against his dashing rival Daniel Day Lewis in a witty game of intellectual competition set against the vibrantly realized historical backdrop of 18th century London.
Aw, who am I kidding?
Actually it begins with the Arkansas Fracking Industries blowing up sections of the woods using rocket-propelled grenade launchers. So, to recap, that’s AFI using RPGs. Nearby, a parade of curvy bimbo clones are packed into a prison van for transport. (They can’t even successfully portray what they actually are, which is women walking a very short distance, let alone hardened criminals.)
Meanwhile, the explosions vibrate into a vast underground ocean where a huge multi-finned and horned sharks, and other sea life, swimming about.
It’s a well-known geological fact that Arkansas sits directly on top of the Atlantic Ocean and isn’t a land-locked state at all. Nope. Not at all.
Soon the prehistoric beast merges into muddy forest streams in search of prey.
The dimwitted employees of the AFI decide to take a break from blowing up the forest and grab a few brews at the local dive. The fastest way to get there is to drive their van directly into the nearby stream and hope they make it out the other side, using the body of water as a kind of inadvisable highway. They spectacularly fail to make it.
Guess who shows up, amid torrents of CGI splashes that look like big white ice cubes? CHOMP!
Then we meet police detective Kendra Saunders (played by the incomparable Traci Lords). She is busy conducting a very understaffed manhunt in the woods. In the process of searching for armed fugitives, Lords discovers a beached canoe and the mutilated remains of some poor sap.
Inside the canoe she finds an old man mewling like an infant, saying the same word over and over: “Shark!” A shark in these here parts? Well, I’ll be.
But back to our jailhouse babes in the van; apparently, the Arkansas Department of Corrections takes a very casual approach to keeping dangerous felons like these under lock and key. Not only do these ladies have access to cosmetics, very small denim shorts and tank tops, the two dumbbells driving the prison van randomly decide to pull over in the woods and do a roll-call head-count by taking the uncuffed and unchained prisoners out for a quick bit of fresh air.
That’s how we get (im)properly introduced to our anti-heroines.
There’s Sarah, Michelle, Shannon, Samantha and Anita. They’re in for drug trafficking, assault, bootlegging videos, prostitution and resisting arrest etc. The girls are being forced to dig up and remove tree stumps from the woods with precious little supervision. They find the time during their sweaty endeavors to pour bottled water on their chests and fling their hair in slo-mo.
Though there are no stumps visible in the area where the girls are toiling, they just keep on mindlessly digging. God bless ‘em.
Samantha cuts her arm on broken glass and cleans the wound in a nearby stream. She is standing about 7-inches deep in the stream, barely covering the lower half of her shins. Yet somehow, the massive shark is able to easily swim its huge bulk through this lack of water and gobble her up.
Does the shark breathe air and have secret wheels on its underbelly that allow it to roll around on the sandy stream bottom? Is dark magic at play? It’s unclear.
On the trip back to the prison (without Samantha), the guards stop to help a stranded motorist named Honey, who turns out to be well armed and not very friendly. She’s out to set the ladies free from captivity because she’s Anita’s lover.
Detective Kendra Saunders is driving home from doing nothing about the bloody old man hiding in the canoe when she hears a report on the radio about female convicts on the loose. Since the guards are being held by the prisoners and have no access to communications devices, how can anyone know that the convicts are running free? (Just go with it.)
While the ladies argue and eventually wrestle each other because some don’t want to be set free, one of the guards flees into the Arkansas woods with Honey hot on his tail. She turns out to be a very poor strategist, and he becomes lunch for a hungry, roaring shark after entering an underground cave system.
Honey, the girls and the lone surviving guard Carl arrive at a cabin in the forest to hole up. Honey rented the cabin from an old man and then killed him for good measure. But all is not well. Michelle has a son she hopes to see one day, and she doesn’t want to look like a willing fugitive just because Honey and Anita forced her to escape. She’s afraid of being recaptured and spending the rest of her life behind bars for someone else’s actions.
Saunders finds the abandoned prison van and is briefly distracted by her discovery of a vintage glass Coca Cola bottle in the vicinity. She collects them, turns out.
Why is this lengthy bit in the movie? No reason!
Sarah, Michelle and Geller (Shannon) agree that the best way to celebrate their newfound freedom is to take a hot bath together in the cabin’s bathroom. Anita is totally stoked when she finds a first edition of the Charles Dickens classic “A Tale Of Two Cities” on the mantle. Honey reads aloud from the book, turning Anita on. In the tub upstairs, the other girls discuss the situation and a possible way out.
In the morning, Sarah chills on a fallen tree overhanging the stream until she witnesses the shark emerge from the water and plow efficiently through the forest floor after her. She gets eaten.
Her legless body is found by Michelle. The girls, accompanied by their guard hostage Carl, fan out and discover Sarah’s severed limbs in a clearing. They find shark teeth burrowed in one leg and begin to put the pieces together.
Honey and her girls are joined by John, a geologist monitoring vibrations caused by illegal fracking in the area. He explains that North America has a vast subterranean ocean beneath its crust, and that this dark body of water is teeming with sea life. The group makes a run to the van and witnesses a bargain basement version of the classic film “Tremors” as the shark moves through dirt and rock with great ease. It flattens the tires of their vehicle in a jiffy.
Michelle uncovers a secret kitchen stash of automatic weapons, which are clearly plastic props as the muzzles have no openings for bullets to exit. She and Carl arm themselves as John begins to fall for Shannon.
Carl quickly takes over and comes up with a foolproof plan. He’ll arm each of the women with automatic weapons if they super-duper triple pinky swear not to try to shoot him in the process of blowing away the evil shark outside. Actually, it’s sharks plural, now that many of the original creature’s dirt eating buddies have joined it.
The geniuses build a human-shaped dummy filled with explosives and spritz it with blood before hurling it out onto the gravel. Honey agrees to blow the sharks away as they surface. The explosion distracts the creatures long enough for the crew to find shelter in a nearby cave system, where the sharks cannot follow due to the hard stone floor. John sacrifices himself for the girls on the journey to the caves, which deeply grieves Shannon, even though their entire relationship was basically just one dry three-minute chat about tectonic plates. After his violent passing, Shannon is fit for a mental institution. It’s just not that big a deal, girl.
Down in the caves, it turns out that Carl fooled everyone. He placed dummy ammo that he couldn’t possibly have access to in the clips of Honey and Anita’s guns. Oh, he’s good!
The group finds that the sharks communicate via eerie vocalizations, like whales.
The escaped prisoners, and Carl, make their final stand against the ravenous monsters in the caverns below the forest as Saunders closes in on the truth. I won’t spoil the finale, but expect a very unshocking betrayal, distorted slow-motion yelling, and a change of heart from Carl.
Writer/director Jim Wynorski is a hero to all of us who enjoy our horror with an extra slice of cheese. He’s the force behind such hits as “Chopping Mall,” “Not Of This Earth,” “Dinocroc Vs Supergator,” “The Wasp Woman,” the brand new “CobraGator” and such softcore parodies as “Cleavagefield” and “The Hills Have Thighs.” Molded by his hero Roger Corman, Wynorski has been a tireless champion of schlock filmmaking for 25 years.
And with “Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre,” he doesn’t disappoint. It’s a primo cheese fest featuring winning performances from Traci Lords as Kendra and Dominique Swain as the hotheaded Honey. Enjoy!