Four Things I Learned from Watching SyFy Original Movies

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m just out of bed. I pour a cup of coffee, stagger into my living room, and grab my television remote. Back in my younger days, I’d have searched the channel guide for Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, Looney Tunes cartoons, or even Super Friends, but times have changed. Saturday in the AM isn’t what it used to be, entertainment wise, but there’s still programming worth watching, if you know where to look.

Here’s a typical Saturday morning lineup these days: Piranhaconda, Piranha DD, Lake Placid 3, and Lake Placid: The Final Chapter. In case you aren’t among the initiated, these are all SyFy originals, science fiction movies made specifically for the SyFy network, and they’re terrible in all the best ways. The special effects are abysmal, premises are ridiculous, clichés run rampant, and the scripts come off like they might’ve been written by a gang of preschoolers.

By recent count, there are at least two hundred of these movies out there. (Yep, two-hundred.) They aren’t thought-provoking, at least not like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Inception, or the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. They are, however, fun to watch, in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 way, especially on a Saturday morning while working your way through three cups of coffee and trying to figure out how to spend the rest of the day.

Over the past few years of Saturdays, though, I’ve come to realize these SyFy original flicks can also be educational. Here are four interesting facts I’ve learned from watching them.

Nothing Mends Broken Relationships Like a Mega-Disaster

Conflict is what drives most fiction. It’s what keeps people reading novels and watching soap operas, and one way to establish conflict in a story is to build it in retroactively. It’s not always the best way, but because it’s easy, it’s a common cliché. Bitter ex-spouses, alcoholic heroes, and surly teenagers are television’s bread and butter, and SyFy originals exploit these like nobody’s business.

The situation: There’s a scientist whose wife left him ten years ago. He also lost his job, and his kid kind of hates him. A disaster happens, and everything is thrown into disarray. The world is about to end, and in the process, humanity is going to endure a lot of pain, involving any number of inconveniences, up to and including being eaten or pulled apart. The good news—and yes, there is good news—is this scientist is going to reconcile with his wife, his kid will love him again, and he’ll be hailed by all as the genius he always knew he was. Oh, and he’ll definitely save the world.

No Abomination Ever Stays Dead

The original Lake Placid was a well-received 1999 film starring Bridget Fonda, Betty White, and Bill Pullman (not Bill Paxton). Since then, SyFy has nobly carried the franchise forward with titles like Lake Placid 2, Lake Placid 3, Lake Placid: The Final Chapter, and Lake Placid vs. Anaconda. The message here is that no matter what we do to kill a giant alligator, that creature—or one of his family members—is going to eventually come back bigger and better than ever.

In Chupacabra Terror, we see a nasty goat-eater improbably terrorizing the high seas on a cruise liner. At the end of the movie, after poisonous gas, electrocution, and attacks from a Navy SEAL team, we’re led to believe the critter’s dead, but deep down inside, we know better than that. Turns out we’re right. He and a bunch of his cousins come back a couple of years later to harass Erik Estrada and a national monument in Chupacabra vs. The Alamo. Sequels as far as the eye can see, my friends.

Nuclear Weapons Can Fix Just About Anything

One of the most stunning scientific developments of the twentieth century was the creation of the atomic bomb. It was so surprising, in fact, that it scared the bejeezus out of us. The U.S. and the Soviet Union spent decades in a Cold War inspired in large part by fear that one would shoot nuclear weapons at the other. How surprised would those nuke-fearing folks be to find out that many of the science fictional dangers humanity faces can be solved by the use of a tactical nuclear weapon?

Here are a few actual scenarios from SyFy originals. Stonehenge goes wonky and tries to kill everyone on the planet? Nuke it. Let’s say a comet passes the earth and causes the poles to switch. How does our hero get them back to where they need to be? A nuke. What if a volcano appears from under the bayous of Louisiana? How do we save Cajun food and zydeco music for the rest of the world? Hey, drop a nuke. But do us a favor and be careful with it, okay?

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Actors Will Always Find Film Work

If an actor is looking to have a long career, specializing in science fiction and fantasy seems to be the best way to go, if SyFy originals are any indication. Sure, there are legions of up-and-coming performers filling vital roles, but who’s going to play the aging scientists, unbelievably wealthy villains, ex-special forces guys, and loveable losers?

Let’s consider the recent career of John Rhys-Davies, who also played multiple roles in The Lord of the Rings. Since 2002, he’s starred in no less than ten SyFy originals, including Anacondas: Trail of Blood, Anaconda: The Offspring, Sabretooth, and Chupacabra Terror. A few other sci-fi mainstays appearing in recent SyFy originals are Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Jack Coleman (Heroes), Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead), Renee O’Connor (Xena: Warrior Princess) and Brad Dourif (Child’s Play, Lord of the Rings).

I’m not saying these folks are out of the mainstream, but it has been a while since any of them starred in a movie that didn’t go straight to DVD. The good news is they won’t have any problems finding work, not as long as anacondas, chupacabras, trolls, and sharkish creatures continue to terrorize humanity.

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Knowledge comes from strange places, friends. As someone who may have been The Buddha once said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Here’s to the idea that we can learn life lessons, even when we’re in our pajamas drinking coffee and watching B-movies.