Aquanoids (2003)

Starring Laura Nativo, Christopher Irwin, Ike Gingrich, and Rhoda Jordan

Directed by Reinhart “Rayteam” Peschke

The movie is called Aquanoids and yet there is only one Aquanoid in the movie. Worse yet, the lone Aquanoid has little screen time and what little it does have usually lasts about as long as the average shot in a Michael Bay movie. A more appropriate title for this film would have been Aquanoid’s Hands since the creature’s claws are all you get to see for the majority of the film. The Aquanoid’s lack of screen time is matched only by its lack of personality and lack of explanation as to where it came from in the first place. The bulk of the movie focuses on the human intrigue – primarily the efforts of the non-monster villains trying to kill the heroine – that is anything but intriguing. Instead of Aquanoids, the movie should have been given the more appropriate title Evil Old Men Try To Kill A Nubile Dominique Swain Look-A-Like.

Aquanoids starts off with a prologue set in 1987 when the creature first appeared and killed a bunch of people before it just up and vanished without a trace or an explanation. The whole sea monster story has since become local urban legend and the deaths were attributed to non-Aquanoid related accidents.

It’s then off to present day where the Aquanoid returns from wherever it’s been all these year to once again kill people for seemingly no particular reason. Local hotty Vanessa, who either fancies herself a marine biologist or actually is a marine biologist, I’m not really sure and I don’t recall if the movie ever made it clear, discovers that the Aquanoid has returned almost as soon as it does. If she really is a marine biologist then she must have gotten her degree from the same college that Tara Reid got her archaeology degree from in Alone in the Dark. Frankly, I don’t care because if more oceanographers and marine biologists looked like Laura Nativo then I’d spend a lot more time at the local aquarium.

Vanessa immediately runs, or should I say scooters since she gets around everywhere on her trusty foot scooter, to the Mayor with news of the Aquanoid but he won’t hear anything of it because it’s the Fourth of July weekend. Yeah, you know the drill. We’re also supposed to believe this guy was the Mayor even back in 1987 during the first Aquanoid attacks that he helped cover up. He must have had himself named “Dictator for Life” to remain in office that long. Another reason the Mayor isn’t so keen on dealing with the Aquanoid problem is because he and a shady land developer are planning to build a huge shopping center that would personally line their pockets with millions of dollars each and the negative publicity a rampaging monster could bring the town would ruin everything. And so the Mayor that looks like the world’s meanest NFL coach circa 1971 with eyebrows so thick light itself could not escape their surface skulks around town with the shady land developer, who looks and acts like an extra on “The Sopranos”, trying to thwart the lovely Vanessa’s attempts to ward the local denizens. And I do mean they literally walk around all over the place, even spying on her from a distance with binoculars. They even go so far as to murder a reporter that dared to film a story about the monster sightings and attempt to give Vanessa the Silkwood treatment in a scene that features the clumsiest attempted murder in cinematic history. Note to all potential assassins out there: don’t try sneaking up behind your victim and finishing them off by applying the Vulcan Nerve Hold because that only works on “Star Trek”.

Vanessa’s token black friend and cop boyfriend aids her on her quest to warn the general populace of the Aquanoid threat by merely handing out flyers telling people to stay out of the water. Oh yes, the town drunk that saw the monster many years eventually joins the crusade. Vanessa eventually discovers an unexpected bond to the town drunk that leads to a ridiculously melodramatic scene more appropriate to a daytime soap opera than to a monster movie. For the record, all three of Vanessa’s cohorts share the common trait of having the personality of drying wallpaper.

But their lack of personality is more than made up for by the local coroner, who must have had himself named “Coroner for Life” since he too has been doing that job in this town for 17+ years, and also aided in the original cover-up. The guy playing the coroner seems to be hoping to win the Jeffrey Combs Award for Wackiest Mad Scientist of the Year but he’s far more annoying than amusing. He’s eating a sandwich while performing an autopsy. Isn’t that wacky? This character is pretty much the perfect metaphor for the movie since he’s trying so damn hard to be entertaining but it just isn’t happening. Just because a movie knows that it’s cheesy that still doesn’t automatically make it fun to watch.

Aquanoids also boasts two of the worst monster attack scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. A surfer is shown talking to someone on his cell phone while out in the middle of the water when the Aquanoid (Or should I say the Aquanoid’s hands?) begins slashing away at his leg. Does he high tail it back to shore? Does he even try pulling his leg out of the water? No, he dials 911 and begs the operator to send help. Moments later, the Aquanoid’s hands pull him underwater to his death. Then later on, another potentially wacky character is out Aquanoid hunting. When he thinks he gets a bite on his line he proceeds to put scuba goggles on and leans overboard sticking his head into the water to see what’s tugging on the bait just as any true fisherman would. Right on cue, the Aquanoid (Or should I say the Aquanoid’s hands?) grabs his head and pulls him underwater to his death. I can only assume that the circumstances of these two deaths were supposed to be funny but they were just excessively stupid in a manner to annoying to be amusing.

There’s also a snobby young female whose character exists for no other reason than to provide us with a scene that is either supposed to be an homage to or blatant rip-off of the finale to Humanoids of the Deep. The fact that I can’t tell which it was supposed to be is a testament to how poorly executed that whole sequence is.

Aquanoids has all the earmarks of a movie on a next to nothing budget made by a first time director and so it should come as no surprise that the movie was in fact made for next to nothing by a first time director. According to IMDB, director Reinhart Peschke has worked as a gaffer on many other movies and that seems rather appropriate given the number of gaffs he’s made in his own. Insert rimshot here. Seriously though, he also has several credits working as a chief lighting technician and, if nothing else, I must say that Aquanoids is a very well-lit movie. The film is great to look at with vibrant colors and a lot of attractive local scenery, most notably Laura Nativo in a bikini top and daisy duke shorts.

I know when you watch an ultra low budget movie like this you’re supposed to give the filmmaker some leeway because of the lack of budget and such, but there’s only so much leeway you can give before you just have to be honest about all of its deficiencies. We are talking about a movie where all of the underwater scenes were clearly shot in about four feet of water. You can see the actors breaking the surface during the underwater shots. The plot is flimsier than Laura Flynn Boyle, the dialogue is as banal as it can get, and the quality of acting ranges from amateurish to public access television to person we pulled off the street at random and stuck in front of a camera. You know a movie is really bad when character begin naming off other aquatic themed monster movies as an in-joke and all you can think is that you’d much rather be watching any one of those over this.

The most unforgivable failing of the film is that the Aquanoid, which looks like a rust-colored merman with a demonic gargoyle head, is relegated to making cameo appearances in its own film. Well, other than its hands, which get far more screen time than the rest of it. And to be perfectly honest, I’m sick to death of low budget genre filmmakers thinking they skirt by just loading up their movie with excessive gore. You can give us lots of bloody mutilated victims but you can’t give the damn monster any friggin’ screen time? That’s just lazy filmmaking. I’m beginning to suspect that any kid with a digital camera and a bottle of ketchup could make a horror movie these days.

In the end, Aquanoids only has two things going for it. The first is the obvious enthusiasm of the cast. The second is a gorgeous young starlet in skimpy outfits. Neither one makes it worth going out your way to see, although the second one does come pretty close.

1 ½ out of 5

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