Common Ground: La. home to swampy creature movies

How many times have you grabbed your remote control, scanned the channels and let curiosity push you into watching the silliest, most off-the-wall television movies? I’m talking about a dinosaur-size alligator battling a mammoth-size croc and a shark attacking a customer in a car wash.

I feel a little strange admitting that I’m tuning in to some of those bizarre movies, but then again, sharks, sea creatures and dinosaur gators appear to be attracting swarms of viewers to networks, including the Syfy and Discovery channels.

“They have an enthusiasm for them. Viewers either love them or hate them,” says Griff Furst, director of numerous Syfy original swamp creature movies filmed in Louisiana.

Some of Syfy channel’s most successful original movies are also based in Louisiana. “Swamp Shark” became one of the network’s highest-rated original movies and was co-produced by Baton Rouge-based Active Entertainment co-owner Daniel Lewis.

The attraction is simple, Lewis says. “When you put the shark in the swamp, it’s got an appeal. When you can put a sea creature in an environment where it doesn’t belong, that’s appealing,” he says.

I had a chance to meet this particularly odd shark inside Lewis’ movie studio last spring, and it wasn’t nearly as ferocious as it appeared in the movie where it terrorized and mangled locals on the Atchafalaya Basin.

And just when you think sea creatures can only harm people in the water, the movie “Sharknado” changes everything. A super tornado pulls sharks up from the ocean and tosses them into the city of Los Angeles. I didn’t believe it until I watched what appeared to be hundreds of sharks falling out of the sky.

Watching “Ghost Shark” last month also tickled my funny bone.

A dead shark comes back to haunt a coastal community, seeking victims inside pools, bathtubs and even water coolers, says Furst, director of the film. Reality television shows have given us an appetite for these strange programs. “Swamp People” is one to name a few, and how about Discovery channel’s airing of “Return of Jaws” and “Voodoo Shark” this summer?

“We love making shark movies,” Furst says. “The audience is there for movies set in the swamp.”

To further engage its audience, viewers watched informational tweets pop up during the premiere of “Ghost Shark.” “It just kind of enhanced the viewers’ experience,” says Furst.

Sea creature movies are a form of escape and fun entertainment. “Viewers love the fact that there’s a (ghost) shark coming out of the car wash. They love these crazy moments. What can they come up with next?”

Syfy fans have much more to look forward to this fall. Stay tuned for mutant gators taking over swampland in “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Gators,” another Active Entertainment locally produced film that airs at 8 p.m. Thursday on Syfy.

I’m not ashamed to let my curiosity lure me back into the land of make-believe either, if only for a few laughs and to be able to say, “ah, no way.”

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chantewriter@hotmail.com.