Frankenfish (2004)

Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé

Written by Simon Barrett, Scott Clevenger

Run Time: 84 minutes

In 25 Words or Less:

Mutant fish invade our precious swamps and eat rednecks.

The Cast

Quote of the Day:

"You look great for a girl covered in giant fish brains"

– Sam


Open with a lone fisherman (uh-oh!) plying his trade on the muddy waters of some god-forsaken swamp. Something catches his eye: a large bobber dipping up and down in the water signaling a catch. Being the expert angler that he is, John (his name…as we learn later from his next of kin…oops), leans waaaay over the boat’s edge and topples into the water. Good job, dude. After a few perfunctory panicky splashings, he is gobbled up by an unseen creature leaving only a spreading circle of blood on the water’s surface to mark his demise.

Sorry to digress so soon, but at this point it seems that Frankenfish was using the bobber to lure John into the water, so you’d think that it’s a fairly intelligent monster. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Frankenfish does show occasional hints of intelligence, but only when it serves to keep the plot moving. I was really hoping that Frankenfish would indeed turn out to be more than just another aquatic "eating machine", but that’s pretty much all it does.

But…anyway, back to the show.

Cut to a local crime scene complete with "shaky cam" to make things more realistic…and with a title like "Frankenfish", you just know the filmmakers had realism at the top of their list. We quickly catch sight of Sam Rivers, M.E., giving his expert diagnosis after studying a dead body, "Something was definitely chewing on her." Man, how many years of college did it take to acquire those lofty levels of expertise? (NOTE: This crime scene and the "chewing" has nothing to do with Frankenfish…it was just tossed in there as a red herring. It’s kind of pointless since this crime scene is never mentioned again.)

As Sam silently reflects on the gory scene before him, the Sheriff shows up and announces that he’s pulling him off the case and sending him to the small town of Ottly, where the local police have recently fished a mangled body out of the swamp. "You’re the expert on this sort of thing…he was pretty chewed up " says the Sheriff. (Apparently Sam’s a "chewed-to-death" expert or something.)

A quick establishing shot shows Sam pulling up into the parking lot of a small rural bar. Inside the bar, a local cop leads Sam into the walk-in refrigerator where, steeling himself, he throws open a ice-filled beer cooler (!) to reveal a mass of chewed remains which have been ID’ed as a local fisherman named John Crankton.

"It’s an alligator attack," the cop concludes.

"Then why call in an M.E.?" asks Sam.

"Because these aren’t like any gator bites I’ve ever seen." (Then why did you say it’s a alligator attack then? Sheesh!)

The next day Sam rents a motor boat for the 5 hour (!) trip up the river to where the body was found. Unbeknownst to our hero, Mary Callahan, an agent from the Fish and Wildlife Department, has also been assigned to the case and is waiting for him in the boat.

After exchanging pleasantries that sound like they were inspired from a porn film,

"Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you, too."

"So you ready?"

"Yeah, let’s do it."

Sam starts the motor and he and Mary begin their journey into the swamp. Said journey consists solely of long stretches of film showing Sam and Mary motoring a boat up a river. It’s kind of like watching Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen was driving up the river into Cambodia, except Martin Sheen was is a white guy and there were no genetically-mutated giant fish eating the soldiers.

The general boredom is occasionally interrupted by inane conversation:

"You get a lot of swamp murders?" Mary asks.

"Not really," Sam replies, "when it comes to killing people, the swamp doesn’t need any help."

Brrrrrrrrr…I’m getting chills up my spine!

So…more river boating…man this really does feel like a 5 hour trip! At last Mary spots an alligator that "just doesn’t look right." I’m forced to pause and admire Mary’s astonishing powers of observation: she spotted an alligator head poking out of the water a good 100 feet away, in the reeds, while speeding along in a motor boat. Oh, and not only did she spot it, she noticed that something was out of the ordinary. She sure must be eating her carrots!

Sam slows the boat and putt-putt-putt’s the craft over to the river bank. Mary, now sporting a bright yellow bikini top (When did she change into that?!…and would the Department of Game and Fish approve of their agents wearing bikinis while investigating deaths?), starts poking the alligator’s head with an oar. (Is that really what a professional wildlife expert would do?) With a sharp poke, the patently rubber alligator head rolls over to expose a bloody stump where its body should be.

"Probably some redneck poacher’s idea of a joke," says Sam.

Satisfied with Sam’s expert hypothesis, Mary hops back into her seat without bothering to, oh, take the severed head to study the bite marks or something. Gunning the motor, Sam and Mary continue with their journey…but wait! We cut to a POV shot of…something…peering at them from the water’s surface only a few feet away. I guess Sam’s excuse for not noticing a giant monster fish looking at them from the surface of the water was that he’s too busy staring at Mary’s bikini, but how Mary failed to spot it is beyond me.

After a while, the pair spot a gruff old fisherman, Elmer, standing chest-deep in the water catching fish with his hand. And when I say "with his hand", I mean he’s literally using his hand as bait.

(NOTE: I was surfing the net the other night after too many beers and discovered that this type of fishing really exists. It’s called ‘noodling‘, and there’s actually quite a bit of it being done in the South. In fact it’s illegal in most states. Wow. Back to the movie.)

"Is it biting you?" Mary asks.

Elmer gives a knowing smile and yanks his arm out of the water revealing a huge catfish that has swallowed it up to the elbow.

"HELL YEAH!" he answers with glee, "If some strange fella stuck his hand in your hole, wouldn’t you bite ’em?" (Oh, Elmer, you and your rapier wit.)

Sam decides to get down to brass tacks and asks Elmer if he knows anything about the dead fisherman. Elmer agrees to lead them to a group of houseboats where John used to live together with a group of other eclectic characters. (Read: fish food). After more motoring up the river footage (enough already!), they stop along side Elmer’s home where he introduces Sam and Mary to the resident hippies, Roland, and his girlfriend, Bobbi. For characterization’s sake, and a bit of comedy relief, Roland and Bobbi are written as "nudists". It’s sort of lame, yes, but there is a funny scene with Roland standing naked behind a strategically placed fruit basket…don’t ask. On the other hand, I have to question the wisdom of being a nudist deep in a Georgia swamp…hello! Mosquitoes!

Elmer also introduces Sam and Mary to John’s widow, Gloria and (cute) daughter, Eliza. When questioned about any recent strange happenings, Gloria recalls that, now that you mention it, a strange boat was cast up into the river by a recent hurricane. After that, well, "bad things" started to happen, so she’s been forced to resort to voodoo to keep the evil away. (Just go with it.) Sam asks Elmer to accompany them out to the boat for a quick look-see. Elmer agrees and they take their leave, but not before Gloria furtively slips Mary 4 small paper-wrapped packages "for protection". (Voodoo condoms?)

When Mary pauses to examine the odd parcels, Sam simply tells her to "put them in your pocket." (The irritating thing here is that we never find out exactly what these little doo-dads actually are. I was hoping for the Frankenfish version of a "Holy Hand Grenade". But no: it’s just another abandoned plot point. )

OK, like I saying, Elmer leads them up the river to the mysterious boat. (Funny how it’s still broad daylight out even after the 5 hour tour from town.) As they pull alongside the wreck, Elmer mentions that it’s been sitting there for 3 months, which seems like a looooooong time for a boat to go missing without somebody looking for it, but whatever.

As Sam and Mary climb aboard to look for clues, Elmer (wisely) decides to wait outside in the boat.

"This boat had a Chinese crew," says Mary upon spotting a bamboo steamer in the ship’s galley. (Yep, I guess only Chinese people eat steamed vegetables. And again, since it’s explicitly pointed out that the crew was Chinese, you’d think that it has some sort of role to play in the story; but it really doesn’t.)

On the ship’s bridge, Sam snoops around and spots a box with a switch on it. Hmmm…now what would a smart guy do? Investigate first? See if it’s connected to something dangerous? Naaaaah. He just reaches out, flips the switch, and moves on. (Gee, it’s a good thing it wasn’t connected to a self-destruct mechanism, eh?) It turns out that this odd box is a homing beacon which promptly alerts the Bad Guys to the boat’s whereabouts. Nice going.

Sam eventually makes his way down into the ship’s hold despite the horrible stench of rotting meat emanating from the darkness below. Mary, proving again that she’s the smarter of the pair, stays on up deck. Nearly overcome with the smell, Sam feels his way around while occasional discharging his camera’s flashbulb for quick bursts of illumination. (I loved the way Sam uses a camera flash to look around instead of using, oh…., a flashlight!) The brief bursts of light reveal the unfortunate fate of the boat’s crew: their bodies lay mangled, bloody, and rotting in heaps on the floor. Yech.

When Mary hears Sam’s gasps, she peers into the darkness to see what’s going on. Too bad for her as she inadvertently catches sight of the dead bodies and rushes to the railing to barf. (What a girl!) After emptying her stomach into the river, Mary limply sits on the deck trying to compose herself. As luck would have it, she just happens to discover an odd looking object laying just beside her…why, it’s a giant fish scale. "I’ve never seen one that big before," says Mary. (…nah, you can make your own stupid joke there. That one’s a bit too easy.)

A few minutes later, Elmer returns to pick them up. Mary eases herself over the ship’s railing down onto Elmer’s motorboat and promptly knocks him into the water. (She works for the Fish and Wildlife Department?! What a klutz!) Frankenfish, lurking nearby, takes advantage of this easy meal opportunity and drags Elmer down into the depths. As Elmer’s screams still echo through the woods, Sam and Mary look at each other with a blasé "Huh, well waddayaknow?" look and head back to the house boats.

As mentioned recently, the beeping homing device has alerted the boat’s owners, and token sleazy bad guys, Jeff and Anton. These 2 knuckleheads are ecstatic to finally discover the location of the boat because of its expensive cargo that Jeff owns. (Can you guess what that cargo was? Huh? Can you?) With an exuberance that only bad guys unknowingly racing off to meet their doom can have, Jeff and Anton hire an airboat and head off into the swampy wilds to find the wrecked ship.

Back at the house boats, Sam informs the others of Elmer’s untimely demise. (Then again, anybody that fishes while using their arm as bait is already a good candidate for the Darwin Award.) As if there wasn’t enough extraneous characters in this yarn, Eliza’s lawyer-boyfriend, Dan, has showed out of nowhere. Seriously…where the hell did he come from? Obviously, the film needed another young guy to compete with Sam for Eliza’s amorous attentions, but still, unless I fell asleep and missed something, he really did just appear out of nowhere.

So anyway, the Men Folk decide that it’s too dark to risk a trip back to town through the swamp, so they’ll just have to…Bum! Bum! Bum!…spend the night.

As everybody settles in for the evening, Mary discusses the day’s events with Sam, "It’s definitely carnivorous, which narrows it down to about 4 or 5 fish on the planet," she says.

(Yeah, and I think the fact that it can swallow a full-grown man in one gulp would narrow it down even more. Then again, I don’t work for the Fish and Wildlife Department so wudda I know?)

After a short while, Gloria announces that dinner’s ready: snapping-turtle-and-rice gumbo. Naturally, this grosses out the 2 city slickers, Mary and Dan, generating some predictable "oooooooo…I’m not eating that" comedy bits…but really…doesn’t anybody care that John and Elmer have both been killed by a giant fish within the last 24 hours? Good grief, they’re probably not even cold yet. Well, John is since he’s stuffed into a beer cooler, but you get my point.

Roland, meanwhile, sits on his porch smoking a joint when he suddenly sees something big swimming through the water. Grabbing a flash light he bends over the edge of the boat and peers into the murky water.

Whoa, whoa, stop now! Roland, my man, let me repeat: John and Elmer have both been killed by a giant fish THIS VERY SAME DAY…maybe you shouldn’t lean over the water to see WHAT THAT BIG THING SWIMMING AROUND IS!

Well, too late. He didn’t listen to my advice. As Bobbi looks on, FrankenFish launches itself up out of the water and bites off Roland’s head in one chomp. This scene wasn’t completely unexpected, but still kind of funny in a sick, bad-monster-movie kinda way.

Bobbi’s screams bring the others running as she jumps into a boat…"I have to get his head!" she shouts, and I even watched the scene several times to make sure that’s what she said because it makes no sense whatsoever. Well, with one stoner hippy already dead, there really isn’t much need for Bobbi in the plot, so Frankenfish slams into her tiny boat and tips her out of the water. Chomp. Gulp. Good-bye. Ahhh, so long Bobbi, we hardly knew ye, but thanks for showing us your boobs.

Sam, apparently forgetting the whole "too dark to risk traveling back to town" discussion from a whole 2 minutes ago, offers to pilot Dan’s boat up the river and get everybody the hell out of there. Obviously, everybody thinks this is now a wonderful idea, but Frankenfish proves to be a real party-pooper and punches a hole in Dan’s boat with its snout, sending it to the bottom.

"It’s attacking everything that moves!" says Mary, which is a strange thing to say since all the boats that Frankenfish has attacked were floating completely still. But whatever.

With all the motor boats destroyed, they decide to try and escape using the recently deceased Roland’s house boat. Yeah, but now the bad news: its’s docked about 30 feet across the open water. Naturally, nobody is going to dare swim the distance, but there just happens to be a clothes-line/pulley-type rigging between the 2 boats complete with a dangling wash bin that they used to shuttle supplies back and forth. Oh man, I see where this is going, but I just can’t believe it.

Eliza volunteers to go first and climbs into the wash bin. Once snugly inside the metal container, she starts draaaaaagging herself across the gap by pulling on the ropes. Yes, it’s completely absurd…but when I think about it…if the pulleys were indeed strongly secured, the big bucket is actually pretty high off the water, so maybe it’s not that bad of an idea after all. But I never would have sent the hot chick over, no way. (Her annoying boyfriend, however, now that’s a different story.)

At this point I’m assuming that you’re not from Mars, so you know that the rope will snap riiiiiight before she gets to the other side, right?

And it does.

Eliza plummets into the water below, alerting Frankenfish to yet another potential snack. But this time Frankenfish will have to turn back disappointed because Eliza pulls herself up onto the deck of the house boat Just In Time. Whew…that was…TOO CLOSE! Eliza quickly makes her way inside only to discover that the motor is busted. Boy, that came as a huge surprise, I tell ya.

Soooooo, as the others wring their hands in dismay, Ricardo, the surly, proactive one of the bunch, shows some initiative (finally!) and takes matters into his own hands. Grabbing a huge fishing hook from a nearby stool, he baits it with a big dead fish and tosses into the water. Well, this easy meal quickly brings Frankenfish swimming like greased lightning towards the boat, but instead of taking the bait, it launches itself up onto the deck and starts growling (!) and lurching towards the shocked angler. Ricardo slips on…something…and desperately crab walks back from Frankenfish but not before he gets his legs stuck in its fishy maw. Just as things look like it’s game over for Ricardo, he grabs his shotgun and blows Frankenfish’s brains out. (So, yea! They’re all safe now, right? There’s no way there could be two Frankenfish…could there?)

Anyway, Ricardo cuts out the monsters heart and tosses it onto his nearby Weber grill. This must be part of the "eat your enemy – swallow his soul" lore of the Georgia swamps. As the others cringe and watch in disgust, Ricardo takes a big bite out of the grilled heart and lets loose a victory howl. Now, everybody knows that you should never boast of your victory over the monster with 40 minutes of run time left…what are you thinking, Ricardo? Sure enough, another Frankenfish hops out of the water and eats Ricardo. In a piece of Shakespearean irony, you can just make out the Frankenfish eating Ricardo’s heart…Lo! the muse was speaking to the writers that day.

Mary, cool-headed as always, makes an announcement: "I know how we can get out of this!…We just go over to Ricardo’s boat and…" Then, I swear, Ricardo’s shotgun, which had been laying in the fire caused when Frankenfish ate him, discharges and blows her head off. I’m not kidding! OK. I tease the writers now and then, but that was pretty funny. Truly, it is a dark day for the Fish and Wildlife Department. In hind sight, however, it’s obvious that her character would just get in the way of Eliza and Sam, so she had to go. (Plus…she wasn’t as cute as Eliza, so it was obvious that she had to go sooner or later.)

Next in the continuing Series of Improbable Events, the propane canister (also in the fire) finally overheats. The resulting pressure blows off the valve and transforms the former barbeque accessory into a deadly missile. Amazingly, the projectile zips up into the air, over the water, and into Roland’s disabled house boat…and before anybody can react, the canister explodes BOOM! blowing the boat into smithereens and tossing Eliza into the water.

In an utterly suicidal move, Sam dives in and frantically swims toward Eliza’s motionless form bobbing in the water. Frankenfish, supposedly waiting around for the next silly thing to happen, immediately swims as fast as it can towards Sam and Eliza. Seeing that her daughter is about to be devoured, Gloria slices her hand with a knife and squeezes blood into the water in order to attract the fiendish fish towards her instead. That’s a good plan. In fact it’s a great plan: Frankenfish changes course and races towards Gloria instead. As Sam pulls Eliza out of the water, Frankenfish leaps up in a graceful arc, flops down right in front of Gloria, and bites her in half. Damn. You’d think by now they’d realize that STANDING ON THE EDGE OF A BOAT IS DANGEROUS!!! Good grief!

Let’s take a role call: Sam, Eliza, and Dan: alive. Everybody else: dead.

Oh wait, here comes Jeff and Anton in their airboat along with a couple of no-name extras. You’ve all heard of the Star Trek red-shirt rule, right? Well this is a clear cut case of the DVD Redneck rule. And it sure doesn’t take long: as soon as they pull up, Frankenfish knocks them off the airboat and into the water, eating a couple crewmen for good measure. Jeff and Anton, after clambering out of the water and onto the house boats, admit that they bought the monster fish from mad Chinese scientists to use for thrill hunting. (I’m no big game hunter, Jeff, but, wow, that just sounds like a reeeeeeeelly bad idea.)

Anton, who is —> STANDING AT THE EDGE OF THE BOAT <—, suggests that they all swim to the airboat since Frankenfish can’t eat them all if they swim in different directions. (Wanna bet?) Sure enough, at that moment Frankenfish flies out of the water and eats him! (Good grief. I don’t even care anymore. Eat’em all, FrankenFish!) Before Frankenfish can safely return to the depths, it is wounded by multiple gunshots and swims away, leaving a trail of blood in the water.

Now that Frankenfish is wounded and on the run, Jeff offers to pilot everybody to safety on his airboat, but only if they agree to help him hunt down his fish first. Reluctantly, everybody agrees. What choice do they have?

Cut to the next day to see Jeff and the others cruising down the river, following a huge blood trail. (You can’t help but notice that its around 2 in the afternoon, which means they’ve been driving up the river for about 15 hours!) The bloody trail eventually leads them to a nesting hole in the side of the river bank. (Suddenly the sun is low in the horizon, so another 5 or 6 hours have passed? Man, that thing holds a lot of fuel…and wouldn’t the blood trail have dissipated in the water by then?) After a brief discussion comprising of, more or less:

Jeff: "Sam you go into the hole first."

Sam: "No way."

Jeff: "Yes way"…<pulls out gun>

Sam, forced at gunpoint, takes the lead with Jeff and the sole surviving redneck crewman, Ben, following close behind. (Don’t worry about remembering Ben’s name: he’ll be dead in the next paragraph.)

Inside the hole, they discover the half-devoured remains of Frankenfish. "I bought three," Jeff explains, "two are dead and I’m bringing the last one home with me…alive." (He bought three? Were they on sale or something? And why in the world do you to take one back alive? Didn’t you buy them so you could hunt them down?) Suddenly, Ben disappears under the water *ploop*.

Sam, probably thinking SCREW THIS!, runs out of the hole, leaving Jeff behind to meet his doom: a one-way trip through the digestive system of the sole remaining Frankenfish. (Get it? Sole remaining? I love me.)

Reaching the airboat, Sam guns it into high gear with Frankenfish in hot pursuit…and there’s no way that boat could outrun a fish that big; but let’s cut the movie a little slack at this point. Somehow, Dan falls out of the boat and into a big mud hole, but since he is the comedy relief character, Frankenfish ignores him and continues on after the Hero and his Lady. (Don’t worry, I’ll tell you what befalls Dan in a sec…mwu-ha-ha!)

Getting a really great idea, Sam guns the boat up to full speed, grabs Eliza, and jumps into the water. Frankenfish doesn’t seem to realize that "hey, the big thing I was chasing has stopped, maybe I should stop too" (or else it’s too fat from eating all the rednecks and can’t stop) and swims directly into the airboat’s spinning fan blades, conveniently slicing and dicing itself into a million pieces.

With the final Frankenfish chopped up and slung all over the river covering Sam and Eliza with guts and blood, our hero and his new girlfriend bob in the water and share a slimy embrace. (How do they know there aren’t more monster fish swimming around? No matter what, you’d think that their first instinct would be to get the hell out of the water!) After a quick kiss (of course), Sam and Eliza decide to swim back up the river to check on Dan.

(Kind of funny: now Sam doesn’t give a shit about the swamps natural dangers, alligators, snakes, etc. I mean, wasn’t it he that said, "When it comes to killing people, the swamp doesn’t need any help." Oh well…if you’ve survived 3 FrankenFish, what’s a puny alligator in comparison? )

As promised, let’s see what happened to Dan. Cut back to see him laying in a huge pool of mud, in pretty good shape considering all he’s been through. As he chuckles at his good fortune, a little silvery fish flops up out of the water onto the mud beside him. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then about 50 little baby Frankenfish slither their way up to him and devour him bit by bit. I don’t know…I thought that was a pretty harsh way to kill a comedy relief character. Then again, he was a lawyer…

Sooooo…do all these juvenile Frankenfish mean that when Sam and Eliza reach Dan’s remains, they’ll also be eaten? We’ll never know, my friend, unless they come out with a Frankenfish 2, which I sincerely doubt they will.

The End

Dennis Grisbeck (August 2012)

It was disappointing that so much of the action took place at night making it difficult to actually see the monster (and get decent screenshots).
I also felt that there were way too many extra characters that really didn’t add anything to the movie except to expand Franken Fish’s waist line…and the way that each victim simply stood on the edge of the boat and was eaten got a little boring after a while.

So, sure, give a quick watch if you get the chance. It has it’s moments and you do get to see a decent amount of the monster once things get going. What more do you want?”)?>

4 comments to Frankenfish (2004)

  • Guts3d

    “Now, everybody knows that you should never boast of your victory over the monster with 40 minutes of run time left…” So true! Another classic, great review! This sounds like it was a verrrry painful movie. Do they have nudist hippes and low I.Q. river folk in “your neck of the woods”‘ Dennis?

  • Actually, I live in the swamps of Southwest Georgia, and well, reality is quite a bit different from the presentation here. There’s plenty of swamps in Georgia, but there’s no bayou, so to speak. Hurricanes can’t exactly blow boat up the river to Albany. There’s dams up and down the two rivers (both of which go all the way to Atlanta). On the other side of the state, there’s an estuary on the coast, but the rivers flow through the sea ports of Savannah and Jacksonville. Alabama, where this wretched film was shot, is practically the same with Mobile taking place of Savannah. No, best to set it in Louisiana and it makes a lot more sense. *snort*

    As to “noodling” that’s a hillbilly thing. No one in South Georgia would think of trying it because of the gators which inhabit golf course ponds, rivers, lakes, swamps and pretty much any body of water. Stick your arm trying to come up with a catfish, and you won’t come back with an arm. There aren’t gators in the ponds and streams in North Georgia’s mountains. Too cold to live through the winter.

    And yes, thanks for pointing out the nudist problem with Georgia as well: with the vast volume of mosquitos (including the dreaded tiger mosquito that HURTS like hell when it bites you and gives you West Nile virus) and gnats, no-see-ems (midges) and other blood sucking creatures like mites, chiggers and hostile insects such as fire ants, NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND goes to the swamp and hangs out naked.

    That being said, like so many other movies, this one is supposed to be based on a true story. LOL If the production team got these details wrong, I’d love to see just how accurate it is to that “true story.”

  • Oh, cool, it’s on next weekend!


    Well, I sat down and watched the DvRed movie last night. I think the two things that stood out for me are as follows:

    1) The introduction of the Marine Biologist only to kill her off in a gun accident is just so typical of modern sf movies. They spent 30 mins to introduce a character and get it into the right spot, and blam, she’s dead. It’s pointless to introduce a character only to give them a meaningless death, and frankly, it’s bad writing.

    2) The gore when the big fish at the end jumps into the airboat is not only needless, and to an extend comically off-putting, as well as a violation of the laws of physics.

    Still, it’s watchable.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>