The 1979 war film Apocalypse Now is infamous for going over budget, over schedule, and over the top to appease director Francis Ford Coppola’s every demand. 2009’s Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is infamous for … the exact opposite reasons. Pumped through the direct-to-video company The Asylum’s “mockbuster” pipeline for a fraction of a fraction of the cost of a typical tentpole, the movie delivers just enough to validate the marquee-friendly title. Today, Apocalypse Now is revered as one of the great American films. Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus floats through streaming libraries and provides the internet with big floppy CG shark memes. But was pulling it off any less of a feat than Coppola’s blood-sweat-and-tears epic?
Someone has to treat the Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopuses like their own personal Apocalypse Now, and writer-director Jack Perez was up for such a challenge. His early work in the 1990s, shooting behind-the-scenes documentaries on the sets of Carlito’s Way, The Flintstones, and Hard Target, eventually put him on the radar of Sam Raimi, who hired him to direct Hercules’ backdoor pilot for Xena. By then Perez had directed an indie feature, the found-footage-before-found-footage-was-a-thing horror flick America’s Deadliest Home Video, had stop-motion animation skills in his back pocket, and knew his way around a commercial set. The future was bright enough; Perez spent the ’90s and 2000s bouncing between indie features and gigs-for-hire like Wild Things 2 and MTV’s TV movie Monster Island.
Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, which finds a team of oceanographers scrambling to kill two underwater kaiju by luring them into a tentacle-flapping, jaw-snapping fight, was not a passion project. But when Perez signed on, he wanted it to be good — even if the Debbie Gibson-led creature feature was just another cog in The Asylum’s notorious business model. And it seemed to have worked; the movie’s low-rent visual effects and stilted drama mesmerized internet kids, prompting Asylum to produce several Mega Shark sequels. Before the hyper-self-aware gimmicks of Sharknado (also an Asylum joint), there was Perez funneling his monster-movie memories from the 1970s into cheapo popcorn entertainment.
What did it take to get an Asylum movie wrapped and in the can? Out of morbid curiosity, I phoned Perez to talk about the making of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.
[Ed. note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.]