Monster Movie Monday: Tail Sting (2001)
Matthew Turner | On 03, May 2021
Director: Paul Wynne
Cast: Laura Putney, Robert Merrill, Shirly Brener, Gulshan Grover, Tara Price, Guy Bracca, Thomas Dunn
Where to watch Tail Sting online in the UK: Amazon Prime
In the mood for a creature feature? Amazon Prime has a veritable menagerie of monster movies, so we’re working our way through them, one killer beastie at a time. Welcome to Monster Movie Mondays.
Pre-dating Snakes on a Plane by a full five years, the producers of Tail Sting (2001) probably kicked themselves for not naming their film Scorpions on a Plane when they had the chance. Frankly, it’s a surprise that no one has thought to retitle it since, because that’s the movie in a nutshell: scorpions attacking the hapless occupants of a passenger plane flying from Australia to America.
Directed by Paul Wynne, the film indulges in minimal set-up, establishing only that there is a mysterious cargo aboard the plane that someone tried to hijack before it reached the airport. Said cargo turns out to be 19 canisters of genetically enhanced scorpions, all of which grow to gigantic size when their glass jars are smashed after the plane banks to the side. (In an early show of the film’s ineptitude and lack of imagination, they don’t even bother with a turbulence scene, let alone acknowledge the fact that things don’t tip over when a plane changes direction.)
Soon afterwards, the scorpions are merrily snipping and stinging their way through a plane-load of passengers and crew. Potential victims include: Captain Jack Russell (Robert Merrill, appearing under the name Christian Scott), scientist Dr Jennifer Ryan (Laura Putney), her clearly dodgy ex-boyfriend and colleague Curtis (Ray Davis), karate expert Courtney (Tara Price), sardonic flight attendant Ben (Todd Sherry) and secretive brothers Yaffi (Gulshan Grover) and Sudan (Guy Bracca).
The creatures are disappointingly cheap-looking. There’s a close-up money shot of one that’s used repeatedly and that’s OK (at least the first time you see it), but after that they look like a job lot of dark plastic someone has left lying around. Tellingly, you never see a whole one in a shot, just giant claws or a giant tail or some spindly legs shot from under a plane seat or similar.
Worse still, the effects budget clearly wasn’t able to stretch to having more than one of the blighters on screen at any one time. There are meant to be 19 of them, but you’d never know it without the dialogue – there isn’t even a shot with more than one scorpion, suggesting they used the same single model for every shot.
The direction and editing are extremely poor throughout and the film often looks unforgivably amateurish as a result. There’s also a general lack of wit and invention to the whole thing – even when supposedly funny things happen (eg. a character having to land the plane blind, which feels like something out of Airplane!), the script and direction fail to capitalise on them, either for suspense or humour.
The minimum you’d want from a film about scorpions on a plane is a series of imaginative kills, or at least kills that are either scary or funny or both. Sadly, that’s not remotely the case here – there’s the occasional decent gore effect with the tail, but characters mostly end up getting snipped or stung off-screen.
The actors aren’t much better, though Putney (from TV’s JAG) puts a commendable straight face on things, while Merrill (who occasionally resembles a young Dennis Quaid) puts in a deliberately cheesy turn that suits the material. The rest of the performances vary from passable to poor – Davis overacts but just about gets away with it, but the ostensible comic relief characters (notably Conroe Brooks as motor-mouthed Omar) aren’t really up to the task.
The worst thing about the film is just how little care and attention seems to have gone into it. For example, the bodies just disappear after being killed and the film never establishes a sense of space on the plane. Similarly, one scene has two characters hiding in an empty coffin, even though there are no visible scorpions around them at the time and they could just have easily escaped the way they do a few minutes later.
Ultimately, the terrible creature effects really let this down (they’re not even so-bad-they’re-good) and it’s hard not to conclude that the film would have been much better with lots of tiny scorpions and the services of a good scorpion wrangler.
Tail Sting is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.