Cruel Jaws (1995)

Say what you will, but that title will prove all too accurate. (The film was also known as Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws. I’m not sure if Spielberg ever gave his permission for that, though.)

Amongst the many services my good friend Sandy Petersen has afforded me over the years, one of the more dubious is his fervent commitment to acquaint me with the oeuvres of such Italian stalwarts as Umberto Lenzi and, particularly, Bruno Mattei. As filmmakers these two make Uew Boll look like…well, pretty much any other filmmaker than Umberto Lenzi and Bruno Mattei.*

[*The only saving grace is that Sandy’s predilection for over the top gore and sex and rampant “and then even more shit happens” steam of (un)consciousness cinema does not extend to the works of Lenzi and Mattei’s forebears in unwatchability, Jean Rollins and Jesse Franco.]

Some of the more odious examples of Mattei’s hackwork, which is saying something, were proudly displayed during 2012’s T(ween) Fest. Mattei’s final two efforts were purportedly conjoined shot-on-cheap-video Euro TV flicks. These were zombie movies (made for TV; as was, actually, Cruel Jaws), and thus presumably meant to evoke Mattei’s heyday in the 1980s, such as it was.

On the surface, the two ‘films,’ Island of the Living Dead—hard to believe that title remained unused until 2006—and Zombies: the Beginning, are a single work. The second takes up right where the first ends, as Halloween II did right after Michael Myers went balcony-diving in the previous entry. In Island of the Living Dead, the climax sees heroine Sharon (Yvette Yzon) survive the zombie attack that killed all her compatriots. Zombies: The Beginning opens as she is rescued and taken to temporary safety.

However, if logic and continuity are superfluous concepts to Italian genre filmmakers—and my own experience suggests that they are—then they are doubly so to Bruno Mattei. Island of the Living Dead oddly, if somewhat innovatory (albeit an advantage relentlessly squandered by Mattei’s sheer ineptitude and incoherency), melds the by then classical Romero-esque zombies with black magic and the supernatural. Not to overmuch effect, true, but conceptually it’s at least something.

Meanwhile, Zombies: The Beginning kicks off with Sharon being brought back to the mainland. As things progressed I grew increasingly unnerved by Sandy’s sadistic cackling, which alarmingly seemed mostly aimed in my direction. I soon figured out why. For the hostile grilling of Sharon by a panel of authorities quickly descended not into yet another, dime a dozen rip-off of the scene in Aliens where Ripley angrily tries to alert a corporate board to the dangers posed by the alien that killed her crew. No, fate was not to be so kind.

Instead, to my chagrined horror the scene descended into a line-for-line, nearly word-for-word outright recreation of that scene, missing only Aliens’ smart direction, acting and production values. And so went the entire picture. Remember how pointless Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho seemed? Well, that was a brilliant idea in comparison. To witness Zombie: The Beginning is to re-watch one of the greatest and most memorable genre movies of all time, reshot for about a thousandth of the budget and a millionth of the talent, unspooling sloooowly and excruciatingly at seemingly endless length.

This requires the forthrightly supernatural nature of the first film, which again ends pretty much the exact second this one begins, be entirely jettisoned. Indeed, it’s not even mentioned by anybody. Imagine if you saw the sequel to a Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy, and the immediately following sequel was, with no explanation at all, suddenly set in the old west.  And so the barely able, Scream Queen-y Sharon suddenly morphs (again without comment) into an action hero-y Ripley Redux, while the formally supernatural zombies are now garage sale Borg techno-zombies.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Mr. Bruno Mattei.

Still, putting those films out of my mind as much as possible—which didn’t take much effort, as they naturally dissipated from my consciousness like a fever dream—I assumed they were merely the sad dregs of Mattei’s career, much those Mexican horror movies the aged, wheelchair-bound Boris Karloff made right before his passing.

After all, the other examples of Mr. Mattei’s work I had seen (most of them due to Sandy, curse him); Hell of the Living Dead, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, Zombi 3, the atrocious Robowar, were, in comparison, quite nearly almost actual movies. Of a sort. And so I wrote off Island of the Living Dead and Zombie: The Beginning as aberrations even for Mattei.

And then I saw Cruel Jaws.

We open on a cabin cruiser in some water. This looks inept enough (the boat is clearly afloat in a none-too-large tank) that it might have actually been shot for this movie. If so, it’s still the most extravagant new shot in the picture. Then we cut to three men *cough* on the boat, as the action has clearly shifted to a set. The grizzled boat captain converses with the other two, who are in scuba gear. The result is exposition so raw I nearly got salmonella just listening to it:

Captain: “Hurry up, you guys! The Coast Guard catches us, we’re in big trouble!”
Scuba Guy: “Hey, take it easy, old man! There was top secret Navy materials on board the Cleveland. We’re going down to retrieve it. [Because, you know, he probably wouldn’t have known that part.] We’re going to sell it…we’re gonna be rich.”

I think you can see where this is headed. And if you’re thinking, “Stock footage,” then man, you’re a regular Nostradamus.

The Scuba Guys jump into the now theoretical water. This isn’t indicated by tossing a bucket of real H2O into shot to simulate a splash, but rather by puffing some smoke in front of the camera. (??) Then we suddenly shift to underwater footage from a REAL MOVIE* as the exact same guys, I’m sure, trundle along under the water. They enter a reef, but are cut off by A GIANT SHARK (from The Last Shark, I think). And a roaring one, to boot.

[*Real by the standards of this one, certainly. And please consider that when I use the phrase “REAL MOVIE” here, I am generally speaking of The Last Shark, or even Joe D’Amato’s Deep Blood. It’s not like I’m finding Cruel Jaws lacking in comparison to Citizen Kane or anything. ]

In a long sequence that just maybe might not have been entirely shot for this movie (again, The Last Shark), the shark batters the reef sheltering them, collapsing their refuge. Their air running out, they make a break for it, and are et. So too is the boat captain, as he is then also attacked by stock footage. The editing for his personal demise is quite elliptical, as they clearly had nothing that matched properly.

Cut to a pounding disco beat (disco was still big in 1995, right?), as a hip young couple are cruising down one of the bridges in the Florida Keys.* We can tell the couple is hip, by the way, because they’re rockin’ an RV, as hip young folks are apt to do.

[*Astoundingly, the film—or at least the maybe 60% of it that’s new footage—does appear to have been shot in Florida, although not to overmuch effect. Perhaps Mattei took on the project to get a free vacation Stateside. In any case, perhaps due to being Italian, Mattei shockingly turns out to not have had much of an ear for American speech patterns. In any case, the homegrown American cast prove to be uniformly awful actors.]

It’s here we get one of filmdom’s more dubious credits: “Original Shark Design And Special Effects Created By LARRY MANNINI.” This is a bit of a puzzler. First, Mr. Mannini has absolutely no presence on the Interwebs, much less the IMDB. Second, the film contains absolutely no original shark designs, or new special effects for that matter. Indeed, the one scene featuring a real dead shark was also clipped from another movie. I mean, why not?

Back to the RV. The guy driving it is Matt Hooper Billy Morrison, a young bespectacled marine biologist. We learn his profession from his girlfriend Vanessa via another really, really subtle bit of expository banter:

Vanessa, busting his chops a bit: “Last year you left me to go chasing killer whales. What have you got in mind for this year?”
Hooper Morrison: “This year? Sailing…tennis…discoing ‘til dawn. That sort of thing.”
Vanessa, hissing: “Yesssssss!” [fist pump]

Eventually they stop to visit some friends, who just happen to operate a very sub-Sea World type park. This basically consists of like three dolphins. I’m sure it’s the Pride of Florida. The owner is Dag Snerensen, who pretty much looks exactly like Hulk Hogan would if the latter had never taken up steroids. Dag also has two kids. Bobby is your standard Italian Scott Baio-type, the obligatory 24 year-old teenager, while cute little Susy (as we spell it here in the States) is a—supposedly—precociously cute pre-teen.

For extra bathos, Susy stops swimming with the dolphins after spotting the visitors. But once she leaves the water, we discover that she’s *gasp* crippled and uses a wheelchair. Awwwwwwwwww. She’s still all perky and loveable and upbeat, though. She’s so cute you barely even want to punch her in the face. Susy is also a suspiciously good swimmer, considering her legs don’t work. (Actually, they totally do. It’s almost like we can see them right through the water somehow.)

“You are required by law to love me!”

The ladies wheel off, and Hooper Morrison discusses Susy’s accident with Dag and Bob and another guy named Larry, who wears a doo rag. I mention that because it pretty much sums up all his qualities as a character. “In a split second I lost everything,” Dag admits. “I lost my wife, and my will to live. Most of all, Susy’s smile.” For those keeping track, the loss of Susy’s smile (temporarily, as she’s now clearly regained it) trumps the dead wife and lost will to live.

This is a truly wonderful moment, by the way. The shot opens with that thing where the actors are all standing dead still, waiting for the director to shout “Action,” whereupon they begin walking as if they were already in motion. I don’t want to blow the secrets of cinema magic for you, but they usually hide stuff like that by editing out the frames where the actors aren’t moving. And now you know!

“Wait for it…wait for it…”

Here we meet Sheriff Brody Berger. To his regret, he’s come to serve a warning of eviction notice to Dag. Seems Hulk Jr. is three months behind on his rent to the local Evil Rich Guy, Samuel Lewis. He has 30 days to catch up on arrears, or he and the family are out. In a rare display of restraint on Mattei’s part, Lewis isn’t an exact analogue for Mayor Vaughn. Vaughn is split up into two characters, Lewis (who really runs the town) and an actual toady mayor, who thus doesn’t have a lot to do.

Although he’s the bearer of bad news, Dag evinces no hard feelings towards Sheriff Brody Berger. Indeed, except for Larry momentarily threatening to “tear [Lewis’] balls off,” everyone remains all smiles. Why not? Losing the family business and home can’t mean much to a guy who already lost Susy’s smile. Anyway, Hooper Morrison explains how he’s soon to go to Brisbane to search for great white sharks scheduled to board the Cutty Sark, “that floating madhouse for fish freaks!”

Cut to the local beach, where Lewis’ bully-boy son Ronnie* (who appears to make his living as “The Patrick Swayze Experience—Not the real Patrick Swayze, but an amazing simulation”) is cavorting with his girlfriend Glenda. Here we unfortunately also meet Tommy, Ronnie sidekick and patently the film’s Odious Comic Relief, Horndog Edition. Ronnie and Glenda run down the beach, whereupon they stumble upon the chewed-up remains of one of the Scuba Guys.

[*Of course, Mayor Vaughn doesn’t have a grown son in Jaws. This character exists because the Vaughn analogue in The Last Shark had one, and that son’s main sequence will be lifted by Mattei later on.]

“Deja vu? How do you mean?”

In a scene that seems somehow familiar*, Sheriff Brody Berger and Hooper Morrison come striding down the beach towards the body. Sheriff Brody Berger wants Hooper Morrison’s opinion on the body, because he’s a marine biologist. That’s how they do it on Law & Order, right? And NCIS? Sheriff Brody Berger’s initial theory is that the guy was killed by a boat propeller—hmm, somehow familiar—which naturally explains why he brought Hooper Morrison along to take a look.

[*It’s with this shot, roughly ten minutes in, that the film’s overwhelming Jawsishness begins.]

By the way, you can tell Sheriff Brody Berger is good at his job, as his deputy is keeping the small crowd of onlookers a good foot and a half away from the body. Hooper Morrison then painstakingly examines the remains for roughly five seconds before opining “It wasn’t a speed boat propeller.” So I guess he’s saying it wasn’t a boat accident. He suggests it was a shark or killer whale. He then opines that perhaps Sheriff Brody Berger should, you know, ask the coroner or something. Hmm, that’s the sort of wacky notion that might just pan out!

So cut to the morgue, where Coroner Rick, Sheriff Brody Berger and Hooper Morrison take turns applying little Hitler mustaches of Vaseline under their noses to cover the smell. I especially like how the latter two react with horrified shock when the body bag is drawn off the corpse, given that they were just examining it at length in broad daylight like a minute ago.

Anyway, the messed up body prop is quite possibly the most expensive thing in the picture (although I suspect it was borrowed from some previous film), and Mattei gives it a lot of camera time. After an intense two-second looksee, Coroner Rick declares that “not even the propeller of a transatlantic ocean liner could do this. It was a shark all right, and a big one.”

Cut to Sheriff Brody Berger and Hooper Morrison meeting with Mayor Jefferson. Just arriving is an irate Lewis, who yells “Are you all out of your minds?!” I don’t want to shock the hell out of you, but it turns out Sheriff Brody Berger and Hooper Morrison want to close the beach because of the shark attack. The Mayor and Lewis schmooze Brody Berger, with the latter noting, “You know people are waiting for the Season to open. If word gets out that a shark tore a diver to bits, you can kiss the tourist season goodbye.” That’s some highly original writing, right there.

Speaking of highly original, Sheriff Brody Berger finds his authority undercut when the mayor and Lewis smugly inform him that Coroner Rick, presumably under pressure, has changed his official cause of death to Not Necessarily A Shark. To be fair, nothing like this happened in Jaws, except for that one scene where it did. And there is talk of “the Regatta,” which actually doesn’t go back to Jaws. Admittedly, it does call to mind Jaws 2, not to mention Tentacles and The Last Shark—the last most pertinently, since the Regatta scene here will steal pretty much the entire climax of that film.

Lewis sarcastically asks Our Heroes if they are going to blame all in-water deaths on sharks, and Hooper Morrison helpfully responds, “Yeah, maybe!” Yes, that’s helpful to your case. “There’s only one shark that can do a job like this,” he continues, “…the Tiger Shark!” Oh, snap! Take that, Great White Shark! In your face! Bruno Mattei, bringing it!

Suddenly the film swerves into a knock-off of ‘80s horndog comedies like Joysticks and Hard Bodies. On the beach, we catch up with Ronnie and OCR Tommie, who are checking out various bikini-clad babes.

OK, this is taking too long. Bullet time:

  • Adding to the cheesecake factor, Glenda appears, bringing with her Vanessa and Ronnie’s innocent but burgeoning younger sister, Gloria. To further establish Ronnie’s cad credentials, it turns out he has long-standing designs on Vanessa, who he sneeringly laments “hangs out with that nerd fish doctor!”
  • “I’m sure we’ll score,” Tommy muses. “Vanessa is hot to trot!” Astoundingly, Mattei is as good of a writer as he is a director.
  • Still, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t efficient here. The Vanessa thing is introduced, and then two seconds later we get another useless subplot. Gloria breaks off to shyly chat up Bobby. Of course, Ronnie glowers at this hint of across-the-tracks romance.
  • On a side note, I’ve always thought it a sign of especially bad scripting to give characters vaguely similar names. Among the ‘kids’ we have a Ronnie and Tommy, a Gloria and Glenda, and a Bobby and Billy (Hooper Morrison). Was that strictly necessary?
  • I’m not sure who did the entry for the film on the IMDB, but they snarkily credited ‘Peter Benchley (Novel)’ as one of the film’s writers. Benchley, of course, wrote the book Jaws. On the other hand, the film was indeed called Jaws 5 in some territories. Territories well beyond the reach of Universal International lawyers, presumably.
  • OK, that’s waaaaaay closer to those two dudes’ faces than I ever wanted to be. Frankly, this close-up is far scarier than any of Mattei’s borrowed shark attack footage.

“You’re totally gonna go all Roadhouse on that dude!”

  • By the way, except for the guy playing Billy, the young lady playing Gloria is probably the worst actress in the movie. Which is saying something. She’s more of a stiff, awkward sort of bad actress, though. The Billy guy is more one of those who consistently gives really bad reads. Good work on casting your worst actor as your lead character, Mattei.
  • Tommy gets Vanessa and Gloria to laugh by intercepting them and declaring himself “the person in charge of pussy.” Oh, Tommy! How odious thou art. Then the girls retaliate by, in unison, chanting “Dickbrain! Dickbrain!” at him. Astoundingly, Mattei is as good at comedy as he is at suspense.
  • Ronnie returns home to see Lewis. The latter is wearing an ascot with a short sleeved shirt. This seems to be miss the point a bit, like spats worn over sneakers. On the other hand, Ronnie is wearing a barely buttoned, sleeveless denim shirt. Presumably somebody thought this added to his Patrick Swayzeiness.
  • Ugh, Italians and their endless, insanely tight close-ups and pointless zooms.
  • Next we get a scene that seems vaguely familiar. A girl with long blond hair cavorts down the deserted beach with a blond beach dude. They giggle and fall to the beach and make out a bit. She wants a swim before sex, though, and he’s petulant about it and refuses to join her. (See, if he stayed on the beach because he was drunk, that would be a rip-off. This is completely original.)
  • She enters the surf. She treads water for awhile, calling for the guy to join her. She swims near a buoy, as the camera roams around underneath her. When suddenly…
  • SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! You may want to skip over the next paragraph to avoid having the scene ruined for you.
  • …she is eaten by a shark.
  • Well, several sharks, actually, if you count the various movies the attack footage comes from.
  • By the way, if you are dumb, you might think this is somehow a rip-off of the Chrissie Watkins attack in Jaws. But it’s not! In Jaws, that was the first scene. This here happens like 15 minutes in. Completely different.
  • Apparently Mattei couldn’t be bothered to shoot any underwater shots. Sure enough, he just stole footage of Chrissie Watkins from Jaws. Then he cut in stock shots of a live shark from another movie.

“You call that stealing a shot? I’ll show you how to steal a shot!”

  • To undercut the borer…er, snorer…dammit, horror, we cut to a seal at the Sea Park. This leads to another scene with Susy the Brave And Adorable Little Girl in a Wheelchair. Awwwww! And there’s dolphin stuff. Way to pad out that running time.
  • Hanging out with Susy is Vanessa. No, wait, it’s Gloria. Sorry, the scene isn’t lit very well. (Or rather its filtered poorly, to achieve a not entirely convincing day-for-night effect.) Wow, would Lewis and Ronnie be pissed to learn that Gloria is hanging out at the Sea Park.
  • Dag shows up and says it’s bedtime. Bobby takes Gloria home, and they leave hand in hand. Man, Romeo and Juliet ain’t got nothing on these star-crossed young lovers. Take that, Shakespeare!
  • Speaking of, the two stroll down the *COUGH* moonlit beach. Tinkly music plays. Bobby bares his soul to Gloria, and she bares her…well, it was a TV movie, so she doesn’t bare anything. This is a Sweet Innocent Romance. They kiss, though. Awwwwww.
  • Again, wow, the girl playing Gloria cannot act. On the other hand, I’m not sure what Glenn Close could do with lines like this (although she probably wouldn’t swallow them to the point you can barely make them out): “I feel so ridiculous. When you see and feel certain things, you suddenly realize how futile the things you strive for are.” Ah, yes. The universality of feeling certain things. You know the kind.
  • To a blare of Suspense Music, Ronnie drives up in his open top Jeep 4×4. All the punk kid bad guys in the ‘80s had them. And yes, this was made in 1995, but it’s Italian, and thus 10 years behind American films. Hence the disco stuff earlier.
  • Anyhoo, Ronnie and Tommy and Another Dude (to emphasize it’s not a fair fight) emerge and rough Bobby up for getting all smoochie-face with Gloria. They knock him to the ground and kick him, with added Three Stooges sound effects. Ronnie also slaps Gloria before sending her home, just so we get that he’s a dick. You got that, right? Man, I wonder if he’ll end up being eaten by the shark later.
  • On the other hand, Bobby’s pretty tough. Sure he gets knocked out, but after three guys putting boot to him, and with Ronnie having kicked him right in the face, he doesn’t even sport a bruise later.
  • More Ominous Music. Apparently thinking their work isn’t done, Ronnie and the Bully Boys sneak into the Sea Park and…gasp!…toss a poisoned fish to one of the dolphins. (If it makes you feel any better, it might be one of those rapey dolphins.) Man, that ranks over massacring a busload of nuns these days.
  • However, the dolphin (they have names, but I just can’t be bothered) starts chittering so much that Ronnie and the guys run away. Sure enough, Dag and Bobby—the latter clearly none the worse for wear, despite being beaten like half an hour ago—emerge to check things out. Dag instantly divines that the dolphin’s been poisoned, and tells Bobby to go summon Jessica Fletcher. No, wait, it’s not quite dead yet, so Bobby is to get Billy.
  • Meanwhile, Blond Beach Guy is near catatonic and sitting in the police station. He’s either in a state of shock or, well, expressing emotion about as well as most of the other actors in this thing. Sheriff Brody Berger enters, complaining to his deputy about being woken up “this early in the morning.” Yes, that’s not the sort of thing you’d expect might happen if you become a town sheriff.
  • The deputy reports that Beach Guy says his girlfriend was eaten by a shark. Then the deputy laughs off this crazy suggestion, and declares that obviously the guy is just drunk. Uh, if that’s your assumption, why did you can the Sheriff in early? Maybe that’s why Sheriff Brody Berger was annoyed. Maybe they wake him up and drag him into the station on any pretext. “Old lady Thomson called, Sheriff. She reports she didn’t get her morning paper again.”
  • We cut back and forth several times from the Sea Park to the Police Station. At the Sea Park it’s night, at the Police Station the sun blazes away. How far away is that police station? Yeesh. Seriously, dude. 1995.
  • Anyway, since Billy is a “nerd fish doctor,” he is able to save the dolphin. (Night time.) Whew!
  • Back at the Police Station (Day Time), Sheriff Brody Berger is seen leaving. For no reason at all this is accompanied by what sounds like a driving piece of disco music as written and performed by a 12 year-old trying out the new Casio keyboard he got for Christmas. A 12 year-old who watched a lot of Miami Vice, if you get my drift. Anyway, nothing calls for a percussive piece of theme music like a middle aged white dude walking around.
  • He joins Billy, who is now in an empty classroom looking at slides—kids, ask your parents—of shark pictures. A guy looking at slides! Also worthy of a driving disco beat, as it turns out.
  • Brody Berger reports the latest shark attack. “A woman, a certain Katie Adams.” Man, they nailed that cop jargon. “Billy,” he asks, “what do we know about sharks?” As you’d expect from a trained fish scientist, Hooper Morrison gives a knowledgeable reply. “Well, we know they’re sort of a locomotive with a mouth full of butcher’s knives,” he explains. Yes, that is the establishment scientific view. He adds as well, with astounding originality, that “All they really know how to do is swim, eat and make baby sharks.”
  • Brody Berger instantly picks up on the implication of these remarks. “So if we were to have the Regatta, it would be like saying, ‘Help yourself, chow’s on’?” Man, Mattei’s ear for American idiom is amazing.
  • Because you have to burn off a lot of time in your roughly hour and a half long killer shark movie, we now get more character scenes. Which is awwwwe-some, because the characters here are so richly drawn that we can barely tear our attention away from them. Anyway, Lewis shows up at the Sea Park with some supposed investors. He informs Dag that they’re looking to invest in the hotel he plans to build here once he closes down the park.
  • By the way, is the park ever open? No wonder Dag hasn’t paid his rent. Or maybe it is open. After all, from what we’ve seen, the entirety of the attractions is two dolphins and a seal. Would that be considered a top-notch Sea Park in Florida? Frankly, Lewis’ plans for a seaside hotel seem a lot more credible.
  • By the way, evicting people who don’t pay their mortgage is bad, right? Mean? I just wanted to be clear on that, since Lewis reclaiming the collateral on Dag’s unpaid loan is played as the height of villainy. I guess when Lewis offers Dag a “good hunk of cash, enough for a few years” to move out immediately—instead of in four weeks when the loan defaults—we’re supposed to cheer when Dag angrily responds by calling him a son of a bitch. Take your unnecessarily generous offer and stuff it, jerk!
  • Finally Lewis does cross a line, making a crack about a wheelchair in front of Susy (she’s supposed to cry, here, but the little girl playing her isn’t really up to it). Justice is served, however, when the seal ‘comically’ tips Lewis into the water. Ha! Now he’ll be wet until he returns home and towels off. Take that! Luckily, Lewis doesn’t seem to figure out he can now sue Dag for being assaulted by a park attraction.
  • Sheriff Brody Berger shows up to see Mayor Jefferson, only to find Lewis already heading in. Lewis is none too pleased to hear Brody Berger yelling about sharks again. “Are you willing to take responsibility for condemning this town to a winter of starvation?” Lewis asks Godfrey. “This shark is a perfect machine, a man-eating machine!” Brody Berger retorts. (Hmmmm…)
  • Lewis is next seen dictating their response. To Brody Berger’s mounting disgust, this amounts to closing off the bay with shark nets, and getting the Coast Guard to patrol the area. Which…sounds about right, actually. Even more outrageously, Lewis offers to pay for all these precautions out of his own pocket. That asshole!
  • The Mayor happily agrees, to the Sheriff’s visible repugnance. “Remember,” he warns, “you’re the ones who want to open a diner for sharks!” Which is, I should note, entirely different than ringing the dinner bell on the 4th of July.
  • That night, Billy and Vanessa are making out before, presumably, Getting It On. However, fate (I think) comically intercedes, when to Vanessa’s annoyance Brody Berger knocks at their door. Why, it’s the whole killer whale thing all over again! And she and Billy have tickets for something I couldn’t make out tonight!
  • Vanessa is tired of coming in second to the finned folk, and gives Billy an ultimatum. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and she storms off after tossing some spicy language his way. I guess Ronnie’s going to get his shot at her after all.
  • Cut to Susy getting ready for bed. “Dad, why do sharks eat people?” she asks her dad. C’mon, she’s like ten or something. She’s crippled, not mentally challenged. Dag tells her it’s probably because they’re hungry. Yes. Yes, I guess that really does explain it. He then begins to read her a story (from the wrong book) and she pretty much immediately falls asleep. I’ve actually had this same reaction to the film several times myself, so I completely buy it.
  • Vanessa arrives with Glenda to The Party. (I thought they had tickets to something? Never mind.) Ronnie is there, blah blah blah. Even I think The Party looks lame, what with the generic local rock band and typically clunky white people dancing. Vanessa, however, seems thrilled at what a happening scene it is. The girls go up to Ronnie and Tommy. “I want to dance!” Vanessa declares, as she bobs up and down as much as the tiny piece of real estate the actors have been allotted allows.
  • Ronnie moves in, and Glenda throws him the finger but seems otherwise nonplussed to be reassigned to Tommy. “I’m pissed!” Vanessa tells Ronnie when he inquires about Billy. I was glad for the update, given the lack of any cues from Vanessa’s facial expressions or body language. “Every day it’s the same old story,” she complains. I know! It’s just one damn giant killer shark after another.
  • Glenda ‘comically’ knees Tommy in the nuts for little apparent reason. I mean, other than to provide the viewer with deeply intense satisfaction.
  • Ronnie gives Vanessa about the phoniest “you’re special” speech I’m ever heard. I wish I could say I found it unrealistic that she falls for it, but I can’t. Besides, her sleeping with another guy will teach Billy a valuable lesson! And another blow for women’s liberation is struck.
  • Presumably having Seen to Duty, Billy arrives on the scene just after Vanessa and Ronnie have split, presumably to Do the Deed. This is emotionally captivating in that FOR THE LOVE OF FRIGGIN’ PETE CAN WE GET BACK TO THE GIANT KILLER SHARK EATING PEOPLE ALREADY!!
  • To show that he’s seriously pissed, Billy takes off his glasses and purses his lips. Wow.
  • On the beach, Bobby and, uh, what’s her name…Gloria, I guess, Ronnie’s sister…are running around in a fashion suggestive of youthful innocent passion. I can’t believe our innocent young lovers will get eaten but PLEASE SOMEBODY GET EATEN!
  • Cue more treacly music. Again, the ‘actress’ playing Gloria mutters so softly you can only make her lines out maybe half the time. It was easier to understand Mumbles in the Dick Tracy movie. Seriously, Mattei, you were too lazy and/or cheap to ADR her dialogue? Yeesh.
  • Also frolicking along the beach are Ronnie and Vanessa. OK, now that she’s slut-stepping out on the hero, perhaps she’ll get eaten. PLEASE SOMEBODY ANYBODY GET EATEN ALREADY!!
  • Slutty Vanessa drops her skirt and runs into the surf. YAY! C’MON C’MON.
  • OMINOUS MUSIC!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!
  • Ah, a stock footage live action shark. Finally. And I’m no shark expert, but I’m pretty sure it’s a great white, not a tiger shark. Whatever.
  • Soon Ronnie and Vanessa are making out in the water. Glenda and Tommy arrive, and Tommy decides to do a prank. He has a little bullhorn, and pretends to be a cop calling out to the couple. I swear to all that is holy, Tommy, if you cause those two to leave the water before they eaten….
  • By the way, the whole ‘pretending to be a cop with a bullhorn to prank a couple making out in the water’ thing is completely stolen from Jaws 3. And Tommy, you ain’t no Dennis Quaid.
  • Hilariously, the shark announces itself by having an air barrel (or round pink floatie, actually) erupt from the water in slow motion. This image is clearly stolen from, surprise, The Last Shark. A round pink floatie is completely different from the large yellow barrels the shark in Jaws had attached to it, of course. Meanwhile, I guess Mattei didn’t care that in this film there’s been absolutely nothing to establish the shark having a floatie attached to it.
  • Vanessa and Ronnie start coming out of water, not seeing the floatie approaching them. My theory is that this is because it’s, you know, in another whole movie. C’mon, shark! Seriously, somebody better get et here.
  • And they both make it out of the water!! I hate you, Bruno Mattei.
  • Cut to a town hall meeting, where Mayor Jefferson and Sheriff Brody Berger are filling in the townspeople on the plans for the Regatta. This scene reminds me of something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
  • We watch from another movie—again, presumably, The Last Shark—as the anti-shark fence is assembled. And soon stock footage helicopters and boats, probably from the same source, are also seen. At this point in things I expect the percentage of newly shot footage verses stolen footage to drop continuously. On the one hand, that means we’re finally going to get some shark attacks. On the other, if I wanted to see shark attack stuff from The Last Shark, I could have just, you know, watched The Last Shark.
  • Stock footage of a live-action shark completely different from every other live action shark we’ve seen up to now!
  • Cut to Sheriff Brody Berger up in a tower with binoculars, worriedly scanning the water. Mattei, where did you get all your ideas?
  • Cut to a dog out by the surf. Mattei, where did you get all your ideas? (Even this footage, of a dog, is taken from another movie.)
  • OK, the family coming up to Brody Berger and asking if this is the beach where they can see the shark? And being mad because there’s been no sign of it. That’s kind of mildly funny. Not hilarious, to be sure. But in this desert of entertainment, you’re thankful for anything you get. (SCTV got their first, though, with a much funnier bit where the town of Amity now relied financially on tourists coming to see the parade of killer sharks that the area attracted throughout the series.)
  • A guy in a helicopter from another movie shoots at the shark from another movie!
  • Ill-matching live action shark footage!
  • This leads—are you sitting down—to the inevitable Little Shark scene. As explicated in my Jaws review, this is the cliché where somebody catches a smaller version of the killer whatsit and the authorities declare the crises over, with only Our Heroes knowing better.
  • Even more impressively, the actual shot of the dead shark is itself taken from another movie, Deep Blood. (DVD Rulers, the kings of Bad Shark Movie DVD-Rs, posted this exact clip from the movie on YouTube.) Seriously, Mattei, you were in Florida and you couldn’t find your own dead shark to film?
  • By the way, according to the description of that film, the monster shark in that one is the incarnation of an evil American Indian spirit. Death Curse of Tartu, you are avenged! (Seriously, though, now I have to hunt down a copy of Deep Blood. Can I never stop buying movies?! Also, then I’ll actually watch the movie, and be like, “Well, predictably, that sucked. And there’s another $20 down the drain.”)
  • Everyone is relieved, except Hooper Morrison. (Now that he’s back in the shark stuff, time to stop calling him Billy.) Being an expert, he knows both that the dead shark’s mouth is too small, and that there’s still almost an hour (!!!) of movie left.
  • Most of that is stolen footage, though, so hopefully this review only runs a few more pages.
  • Hooper Morrison does admit the dead specimen is a tiger shark. “Does that mean its Daddy was a shark and its mommy was a tiger?” Susy ‘adorably’ asks. Ugh.
  • Uh, why does Lewis call Brody Berger “Bradley” here?
  • “I’m not saying it’s not him…it probably is…they’re very rare in these waters. But the fact of the matter is that this jaw span just doesn’t convince me,” we hear Hooper Morrison saying. Mattei, where do you get your ideas?
  • Needless to say, nobody wants to listen to this. Hooper Morrison says that since everyone wants to be sure, all they need to do is cut the shark’s stomach open. “This is not the place, nor the time,” Lewis responds. Movie buffs will instantly recognize that all this stuff is shamelessly stolen from The Godfather.
  • The argument is broken up when a destroyed boat is towed in from another movie the sea. Everyone runs over and investigates as well as they can considering that they can’t actually interact with said boat. Given, again, that it’s technically in another movie.
  • Here we start getting huge wads of the regatta footage from The Last Shark. We’re now at the stage of things where this film’s characters are seen once in a while pointing to stuff or standing around pretending they’re in the same movie as this footage. But for a good while coming up, this is mostly Last Shark redux.
  • IRONY SHOT! Lewis is glad-handing the public (i.e., about four extras) and walks past a big fiberglass shark. Why the hell would that be there, given the circumstances? It does allow for an Unnecessary Zoom shot of the fiberglass jaws, though. Mattei, where do you get your ideas?
  • Oh, noes, both Bobby and Ronnie are in the windsurfer competition (stolen from The Last Shark). That Ronnie…grrrrr.
  • Man, I thought The Last Shark was kind of boring when I watched it several years ago. After seeing this, though, I can only be stunned by its comparatively gigantic production values.
  • Huh? All of the sudden Hooper Morrison tells Brody Berger that the shark is acting so weird “it’s almost like it was trained to kill!” In what way? It’s eaten two swimmers and attacked a boat. Every killer shark does that stuff. And except for that one line back during the first 30 seconds of the movie—when the diver mentioned “top secret Navy materials”—there’s been absolutely no set-up of this idea at all. Yeesh. Count on Bruno Mattei to finally come up with an original idea (sort of) but to go with a completely moronic one.
  • Wait, the windsurfing contest has a big enough prize to pay off Dag’s loan? Really?
  • Vanessa shows up and is allowed to take Susy on the pier to watch the race. Well, we know (again, from The Last Shark) that the shark will show up and decimate the place. So I wonder if this is where Vanessa learns a valuable lesson about being a slut.
  • Ronnie and the Gang are again infuriated to see, uh….Gloria, I guess, getting all limpid-eyed with Bobby. And I am appalled that this plot device is still being used. Good grief.
  • Just after Mayor Jefferson and Lewis agree that no shark can get through the nets, the shark gets through the nets. Oh, sorry…SPOILER ALERT.
  • Cue Jaws rip-off music!
  • The windsurfing contest begins. For some reason, Bobby has elected, out of dozens and dozens of participants, to sail right alongside Ronnie. (Maybe it’s because all of the other windsurfers are in another movie.) Ronnie cheats and knocks Bobby into the water, of course, in a sequence that might be entitled on the DVD menu, ‘BEN HUR CHARIOT SCENE FOR DUMMIES.’
  • The Pink Floatie! Aiiieee! As in The Last Shark—for obvious reasons—legions of windsails are upset by this satanic device. (And yes, often in slow-motion. These movies were made by Italians, after all.) Not sure how that suggests a shark attack, but it was necessary because they couldn’t tow the gigantic but inert Last Shark prop fast enough to actually feature in it in the attacks. So the Pink Floatie has to suffice.
  • Ronnie is knocked in the water, too, but if I remember my Last Shark, he actually gets killed later. (Oh, uh, SPOILER ALERT.) And sure enough, Bobby shows up to save his ass. Because he’s not a jerk, like Ronnie. Get it? Good thing he was there, because he pulls Ronnie right out of the shark’s jaws…leaving the beast to eat another guy instead. Good work, Bobby. (Indeed, this act doesn’t just substitute one victim for another, but trades one temporary reprieve for four additional deaths, as we’ll see later.)
  • You know, it’s pretty apparent that the filmmakers only had that one small black bullhorn. Every character seen using one throughout the picture clearly is using the exact same one. (There’s one shotgun that shows up numerous times as well.)
  • It’s amazing how seamless the integration is of shots of the actors in this film yelling things like “Get out of the water!” and “Get out of the water, quick!”—gee, thanks—with the fairly extravagant stampeding beachgoers footage taken from The Last Shark. Let’s see if I can give you a taste of the flawless technique:

  • The Pink Floatie approaches the pier! (Bypassing dozens of uneaten people it already chucked into the water.) And there on the pier are *gasp* Vanessa and Susy. Nobody actually tries to leave the pier, by the way. Suddenly, the Last Shark appears and attacks the boardwalk.
  • Real shark…Last Shark…real shark….real shark…Last Shark…well, if nothing else the editor earned his salary on this picture.
  • Dummy Diver in the Dummy Shark’s mouth! Funny in The Last Shark, still funny here. (In Last Shark, this is nearly the final shot of the movie. The dead ‘diver’ had explosives strapped to him, and they are activated, blowing up the shark.)
  • Having just hung around, Susy’s chair finally goes rolling forward under the dock attack. She goes in the drink, and Vanessa goes to save her, and rescues Susy but pays the price for her slutty, slutty ways. (Again, her demise perforce being suggested by the sort of editing necessary when Vanessa can’t actually interact with the shark.) Aside from her death providing moral instruction, it also affords Pathos for the remaining characters. Bonus! Goodbye, Vanessa. We’ve forgotten you already.
  • Cut to the hospital, where cute lil’ Susy is on a gurney. Reaching out her wittle hand to her father, she lisps, “Sharks are bad!” Dag looks at Lewis entering the lobby, and grimly notes, “There are worse animals.” Screw you, Dag! What exactly has Lewis actually done here? He paid for the sort of protection that in real life would have definitely kept the shark out, costing tens of thousands of dollars, out of his own pocket. Ronnie tried to poison Dag’s dolphin, but Lewis didn’t know anything about that. Frankly, Lewis has yet to do anything that objectively comes close to being ‘bad.’ And no, you shouldn’t get to keep the Sea Park you can’t afford to pay the mortgage on (i.e., you can’t make the contractual obligations you agreed to when you signed the documents) just because you’re a Working Class Hero and your crippled little daughter likes to live there.
  • Meanwhile, the hospital scene in Jaws where Brody gets Mayor Vaughn to sign the authorization to hire Quint is recreated to an embarrassing extent. Here Vaughn Lewis gets tag-teamed by Hooper Morrison and Brody Berger and Dag, who I guess is kinda / sorta a Quint, or the closest thing the film has to one. Hilariously, they want Lewis to offer a big public reward for the death of the shark, behavior which is excoriated in every other killer whatsit movie, including Jaws itself. The sum Brody Berger demands is a hundred thousand dollars. Again, how in the hell is this possibly Lewis’ responsibility? In Jaws, they were trying to get the town’s mayor to hire an expensive professional to go after the shark. Here they want a private citizen to lay out a gigantic wad of his own cash to try to get every yahoo imaginable to go out there and, in Brody Berger’s earlier words, “open a diner for sharks!”
  • “Vanessa’s dead because of you,” Billy screams, all but assaulting Lewis. Again, under ‘movie logic’ I think we’re supposed to accept this as true. Under normal logic, I’m not sure how this is even remotely accurate. For instance, I note that Brody Berger and Hooper Morrison assumed keeping the Regatta open would result in disaster. Yet they apparently did nothing to keep their friends and loved ones from attending the event. Vanessa died saving Susy. Maybe if our ‘heroes’ had talked to Dag, neither he, Susy nor Billy would have been there. Then Vanessa would still be alive.
  • Oh, also, Vanessa had been looking for Billy, presumably hoping to mend fences. Apparently this was to ‘deepen’ the ‘tragedy’ of her death. But her whole complaint about their relationship is that he kept putting fish-related things ahead of her. Like watching the Regatta so that when the shark attack occurred, he could ineffectually yell “Get of the water!” to people already getting out of the water. So basically, Vanessa died because Billy was ignoring her again. She never would have been alone on that pier with Susy otherwise.
  • “The big boss of Shark City!” Brody Berger calls Lewis. To be fair, that’s completely different from when Brody told Vaughn in the exact hospital scene that this scene is ripping off, “You’re the mayor of Shark City!” And when Lewis says, “Ronnie risked being killed by that shark today, too”, that again is completely different then when Vaughn said, “My kids were on that beach too.” See, some of those words are not entirely the same. Where do you get your ideas, Mattei?
  • Dag is soon speaking to another town meeting, explaining about the reward. He stands in front of a picture of a shark. This isn’t a picture of a shark drawn in chalk on a blackboard, however, but instead one drawn in marker on a piece of paper. So again, completely different from Jaws.

  • “It’s not like fishing for sardines,” he explains. Or bluegills or tommycocks, for that matter. Tommy and Ronnie and the gang aren’t taking this seriously—despite the fact that Ronnie himself missed being eaten by inches, and that Vanessa, the girl he was shagging, was in fact killed, along with like a zillion others. “The tiger shark we’re looking for is a homicidal maniac!” Dag rebuts. I don’t think that’s technically correct, but then, I don’t run a Sea Park.
  • Now, I want to be fair to Mattei. He’s about to actually deviate from Jaws quite a bit, and the deviation is HILARIOUSLY INSANE. For it’s here we learn that Lewis is in heavily in debt to the Mafia (!!!!!). This business with the shark threatens their real estate investments, with obvious ramifications for Lewis if he doesn’t get this matter fixed ASAP. Well, I can honestly say I didn’t see that coming.
  • Fun Fact: Old-style Mafia goons wear little earrings in their ears.
  • Ronnie hears the Goombah threatening pop, and decides to go after the killer shark himself. I wonder if this will involve any of the footage from The Last Shark where the son of the Lewis analogue went out after the killer shark? Could be.
  • Cut to Ronnie, Tommy, Glenda and Another Guy about to leave port to go after the shark. Tommy asks if Lewis will be mad if he finds out about this. Ronnie basically responds, not if I get the shark. This conversation is sort of weird, because ten seconds ago Ronnie flat out told his dad that he was going after the shark, and Lewis nodded in approval.
  • Their armaments consist of a 12 gauge pump shotgun. They intend to fire this down into water from up on the deck of Lewis’ yacht. Yes, that should prove fatal to a 35 foot shark.
  • Meanwhile….Gloria, I guess it is—Gloria, right?—is with Susy, waving from the pier as Dag, Hooper Morrison and Billy set out on their own boat.  Susy seems quite blasé about this, despite the fact that by now she would have to have found out that the shark killed Vanessa. You’d think she’d look a little more worried about her father and brother going after that same monster shark, the one who battered the pier to pieces beneath her. I guess not. (Or…maybe she’s supposed to be upset, but isn’t talented enough to come up with an upset expression? Quite possibly.)
  • By the way, the boat sets out to a piece of music that’s about two notes away from just outright being the main theme from Star Wars. One piece of John Williams music is as good as another, I guess.
  • So now we contrast the two parties, one the frivolous entitled jerkwads on their fancy yacht, the other on a bedraggled craft, armed mostly with Noble Hearts and SCIENCE! The latter is represented by the handheld, constantly beeping device that Hooper Morrison carries. I think we can only assume this is a Shark Detector of some sort. Those are totally real, I’m sure.
  • Dag laughs at this super-science, giving a “In my day…” speech. “These days these whippersnappers bring along radar, sonar, even microwave ovens…” Again, completely different than when Quint observed “Nowadays, these kids, they bring everything. Radar, sonar, electric toothbrushes.”
  • Back on the yacht, we see Ronnie rack the slide on his shotgun, because surely when you’re bobbing around on the open sea with potentially hours (or forever) to wait you want nothing more than to be carrying a primed weapon that a few ounces of finger pull will set to firing.
  • Hopper Morrison mentions that the shark’s behavior is “anomalous.” I think again, maybe, they’re suggesting the shark is somehow programmed to kill (unlike regular sharks, I guess), presumably by the military. However, the (very) odd remark tossed into the script here and there ain’t doing the job.
  • Ronnie’s crew tosses out a hunk of roast on a hook to lure the shark. Luckily, the open sea is very small, so this works almost immediately. (Take that, Hooper Morrison, with your *cough* high tech Shark Detector.) Basically this allows them to use that famous footage of a great white shark eating a hunk of meat on a rope. This was already stock footage when it was used in The Last Shark, and therefore third hand footage now. You clearly take a lot of pride in your work, Mattei.
  • And yes, Glenda does refer to it as “my mother’s roast.” Completely different from the fisherman in Jaws who snagged the shark with “my wife’s holiday roast.”
  • Cut to Whatserface and Susy back at the Sea Park. My mistake, the park has three dolphins. Wow, it’s an extravaganza. Again, they don’t bother to ADR the dialogue, but record it live, meaning you can barely make out a word what with the screening gulls and splashing dolphins. Anyway, the girls hug, so I guess an Awwwwwww is appropriate, whatever they were talking about. (It might have been about Susy not wanting to move out of the park.)
  • Looking through binoculars, Another Guy spots the exact same piece of shark stock footage that the helicopter rifleman spotted earlier. The obligatory Quite Nearly But Not Quite Jaws Music plays. Ronnie fires his shotgun before the gigantic beastie—footage from Last Shark again—bumps the bottom of the yacht.
  • Tommy throttles the engine, and the propeller cuts up the (now hilariously fake-looking prop) shark a bit. I think the implication is that the shark is purposely blocking the propeller with its own body to keep the boat from leaving. This doesn’t seem like good killer shark strategy, as it’s getting all torn up. Moreover, since the shark is magically hovering under the boat, that should mean it’s drowning, since sharks breath by pushing water through their gill via movement. That’s why they never sleep.
  • Back to Dag’s boat. You might think leaving Ronnie’s boat mid-attack would diminish the suspense. But you’re wrong, smart guy; there was no suspense to diminish.
  • Having cut away for no apparent reason, we now return to the yacht. They again lower (or for the first time, maybe, I don’t know my brain hurts) the roast, trying to bring the shark back up to the surface.
  • Tommy yells at Ronnie, who’s frozen in fear or something, trying to make him take his shot. However, in a bit that shall we say is rather reminiscent of one in The Last Shark—by which I mean, it’s the same footage—a line snaps and Ronnie is inevitably thrown in into the water. The only difference in Last Shark is that it’s the Glenda analogue who gets tossed over, and the shark bites her leg(s) off. She survives (I think she might have been the daughter of that film’s Brody analogue), but sans at least one limb. The son and everyone else survives too.
  • In contrast, here Ronnie gets eaten—we see the ‘dismembered leg drifting to the bottom of the water’ shot from Jaws—and to switch things up, all of a sudden Mattei decides to rips off Jaws 2. A panicking Glenda holds an open fuel can over her head (why the hell was that up on deck?), gushing petrol all over, while a panicking Tommy rushes up and shoots at the shark with a flare pistol (!), with predictable results. Ka-blooie.

MacGyver’s worst plan ever.

  • Ugh. Half a frickin’ hour left. How is that possible?

Ok, screw it. Dag’s boat breaks down, for no apparent reason other than because that’s what Quint’s boat does in Jaws. Billy goes in the water to check things out, leading to suspense, except that we don’t for a single second ever think he’ll get killed. The boat broke down right over the wreck of the Cleveland, by the way. (From the beginning of the movie? Never mind.) The open sea is a small place.

Brody Berger goes up in a chopper; always a good idea in a killer shark movie. He suddenly wears civies instead of his previously omnipresent sheriff uniform, the better to match footage from (what else?) The Last Shark, with a bit from Jaws 2 as well. Brody Berger gets et (elliptically, of course) when the shark drags the ‘copter down. He drew the shark in with another roast on a hook, by the way. No matter how big the open sea is, if you toss a roast on a hook in the water, the shark shows up thirty seconds later. Also, in this scene, Brody Berger says–I swear!–“We’re going to need a bigger helicopter!”

Back to Billy, Dag and Bobby. “The Cleveland was an oceanographic ship carrying a very special cargo…a shark born in captivity,” Billy explains. “Top secret Naval experiments; a death machine, trained to attack the enemy.” Convenient that Billy would know all this then, right? They never bother to explain why that might be. Billy figures the theory of territoriality means that the Cleveland “is where the shark lives.” Yes, that sounds right.

The mob guys go out to kill the shark themselves (??????). Seriously, that happens. The one gangster warns the other that the shark “was trained by the Navy.” His compatriot shrugs this off. “I was in the Marines,” he explains. I don’t want to blow it for you, but the shark kills them. This partly involves reusing the same footage of a dummy in a diving suit from the Last Shark that they already used earlier! Mattei!!!

Cutting to the chase, which is a lot more than the movie does, Billy eventually blows up the shark via footage from, again, The Last Shark.

Love triumphs as Bobby and Whatsherhead end up together.

Lewis completely shrugs off Ronnie’s death—seriously, he barely reacts when he’s told about it—and suddenly turns into a nice guy and lets Dag keep the Sea Park. (Yes, astoundingly Lewis isn’t himself killed.) I guess the earlier plot thread about Lewis being in dutch with the Mob is wrapped up because the two guys killed going after the shark were the entire Mafia. Except for their boss, but I guess, uh, anyway. Even though Lewis turns nice, he is again knocked in the water by the seal because that is completely hilarious.

There. That’s it. Go away now.

Cruel Jaws. Much better than just watching the movie all this stuff actually happened in.


Few films in cinema history have been as rip-offed off as often, as assiduously and slavishly as Jaws. And indeed, stunningly Cruel Jaws is not nearly the most blatant of these rip-offs, at least from certain standpoints. There’s no Quint analogue. The Sheriff Brody analogue gets killed. There’s the hilarious Mafia subplot, and borrowings from other films such as Jaws 3 (the Sea Park) and, unsurprisingly, The Last Shark. Indeed, many of the plot changes were presumably motivated by having to tailor the plot to the stock footage they were building the film around.

Thus both The Last Shark and especially William Girdler’s Grizzly can claim to be more mindless rip-offs of Jaws in terms of plotting and characters.  Grizzly is basically an outright remake of Jaws with a bear.  There are a few changes—its Hooper analogue gets kacked as well as its Quint—but otherwise its pretty naked in following in Jaws’ lead.

Cheekily, Grizzly featured actress Susan Backlinie, who played Chrissie Watkins in Jaws, being similarly eaten by its own rampaging bruin. Girdler even brought Ms. Backlinie back to be killed yet again (by birds) in Day of the Animals. And her first role, the one before just Jaws, was in The Grizzly and the Treasure, a family period film where another (albeit presumably less psychotic) bear menaces her old timey prospecting family.

By the time Spielberg got back into the act, having Ms. Backlinie appear in 1941 to himself parody the Jaws attack that launched his own superstar career, he was bizarrely following in Girdler’s footsteps. By the way, these appearances sum up the vast bulk of Ms. Backlinie’s career. She’ll always be Chrissie Watkins, though. Film immortality can be a strange business.

So Cruel Jaws wasn’t the most sheerly didactic of the Jaws knock-offs. Even so, it surely earns bonus points for how nakedly it steals just not plot points, such as the ubiquitous “We Can’t Close the _________!” and Little Shark tropes, which were also pilfered by zillions of other films. No, it’s partly in how patently it recreates the staging of certain scenes, like with Berger strides across the beach to view the body of the first victim, or when the Chrissie Watkins analogue gets killed.

Mostly, though, it’s in how it just steals entire reams of dialogue from a film featuring some of the most memorable dialogue ever. And when it slightly tweaks those lines, it comes off less of ‘let’s try to hide what we’re doing’ than ‘let’s just recreate the dialogue from hazy memory rather than watch the movie again and transcribe it exactly.’ You know, the way most people misquote Hooper by saying “This was no boating accident!” when the actual line was “This is not a boat accident!”

Bonus points, of course, for making a killer shark movie where you don’t yourself shoot a single frame of anything involving a shark.

As for the American cast, as you’d expect it features mostly people who never appeared in anything else. (Hard to believe, I know.) David Luthor, however, who played Brody Berger, did also assay the vital role of “School Security Guard” in 1993’s Only the Strong.

  • Ericb

    “When you see and feel certain things, you suddenly realize how futile the things you strive for are”
    This is much clearer if you hear it in the Hitchhiker’s voice.

  • Ken_Begg

    I was pretty embarrassed when I realized Mattei lifted that dialogue straight from “As You Like It.”

    “Samuel Lewis made his fortune in real estate. He thought people were like the properties he bought and sold. But when a shark invaded the waters outside his small town, Lewis learned a deadly lesson that when you see and feel certain things, you suddenly realize how futile are the things you strive for, and…wait, where was I going with that again?”

  • jwallyb

    Very nicely done Ken! Makes me want to re-read the Jaws reviews. . . Well, at least your great take on the first one. Just one mis-type that I saw. The bullet where billy screams “venessa’s dead because of you” to lewis, you got the “hooper/morrison” names flip-flopped. . . unless that was on purpose!

  • Ericb

    “He’s about to actually deviate from Jaws quite a bit, and the deviation is HILARIOUSLY INSANE. For it’s here we learn that Lewis is in heavily in debt to the Mafia (!!!!!). This business with the shark threatens their real estate investments, with obvious ramifications for Lewis if he doesn’t get this matter fixed ASAP. Well, I can honestly say I didn’t see that coming.”
    There was a Mafia angle in the original novel so I guess Mattie actually bothered to read it before making the movie.

  • Ken_Begg

    Thanks for the correction! I knew that name thing would trip me up somewhere.

  • Ken_Begg

    I’ll take your word for it, although I doubt it resembled what we see here. I read the book back in the day–way back in the day–and all I remember is that the entire third middle of the book was completely pointless. I do remember Hooper having an affair with Brody’s wife, but that’s about it.

    Smartest thing Spielberg el al did was just rip that section entirely out of the book when they started adapting it.

  • Ericb

    To be honest I’ve never read the book but I read somewhere (maybe on Lyz’s site) that there was a mafia subplot in the book and just looked it up on wikipedia to make sure.

  • Ericb

    That Jaws review is one of the best things you’ve written. No to many laughs but you really made see the film in a new way.

  • Ken_Begg

    Mattei should have gone with the voodoo revenge shark idea from the novelization of Jaws: The Revenge.

  • Ken_Begg

    High praise, indeed! I’ll go farther than that, though. It’s the single best thing I’ve written, and I’m unlikely to top it, I fear.

  • GalaxyJane

    Just FYI, while I’ve never bothered with it, the HItler moustache to cover up the smell during an autopsy is legit. Except that in real life you use Vicks Vapo-Rub instead of Vaseline as the menthol smell covers up the stench of embalming fluid or, um, some of the less pleasant smells associated with corpses. Admittedly, I’d be suprised that the ME is doing it also, they guys actually doing the cutting tend to be pretty innured to that sort of stuff, it’s more a student thing. These days, given the ubiquity of protective gear in medical circles now, folks generally just smear the Vapo-Rub on the inside of their surgical masks.

  • Marsden

    Or, if you find a bunch of cadavers at Wal-Mart! Well, it could happen.

  • Ericb

    On the way to work I fell to pondering on what possible uses the military would have for a trained killer shark. It’s not like it would be very effective against an aircraft carrier or submarine. Sure, if pitched battles between scuba divers became a popular tactic a killer shark might have some use (though even there it’s doubtful, sharks have tiny brains and probably can’t be trained to distinguish between combatants). Maybe the Navy was working with the Mafia in some compacity.

  • Gamera977

    Maybe it’s a secret weapon to use against Aquaman???

  • Ken_Begg

    I don’t know, seems like overkill.

  • Ericb

    You know, I was going to post a joke response to this but couldn’t think of a weapon pathetic enough to make it funny. That’s how lame Aquaman is.

  • One of my cherished memories of childhood was going to see “Great White” -the American title of “The Last Shark”- at the theater, before Universal dropped that 1000-lb lawsuit hammer. To this day, it remains the only wonky Italian rip-off I’ve seen on the big screen.
    Funny sidenote about “The Last Shark,” Quentin Tarantino tried to get the Universal legal department to budge on lifting their injunction while he was working on “Inglourious Basterds.” They wouldn’t bite, though.

  • Ken_Begg

    I’ve always wondered about that. Why not buy the rights yourself and make a bit of coin off it, especially all these decades later. Do they think it would piss off Spielberg? That’s the only rational motive I can glean.

  • Ericb

    The next MSTK set from Shout Factory is going to have the Revenge of the Creature episode on it so it would seem that current economic crisis of the film industry might make Universal a bit less stringent on how it makes money these days. We’ll see what happens over the next few years.

  • I wondered the same thing. Or have a third party buy the domestic rights as a proxy for Universal, or some other indecipherable circuitous legal thing (a Business major, i’m not).

  • Actually, Shout has a pretty extensive deal with Universal right now. They’re starting a new label called Scream Factory, and their first selections are gussied up special editions of -mostly- Universal titles.

  • Sandy petersen

    1) you mistype Deep Blood as Deep Red the first time it is mentioned. quite a different movie..

    2) i wiped a tear from my eye when i realized Ken is now seeking out Bruno Mattei films on his own. My little boy is all grown up.

    3) sadly ken has yet to see Bruno M.’s The Tomb. Yet.

  • Ken_Begg

    1) Corrected, thanks. Yes, I think I caught that other times, but not that one, obviously. Not only is Deep Red a (somewhat) better known film, but “Deep Blood” is a completely stupid formulation and I think my brain revolted using it.

    2) Worse than that. When Braineater Will said “We all owe Sandy Petersen a tremendous debt for inflicting Bruno Mattei on you, Ken,” I responded by threatening him with a motion for a Mattei roundtable. Obviously I expected whimpering fright as a response, but El Santo was all “Great idea!” Luckily I checked the IMDB and Mattei doesn’t really have any other bad movies except for Cruel Jaws, so I should be safe.

    3) Ha, joke’s on you. I gouged my eyes out after finishing this review and am now safe from further Brunoing.

  • Sandy petersen

    You stil have eardrums, ken.

  • Ken_Begg

    What? I can’t hear you, as I gouged out my eardrums, too.

  • The Rev.

    I find it hard to believe Bruno Mattei’s the guy that sent Ken over the edge, considering some of the movies he’s reviewed.

  • Nah. Aquaman would just call in another shark or three to take care of it. (And yeah, I’m going to be the guy defending Aquaman. It’s not like he’s Antman or anything….)

  • Gamera977

    Well, I think the overkill is part of the Pentagon’s policy of stunning the enemy though sheer application of force. I believe the current term is ‘shark and awe’…

  • The Rev.

    Real quick: I thought Backlinie actually wasn’t in Grizzly, and that that was a big cinematic myth, like the supposed two endings to King Kong vs. Godzilla.

  • Ken_Begg

    She’s listed on the IMDB. I think the myth *might* be that she was similarly the first victim in that film. I think she was one of the pair of woman campers who are dismembered by the bear fairly early on. Plus, she was definitely in Day of the Animals, made by the same director, so I think that is her there.

  • The Rev.

    Yeah, Day of the Animals she was in. She’s definitely not the first victim in Grizzly, either. I guess the camper thing is possible.

  • LT_Harper

    It greatly saddens me that the Grand Mufti of the Jabootu religion is so incorrect concerning the work of such great a prophet as William Girdler, peace be upon him. Susan Backlinie was most certainly not one of the girls killed in the beginning. None of the girls bare even a passing resemblance to Ms. Backlinie. It says on the IMDB that she was an “uncredited” victim. Considering that this film was riding the coat tails of Jaws, the biggest movie of all time until Star Wars, don’t you think it strange that a featured actor from that film would be “uncredited”. No true Jabootu prophet would ever let that happen.
    The fact that she worked with the honorable Girdler, peace be upon him, on Day of the Animals may have led to this urban cinema myth. But there may be another reason as well. Remember when the local paper would have a whole two pages for the movie ads and they featured the actual poster from the film? Well the Grizzly ad featured a blonde at a campfire about to be eaten by the title monster. And below her were the words “she was the first”(meaning she was the first victim). The ad for Jaws running on the next page had the famous Jaws and Chrissie Watkins poster and between her and the shark were the same words “she was the first”. If this ran all over the rest of the country and not just in Augusta, Ga. where I’m from, this might explain how this myth got started.

  • jessedub

    Mattei definitely ripped this subplot off of the Jaws book. The Mob pressures Vaughn to keep the beaches open to protect their real estate “investments”. I’ve been on a Jaws kick after the Blu-Ray release, and reread the book. The movie is definitely better by far. The Blu-Ray is a revelation, for anyone waffling on buying it

  • Jayson S

    Hey Ken, Where in the heck did you get this flick? Its not on netflix, and even Amazon only has a PAL version from Italy for 25 bucks. I must see this movie so i can read your review!! Dammit i must!!!! LOL

  • Ken_Begg

    I got a DVD-R (clearly taken from a Japanese DVD, given the burned-in subtitles) on ioffer. The guy was offering ten movies for $40, so I ended up–unsurprisingly–getting a batch o’ junk. The copies were pretty good, though. This one was a bit soft, but the others I took a gander at so far looked pretty decent.

  • Russ

    Another wonderfully funny review, Ken. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your reviews over the years. Mark Twain is my 2nd favorite writer, after you (and that’s not hyperbole–I’m serious). Your reviews got me through medical school and residency (I read them or had my computer read them to me nearly every day to keep my spirits up). I would consider it an honor to ever meet you. Thanks for all your writing and your unparalleled wit!

  • CumaeanSibyl

    Cutesie’s sudden appearance made me laugh out loud. Bad, because Charles is asleep and I really ought to be too. Good, because hey, at least Cutesie hasn’t taken up swimming with sharks.

  • The Rev.

    This in no way discredits any of your fine writing, but I think it can be safely argued that your series pieces (Jaws, Billy Jack and Rocky) are your best works. Something about having to deal with that many movies at a time, or perhaps working with actual good movies for a change (well, in at least two cases, perhaps), seemed to bring out the best in you.

    Come to think of it, that also applies to TV series, as everyone loves the “Hitchhiker” and “Superfriends” pieces, too.

    Franchises seem to be your muse.

  • I thought for sure she was the second camper brutally slain in GRIZZLY. Granted, those deaths occur so close together….. But I thought for sure she was in it. Isn’t her name in the credits?

    GRIZZLY, by the way, has to be the absolute best of the Jaws-a-likes. This may be because the film is pretty much JAWS itself. Of all the naked rip-offs of JAWS, Girdler’s can claim the best script/cast/production values. A really good movie despite itself, really.

    I gotta say, I’d like to see THE LAST SHARK (big Vic Morrow fan). Is it very hard to track down a good copy?

  • Well, you have to use your B-movie logic, not real-world logic. If the Navy can perfect a killer shark, they can send it into water-ways within enemy territories. Not only will the shark eat a bunch of bad guys, but it will tie up the resources of the enemy to kill the giant shark. Meanwhile, you slip in from the other side of the country and seize their capital city. (And don’t worry about the fresh/salt water thing, that’s bred out of killer sea creatures so they can go anywhere.)

  • A friend of mine got himself one of those books that tell you how to write for the screen (using the same template everybody else does). I gave him a link to the JAWS review, certain he’d learn more from that. It’s helped me, actually, in my writing. So I guess I owe you a thanks, Ken!

  • Randy

    Fun Fact – I am married to Gloria from this flick.
    She is NOT proud of the movie.