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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Reel Bad Cinema: The Last Shark (1981) review


James Franciscus (Peter Benton), Vic Morrow (Ron Hamer), Joshua Sinclair (Mayor William Wells)

Directed by Enzo G. Castellari

A rampaging great white shark devours swimmers and anyone who gets into the water in the coastal town of Port Harbor. When the mayor refuses to cancel an annual regatta, a shark specialist and a local shark hunter get together to hunt down and destroy the monster before it kills again.

I don't know what it is with Italians and their propensity for ripping off popular American movies. What is even more perplexing is how brazen they are in interviews when they claim their movie was damaging to the success of the one they are ripping off. Such is the case of THE LAST SHARK from action film ace, Enzo Castellari. Coming from a family of filmmakers, Castellari is very dependable when it comes to delivering kinetic action sequences in both modern style (HIGH CRIME, THE BIG RACKET) and old school spaghetti westerns (7 WINCHESTERS FOR A MASSACRE, KILL THEM ALL & COME BACK ALONE).

James Franciscus takes on the big roaring shark head alone

But when he tries his hand at doing horror, he's fairly unsuccessful. His father did it with gut busting and gut munching gusto with the cult favorite, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980). When Enzo went for the jugular, his movie fails on most levels. While it's one bright spot is the finale, this Italian imitation is a laughable, note for note rip off of the superior JAWS (1975) and JAWS 2 (1978). As most people know by now, fraudulent producer, Edward L. Montoro (GRIZZLY, DAY OF THE ANIMALS) imported the film under his Film Ventures International banner. After a couple weeks in release Universal got a court injunction to get the film yanked from American theaters.

To hear those involved in this European production say it, Universal was scared of the thunder THE LAST JAWS was stealing from the first summer blockbuster that was JAWS. Now, when you do a comparison between the two movies there is no doubt that the Italian movie is inferior in all departments. How anyone could think Castellari's movie would be any serious competition for Spielberg's picture, or is even one iota of the craftsmanship of that seminal shark flick is beyond comprehension.

The big roaring shark head with the round mouth attacks some people on a ripped apart pier

About the only major difference between the two is that in Spielberg's film, there is a genuine sense of dread and you rarely see the shark save for the end. In the Italian clone, they rub this lifeless model in your face at every available opportunity and it even roars! If seeing a runaway Thanksgiving day float pop out of the water wasn't enough, we get to hear it bellow loudly. The shark itself changes size from shot to shot. At some points it looks a bit like a rubber dolphin. In others it's stock footage of sharks of varying size. In one shot, it just sits there in the water and looks much smaller than the model that frequently pops out of the water during the last half.

The mostly lifeless shark model snacks on an equally lifeless helicopter model

Another difference is there is a bit more gore. People are bit in half, have their legs ripped off, etc. The mayor goes one step further than Murray Hamilton did in JAWS (1975). He decides to head out to sea in a helicopter to try and kill the shark. Instead, he gets eaten and causes the helicopter to be pulled into the water by the rampaging shark head. We also get a shot of the model fish pulling a model copter beneath the waves.

Quint (Vic Morrow) and Brody (James Franciscus) attempt to convince the mayor (Joshua Sinclair) to close the, wrong movie...Ron (Vic Morrow) and Peter (James Franciscus) attempt to convince the mayor (Joshua Sinclair) to stop the regatta before swimmers and daysailers are killed by the huge, fake, roaring shark head

You could go on and on about how awful this movie is. The performances are terrible and American actors Franciscus and Morrow (who have both seen FAR better days) attempt to keep a straight face throughout doing their best Brody and Quint impersonations respectively. I will say this--it's far more entertaining than JAWS THE REVENGE (1987), but not nearly as "good" as JAWS 3D (1983).

Castellari rips off another Italian for this shot lifted from TENTACLES (1976)

Castellari should have been ashamed of himself for this often times embarrassing piece of shit. But the JAWS clones didn't stop here. Others include Joe D'Amato's boring DEEP BLOOD from 1989 and Bruno Mattei's hilarious knee slapper CRUEL JAWS (1995) which uses stock footage from both Castellari's crapfest and D'Amato's sleep inducing chore. Other similar movies include Lamberto Bava's DEVOURING WAVES (1985) and two KILLER CROCODILE movies from the late 1980's. Ovidio Assonitis got in on the act with the superior TENTACLES (1976). That film, while not really a JAWS clone at all, often gets lumped in with those that are. However, if it weren't for the success of JAWS, it's likely we wouldn't have seen that, or been "blessed" with Castellari's celluloid disgrace.

THE LAST SHARK (1981) may never get an official US release on DVD, but it has been released pretty much everywhere else on the digital format. It recently saw a release on a Swedish label and also a nice quality release in its native Italy. No English options on the latter, though. It apparently was popular in Japan as it's been released there as have so many Italian exploitation non-classics in the same vein. I like terrible movies as much as the next guy, but when the director of movies like KEOMA (1976) turns in work like this, it begs the question, "Why?" You'll either love it, or hate. For die hard cheese mongers, approach with caution, it's got mold on it and I aint talkin' Gorgonzola.


Aaron said...

If you think TENTACLES is superior to this, then this MUST be bad. TENTACLES is one of the most boring movies I've ever seen. The shark in the screen shots looks pretty goddamn terrifying though. But based on your review I'll be avoiding this one. I'm not a huge fan of shark movies because they all tend to be the same shit anyway. Great review!

venoms5 said...

I think TENTACLES is a much better made movie with a way better score, too. Cipriani could out orchestrate the De Angelis brothers any day of the week. Seeing the movie, there's nothing terrifying at all. No build up or anything.

The fact that the shark roars a lot adds to the whole goofy aspect. Universal may have ripped the Italians off for that since the shark in JAWS THE REVENGE jumps out of the water a lot and has a cartoon roar, too.

But yeah, if you've seen JAWS (who hasn't?) then you have definitely seen this one. It does have its fans, though, I'm just not one of them.

Will Errickson said...

Great post. While LAST SHARK certainly isn't a patch on JAWS or even JAWS 2, my nightmares are haunted by a monstrous shark that looks much like the one here.

Fazeo said...

If your review was supposed to dissuade one from seeing the film it didn't work, I want to see this film even more now. :)

venoms5 said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by, Will! Does the one in your nightmares roar, too? I will say that while this film falls nowhere near being even remotely threatening to the one and only JAWS and its sequels up to part 3, it is better than the scant few other Italo clones.

venoms5 said...

@ Fazeo: Oh, no, I wasn't trying to dissuade anyone from seeing it. I would have put it in the Dis List section if I were. I don't really like it that much, but not enough that it doesn't have more than its share of laughs. Dude, if you ever do see this, you should really try and see Bruno Mattei's CRUEL JAWS from '95. It's way more hilarious!

Fazeo said...

I really have been wanting to see a lot of these Jaws ripoff type films for quite awhile, I'll look up Cruel Jaws as well. Thanks.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Interesting interview venom5, I like Italian rip offs, but I like them because they make me laugh a lot. I find them entertaining in a way. Specially because they are so shameless! I mean, they knew they were doing something exactly the same, but they didnt care! They wanted their money!

Other movies that fall int he same category as this one:

Devil Fish
Orca: The Killer Whale

Ive been dying to see The Last Shark (or Great White) ever since i discovered some information about it a while back. Too bad Universal had to sue these guys, its probably the reason why we havent seen in on dvd in the states.

What I dont get is how Beyond the Door can get away with its rip off and The Last Shark cant. I guess its because this one resembled JAWS a little too closely. Usually these rip offs add their own little touches and differences, but it appears that The Last Shark didnt really bother to make things that much different. I mean, just by the pics you posted I can tell, its waaaay to similar to Spielbergs film.

Still curious for this one though!

venoms5 said...

@ Fazeo: There's been a recent Japanese DVD of it released if I am not mistaken. Depending on how much you treasure trash will depend on if it's worth picking up or not. Try checking out youtube, Fazeo. There's footage of it there and they might have the whole movie, too.

venoms5 said...

@ Francisco: Yeah, I used to own an old LP tape of TINTORERA. Awful movie although I liked that scene where the stuntman allowed the shark to really drag him through the water.

DEVIL FISH I mentioned under one of its aka's DEVOURING WAVES. Another awful movie. I would probably watch it again, though.

ORCA I reviewed here, too. It's a long time favorite of mine although it has more to do with MOBY DICK than JAWS. But, if JAWS hadn't been big, ORCA may not have been made otherwise. I love that movie. And great score by Morricone.

I also got a Brazilian JAWS spoof called KILLER COD. You ever seen that one, Francisco? It's pretty out there.

Carl (ILHM) said...

I love this god damned piece of shit to death, it is one of my favorite shark films and is so utterly ridiculous it has won a warm place in my heart, right next to pizza and video games.. Its the SHARK ATTACK 3 of its time, and it just pisses me off to no end that I cant own this on a legit R1 DVD

venoms5 said...

I passed on some of the legit discs from overseas. I'm pretty well satisfied with this dupe from Japanese LD.

Sean M said...

I'm a big fan of Castellari's spaghetti westerns and crime thrillers and also an admirer of Spielbergs JAWS so naturally i'm very curious about this rip-off so i may seek this out for a chuckle.His other vaguely big fish themed SHARK HUNTER is also pretty bad but entertaining.

But as for Castellari's futuristic WARRIORS/MAD MAX rip-offs i was very disappointed.

venoms5 said...

You'll get more than a few chuckles out of this one, Sean. I actually enjoyed Castellari's BRONX WARRIORS. Still need to see ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX. I would love to get a hold of that new UK box set.

Maynard Morrissey said...

It sure is terrible and super-cheesy, but in some kind of way I enjoyed it.

venoms5 said...

I almost bought that Norwegian(?) DVD, but passed on it. I figure the one I got will suffice for now.

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