THE LAST SHARK (1981)
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Italian Jaws rip-off is most infamous for Universal Pictures having sued it’s makers for plagiarism and getting it’s US release cut short and the film banned on these shores. It didn’t get any kind of official release in North America till it finally showed up on DVD in 2013, after over 30 years in exile.
As a movie, it’s pretty bad. Though, as such, it can be mildly amusing at times, especially when you see Universal’s point…it’s a virtual clone of Spielberg’s classic with a few bits of Jaws 2 thrown in for good measure. Story has an enormous great white shark attacking a beach community with an upcoming windsurfing competition placed in peril. Writer Peter Benton (a nod to Jaws author Peter Benchley?)…played by James Franciscus…and shark hunter Ron Hamer…played by the late, great Vic Morrow, who fades in and out of a Scottish accent…are the only two who can stop it’s rampage, while the local bureaucrats refuse to close the beaches. Sound familiar?
Director Enzo G. Castellari directs the carnage, sadly, by-the-numbers and we actually wish he would have been a bit more over-the-top, as a lot of Italian films notoriously were with material like this. He seems to really want to make a serious shark flick from Marc Princi’s script and we wish he had just cut loose and had a bloodier good time with it. The pacing is very slow for this type of adventure and there are long stretches between the action. At least Castellari’s beast gets more screen time than Spielberg’s monster fish. As for the critter, the shark varies from live footage to a cheesy underwater miniature to a full size mock up, that is actually pretty decent, but we never really come to fear it, like Spielberg’s carnivore, even with it’s lion-like roars and decent sized body count. The rest of the FX range from passible to awful, such as with a helicopter sequence becoming increasingly laughable as the model used during it’s crash looks exactly like the toy helicopter it is. Composers Guido & Maurizio De Angelis also give the film a very 80s Italian movie score, so at least there is that for Italian horror movie fans.
The acting isn’t much better. Except for some solid work from our leads, it’s also pretty bad, as is the ludicrous dialog, especially from Morrow’s Hamer. It’s a tribute to Vic Morrow’s professionalism that he played what looks like a definite paycheck role with such seriousness and sincerity. Franciscus is right behind him in one of his last film roles before he left acting to produce and write. The rest of the predominately Italian cast are adequate at best, terrible at worst.
Overall, The Last Shark is an amusing curiosity, but one we wish was a lot more fun than it is, even with some ‘so bad it’s good’ moments and laughable Baywatch style slow motion shots. Castellari should have taken a hint from Joe Dante’s Piranha and took the rip-off ball and ran with it, instead of trying for a serious thriller with such blatantly familiar material. For Jaws/shark flick completists and Vic Morrow fans (like me) only. Ironically, during it’s brief release in the US as Great White, it earned enough money to, probably, more than pay for it’s costs anyway, before Universal’s lawyers pulled the plug.
2 rubber sharks.