TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: BARRACUDA (1978) and DEVIL FISH (1984)

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Barracuda poster

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BARRACUDA (1978)

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While the title and advertising would imply that this is yet another Jaws rip-off…and to a degree it is…the film is more conspiracy thriller than nature-run-amok flick. The story has a series of vicious attacks on swimmers and divers by schools of voracious barracuda in the waters off the peaceful shore community of Palm Cove. When environmental activist Mike Canfield (Wayne Crawford, who also co-wrote) joins forces with local sheriff Ben Williams (William Kerwin) to investigate, they discover a conspiracy that goes from a local chemical plant all the way up to the very government itself…a conspiracy some might kill to keep secret.

I’ll give writers Crawford and Harry Kerwin…who also directed…credit for trying to expand a simple killer fish flick into something more, but Joe Dante’s Piranha already did the conspiracy thing and mixed it with the carnivorous fish elements much better. This is a very slow moving and sometimes dull flick that has a few bloody attacks, but otherwise focuses on it’s land-locked conspiracy story about a ludicrous plot to use chemicals to control peoples behavior…chemicals that are being dumped into the sea and are effecting the local barracuda population. The FX are cheesy, the acting is purely wooden and the whole story has more holes than a barracuda snack. I also give the filmmakers credit for giving it such a bleak ending, but that would only have impact if it was a far better movie. At this point you want it to be over and don’t care how it ends.

Overall, this is a bland and forgettable killer fish/conspiracy thriller that is similar in many ways to Joe Dante’s Piranha,but without any of the wit, cleverness and blood spattered fun of that flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 chemically enraged fish.

barracuda rating

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DEVIL FISH aka MONSTER SHARK (1984)

Italian Jaws rip-off…and there were plenty…tells the story of a series of vicious attacks off the shores of Florida. When the attacks are investigated by two scientists (Valentine Monnier and William Berger) and their tech specialist, Peter (After The Fall of New York’s Michael Sopkiw) they find the creature is a genetic mutation of an octopus and a prehistoric fish known as a Dunkleosteus (It’s a real thing! I Googled it!). What they don’t know is this mutation is not a freak of nature, but bred specifically for a very sinister purpose…and those that bred it, want their intentions to remain undiscovered.

This silly film is written by Gianfranco Clerici and directed by Lamerto (Demons) Bava…under the pseudonym John Old Jr. It is very cheesy with it’s rubber monster and dubbed cast, not to mention, the ridiculous plot and dialog that tries to support it. The action scenes are clumsily staged and the monster never appears to be anything but a prop. There is very little suspense or thrills and the conspiracy plot is outright ridiculous, though better integrated than in Barracuda.  The acting is also very poor and the film doesn’t even make good use of it’s Florida locations, seemingly filming in the same few spots. The climatic confrontation with the creature is as ludicrous as the reason it was created, but at least there is some generous blood-letting and gore. There is, at least, a base entertainment value in all the badness, as it is sometimes badness in just the right degree.

This is not a good film, but unlike the dull Barracuda, it has at least got some laugh-ability to it. Rubber monsters always make me chuckle, as do dubbed actors who take the proceedings far too seriously considering the material. A bad movie, but not without it’s entertainment value.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 pre-mutation Dunkleosteus.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE LAST SHARK (1981)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 rubber sharks.

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