Today’s entry into the “Water Foul” spotlight on awful aquatic monster flicks is The Last Shark, likely the most notorious of the Jaws knock-offs.
The Last Shark had three credited writers: Vincenzo Mannino (Hallucination Strip, Murder-Rock: Dancing Death, The New York Ripper), Marc Princi (The Squeeze, Terror Stalks The Class Reunion), and producer Ugo Tucci (Zombie, Once Upon A Time In The West).
The cinematographer for the film was Alberto Spagnoli, who shot such films as the Italian Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies and Peter Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller.
The editor for the movie was Gianfranco Amicucci, who also cut a number of Castellari’s other films, including Keoma, The Inglorious Bastards, and 1990: The Bronx Warriors. He also went on to edit a number of Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) movies, including The Washing Machine and Mom I Can Do It.
The music for The Last Shark was composed by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, who contributed scores to a number of other low-budget features like The Shark Hunter, Keoma, and Alien 2: On Earth.
Aside from co-writer Ugo Tucci, the producers for The Last Shark were Maurizio Amati (Cannibal Apocalypse), Sandro Amati (The New Gladiators), and Edward Montoro (Pieces, Pod People, Anthropophagus, Grizzly).
The makeup and special effects for The Last Shark were done by Giovanni Morosi (Inglorious Bastards, Escape From The Bronx) and Antonio Corridori (Mission Impossible III, Piranha II, U-571, The Italian Job).
The plot of The Last Shark surrounds a string of shark attack deaths off the coast of a tourist town, but an ambitious local politician refuses to close the beaches due to an upcoming wind-surfing event. After the event turns into a tragedy, the whole town goes into a frenzy trying to catch and kill the crazed, monstrous shark.
As you might suspect from that plot synopsis, The Last Shark was marketed as a Jaws sequel in a handful of foreign markets, while being titled Great White for its release in the United States. Regardless, Universal Pictures filed a lawsuit against the production for being too similar to Jaws, which led to an injunction and the film being pulled from theaters.
A sequel to The Last Shark was at one point planned, but the shark was too heavily damaged during the production to re-use, and it was decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble to create a new one.
The reception to The Last Shark was roundly negative: it currently holds a 4.6 rating on IMDb, alongside a 35% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
I wasn’t able to dig up a number for the budget on The Last Shark, but I assume it was pretty low. Primarily due to piggy-backing on the popularity of Jaws, the film grossed 18 million in its United States theatrical run (despite being pulled from theaters), making it significantly profitable on the whole.
To the credit of the politician character in this movie, he at least does more than the mayor in Jaws. Instead of outright refusing to acknowledge the shark attacks, he surrounds the beach with shark-proof netting to provide a sense of security for the locals participating in the wind-surfing event. Of course, this doesn’t wind up working, but it is certainly more effort than doing nothing.
The music for this movie is all over the place, and even opens with an upbeat and pop-inspired number. It just doesn’t fit with what should be a thriller or adventurous soundtrack, and is a huge departure from the classic Jaws score.
Most of times the shark is shown on screen in The Last Shark, it is done with stock footage. However, a mechanical shark is used occasionally, and looks absolutely terrible. They would have been better off just not bothering with underwater footage of the replicated shark at all.
All of that said, there is some extensive miniature work in this movie that, in my opinion, doesn’t look excessively terrible, particularly when compared to the CGI shark nonsense we get today. At one point the shark takes out a helicopter, which is simultaneously awesome and hilarious. However, nothing stands out quite as much as the ultimate shark death at the end of the movie.
Overall, The Last Shark is a pretty entertaining watch, particularly for fans of Jaws. The film is so not-subtle about being a knockoff that sequences are basically lifted straight out of Jaws and thrown into this movie. It is certainly understandable why Universal wasn’t thrilled about this movie, because it takes more than a few steps too far. As far as entertainment value goes, the shark and miniature effects are hilarious, and the actor playing not-Quint is pretty entertaining. This is a movie worth digging up if you want to watch an old school cheap shark movie that wasn’t made by Syfy and The Asylum.
Today’s movie is Octaman, which features a human-octopus hybrid suit designed by repeat Academy Award winner Rick Baker.
Octaman was written, directed, and produced by Harry Essex, who was also behind such films as It Came From Outer Space and Creature From The Black Lagoon.
The cinematographer on the film was Robert Caramico, who also shot numerous episodes of the television shows Just Shoot Me and Dallas, the Fred Williamson blaxploitation western Boss (that’s, uh, not the original title), and Ted V. Mikels’s The Black Klansman.
The effects team for the movie included Academy Award winner Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Men in Black, Ed Wood, Wolf, Videodrome, It’s Alive, It Lives Again, Black Caesar), Doug Beswick (Aliens, The Terminator, Evil Dead II, Ghostbusters), and Ron Kinney (Wild Riders, The Cremators). Beswick and Baker specifically designed the Octaman suit, under the belief that it would be kept in shadows and obscured for most of the film. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
The cast of Octaman included Pier Angeli (Battle of the Bulge, The Angry Silence), Jeff Morrow (This Island Earth, The Giant Claw, The Creature Walks Among Us), and Kerwin Mathews (Jack The Giant Killer, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad).
The story of Octaman is delightfully straightforward: a team of scientists stumbles upon a mysterious mutated hybrid of an octopus and a human, and the creature proceeds to make all of their lives miserable and significantly shorter.
Footage of Octaman shows up under a variety of different titles in movies like Gremlins 2 and Fright Night, as an homage both to the influence of Rick Baker as an effects master, and as a throwback to traditional, b-level horror and monster movies.
The reception to Octaman was unsurprisingly negative, and it currently holds a 3.5 rating on IMDb, alongside a 23% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
The budget for the movie was reportedly $250,000, which is a pretty astounding microbudget. However, the product on screen holds true to the saying “you get what you pay for.”
Octaman is a movie that feels, looks, and sounds misplaced in time. The movie could have been made any time from the tail end of the 1950s to (particularly cheaply) in the 1980s, and I don’t think it would look or sound all that different. It is a curiosity of a film that rides the line between being an homage and legitimately being the thing that it is trying to send up (honestly, I’m still not 100% sure which this is).
The suit itself is probably the most impressive aspect of the movie given the budget, but the way it is shot and used is just hilariously awful. It is a real testament to the importance of cinematography and editing when it comes to movies with practical monsters, because the way it is shown on screen makes all the difference between it being intimidating and it being impossibly goofy.
Speaking of which, the lighting throughout the movie is astoundingly terrible, and most of it comes off looking like incomprehensible blackness (except for the monster, the one thing that should be kept a bit obscured). For most of the film, it is a chore to parse out what the hell is supposed to be happening on screen, because all of the colors used are on a scale of pitch black to relatively dark blue.
Octaman uses a few moments of monster point-of-view shots, which popped up here and there throughout the history of b-movies. However, it became particular famous for its use in highly-acclaimed, b-movie influenced films like Jaws, Predator, and Halloween.
The only real highlight to the film comes when a plot is executed to capture the monster by confusing it with strobe lights and encircling it with fire, in order to “burn up the oxygen all around him.” Astoundingly, this works, and the team throws a net over the monster and calls it a day. That part of the plan, however, doesn’t turn out so well.
Overall, Octaman is a pretty run-of-the-mill, cheaply made b-movie. If not for Rick Baker’s involvement, it would probably only amount to a footnote in the history of bad movies. However, Baker’s participation and future success adds an element of trivia to the movie, which makes it moderately more worth checking out. Personally, I think the movie is pretty dull, but I’d recommend looking up some clips and photos of the suit in action to get an idea of where a 12-time Academy Award nominated (and 7-time winner) effects guru comes from.
Today’s entry into the “Water Foul” spotlight on the worst aquatic monsters in movie history is 1966’s Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster.
Godzilla vs The Sea Monster was written by Shinichi Sekizawa, the primary writer of the Showa era of Godzilla. His credits include the MST3K-infamous Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla’s Revenge, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster, Godzilla vs. Mothra, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.
The director for Godzilla vs The Sea Monster was Jun Fukuda. This was his first Godzilla movie, and afterwards he would direct four more in the Showa era of the franchise: Son of Godzilla, Godzilla vs Gigan, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.
The cinematographer on the film was Kazuo Yamada, who also shot Son Of Godzilla, Samurai III, and Samurai Rebellion, as well as Key of Keys, which was used as the source material for Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?
The editor for Godzilla vs The Sea Monster was Ryohel Fujii, who was yet another Toho regular, cutting such films as Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster, King Kong Escapes, Frankenstein Conquers The World, and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.
Executive Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was a producer of the Godzilla franchise from the original Godzilla all the way through the conclusion of the Hesei era, 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destroyah. He also frequently produced movies for Akira Kurosawa, such as Yojimbo, Kagemusha, and Sanjuro.
The music on Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was done by Masaru Sato, who accrued 236 score composition credits over his illustrious career, including Yojimbo, Throne of Blood, Sanjuro, Godzilla Raids Again, and The Hidden Fortress.
The Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster effects team included Sadamasa Arikawa (Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Mothra, Rodan), Sokei Tomioka (Terror of Mechagodzilla, King Kong Escapes, Frankenstein Conquers the World), Taka Yuki (Godzilla, Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster), Fumio Nakadai (Son of Godzilla, Godzilla’s Revenge), Eiji Tsuburaya (Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again, Throne of Blood, Rodan, Mothra), Teruyoshi Nakano (Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla 1985), and Akira Watanabe (The Green Slime, Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again, Destroy All Monsters).
The cast of the movie included a number of recognizable faces from other Toho films: Akira Takarada (Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Mothra, King Kong Escapes, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), Kumi Mizuno (Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Frankenstein Conquers the World), Chôtarô Tôgin (Destroy All Monsters), and Tôru Ibuki (Terror of Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero).
The plot of Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster has very little to do with the monsters themselves. A terrorist organization has taken over a small island, and is secretly developing nuclear weapons there. They use a giant shrimp, named Ebirah, to defend the island and prevent any of their captured slaves from escaping. However, they ultimately capture a Japanese citizen, and his family goes hunting after him, ultimately leading to the discovery of the secret base. Serendipitously, Godzilla is found sleeping in a cave nearby, and is awakened to fight Ebirah. Also, Mothra is hanging around on a nearby island (where the slaves were mostly kidnapped from), and eventually shows up to help towards the end of the story.
Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was initially planned to be a King Kong movie, and many of that monster’s trademarks and characteristics remain in the movie. Godzilla’s uncharacteristic obsession with a woman and his awakening via lightning were both associated with King Kong as opposed to the King of the Monsters. The lightning revival came from King Kong vs. Godzilla, which was also due to a last minute monster replacement (King Kong for Frankenstein’s Monster), making the trait all the more confusing.
The Sea Monster itself, Ebirah, is named after the japanese word for shrimp, ‘ebi.’ This essentially confirms that Ebirah is supposed to be a shrimp, though it looks a bit more like a lobster.
Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster interestingly marks the last appearance of a full-grown Mothra in the Showa era of Godzilla, though the larval form pops up again in Destroy All Monsters in 1968.
Mystery Science Theater 3000, the popular bad movie television show, had an episode dedicated to Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster in its second season. The episode immediately followed the more recognizable and terrible Godzilla vs. Megalon, which famously features the robot Jet Jaguar.
The reception to Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was generally negative, and is regarded as one of the weaker entries into the series. It currently holds a rating of 5.1 on IMDb, along with a 39% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
First off, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster definitely focuses far more on the human plot than the monsters, which is bound to be part of why it is so unpopular. Godzilla doesn’t even appear on screen until an hour into the picture. However, the story isn’t super-awful as far as the Showa era of Godzilla is concerned. The terrorist organization isn’t as memorable as sound-prone aliens from Planet X or angry cockroach people, but they serve well enough here.
The monster fighting that does appear in the movie is really lackluster. Ebirah isn’t particularly powerful, and doesn’t have any way to effectively compete with Godzilla, eand ventually gets his claws torn off without much fanfare. There are a couple of other minor battles, such as a skirmish between Godzilla and Mothra and the appearance of a Rodan-like bird monster, but they are both pretty brief and unmemorable. The movie does feature an infamous volleyball fight between Ebirah and Godzilla, which I believe pops up again re-purposed in the even more terrible Godzilla’s Revenge.
My favorite part of the film by far is when Ebirah spears two people on one of his claws like a shish kebab, which both looks ridiculous and is kind of jarring. You don’t see the Toho monsters directly kill people very often, though death is heavily implied by their stomping and blasting. It definitely stands out as a highlight moment in the movie, and is one of the few clips worth checking out.
Overall, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster is a pretty mediocre entry in the Showa era of Godzilla. It isn’t particularly over-the-top or entertaining in comparison to the rest of the series, but also isn’t quite amusingly abysmal enough to make sitting through it much fun. The MST3K episode is pretty solid and the background trivia is interesting, so if you want to watch it, I’d recommend going that route with it.
The editor for DeepStar Six was David Handman, who also cut Jason X and Wishmaster, and served as assistant editor on Footloose and Staying Alive.
The music for the film was provided by Harry Manfredini, who also provided scores for House, Swamp Thing, Friday the 13th, Wishmaster, Jason X, and The Omega Code.
Aside from Sean Cunningham, the producers for DeepStar Six were Mario Kassar (Showgirls, Angel Heart, Red Heat, Total Recall, Jacob’s Ladder, Terminator 2), Patrick Markey (The Quick and The Dead, Joy Ride, House), and Andrew Vajna (Judge Dredd, The 13th Warrior, First Blood).
The cast of DeepStar Six includes Taurean Blacque (Hill Street Blues), Nancy Everhard (The Punisher), Greg Evigan (TekWar), Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop, Twin Peaks, Hot Shots Part Deux), Nia Peeples (Blues Brothers 2000), and Cindy Pickett (Evolver, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).
The plot to DeepStar Six follows the population of an experimental deep water military colony that comes under attack by a mysterious sea monster.
DeepStar Six kicked off the 1989 deep sea sci-fi boom, which also featured Leviathan, The Abyss, The Rift, Lords of the Deep, and The Evil Below. However, the early bird failed to get the worm on this occasion: the film just barely broke even on its theatrical run.
Robert Harmon (best known for The Hitcher) was initially going to direct the film, but left the production before filming. Cunningham, who was set to produce, took on the directing role as well.
The reception to DeepStar Six was pretty negative, likely due to unfavorable comparisons to the similar, more impressive films The Abyss and Leviathan. It currently holds a 5.1 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 0% (critics) and 22% (audience).
I noticed from reading around that some more recent reviews of DeepStar Six compare it to 1998’s Sphere, which strikes me as a genuinely more similar movie to DeepStar Six than both of its major contemporaries, The Abyss and Leviathan.
The monster isn’t nearly as impressive as the bizarre concoction in Leviathan or the creatures from The Abyss, and that makes for a pretty significant comparative weakness. Personally, I thought it just looked like a Graboid from Tremors. The cast also isn’t nearly as deep for DeepStar Six as the other two movies, though I absolutely love Miguel Ferrer going increasingly off his rocker in this film.
Overall, DeepStar Six isn’t an awful flick, it just pales in comparison to its peers. If this had come out a year or more earlier, people probably would have been less harsh to it. That said, it is also far from fantastic: the pacing is certainly not great, and most of the components of the film are mediocre from top to bottom. It doesn’t deserve the abysmal reputation that it has accrued, and I think the more recent reviews and ratings of the film reflect that. This movie isn’t garbage, it is just middling, and to a certain degree a victim of its historical context.
As far as a recommendation goes, the only thing I loved about this movie was Miguel Ferrer’s over-the-top performance. The story plods along, and feels like the broad-strokes plot of Deep Blue Sea stretched to its absolute limit. The movie works fine as background noise if you just want to have something on Netflix, but it isn’t something people should particularly seek out.
Today’s installment into the “Water Foul” spotlight on the worst aquatic monster movies ever made is one of the illustrious members of IMDb’s Bottom 100: 1984’s Devil Fish.
Devil Fish was directed and co-written by Lamberto Bava, the son of the legendary giallo director Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Black Sabbath). He directed the film under the pseudonym of John Old, Jr., which was a frequent practice for Italian directors making knock-off films. Lamberto Bava also worked with noted Italian horror icon Dario Argento on the films Demons and Demons II.
The other credited writers on the film included Dardano Sacchetti (The Beyond, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Manhattan Baby), Gianfranco Clerici (Cannibal Holocaust, The New York Ripper), Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash, Hercules, The Adventures of Hercules 2), and Sergio Martino (The Mountain of the Cannibal God, The Great Alligator, Torso).
The cinematographer for Devil Fish was Giancarlo Ferrando, who also shot movies like Troll 2, Hands of Steel, Warrior of the Lost World, The Great Alligator, and Torso.
The editor on Devil Fish was one Roberto Sterbini, who has also performed editing duties on films like Zombi 3, Hands of Steel, and Beyond the Door II.
The music for Devil Fish was provided by Fabio Frizzi, who also provided scores to Zombie, The Beyond, and the outlandish 1977 colorized, Italian version of Godzilla by Devil Fish co-writer Luigi Cozzi.
The ‘shark’ for the movie was created by one Ovidio Taito, who astoundingly has no other listed special effects credits on IMDb. The rest of the special effects are credited to Germano Natali, who also worked on movies like Starcrash, Suspira, The Beyond, Hercules, and King Solomon’s Mines.
The plot of Devil Fish is pretty straightforward: it follows a hunt for a mysterious, unidentified creature that is attacking swimmers off the coast of Florida.
As the dialogue loves to remind the audience throughout the film, the monster featured in the movie is clearly not a shark. Despite this, one of the most common alternate titles of this movie is simply Shark. Other alternate titles included Red Ocean, Devouring Waves, Monster Shark, and Shark: Red On The Ocean.
The reception to Devil Fish online is incredibly negative, and its IMDb rating of 2.4 places it in the Bottom 100 of the website. However, this is mostly due to the fact that the movie was featured on the hit show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which tends to dramatically skew votes into the negative range.
Devil Fish was obviously a Jaws knockoff in concept, but it clearly went very wrong somewhere in the creation process. The plot moves almost unbearably slowly in the movie, and the plot lines are barely interesting enough to follow in the first place. There is also, of course, tons of bad science loosely thrown around to try to explain the squid-shark antagonist of the film. I particularly like that it is supposedly capable of breaking down into individual cells and reforming into countless copies of itself, provided they don’t completely destroy it within a set amount of time. As you could probably predict, the evil shark-beast was created by sinister scientists for a vague military purpose, which explains some of its more outlandish qualities.
As bad creature movies often do, the monster was shown far too early on in this movie, and is given too much exposure throughout the film. On top of that, it looks really damn goofy, because the design is pretty much a sharktopus. While it looks good as far as quality goes, particularly for a movie as cheap as this one, it is damn near impossible to take a sharktopus seriously as the central monster of a movie.
Aside from the monster, the blood effects used in this film are really shoddy. There is a point where a character is shot and instantaneously has clearly fake blood dried on his shirt, which is pointed out to great comedic effect by the MST3k crew.
Overall, Devil Fish is a shockingly dull movie, given what it is. Despite fleeting moments of amazingness, like when the monster is killed by a mass of flamethrowers, the pacing of the film is so awful that it is a chore to sit through the whole thing. Even the handful of attacks are boring and routine, whereas they should be highlights of the flick. Unless you are used to watching through movies with Mystery Science Theater 3000, this is a movie that you should absolutely skip. There just isn’t enough going on here to be entertaining.
Today’s feature is a little-known Franco Nero movie from 1979: The Shark Hunter.
The Shark Hunter was written by a team that included Alfredo Gianetti (The Blue Eyed Bandit, Divorce Italian Style), co-producer Jaime Comas Gil (A Fistful of Dollars, Cabo Blanco), Tito Carpi (Escape from the Bronx), Jesus Folgar (Watch Out, We’re Mad) and Gisella Longo (Adam and Eve).
The director of The Shark Hunter, Enzo Castellari, was also behind a number of other low-budget Italian productions like The Last Shark, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Keoma, and The Inglorious Bastards.
The editor for the film was Gianfranco Amicucci, who also cut Keoma, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, and The Inglorious Barstards for Castellari.
The cinematographer on The Shark Hunter was Raul Perez Cubero, who accrued nearly 100 cinematography and director of photography film credits over his career.
The special effects in The Shark Hunter are credited to Alvaro Passeri, which is, according to IMDb, a pseudonym for producer and director Massimiliano Cerchi, who went on to create such films as Satan Claus and Hellbilly.
The music for The Shark Hunter was composed by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, who contributed scores to a number of other low-budget features like The Last Shark, Keoma, and Alien 2: On Earth.
The cast of The Shark Hunter includes Franco Nero (Django, Massacre Time, Die Hard II, Omega Code 2), Werner Pochath (Flatfoot in Africa), Jorge Luke (Clear and Present Danger), and Michael Forest (Body of Evidence, Macross Plus, Big O, Mobile Suit Gundam F91).
The reception to The Shark Hunter online is mixed: it currently has a 5.0 rating on IMDb and a 67% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, it is certainly not well known, and both of those numbers come off of very small sample sizes.
I usually don’t cover movies that I can’t understand. However, I decided to give this a shot at this one with translated YouTube subtitles. The results were less than stellar.
In spite of the language barrier, I was still able to piece together the gist of the story. Franco Nero stars as a mysterious professional shark hunter with a hidden criminal past, who has taken up on a remote island after the death of his wife. He becomes engulfed in a wild treasure hunt when word starts to spread about a downed aircraft just off shore with a massive load of cash. All of the forces need his input because of his expertise as a shark hunter (the waters around the wreck are infested with sharks), and for his criminal prowess. This places him in the middle of a dangerous web of violent and greedy individuals that start to appear on the island.
The Shark Hunter takes a while to get going, but the last third of the movie is pretty much non-stop. Once all of the invested parties are established and the treasure heist is planned, everything heats up pretty well: there’s a pretty decent boat/plane chase, a bunch of alarmingly realistic shark wrestling. and Franco Nero wearing what I assume is the most ridiculous wigs ever to grace a film. As badass as Nero is throughout the film, that wig of blonde, flowing locks still looks absolutely ludicrous, and steals the show most of the time.
As I mentioned previously, there are a number of sequences in this movie where Franco Nero’s stunt double (I assume) actually wrestles a goddamn shark in the water. I was worried that the movie was about to turn into an unintentional remake of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, and I’m actually curious as to how they pulled all of the shark wrestling off. Some years earlier, Samuel Fuller had similar stunts in his film Shark! that utilized live, sedated sharks, which tragically resulted in the death of one of the film’s stuntmen. I’d like to think that they didn’t do the same thing here.
I kind of like the plot to this movie (at least the bits that I could understand), and appreciated the way that the crime and heist aspects played into the adventure setting. It made for an interesting sort of genre-bender that took notes from all across the board, synthesizing into something that felt unique.
Overall, this isn’t a particularly awful film, but it certainly isn’t high quality, and suffers from an obviously shoe-string budget. The beginning is far too slow, but the conclusion pretty much makes up for the weaknesses of the first act. The shark wrestling is kind of nerve-wracking because you have to assume that the stunt people were actually in significant danger, which adds an extra element to the movie (for better or worse). I would love to find a legitimately subtitled or dubbed copy of The Shark Hunter, because it was kind of a struggle to get through with the nonsense translations, but it was still compelling enough to get me through it.
Today, I’m going to be continuing my spotlight of the worst aquatic horror movies with yet another infamous sequel: Piranha II: The Spawning.
Piranha II has three credited screenplay writers: James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Avatar, Titanic), Ovidio Assonitis (The Visitor, Tentacles), and Charles H. Eglee (Dark Angel, Dexter, The Shield). James Cameron is also the sole credited director, however, he reportedly was dismissed and had no control over the editing process, which was dictated by producer and co-writer Ovidio Assonitis. Because of this, there is some question of how much of Cameron’s work actually made it to the screen.
The cinematographer for Piranha II was Roberto Plazzoli, who also shot such films as Starcrash, Midnight Ride, and Tentacles. The editor on Piranha II was Roberto Silvi, who also cut the films Tombstone, Leviathan, and The Ninth Configuration.
The musical score for Piranha II was composed by Stelvio Cipriani, who also created music for the Mario Bava movies Baron Blood and A Bay of Blood, as well as a number of other killer animal flicks like The Great Alligator and Beaks.
Aside from Ovidio Assonitis, the other producers on Piranha II were Chako van Leeuwen (Piranha, Piranha 3D, Piranha 3DD) and Jeff Schechtman (Piranha, Invasion of the Bee Girls, Enter the Dragon, Killing Zoe).
The cast for Piranha II is primarily made up of Lance Henriksen (The Last Samurai, Aliens, Hard Target, The Terminator), Ricky Paull Goldin (The Blob, All My Children), Carole Davis (Mannequin, The Flamingo Kid), and Steve Marachuk (Eyes of Laura Mars).
The plot of Piranha II follows an investigation into a series of bizarre deaths in the waters around a Caribbean island. While it is at first suspected of being the work of sharks or barracudas, it is eventually discovered that the genetically modified monsters from Piranha have unexpectedly returned, and mutated into having the ability to fly.
James Cameron is outspoken about how much he deeply dislikes the final product of Piranha II, saying the following:
I was replaced after two-and-a-half weeks by the Italian producer. He just fired me and took over, which is what he wanted to do when he hired me. It wasn’t until much later that I even figured out what had happened. It was like, “Oh, man, I thought I was doing a good job.” But when I saw what they were cutting together, it was horrible. In actual fact, I did some directing on the film, but I don’t feel it was my first movie.
Miller’s intention was that Piranha II should hinge upon Kevin McCarthy’s scientist from Piranha, even though he had seemingly perished in the first movie. “I pitched this idea of bringing Kevin McCarthy back, all chewed up and mutilated from the previous movie,” says Drake. “He was on an abandoned oil rig and he was developing these flying piranhas out there to get revenge, or whatever. I think we were going to bring Barbara Steele back and have him kill her by smashing her head through a fish tank.”
The idea for James Cameron’s hit The Terminator came from the time period when Piranha II was releasing in Italy. Cameron got significantly ill while powerlessly fretting over the movie overseas in the United States, and had a vivid fever dream about a skeletal, killer robot, which became the primary inspiration for The Terminator’s central machine.
Regardless of the unusual situation behind the scenes, Piranha II is still officially James Cameron’s directorial debut, at least on paper. His name remaining on the picture after being fired is apparently due to a contractual stipulation which required that an American had to be credited as the director on the film, or else he would likely have been taken off the movie’s credits, as he initially requested.
James Cameron’s b-movie roots interestingly go deeper than just Piranha II. Before his ill-fated directorial debut, he worked on such films as Galaxy of Terror, Battle Beyond the Stars, and Escape From New York as a visual effects artist, production designer, and art director.
The budget for Piranha II was astoundingly reported as less than $150,000, which it managed to make back with a marginal profit on a limited theatrical release in Europe.
Piranha II has been widely loathed by audiences and critics ever since its release. It currently holds a rating of 3.5 on IMDb, alongside amazingly low Rotten Tomatoes scores of 7% (critics) and 10% (audiences).
The fish in Piranha II just look terrible, even in comparison to the less than impressive monstrous stars of the original Piranha. The addition of wings on the creatures just comes off as comical rather than menacing, in spite of how hard the movie tries to make them terrifying. Fortunately, the film wisely tries to keep the fish off screen and out of focus as much as possible, but there is just no getting around how goofy they look when they do show up.
Worse than anything else is the fact that Piranha II is astoundingly slowly paced, and doesn’t do much to keep the audience’s attention. Honestly, this is one of the most boring movies I have watched since I finished the IMDb Bottom 100, and that is saying a lot. I was able to focus on an Italian Franco Nero movie with no subtitles better than I could stay tuned into Piranha II.
Overall, Piranha II is a train wreck of a movie with little to no redeeming value. However, the behind the scenes stories are really fascinating and interesting, enough so that it is almost worth watching through the movie to get some context. If you aren’t planning to do some reading for the sake of trivia, though, you should avoid Piranha II at all costs. However, the clips of the flying piranhas are worth checking out, because those are hilarious.
Today, my “Water Foul” series on the worst aquatic-themed horror movies continues with 1980’s Alligator.
Alligator was directed by Lewis Teague, who went on to direct the Stephen King film adaptations of Cujo and Cat’s Eye, as well as the Jay Leno and Pat Morita buddy cop comedy, Collision Course.
Alligator was written by John Sayles (Piranha, The Howling, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Brother From Another Planet) and Frank Ray Perilli (Laserblast), though the latter apparently only wrote the almost entirely scrapped first draft.
The cinematographer on Alligator was Joseph Mangine, who also shot Albert Pyun’s The Sword and The Sorcerer, Mother’s Day, and Alligator 2: The Mutation.
Alligator featured two primary editors: Larry Bock (Final Justice, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, The Mighty Ducks, Bring It On) and Ron Medico (Death Bed: The Bed That Eats).
The music for Alligator was composed by Craig Huxley, who also contributed scores to the television show Walker, Texas Ranger and the Meat Loaf musical movie, Roadie.
The producers for Alligator included Mark L. Rosen (Spice World, The Sword and The Sorcerer), Tom Jacobson (The Ladykillers, Flashdance), Brandon Chase (Alligator 2: The Mutation, UFO’s Are Real), and Robert Bremson (Over The Edge, Obsession).
The special effects team for Alligator included Robert Short (Chopping Mall, Piranha), Richard Helmer (Apocalypse Now, Airplane!, Child’s Play), William Shourt (Serenity, Minority Report), John Ramsey (U-571), Pete Gerard (Ghostbusters, Terminator 2, Batman & Robin), David Beasley (Inspector Gadget, Stargate, The Blob), and David Bartholomew (Ghost Dad, Never Say Never Again).
The cast of Alligator is composed of Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Vigilante), Robin Riker (The Bold and The Beautiful), Michael Gazzo (Last Action Hero, Cannonball Run II, The Godfather Part II), Dean Jagger (Game of Death, Elmer Gantry, King Creole), Sydney Lassick (Carrie, Cool as Ice), and an early, uncredited appearance by Kane Hodder (Jason X, Friday the 13th Part VIII).
The story of the film centers around a series of mysterious killings in the sewers of Chicago. The investigation ultimately reveals that an over-sized alligator, which had lived off of discarded animal corpses and experimental lab rats after being flushed as a baby, is hunting beneath the busy streets, and killing off countless unsuspecting locals. The police force then has to hunt down and destroy the beast, while the local government tries to cover up the sinister origins of the creature.
Apparently, the original script by Ray Perilli had the story taking place in Milwaukee, and outlandishly explained that the alligator grew massive in the sewers due to runoff from beer production. John Sayles reportedly scrapped the entire draft and started over from scratch, though Perilli was still ultimately given a writing credit on the movie.
According to IMDb, the buggy animatronic alligator used in the film was donated to the University of Florida to act as an unofficial mascot for the Florida Gators, though I wasn’t able to confirm its current location.
Alligator ultimately received a sequel in the form of Alligator II: The Mutation in 1991, a whole 11 years after the film’s initial release in 1980. Unfortunately, it was not received well, meaning I will likely give it a look here on the blog sooner or later.
Astoundingly, Alligator spawned a popular tie-in children’s board game made by the Ideal Toy Company. The commercial for it is up on YouTube, and provides one hell of a flashback to a time when children’s toys were made from R-rated movies.
The reception to Alligator was generally mixed: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 67% (critics) and 48% (audiences), with an IMDb rating of 5.9. However, the movie was ultimately quite profitable in its theatrical run, grossing $6.5 million on an estimated $1.75 million budget.
All in all, the alligator itself doesn’t look half bad in this movie. Apparently it didn’t work very well, much like Bruce (the shark from Jaws), so the crew had to be a little creative in how they shot it. I think it worked out pretty well considering, as the gator looks genuinely intimidating. They aren’t particularly hyperactive animals to start with, so it isn’t like they needed a whole lot of action shots of the creature doing gymnastics. In my opinion, the large, lumbering gait of the beast seemed to drive home how little fear it had for humans during its limited time on screen, which I think contrasts pretty greatly to the Lake Placid crocodiles, who always struck me as being a bit too nimble.
There is an odd comedic tone to Alligator that is laced into the characters and the dialogue in the film. It is clearly self aware about what it is, and mocks itself lightly while not ruining the genuine monster movie tone. It never drifts so far as to become outright parody, which is a good thing in my opinion. This is a movie that hits right on the nose of the tropes and characteristic of a Jaws-era monster thriller, and it plays with them well.
I, like most people of my generation, only know Robert Forster as a distinctive-looking older character actor. Apart from some clips from William Lustig’s Vigilante, I had never seen any films from the earlier part of his career before this one, and it is almost surreal to see him so young. It reminded me a little bit of Sam Elliott in Frogs, in that he is almost unrecognizable as a younger man.
Overall, this isn’t all that bad of a monster flick. It has unfortunately been mostly forgotten, as the legacy of Crocodilian horror seems to be dominated by Lake Placid. That said, this is a flick that is worth checking out just for the novelty of it. There are some cheap effects strewn throughout the movie, but the plot is just darkly humorous enough to keep most b-movie lovers invested in the story through to the end. If you are craving an off the wall monster movie with some 1980s grit, Alligator can certainly provide.
Today, I’m going to be concluding this week’s spotlight on awful marine monster movies with a personal favorite: 1999’s “Deep Blue Sea.”
The three writers for “Deep Blue Sea” were the duo of Donna and Wayne Powers (“The Italian Job”) and Duncan Kennedy, an Australian who was inspired to write the initial screenplay by an experience he had as a child, where he witnessed the aftermath of a fatal shark attack. The event was apparently highly traumatic, and led to him having recurring nightmares throughout his childhood.
The director of “Deep Blue Sea” was Renny Harlin, who is best known for such action flicks as “Cliffhanger,” “12 Rounds,” and “Mindhunters.”
The cinematography for “Deep Blue Sea” was provided by Stephen F. Windon, who has done photography for “Furious Seven,” “The Patriot,” “The Postman,” and “Crocodile Dundee II” over his career.
The impressive special effects team for “Deep Blue Sea” included Craig Barnett (“Speed 2,” “Congo”), Darrell Burgess (“Anaconda,” “Batman & Robin”), Walt Conti (“Free Willy”), William Dawson (“Waterworld,” “Drive Angry,” “Blade”), Michael Duenas (“Thor,” “Iron Man”), Eugene Hubbard (“Face/Off,” “Demolition Man”), Michael Clarke (“Interstellar,” “The Avengers”), Mario Vanillo (“The Last Airbender,” “The Prestige”), Jim McPherson (“Leviathan,”“State of Play,” “Escape From LA,” “Men In Black”), Rick Thompson (“The Aviator,” “Die Hard”), John Richardson (“Straw Dogs,” “Aliens,” “Superman”), Wes Mattox (“Daredevil,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Maniac Cop 3”), and Barry McQueary (“Ant-Man,” “Argo”), among many, many others.
The score for “Deep Blue Sea” was written by Trevor Rabin, who has contributed music to a number of other memorable films such as “12 Rounds,” “Torque,” and “Con Air.”
“Deep Blue Sea” featured three editors: Derek Brechen (“Stargate,” “The Patriot,” “Iron Man”), Frank Urioste (“RoboCop,” “The Hitcher,” “Road House,” “Total Recall”), and Dallas Puett (“Red Planet,” “Kull The Conqueror,” “2 Fast 2 Furious”).
The cast for “Deep Blue Sea” includes Samuel L. Jackson (“Kingsman,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown”), Thomas Jane (“The Punisher”), Saffron Burrows (“Troy”), LL Cool J (“Rollerball,” “S.W.A.T.”), Michael Rapaport (“The 6th Day,” “True Romance”), Stellan Skarsgard (“Thor”), Aida Turturro (“The Sopranos”), and Jacqueline McKenzie (“The Water Diviner”).
The story of “Deep Blue Sea” takes place on an experimental marine facility, where scientists are studying sharks for a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. However, when the project goes over-budget and ethical concerns begin arising, their primary benefactor comes to investigate the situation himself. From there, things rapidly go awry.
The role of the chef, which ultimately went to LL Cool J, was initially offered to Samuel L. Jackson, who turned it down due to it being too small of a role. Ironically, due to script changes, the chef role wound up being arguably larger than the character Jackson wound up playing in the picture.
“Deep Blue Sea” is likely best known for a dramatic twist, in which Samuel L. Jackson’s character is surprisingly (and brutally) killed in the middle of the film. This move was apparently inspired by Tom Skerritt’s role in “Alien,” according to Renny Harlin. In theory, because he was the most recognizable face, audiences naturally latch to him as a point of reference. Of course, when the character dies, it has the effect of pulling a rug out from under the viewers. Harlin used this same technique again in “Mindhunters,” in which two different recognizable (and assumed lead) characters are shockingly killed off early in the film.
The plot of “Deep Blue Sea” is loosely based on the amount of real life medical research that has been done on sharks over the past few decades, but it also perpetuates some significant falsehoods about the creatures. For instance, the belief that sharks can’t get cancer has been recently debunked. Also, the popular myth that sharks have to continue movies to survive isn’t true across the board: some species are capable of pumping water across their gills without moving.
There have been a few other movies called “Deep Blue Sea” over the years, including 2011’s “The Deep Blue Sea” starring Tom Hiddleston, and a 1955 romantic drama of the same name starring Vivien Leigh. Neither of those movies involved CGI sharks, however.
The modified sharks featured in “Deep Blue Sea” are shortfin mako sharks, which are known particularly for their speed, and are the fastest among all sharks. In line with the movie’s plot, they are also one of the smartest species of shark, and have an impressive brain to body ratio. However, they are also particular ill-suited for captivity, which pokes a significant hole in the underlying concept of the film.
“Deep Blue Sea” was filmed primarily at the Baja Studios near Tijuana, Mexico, which were built specifically for the filming of “Titanic.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t been used for filming in a number of years, and the town where it is located has apparently been deteriorating over the past few years.
At the beginning of “Deep Blue Sea,” a bull shark is shown with a license plate stuck in its mouth. The license plate number and state match the same one that was featured in “Jaws,” which was a nice, subtle homage.
The submarine the appears in the background of the well room also appeared in “Sphere,” an earlier film that also starred Samuel L. Jackson, alongside Dustin Hoffman.
According to Harlin, it took 20 takes to film his very brief cameo towards the beginning of the movie, and he apparently hasn’t taken any on-screen roles since.
“Deep Blue Sea” had a particularly notable tie-in single and music video, performed by LL Cool J, one of the co-stars of the film. It is one of the most baffling and catchy themes I have ever heard for a film, and essentially retells the entire plot of the film from the sharks’ perspectives.
“Deep Blue Sea” featured a number of impromptu screenplay changes along the way, including combing two characters into what became LL Cool J’s chef character and expanding the role (allowing him to survive), ultimately killing off Saffron Burrows’ character, and changing how some of the sharks were killed.
The estimated budget for “Deep Blue Sea” was $60 million, and it ultimately grossed around $164 million in its total theatrical run, making it a significant hit. The reception wasn’t quite as positive as those numbers suggest, though the film certainly has a cult following. It currently hold an IMDb rating of 5.8, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 56% (critics) and 38% (audience).
The biggest issue with “Deep Blue Sea” is definitely the poorly-aging CGI effects, but it is worth noting that the practical sharks look pretty good. As you might expect, there are some big drawbacks to mechanical sharks in regards to movement limitations and costs, and they are also notoriously fickle (I recommend reading about “Bruce” from “Jaws”). There are also some brief moments of CGI water in the background that, without fail, always looks awful.
There are undoubtedly some big problems with the plot of “Deep Blue Sea,” specifically regarding the impossible intelligence of the sharks. For instance, it is claimed that the sharks planned the flooding of the research facility in order to escape, which would require knowledge of the schematics of the building, the makeup of the fences, and the weather conditions. It is even possibly implied that one of the sharks operates a convection oven in order to flush out LL Cool J (a point of some contention). It is one thing for the sharks to be exceptionally smart, it is another thing for them to manifest knowledge they would have no way of knowing, unless the experiments made them psychic. Which, honestly, would be a hilarious twist.
Much like “Piranha” and “Humanoids From The Deep,” “Deep Blue Sea” taps into popular fears about genetic modification and the potential for science to go awry (there are definitely some “Frankenstein” nods as well). There is also a popular fear of sharks in the public consciousness since the cultural phenomenon of “Jaws,” which definitely adds to the atmosphere of “Deep Blue Sea.” It is fair to say that the film wouldn’t be the same with intelligent, giant rabbits, even if they were vicious and vindictive.
Something I particularly like about “Deep Blue Sea” is the concept and design of Aquatica, the floating research fortress. The aesthetic is always something I though was cool, and it doesn’t have the same overused “grates and pipes” look from “Alien,” “Leviathan,” etc. It is generally pretty sleek and polished, which makes it look more like a sparkling, new research facility.
Overall, “Deep Blue Sea” has plenty of problems, but the sheer “fun” factor is off the charts. The performances are great, the plot is cheesy, the atmosphere is fantastic, and if you can swallow the bad CGI, there is no way not to have a good time while watching this flick. Honestly, the CGI here still looks better than the “Sharknado” movies, well over a decade later, so it isn’t impossible to stomach. For people looking for a Hollywood cheese fest, a bit of nostalgia, or a top-flight shark thriller, “Deep Blue Sea” should fit your bill.
Next up in my “Water Foul” spotlight on some of the worst aquatic monsters in film history is a little bit of non-fiction: the cult documentary “Cane Toads: An Unnatural History.”
“Cane Toads: An Unnatural History” might be my favorite documentary of all time. Errol Morris and Werner Herzog have nothing on this charming, weird little piece of film. The musical numbers, the excessively melodramatic tone, the off-kilter humor, the eccentric locals, the genuine educational aspects: it is damn near perfect from top to bottom. I wouldn’t in a million years consider “Cane Toads” to be a bad movie, but more people should see it, so I couldn’t help but take the opportunity to give it a shout-out. It is a goddamn riot. Also, if “Cane Toad Blues” doesn’t get stuck in your head, you have no soul.
If you happen to enjoy “Cane Toads: An Unnatural History” (why wouldn’t you?), then you’re in luck: there’s a sequel. As with most follow-ups, it isn’t quite as good as the first, but it is still more than worth your time to sit through.
Reviews/Trivia of B-Movies, Bad Movies, and Cult Movies.