Monday, June 22

Jaws Returns (1981)

A.K.A. L'ultimo squalo / The Last Shark
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
88 Minutes / Albatros Film Japan / 1.85:1 Widescreen

Police chef Martin Bro...I mean Peter Benton (James Franciscus) and salty seaman Ron Hamer (Vic Morrow) face off against a gigantic stiff-as-a-board Great White after a stubborn mayor (Joshua Sinclair) refuses to halt a windsurfing contest that resulted in a massacre of a terrifying pink buoy shredding knocking people into the water. I know, holy shit. Benton vows personal vengeance over his daughter's eaten leg after a failed attempt by a few local teens to kill the sea beast. An unscrupulous television reporter (Giancarlo Prete) sees these events as his meal ticket as he films the attacks for his own ends. Also the mayor is a complete dumbass when he decides to battle solo with a hunk of chuck and a chopper. Sound wholly original? Indeed!

The Italian superpowers of director Castellari with writers Vincenzo Mannino and Ugo Tucci align under the musical stylings of the brothers De Angelis to deliver a mealy piss in the bearded mouth of Spielberg. This is the gloriously timed rip-off that caused Universal to shit themselves, take legal action, and effectively "ban" this flick in the States. Surprisingly, it's not that bad and just might edge out Michael Caine's Jaws 4 paycheck.

James Franciscus isn't really worth discussion as his character and performance are as vanilla as white bread. Though you gotta wonder what Vic Morrow thought of running through Robert Shaw's fantastic turn in Jaws with such obvious intent. He's in the same gruff and stand-offish template, but the character isn't nearly as tough. First, he's stunned in an attempt to dynamite he and Benton's way out of a oceanfloor cavern that the shark intentionally covered to entrap the two. Then he's simply dragged off when the shark seems to realize the man is entangled in rope. Romano Puppo shows up and gets a cool little introductory shot as a badass shark killer/denim-clad cowboy only to be shiftly eaten ten minutes later. The rest of the cast like Franciscus aren't too notable, Micaela Pignatelli is Benton's wife who just blends off into the background.

As noted above, the film goes out of its way to cast the fish as intelligent, but its ridiculous appearance and mismatched stock footage hamper all hope. The Great White just sorta emerges robotically and slowly behind victims that then act pulled under. The actual attacks are slim in number and usually are just bodies being reluctantly ripped in half with a few splashes of watery blood. It sounds like a recipe for laughs yet usually fails to tickle the throat.

The combined elements pull together just enough to be watchable, but it's all pretty disappointing, but how else could it have been? Castellari seems out-of-sorts in the water as opposed to the mean asphalt of Rome and probably knew this was merely a bill payer. Our friend Bruno Mattei revisited the theme, stole directly from this film and Jaws, and cast a Hulk Hogan look-a-like for '96's Cruel Jaws. On paper at least that sounds like what this should have been.

VHS Picture: 7/10
VHS Sound: 5/10


Anonymous said...

Damn, I've never even heard of this. Sounds like Castellari took half of the cast/crew of Street Law (Pupo, Prete, Brothers De Angelis) and put them in a Jaws ripoff. Wish this was easier to track down.

Jayson Kennedy said...

Thinking about it, Franco Nero would have made this film so much better than Franciscus.

Anonymous said...

I agree, myself being a lover of all things Franco Nero. Actually, I know Nero was in an Italian shark movie but I forget what it's called. That's another one I tried to find before but didn't have any luck.

I Like Horror Movies said...

i love this one in all its terrible glory, ill give them credit for using implied effects to convey the shark through the majority of the film, using a bouyou (??) how the hell do you spell boyuo.. anyways, instead of actually making a dorsal fin to drag behind a boat was pretty clever. Gotta love the ridiculous launch scenes when the Jaws attacks the boats and boards from below you dare tread upon the staircase?

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