The Last Shark (1981)
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Starring James Franciscus, Vic Morrow, Joshua Sinclair, Giancarlo Prete, Stefania Girolami Goodwin, Gian Marco Lari, Chuck Kaufman, Gail Moore, Joyce Lee
It was not uncommon for a foreign film studio to make their own version of a popular US film. I’m not talking remakes, mind you, since that would imply buying the rights for it. I’m just talking on using the same ideas, storyline, or theme, but changing them enough to make it their own. Just look at when William Friedkin’s The Exorcist came out … there were tons of rip-offs … sorry, films made that were “inspired by” just in Italy alone. Now this wasn’t a bad thing, and we’re not complaining, since we love a lot of those … variations. But when a new film called Great White hit the US shores in March of 1982, Universal Pictures filed a lawsuit against the producers of the film, stating that it was too similar to their film Jaws and Jaws 2. After only a month on the screen, it was pulled. Of course, that didn’t stop the producers from making a reported $18 million for that single month. Not too bad for a rip-off, huh?
The movie was originally titled L’ Ultimo Squalo, which translated means The Last Shark, and was directed by Enzo G. Castellari. The story is very simple, when a great white shark starts to feed off a coastal town, right before they are holding a windsurfing contest. After a young man mysteriously disappears while practicing for the contest, the only thing found was what was left of his mangled board. As Vic Morrow’s character states, “One thing’s for sure. It wasn’t a floating chainsaw.” You can’t makeup dialogue like that, folks.
To throw a little drama into the mix, a party is being thrown by the local “rich guy” who hopes to be the next governor. Of course, he can’t risk the election by cancelling the big meet-and-greet party he’s holding during the windsurfing contest, just because there are rumors of a shark hanging around. Doesn’t sound familiar at all, does it? Nope … not to me.
Vic Morrow plays the old Scottish sea captain who is the first to realize what is going on. He gets his buddy James Franciscus, a local writer, involved in trying to warn everyone. Of course, the mayor won’t hear any of it, refusing to cancel any of his festivities. But when tragedy strikes again, this time killing the mayor’s assistant, it’s time to listen. Morrow plays his character like an old suit…one with many holes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s great to watch, and listen to while his accent goes in and out like the tide. Seeing him do his best to top Robert Shaw’s performance is one of the major highlights of the film for me. Franciscus does all he can to keep a straight face as he delivers his dialogue. Got to give him a lot of credit for that alone.
The other highlight, of course, is the shark. Castellari uses a lot of stock footage of these aquatic eating machines, mainly used for underwater shots, or when we see a shark taking a chop out of some bait. These shots are usually done in slow motion to give the best effect. For the scenes where humans have to interact with the shark, it seems that they only built two different shark machines. One of them is for the underwater shots where we see the shark doing stuff that a normal shark wouldn’t do. For instance, like when Morrow and Franciscus swim into an underwater cave to escape the killer fish, the shark starts hitting the rocks around the opening to try and trap them in there. Or when Morrow is tangled up in a rope or netting of some sort, the shark grabs the rope with his mouth to drag him around a bit. Or even putting its body up against the boats propeller to stop it from spinning. I’m telling you … this is one smart shark. The other mechanical shark is when its giant head pops out of the water to scare whoever might be in the water. The head pops up. The mouth moves a bit. Then it goes back underwater. Then it comes back up. Does the same thing again. And then goes back under. Once again, please don’t take this as criticism since I loved every minute of it. It’s just that this action is used over and over again and it is damn funny each and every time.
The film does have a little bit of gore, but it really is kept to a minimum. We do get to see a couple of severed bodies, but that’s about it. Castellari really tries to rely more on scaring the audience with the tension then with the gore. And to his credit, there are a few good scenes in there where he pulls it off.
So is this movie worth watching? I’d give that a big “Hell Yeah” without a doubt. But let’s break that down a bit. Do you like shark movies, even the cheesier kind? Then that would be another “yes”. How about Italian horror in general? Another “yes”. So I don’t think there’s really any need for more discussion. Do you?
Okay, if you’re still not convinced, I will say that it is one of the most entertaining Jaws-inspired films out there. I didn’t say ‘best’ mind you, I said entertaining. It’s downright cheesy as hell, but that is one of its charms. As long as you’re not looking for a serious film on the same lines as Jaws, then I think you’ll enjoy yourself with this one.
The problem might be finding a copy of it though. Since this one has never been released here in the States, and probably never will be, you’ll have to pick up one of the import releases that are out there. But again, well worth your time and money.