Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Prime Time: The Last Shark (1981)

Stop me if you've heard this one. A great white shark starts to cause problems by munching on oblivious people who are trying to enjoy time in the sea. There's a big event coming up (it's a wind-surfing regatta), a local official who doesn't want a pesky shark problem interrupting the festivities, and so it comes down to one determined man (Peter Benton, played by James Franciscus) and one shark hunter (Ron Hamer, played by Vic Morrow) to try and deal with the shark before it snacks on any more funseekers.

Directed by Enzo G. Castellari, The Last Shark is a terrible film. The script, by Marc Princi, is hilarious, the shark is hilarious, and the way the film so closely parallels Jaws is also hilarious (it's one of a number of films that you can easily describe as Jawsploitation). But being hilarious wouldn't have been bad if it all hadn't also felt so lazy and careless. There isn't even the kind of content you get from other Italian . . . "homages" to blockbuster hits. No excess of gore, no gratuitous nudity, there wasn't even one grizzled warrior with an eyepatch and a flamethrower attached to a severed arm. Any of these elements would have improved the film, and having none of them just feels like a huge missed opportunity.

Remember the famous scene in Jaws that has Roy Scheider scooping chum into the water and being startled by the sudden appearance of the shark into uttering THAT line? The Last Shark knows it cannot compete with that level of brilliance. But it does have someone dangling a large chunk of meat from a helicopter as part of a plan so dumb that even the shark looks bemused for a few seconds (or maybe I was projecting at that point).

Morrow is very enjoyable in his role (a mix of Hooper and Quint, with a terrible attempt at an Irish, or maybe Scottish, accent), and both Franciscus and Joshua Sinclair (playing that optimistic, ambitious town official) do what's asked of them, with Sinclair gamely taking part in what is most definitely the silliest scene in the entire movie.

But what of the shark itself? Surely that is the star of the show. Not quite. In fact, when it rises out of the water you could be forgiven for thinking that a balloon has somehow floated up from below the tideline. A balloon covered in paper mache, with melted buttons to give it eyes. You get the idea. It's not exactly convincing or scary. Does this mean that Castellari and co. take a leaf out of Spielberg's book and hide the shark away for most of the runtime? No it does not. It could have been worse, but the shark is given far too much screentime, and the situation isn't helped by scenes featuring footage of an actual shark that never matches with the main creature that we're supposed to be watching.

Castellari has some decent titles in his filmography, especially if you're a fan of Westerns or post-apocalyptic films. This is not one of his better efforts. It still has me smiling while I type out this review, however, and it's hard to resist its goofy charm if you know what you're letting yourself in for.


Do you really want this on DVD? Here it is.
Do NOT pay for this one, but use the link to find other goodies.

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