Search This Blog

Thursday, October 10, 2019


Surprisingly, not a remake of Disney's "Willie the Operatic Whale."

It's the summer of 1981 and as the Port Harbor windsurfing regatta approaches, the local beach and waterways are terrorized by a huge, voracious Great White shark, so it's up to a horror writer and a grizzled professional shark hunter to handle the man-eating fish. But until they take care of business, their toothy adversary munches a bloody swath through dozens of innocent beachgoers. 

Sound familiar? It sure as hell should, since JAWS has existed for nearly half a century and is a cinema classic that carved the tropes of the shark attack movie genre in stone. There have been other fun shark movies since Spielberg's 1975 mega-blockbuster landmark, but none have yet come close to that study in cinematic storytelling and suspense's perfect encapsulation of the form. That said, while most of the post-JAWS shark flicks bite the big one, there have been a few of note, such as DEEP BLUE SEA (1999), OPEN WATER (2003), and the superlative THE SHALLOWS (2016), and all of those brought something worth sitting through to the table. The majority, however, range for merely mediocre to outright boring and bad, but none of them are as balls-out shameless as Italy's L'ULTIMO SQUALO (THE LAST SHARK), which made it to the U.S. as GREAT WHITE. I distinctly remember seeing ads for it when I was a junior in high school and eagerly wanting to see it, as it didn't make even the slightest attempt at hiding what a complete and utter fucking ripoff it was. Unfortunately, its time in U.S. theaters was cut short by a cease-and-desist order tendered by the makers of JAWS, so I missed it during the theatrical run. It would be just over a decade until I finally got to see the film via a bootleg VHS obtained from Video Search of Miami, and it was worth every moment of the wait.

Just a sample of the film's cornucopia of ludicrous mayhem.

Calling GREAT WHITE a bald-faced ripoff would be a colossal understatement, as the film may as well have just been called "JAWZ." The only major differences between JAWS and GREAT WHITE, aside from artistry and overall quality, are that the police chief has been swapped out for a horror novelist, while the marine biologist character is completely absent. The grizzled shark hunter is this time essayed by Vic Morrow — who was tragically killed during an horrific mishap on the set of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE a year later — and he bears virtually zero differentiation from Robert Shaw's indelible Quint from Jaws, save for the level of thespic craft that Shaw brought to the role. 

And while Spielberg's film hid its mechanical shark until seeing it was unavoidable for reasons of the plot's action, GREAT WHITE's makers gave not one fuck when it came to the obviousness of its shark's bogusness, and in fact they seemed to relish the sheer Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade quality of its appearance. It was a huge, rather stiff-looking practical prop (and sometimes a small model that looked like a bathtub toy that might fight a pre-1980's G.I. Joe doll, along with generous amounts of stock footage from nature documentaries) and when it breached, it let out a roar that cannot fail to elicit laughter from all in attendance. It's even more of a straight-up sea monster than the shark in JAWS ever was, and as such it's terrific fun. The film also contains waaaaay more deaths and mayhem than the 1975 template, which, since the film cannot hope to compete in any other department, is wholly welcome. 

Yes, GREAT WHITE/THE LAST SHARK is  the definition of a shameless ripoff and a naked cash grab, but it's an unintentional laugh riot and crowd-pleaser if you can get your hands on a copy. It is unlikely to ever get a legitimate legal U.S. release, but it can easily be had if you do a bit of digging online.

Poster from the American theatrical release.

No comments: