There are a lot of shark movies – but not a lot of shark movies worth watching.
Now here’s your sampler of shark cinema, featuring six films that are entertaining on some level or another.
JERSEY SHORE SHARK ATTACK (2012)
Directed by John Shepphird
Most of the CGI-shark movies focus on the absurd feats of the shark, leaping through the air, coming onto land, doing things that no trained animal or mechanical shark could ever do. These films typically take place in a generic beach location, with bland characters as one-dimensional shark bait. But in JERSEY SHORE SHARK ATTACK, the shark takes a back-seat to the very specific flavor of Seaside Heights – with a cast of gym-tan-and-laundry loving guidos and guidettes. Remarkably, even when the performances are broad (and they are broad!) the actors stay grounded. The result is a character-based ocean adventure with a surprising amount of heart. Plus, there’s a relevant gentrification subplot. The albino sharks look terrible (reminiscent of Wadzilla, the sperm-monster from Adam Rifkin’s chapter in CHILLERAMA) but that hardly matters with everything else the film has to offer.
Highlight moment: When the guidos are chumming the water, they use protein bars.
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
The most shameless JAWS rip-off is also one of the most fun. THE LAST SHARK follows a Brody-like sheriff, a Quint-like fisherman and an Amity-like community that refuses to accept the overwhelming evidence of a shark problem. The Italian-production-imitating-an-American-blockbuster delivers outrageous moments, a fun soundtrack, and a clunky, phony shark – it all adds up to a campy good time. This one is underseen because immediately after it was released, Universal Studios filed a lawsuit and had THE LAST SHARK pulled from U.S. theaters (because it was deemed “too derivative” of JAWS. Can’t argue with that!) The film had a successful run elsewhere around the world, and in Spain it was released as JAWS 3. After decades of being unavailable, THE LAST SHARK is now streaming on Amazon.
Highlight moment: There’s Vic Morrow delivering a Quint-style speech. There’s American beach-goers waving confederate flags (this Italian production was prescient in its understanding of American politics.) Then there’s the Mayor’s doomed attempt to capture the shark with a helicopter. All great scenes that need to be seen.
Directed by Prem Lalawani, Desh Mukherjee
The Bollywood JAWS will be viewed as something melodramatic and goofy, but it successfully manages to one-up Spielberg’s masterpiece. The shark is among the cheapest looking animals in film history. The plot is sprawling and in need of editing. But the inciting incident is un-matched: when the filmmakers re-imagined the opening scene from JAWS (where a young couple goes for a late-night swim), the stakes are much higher. The impromptu swim comes after a wedding reception, and the swimmers are the newlyweds. The drunk groom watches from the shore as a monster shark murders his bride (still in her wedding dress.) He vows revenge and it’s impossible to not go along for the ride. This JAWS knock-off came 21 years after the original, but they found a fresh way to up the ante.
Highlight moment: The over-the-top ending. It doesn’t matter that the shark looks like a big puppet, the scene works and ends abruptly, like you just woke up from a fever dream.
CYCLONE (a.k.a. TERROR STORM, 1978)
Directed by Rene Cardona Jr.
This entry mixes two favorite sub-genres of the 1970s: the shark movie and the disaster film. When a tropical cyclone takes down an airplane, the survivors are rescued by a group of people stranded on a tour boat. After a dramatic opening sequence, the movie turns into a slow, stagy discussion about the morality of cannibalism. Sharks don’t show up until the last 8 minutes of the movie, but it’s one of the most memorable feeding frenzies ever captured on film. The Mexican-based production used actual cadavers and filmed real sharks chomping on the bodies.
Highlight moment: The fast-paced final minutes when the sharks kill and eat half the cast. It’s unlike anything you’ll see in a CGI shark movie.
Directed by Kimble Rendall
Another situation-based disaster movie, this Australian action film shows what happens when a tidal wave floods the coast. A group of survivors in a grocery store climb atop the shelves and quickly discover there are sharks roaming the aisles. The first 20 minutes provides basic backgrounds for the ensemble cast, including a love-triangle, a robbery gone wrong, and a former lifeguard haunted by a deadly encounter with a Great White. Lots of gimmicky 3D moments and some nice split-screen photography (showing what’s above and beneath the surface.) This isn’t going to replace JAWS as your all-time favorite shark film, but it’s got some suspenseful moments that will keep you invested until the end.
Highlight moment: When the shotgun-toting hero goes mano-a-mako with the shark.
SHARK ATTACK IN THE MEDITERRANEAN (2004)
Directed by Jorgo Papavassiliou
This made-for-TV movie is somewhat mesmerizing; you know, where something is a little “off”, but you can’t put your finger on it. And sure enough… it’s German! Maybe that’s why the hero seems to be modeled after David Hasselhoff. Besides borrowing from JAWS, there’s a scene where the hero is nearly driven off the road by a menacing truck (a DUEL homage in the middle of a JAWS rip-off?!) This might be one of the only movies in Shark Cinema where a helicopter encounters a shark and does not get sunk/eaten.
Highlight moment: When the hero storms the shore shouting “Shark alarm!” for several minutes. Again, the film is weirdly compelling.
***BONUS: A SHARK MOVIE BEST LEFT UN-SEEN***
Directed by Sam Fuller
This film gained notoriety after a stunt diver was disemboweled by a bull shark. The filmmakers had placed nets around the boat and were using a sedated Tiger Shark for the underwater sequence, when a bull shark crossed through the netting and attacked 32-year-old stunt man Jose Marco. The cameras kept rolling and the crew shot spears towards the shark. Two hours later, Jose Marco died on the way to the hospital. Director Sam Fuller disowned the movie after the production company used the death to promote the movie (They changed the film’s title from CAIN to SHARK, they called attention to their news coverage from LIFE magazine, and the poster depicted the death of the stunt-man with the tagline “SHARK will rip you apart!”) Fuller demanded that his name be removed from the credits, but the producers refused. The violent death scene was included in the finished film, but it’s best left unseen.
Tags: Arthur Kennedy, Australia, Bollywood, Burt Reynolds, Cyclone, David Hasselhoff, Deep Blue Sea, Duel, Enzo Castellari, Great White Sharks, Helicopters, Horror, Italy, Jack Scalia, James Fransiscus, Jaws, Jersey Shore, Jersey Shore Shark Attack, Jose Marco, Kevin Maher, Kimble Rendall, Lionel Stander, New Jersey, Paul Sorvino, Ralf Moeller, Rene Cardona Jr., sam fuller, Shark Week, Sharknado, Sharks, Sharni Vinson, The Shallows, Tony Sirico, Vic Morrow, William Atherton, World Cinema, Xavier Samuel