So once again we have survived.

Jaws of Death

tn_jawsofdeath(aka MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH – but I got no clue who Mako is)

I rented JAWS OF DEATH because the cover and the title made it seem like a JAWS rip-off. But actually it’s more in the tradition of the weirdo-with-attachment-to-unpleasant-animal movies like WILLARD. The director, William Grefe, also did STANLEY, about a guy who uses rattlesnakes to get revenge. In this one it’s sharks.

Richard Jaeckel (THE DIRTY DOZEN, also the crappy TV sequel to THE DIRTY DOZEN) plays Sonny, a guy who lives alone on an island and his only friends are the sharks, who he talks to, feeds every day, and even swims with. They won’t harm him because he wears one of those magical medallions that give you a psychic connection to all sharks. Like many of us, he got his during the war from a dude sitting in a throne shaped like a shark (there’s a flashback).

mp_jawsofdeathThe locals are always trying to hurt sharks, and Sonny’s always trying to protect them, so he gains a shameful reputation as a “shark boy” and “shark lover.” In this neighborhood there’s alot of prejudice toward the shark-medallion community.

Then one night (although it looks suspiciously like daylight, but they keep saying it’s night) Sonny comes across some local yahoos trying to rape a woman. He fights them off and offers her a ride home… but then he has to stop and take his boat to the island “to feed my friends.” He should probly just drop her off and swing back over here, but he doesn’t want to miss the shark’s appointed feeding time. He also doesn’t mention that his “friends” are sharks and for some reason she thinks he’s talking about humans. Which brings up the question: would it be weirder to say “I have to feed my friends” and be talking about humans, or sharks? I’m not sure what the answer is.

She gets all pissed off and yells at him, which seems ungrateful. But admittedly he is acting pretty creepy. Not one of the better rapist-fender-offers, in my opinion. He could be more sensitive to how scared she is, I think.

She ends up coming with him to the island and he shows her the sharks, even demonstrates swimming with them. Since her job happens to be swimming in a tank at her obese husband’s bar this gives her an idea. She convinces Sonny to let her borrow one of the sharks for her act. Also he gives one to the aquarium to study, for some reason.

mp_jawsofdeathBThe sexy-lady-swimming-with-sharks-through-window routine goes over okay, but Sonny gets pissed because the fat husband is using some kind of machine (electrical current?) that’s mean to the sharks. So Sonny freaks out and the girl gets mad and yells at him to never come back.

So then he’s in revenge mode. He makes the sharks attack her. He pushes a guy from the aquarium into the tank to get eaten. He hooks a shark hunter by his sharkhunting hook and drags him behind his own boat.

Jaeckel is the only actor who seems like he’s done it before, but I bet this wasn’t the one that meant the most to him. His reactions to the sharks being mistreated is sort of along the lines of Nic Cage biting his fist when he sees a snuff movie in 8MM. This is one of those movies that seems like a local independent production, not a professional product. Alot of times it seems like they just set up a camera and stood in front of it as opposed to planning out angles like you would do if you were making a real movie. So poor Jaeckel being in it kind of feels like Bela Lugosi in the Ed Wood movies. But luckily he lived alot longer and got to do much bigger productions alongside Billy Blanks and Jeff Wincott.

Harold Sakata has a bit part as a random thug who doesn’t really do anything and barely has any screen time, but they put him on both the credits and the poster as “Harold (Odd Job) Sakata.” I’m not sure if I’ve seen that before, a credit that lists the actor’s other credits. But if somebody’s gonna do that, this is the kind of movie they’re gonna do it on.

To be fair, the shitty quality of the DVD I watched doesn’t help. It’s dark and muddy with terrible sound and obviously transferred from a VHS tape. If Dark Sky or somebody like that cleaned it up it would probly be more enjoyable as a curiosity.

SPECIAL BONUS: HALF-ASSED REVIEW OF SAM FULLER’S SHARK STARRING BURT REYNOLDS

Another one that suffers from a terrible transfer and that I incorrectly thought was gonna be a JAWS rip-off was this disowned Sam Fuller movie called SHARK. It’s actually from ’69, before JAWS obviously, and isn’t exactly about sharks. Reynolds plays Caine, a weapons smuggler who gets stranded in Mexico and takes a job with an underwater scientific expedition as his way out of there. Also he befriends a little kid.

Well, it turns out this isn’t a scientific expedition at all, and these people are sleazy and it turns into a fight over treasure.

I couldn’t get myself very involved in this one, but Reynolds is charismatic and there is some pretty good action, some rolling vehicles and explosions, etc. The highlight I think is an epic fist fight. On the shitty DVD put out by Troma the scene is so dark that their faces look like silhouettes, and yet I swear on Christs Holy middle initial of H that I could tell what was going on better than in your average modern fight scene. (I could tell what, just not who.)

I guess the other highlight is when Reynolds is threatening a guy for hurting the little pickpocket kid who he calls “Runt.” Then he’s asked what the kid’s name is, and he realizes he doesn’t know and says, “I forgot to ask.”

Fuller made this with Mexican producers during a long dry spell when he just couldn’t get any movies off the ground. One thing that is good about the Troma DVD is that they have a clip of “the author of Fuller’s autobiography” talking about it and reading an excerpt from the book to put it in context. You learn that Fuller immediately regretted trusting the producers, compared the filming to flying an airplane while you’re still building it, and tried to get them to take his name off when he saw how they re-edited it into something totally different from what he made.

One thing these two shark movies have in common is that they open with a dedication to the “brave stuntmen” who “risked their lives” to film the shark scenes. JAWS OF DEATH is especially funny about this because the poster and the opening both say “filmed without the benefit of cages, mechanical sharks or other protective devices”… in other words, “the people who made JAWS are a bunch of pussies!”

(I also like the idea of a mechanical shark being a “protective device.” Like they used the mechanical shark to scare off the real sharks.)

It’s always funny when a dedication is clearly more of a boast or grandstanding than a sincere expression of gratitude. Like how the Paris Hilton porno is dedicated to the heroes of 9-11. But these bragadocious dedications did leave me wondering how exactly they did those scenes. There are shots where people (even what looks to actually be Jaeckel) seem to be sort of wrestling with the sharks, and I’m not sure how they did it. Wikipedia claims that in the case of SHARK they had sharks that were supposed to be sedated, but that one still attacked and killed a stuntman on camera. I’m not sure if it’s in the movie. If it’s true, I gotta say, I don’t think it was worth it.

It also made me realize that I like mechanical sharks better than real sharks. Whenever they cut to the real one in JAWS it feels like stock footage, but when they’re showing a fake one (or nothing at all) it always works. Speaking of JAWS, there’s a funny extra on the SHARK DVD where Lloyd Kaufman of Troma talks to two teenage film nerds about Sam Fuller, and he seems to have brainwashed them into looking down on JAWS. They keep repeating that the music in JAWS “tells you what to think”… yeah, it tells you to think there’s a fucking shark there. Because there’s not, there’s just a camera moving through water. And it’s much more powerful and interesting than the real shark really eating the poor guy.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, May 24th, 2010 at 12:25 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “Jaws of Death”

  1. I wonder if Jackie Chan and the entire Thai film industry were inspired by the heroics of the actors not relying on stunt sharks?

  2. Daniel Strange

    May 24th, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    How dare music be used to tell you what to think? That is like using cameras to record visuals, i.e. showing you where to look. It’s cheating. The only pure movies are movies that do not use music, cameras, editing, acting, writing, or projection in order to be seen.

  3. They should have just ditched the whole shark angle altogether and just made a movie about a guy who keeps beloved character actor Mako in a tank…with deadly results.

  4. GrimGrinningChris

    May 24th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Kaufman really does swing on the pendulum from genius to complete fucking idiot whackjob pretty mightily. I am sorry he doesn’t get nauseous…

  5. Is the Paris Hilton porno actually dedicated to 9/11?

  6. Speaking on the Matter of mechanical Shark vs. real Shark, what about
    Lucio Fulci’s notorious Zombie & Shark Fight Bitches?

  7. Surfinerd – I love that scene. Everything about it, the music, the topless skindiver flailing around. But at the end of the day, some poor stuntman hopped into the water and wrestled a tiger shark. That’s what makes it special. I remember reading somewhere that they drugged the shark or something but it looks pretty damn awake to me.

  8. I like Lloyd Kaufman, but his pure “Spielberg Ruined Everything/Stole my Ideas” repetitive shit is both silly and tiresome. Though to be fair, I suppose he can be proud of not sacrificing any safety standards (at least not so far) to make a shot like Spielberg’s underlings did on the TWILIGHT ZONE movie. Of course Lloyd doesn’t necessarily pay his people, but that’s besides the point.

    As much as I dig and admire a cool no-nonsense suckah like Sam Fuller, SHARK looks like it…sorry Vern to pull a Gene WhatsHisFace here, but…..SHARK looks like it jumped the shark.

  9. CrustaceanHate

    May 24th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    I guess Jaeckel already completed his JAWS rip-off tour-of-duty with GRIZZLY. Actually, I guess he’s playing a similar character there… friend to the bear, living among them. No medallion though, unless I missed something.

    But really, if you’re after JAWS rip-offs there are plenty to choose from. There’s the Italian rip-off holy trinity of Bruno Mattei’s CRUEL JAWS, Enzo G. Castellari’s GREAT WHITE and Joe D’Amato’s DEEP BLOOD. There’s Lamberto Bava’s MONSTER SHARK and TENTACLES by… some other Italian guy. Yeah, Italy churned out a lot of these things. I don’t know how easy they are to find on DVD. That’s not even counting the recent stuff like SHARKS IN VENICE or the SHARK ATTACK series.

  10. CrustaceanHate

    May 24th, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Also yes, that zombie vs shark scene in ZOMBIE is great, worth the price of admission all by itself. I feel sorry for the topless diver though, that diving equipment must really chafe.

  11. Tentacles is worth watching if only for the scene for Bo Hopkins’ heartfelt monologue to his pet killer whales. (“We’re both a lot alike…..we both grown up misunderstood….” or something like that.)

    I can’t remember where the heck I read it, but there’s some review of Tentacles admitting it’s a dreadful movie but praising it’s “widescreen serenity”, I think, and I can’t disagree. And it IS on DVD, a double-disc feature with, Empire Of The Ants, I believe.

  12. “you’ve drugged the Tiger shark, right?”
    “uh..yeah!”
    “only it’s looking a little feisty”
    “Great! Use it! Action!!”

  13. Not to distract from the conversation. but just letting any Aussies in the audience know if they haven’t seen it already, Black Dynamite is now in the shops on Region 4.
    Please continue talking about sharks now.
    God, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus was bad. Really, really bad.

  14. you’re not wrong SDAL. It’s the actors I feel sorry for – Debbie Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas, having to work with minimal sets meant to represent submarines, hoping against hope that the film will be saved by some sort of CGI special fx miracle, only to finally realise that the stand-in fx they’ve been seeing are actually the finished article.

    As for Black Dynamite – one of the cleverest comedies I’ve seen and crammed full of quotable dialogue –
    still has no UK release planned, although Amazon are carrying a Dutch import…

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  16. Hey, question for you guys: how do you feel about secondary human villains in monster movies? (And as far as I’m concerned, a shark is a monster. No offense to anyone who keeps one as a pet, I’m sure they’re lovely creatures.)

    I mean this in a general sense, not necessarily pertaining to this film, which I have not seen. For example, remember that Hyams thing with Tom Sizemore, with the monster in the museum? THE RELIC, I think it was. As I recall, there was an annoying Asian scientist who endangered the other characters and whose inevitable death we were obviously intended to cheer.

    I generally dislike these types of characters. Usually they strike me as distraction and a sign that the filmmakers believe that the monster isn’t strong enough to hold our attention. Joe Pilato screaming through DAY OF THE DEAD, and the army guys filling the same role in 28 DAYS LATER. The latter example is a prime specimen– it seems those guys are almost universally singled out by fans as the biggest flaw in the film.

    Or the religious fanatic in THE MIST. Never saw the movie, but she sure was annoying in the novella, and not just in the way she was intended to be. You’ve got giant bugs outside! Who cares about this ninny?

    Sometimes it serves the plot –Juno in THE DESCENT causing the group to be trapped through her arrogance. But she’s not exactly a straight-up villain, is she?

    And then there are examples where it works beautifully, like Paul Reiser in ALIENS. Hard to imagine the film without him. And Cooper in NOTLD….gotta have Cooper.

    General thoughts? Agree? Disagree?

  17. Frank, totally agree with you. Some are outright villains, some are self-serving pricks who get in the way just to keep the plot going (see the blonde guy who stole the velociraptor eggs in Jurassic Park III).

    “Primeval” – the feature length Nike advert – had two “Gustavs”, one a human genocidal warlord, the other a cute’n’cuddly giant crocodile.
    Piranah and Jaws – self serving officials who put the public in danger.
    Deep Blue Sea – Saffron Burrows mad scientist.

  18. Frank, I have to disagree in some of the cases you mentioned. Okay, Joe Pilato is hard to take (you gotta watch Day of the Dead about 4 or 5 times before your body can adjust to his acting style) but I think the Romero movies are always about the people, not the monsters. So those guys are not secondary villains. The same for 28 Days Later since it just blatantly lifted the plot of Day of the Dead (including Bub) and the helicopter scene from Dawn. Those movies are definitely about how people respond to the situation they’re in, the way that communication and rules of civilization break down, etc.

    I think there’s some kind of a universal truth in there that people will fuck over other people whether in monster or non-monster circumstances, but because it’s become a cliche and often laid on too thick it can be pretty cheesy and obnoxious. I agree that Reiser in Aliens is a rare example of it being done very believably.

  19. I think the problem is that the actors tend to play these characters as .5 dimensional villians that sometimes literally knaw on scenery. When you get an actor like Reiser who plays the character more like an actual human being it makes the characters more hatable and interesting then when it’s just people screaming and acting like assholes for the sake of being assholes.

    A good example of this sort of thing is Greg McClean’s ROGUE, where characters make stupid, awful decisions that endanger and harm other people, but they aren’t evil, they’re just weak and you can see yourself messing up in the same way if you were put in the same position.

  20. Believe me, I have seen DOTD at least four or five times, probably three of them when it was released. Maybe that wasn’t the best example, because it IS Romero and part of the original trilogy, and as such (in my mind) the last truly legit DEAD film. But I still find Rhodes kind of tedious by the time we get to his fourth or fifth rant, and I think the characters in DAWN were a lot better. It was more interesting to watch people we like fall apart as a result of their own excesses than to say “why doesn’t somebody just shoot this asshole?”

    (Still, you have to give him credit for going out with style. That’s one situation where “staircase wit” isn’t going to do you any good at all — you gotta think fast before you lose consciousness from shock and blood loss and lower half of body loss. And they probably didn’t even appreciate it.)

    Murray Hamilton in JAWS is, of course, crucial. It’s a great performance, and his reaction answers the first question anyone would ask: “Why don’t they just close the beach?” But imagine if they’d added a rival shark-hunter out there in the ocean at the end, getting in the way, endangering our trio, and so on. That’s probably what a modern screenwriter would do.

    I wish I could come up with some better examples. I’m talking about the kind of character who makes you cringe whenever he or she appears, because you want to get back to the good stuff, and you know you’re just watching filler. It’s often done in lower-budgeted films, presumably because a character actor is cheaper than an animatronic or digital (or stop-motion) beastie. THE MIST is still, I guess, the prime example. Religious fanatics annoy me so much that, even in fiction, I don’t love to hate them — I just want them to go away.

    It’s scarier to me when everyone is pulling together and STILL can’t overcome the threat.

    I suppose it also depends on how compelling the actor is. There are probably examples you could come up with where the monster sucks and the only reason to watch the film is for a particular performance.

    Anyway, thanks for the feedback, guys.

  21. frank – you’re describing a pretty common character device that extends outside of monster movies (think disaster films, survival films, alien invasion films, post apocalyptic films, or basically any movie where the primary antagonist is not “human” per se.) I think it’s a hard character to pull off for the filmatists, because the character usually must be written and acted in a way that isn’t one dimensional. And the temptations to go one dimensional with it are strong, because the character is essentially some difficult asshole making a bad situation worse. These people exist in real life and are often quite one dimensional, but I think we expect a bit more nuance out of the movies. So Marcia Gay Harden in THE MIST (who I thought was a good character to tell you the truth) and Rhodes in DAY OF THE DEAD (ditto) are often grating because they’re so godawfully wrong that you really do wish someone would just preemptively kill them to save everyone the grief. (Consequently they usually get treated to satisfying death scenes.) They’re not operating from flawed but rational motivations like the Mayor in JAWS or Paul Reiser in ALIENS or Denham in KING KONG, they’re just pricks. But I think even though they’re one dimensional characters they are true to their one dimensional real life analogues, which is why I think they worked in their respective movies. Now all of this does not take issue with the common bad one dimensional human antagonists in some of these movies. I can’t come up with any off the top of my head but I dunno check Roland Emmerich’s catalog out or something. Or TWISTER, that movie had to have Uber-prick Cary Elwes in it as a secondary villain if I recall. In fact I can’t think of very many movies that just rely on their monster/force of nature as the sole antagonist. I guess everyone in HALLOWEEN is pretty copacetic, except for Michael Myers. To cap this ramble off with a conclusion, I think it’s a character device that works but if the writing/acting of the character is executed in a ham-fisted manner then it sometimes calls too much attention to itself.

  22. Frank Booth – definitely agree with you. My absolute least favorite part of “Dawn of the Dead” was when the bikers invaded at the end. It elicited a groan and “Oh my God, this is going to be 28 Days Later all over again”, although it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought 28 Days became after A Certain Character’s Death. Seriously, if that film had been more about the journey to find the horses, and had ended at that point, it would probably be one of my favorite films ever.

    But for the uber-example of the annoying human villain, I give you Jon Voight in “Anaconda”. He pretty much deserves a whole dedication to himself in that regard.

    On the flip side, an example of a human villain that’s absolutely crucial to the success of a film where there’s a bigger “natural” enemy is probably Cypher from “The Matrix”. (Yeah, it’s not exactly a horror movie, but I think the point still stands.) I fucking LOVED that character. He literally makes the movie. When there’s no depiction of the worst of humanity, the Matrix films don’t work. Cypher fulfilled this role beautifully. Hell, one of the (many, many, many) reasons I hated “Reloaded” was that there really wasn’t a single character in it who showed any really “human” qualities to the point where I believed in them.

    I’ve always thought that Cypher was the real “antagonist” of the Matrix movies, even more than the Matrix, as represented by the agents and especially Smith, itself. His very existence begs the question: would the Matrix even have existed if it hadn’t have been for people like him? Wasn’t one of the many points made by the first two Terminator movies that humanity, if left unchecked, would be quite capable of killing itself off, even without the help of the machines?

    Eh… it’s two thirty AM, I’m tired, I’m rather drunk, and I’m sitting at a computer analyzing “The Matrix”. Time to get some sleep methinks…

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