This week’s shark pick borrows extremely heavily from a very famous – the most famous – shark movie of all time and I’m actually almost impressed by the audacity. Ripping something off idea for idea is the highest form of flattery, no?
The Last Shark (1981)
James Franciscus tries to save hundreds of swimmers in a coastal resort after a Great White Shark starts terrorizing the area.
Dude, who the fuck is James Franciscus?! LOL (JK, he’s the actor playing main hero Peter Benton) and that synopsis says a lot about the standard of this flick.
While preparing for a huge regatta coming up over the weekend, a hopeful windsurfer practices his admittedly impressive moves on the water. Alas, something is rotten in Denmark and he disappears after his board has a huge chunk taken out of it. His friends, who’ve been watching on the shore, quickly notice he’s disappeared and run to tell one of the girls’ dads, horror author Peter Benton.
Benton teams up with professional shark hunter Ron Hammer (Vic Morrow) and they agree this is obviously the work of a great white – but do you think ambitious mayor William Wells (Joshua Sinclair) wants to believe that shit? Course not with the career enhancing regatta on the horizon – so he installs a couple of flimsy shark nets and calls it a day.
Well, we all know why we’re here so it would be naive to think this would prove to be effective in any way and the promise of nubile teenage flesh splish sploshing in the water is too much for our toothy friend to resist. There are casualties, including the mayor’s loyal aide and he can no longer ignore the signs. Peter and Hammer head into the ocean with the plan to feed sharky some dynamite but he’s not having it. He chases them into a cave and they’re forced to use the explosives to escape his hungry jaws.
Meanwhile, Peter’s plucky daughter Jenny (Stefania Girolami Goodwin) and her buddies – which includes the mayor’s son – go out on the water with a shot gun to catch the fish themselves. Obviously this ends in disaster. Jenny loses a leg and Peter is understandably enraged.
Mayor Wells actually shows some conscience at this point, choosing to go out in a chopper with a piece of steak on the end of rope (really). In a pattern of dubious ideas I would say that this is up there as the absolute worst of them and the fall out is impressive. Mayor Wells pays the price for his previous inaction (a polite notice to Trump and Boris Johnson in relation to current global affairs) – and doesn’t make it back to land.
All this leads us to the nail biting climax, as the shark pulls part of the boardwalk out to sea and systematically works his way through the remaining cast members.
There are times I felt a little stressed out but The Last Shark doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It doesn’t have even a quarter of the suspense of the film it’s worked so hard to steal from. I liked the ending though – Peter Benton fights to the death to save his family – and there’s a subplot about a couple of network news reporters desperate to get something more juicy for their slot that I enjoyed.
What strikes me the most is the lack of gore. Sure there are a couple of torn up torsos but there’s no bloody red water to be seen anywhere. I guess I’m disappointed by that. The shark itself is pretty clunky – he’s certainly no Bruce – and a lot of the shark action has been spliced together by real life shark footage. This works in some places but there are times it looks like they may have used the wrong type of shark which is careless. The shark’s ultimate demise is gloriously camp but this is very forgettable.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test?
I’m not sure, it doesn’t appear on the list. And I couldn’t be bothered to work it out myself.
Let’s say – no?
Ps. This is an Italian film and is dubbed which I didn’t actually notice until I read up about it afterwards. This might illustrate how much attention I was paying. The lore goes that it never got a cinema release because one Stephen Spielberg had is banned for its similarity to a couple of his films. I can’t think why.
Lol, I’ve got nothing on James Franciscus. I feel like I Googled him a couple of times because such a big fuss was made of him, but I’ve retained nothing from those searches.
I also found the hodgepodge shark footage confusing and just really badly done! They made absolutely no effort to match the wildlife footage to the scene, and it shows.
And I have no memory of 2 women having a conversation at all in this film, so I would also give this a failing grade on the Bechdel test. I actually feel this film made me a worse feminist because I HATED Peter’s wife and wanted her to die. Her shrill screaming is still echoing in my brain.
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For some reason it also really bothered me that she was wearing suede knee-high boots on the beach… x
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