“Jaws” was a huge box office success, one of – if not the first – bona fide summer blockbusters and in its wake came many, many crappy cash-ins, like remoras swimming after a real shark. “The Last Shark” is one of the most blatant – and most entertainingly laughable – remoran rip-offs out there. Produced in Italy, this spaghetti shark movie opens with a windsurfing montage that will have you willing the title character to show up and devour, if not the windsurfer, then the person in charge of selecting the soundtrack. Much of the special effects budget must have been spent on simply keeping the windsurfing going on what seems to be an utterly calm day.
Director Enzo G Castellari, eschewing “Jaws”’ masterpiece of using music to build tension, prefers to pad out “The Last Shark” with stock underwater footage with no contextual clues whatsoever. For the first half-hour or so, whenever anything remotely interesting or exciting does happen, the film cuts to a scene of a car driving sensibly in traffic. In fact, for a long time the sensibly driven car seems to be the real star of the movie and I briefly considered the film’s twist would be the car is the shark. That’s how good this movie is: you’ll start daydreaming more interesting things. Where it does succeed in building tension is in the anticipation of the shark. The rest of the film is so parsimoniously inept, you just can’t wait to see how much shark they could afford.
Character-wise, the film quickly ticks off the required boxes: a conveniently resident marine biologist, a crooked businessman running for Governor and, of course, low-rent Quint knockoff (Vic Morrow playing grizzled sea captain Ron Hamer, a mix of drunk Robert Shaw, grumpy Ernest Borgnine and an accent which oscillates wildly between Scotland and Italy).
Things don’t start well, with the first stock footage of a sea creature looking like a porpoise rather than a shark – it’s a new low in lame stock footage use. The character’s first shark sighting is actually a pretty good visual gag using a chewed surfboard but still, no actual sign of the shark. Because of the impending regatta (of course), they decide to build an underwater wall (and presumably get the sharks to pay for it), which is a lot of effort given nobody has actually seen a shark yet.
After another tease where the camera’s zoomed in on a photo of a shark, about twenty-five minutes in, we finally get sight of the movie’s ‘star’ – sort of. Stock footage of the very tip of a very small dorsal fin of a very not Great White shark is spliced into a beach party montage just as a bikini-clad girl announces she’s going for a swim (I think this might be the film’s idea of foreshadowing). We’re then treated to intercut footage of (clearly several different) sharks bumping against shark cages, suggesting it’s our shark trying to get through the shark wall. As cheap tricks go, it’s actually a half-decent one but unfortunately conveniently, the otherwise entirely metal shark wall has a section made of flimsy netting for some reason and the shark swims easily through.
Oh buoy, credit where credit’s due – the film actually shows some creativity to avoid having to show a shark by having it get tangled in a marker buoy which it then tows through the regatta. The shark merrily uses its newfound accessory to knock windsurfers off their boards, suggesting a level of tactical nous unusual in a [non-psychic] shark and, 37 minutes in, we finally get a good look at it. It’s a static plastic model but not too terrible, I suppose. It does lose much of its menace, though, when it bubbles spectacularly while filling with water as it re-submerges.
Then the regatta scene just kind of stops, although it does suggest the buoy has become detached from the sharks tail both visually and thematically echoing the detachment of the last scene from this next one. We jump from the ‘spectacular action’ of the regatta where just one person died (the Last Shark is also, apparently, a picky eater) to the clichéd scene of an official mission to hunt the shark and a group of kids who think they can do it themselves.
Bafflingly, one of the missions decides the best way to track down the shark is to hunt for it in underwater caves, caves which are obviously too small for the shark to fit in no less. But the joke’s on me apparently, as the shark is also checking out the caves, perhaps hunting those pesky humans. Brilliantly, the shark gets his own back by building a wall of his own across the cave entrance using boulders. The shark model may be terrible but there’s no faulting his tactics and strategy. My admiration for the tactical genius of this shark is short-lived however as his next move is to disable a pleasure cruiser from escaping by jamming the propeller with his back. Perhaps the shark is part of that corporal mortification cult from “The DaVinci Code”?
One of the rookie kids who headed out to try and catch the shark ends up losing a leg in the most bloodless shark attack ever but surprisingly, the whole movie still looks better than the modern-day low budget creature features because it’s shot on film rather than digital or videotape. Even film stock can’t help the model work though and an inspired idea to fish for the great white from a helicopter ends up making Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation look like Industrial Light & Magic. A curious thing about “The Last Shark” is that in “Jaws”, most of the people die because they’re unaware the shark is there but in this, nearly every kill is the result of people deliberately setting out to find the shark. The final finale (for there are several false ‘fin’s) is an inspired siege on a detached floating platform and sees the film beat “Jaws: The Revenge” to pioneer the shark roar by some six years although it’s frittered away in the most drama-free shark killing in Shark Weak history.
“The Last Shark” is a vintage treat for devotees of bad shark movies because it really goes all-in on the ‘bad’. But that’s about the only audience who could appreciate this. Well, them and film students who want a cautionary example of why editing and scene structure are important.