Thursday, February 12, 2009

Film Review: THE LAST SHARK (1981, Enzo G. Castellari)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Vic Morrow (Jennifer Jason Leigh's dad, 1990: BRONX WARRIORS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE MOVIE), James Franciscus (Dario Argento's THE CAT O' NINE TAILS), De Angelis (they did the music for a ton of third-rate Spaghettis, and a lot of Enzo Castellari movies like KEOMA and THE BIG RACKET).
Tag-lines: " A quiet, restful summer in the lazy coastal town of Port Harbor is abruptly about to end."
Best one-liner(s): See review!

Wow. Where do I begin? Enzo G. Castellari is one of the lesser known Italian genre directors of the 70's and 80's. Expect that to change, at least somewhat, when Tarantino rolls out his reimagining of Castellari's INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (1978) this summer. Castellari is not on par with Mario Bava or Dario Argento, but he's totally on par with Lucio Fulci or Lamberto Bava, and is definitely better than the likes of Bruno Mattei or Michele Soavi, all of whom are probably better known than Castellari. Castellari specialized in COMPLETE rip-offs. Rip-offs, of course, re-routed and re-wired through his ridiculous Italian brain. 1990: BRONX WARRIORS is THE WARRIORS meets ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK in a dingy Italian gay bar. INGLORIOUS BASTARDS is THE DIRTY DOZEN, but sleazier. And THE LAST SHARK is JAWS... if JAWS was a nonsensical Castellari-directed giallo. All that's missing is the shark wearing black gloves and frantically whispering. And so I feel that THE LAST SHARK got its start on one balmy Italian night- Enzo probably just got back from the movies, where he had watched JAWS. He draws a bath, lights some candles, and gets in the tub. While in the tub, he probably drinks an entire bottle of Campari. Then he starts playing with a piece of styrofoam and a toy boat, and THE LAST SHARK is born. But I can show you better than I can tell you. Here's a little taste:

Reaction shots? Check. An Italian woman screaming? Check. Italo Horror Disco? Check. Stock footage? Check. Ridiculous slo-mo? Check. Head-scratching character choices? Check and check. Lemme cut straight to the chase- 10 reasons why THE LAST SHARK is awesome and Enzo G. Castellari deserves our praise:


Cause this guy is clearly an American, old money, New England politician, and NOT an Italian.


Because it accurately depicts summer in New England. Confederate flags are waved around in celebration of America's favorite sport: Windjammin'.

That is, windsurfing whilst jammin' to sweet Italo Disco.


Because Vic Morrow doesn't overdo it.


Because the terror of shark victims and special effects of their demises are essential to building palpable atmosphere.

#6. Because Enzo stumbled upon the greatest blunder of JAWS and was able to correct it. Why waste all that time building up character and the threat the shark presents, when you can jump right to Quint (Robert Shaw)? THE LAST SHARK does it right, and we have Quint, I mean Vic Morrow, and his hunt for the shark at centerstage by the five-minute mark. (We needed the first five minutes for a windjammin' montage.)

#5. Because it contains the hard-hitting media critique frequently present in these kinds of movies. During a fatal shark attack, a sleazy TV producer says to his cameraman "Keep that camera rolling! You get some good shots of that shark and I'll buy you a lobster dinner!" And what do you suppose the odds are, that after the shark is defeated, the sleazy TV producer says to our surviving heroes "Is there anything you'd like to say on camera? What was it like defeating the shark?," and then our hero punches him out? Yeah. The odds of that happening are very high, because it does happen.

#4. One-liners that don't make sense. I don't think anything can beat 1990: BRONX WARRIORS in this category, but THE LAST SHARK comes close. Here's a few:

Faux-Quint's ultimatum at the town-hall meeting: "You have two choices. One. Get out of his way. The other is to hold your ground, with fire, and try to kill him, because you do not have another choice!"

The stuffy politician who wants to keep the beaches open for windjammin', no matter what: "No damn shark's gonna screw up a year of work and planning!"

"One thing's for sure- it wasn't a floating chainsaw!"

The out of town showboat: "Don't worry, it's just a fish." (He gets his later, of course.)


#2. So Enzo heard everybody was impressed by the 'Zombie versus Shark" scene in Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE. How do you outdo "Zombie versus Shark?" Try "Shark versus Helicopter." I wish I could get a better picture of this, but it's purposefully obscured by the filmmakers so you don't notice it's a toy.


Because we learn what happens when a shark appears suddenly underneath a boat.

And then it all ends with some thoughtful, Eurotrash piano music. Bravo, Enzo!

-Sean Gill

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