After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
So last week here on The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night I gave my thoughts on a rip-off of The Exorcist that we all watched in amazement. In said write-up I mentioned how much people have loved ripping-off other movies for years, and this week’s film is no exception. By far, one of the biggest films of the 70s was Jaws. This is the movie that put Spielberg on the map and would become known as the first summer blockbuster. It’s also the movie that spawned a thousand rip-offs. Ok, not literally but so many people, and countries, have made their own Jaws film it’s ridiculous. In 1984 one such film was made by Lamberto Bava (son of famed Italian director Mario Bava, and credited here as John Old, Jr). Some call it Devil Fish, others say Shark: Rosso nell’oceano, but to me it’s Monster Shark.
Somewhere off the coast of Florida a sea creature is making lunch out of the local residents. It’s now up to the local sheriff, a scientist, a biologist and a dolphin trainer (of course) to suppress their Italian-ness, pretend to be Floridians and solve the case of the mystery fish. Along the way people are also being killed off by a strange hitman as they get too close to the truth. Could this monster shark be something from prehistoric times? Is the devil fish man-made? How many beers will our heroes drink? All questions to be answered when you watch this gem of a film.
Janet: Oh my God, Bob, it’s coming right at us.
Bob: Look at that. I can’t believe it! Look at those tentacles. A shark with tentacles!
All right, I can’t get into anything about the movie without first discussing this monster. This is no normal shark, but of course you already knew that by the title Monster Shark. Duh! In fact this is more like a mix of a shark and an octopus. That’s right, a good sixteen years before Corman and company brought us the glory of Sharktopus, Bava already had it in the water. This creature doesn’t look that much like a shark but more like an octopus with a gaping maw full of many sharp teeth. That’s ok, it’s still a pretty cool beast. It takes a while before you get a full glimpse at our devil fish, and even then it’s only in segments. Yes, he is a big rubber monster and some may find him cheesy but, in my opinion, this beats a CGI monster any day of the week.
With such an insane creature and a cast full of Italian-Floridians you would think this would be one great killer fish movie. That’s not entirely accurate. A few moments in the film are quite great but overall it’s pretty slow. Even the high body count can’t help. Most of the kills happen off screen to some degree. A victim might get dragged down into the water by a tentacle but we don’t see the actual death. A few bodies missing limbs but nothing really interesting until the finale. Maybe this was to keep the audience wanting more and go out with a bang, but it’s hard for the audience to appreciate it when they’re all asleep.
Speaking of the finale – HELL YES! I could not have hoped for a better showdown between man and monster. The only thing that can kill these self-replicating cells of our feared fish is burning them, which means they must lure him to the surface and fight fish with fire. Tons of soldiers are on hand, lighting the surface of a small inlet ablaze and many die tragically by the beating of giant foam rubber shark teeth. Then it’s up to the remaining men, armed with flamethrowers, to take down the enemy. Nothing says joy like a monster shark vs. flamethrower battle.
Unfortunately so much of this film just takes too long to go anywhere. Moments get so slow and off target that you almost can’t keep your eyes open. The whole subplot with the hitman is confusing. Yes, it is explained by the end of the film but when he’s onscreen it almost feels like a different movie. There are some trade offs. You have weird slow parts on the boat, but you get an underwater knife fight. Dr. Janet Bates gives a pretty lame, and not entirely accurate, lecture on prehistoric sharks, but you get to giggle that the lead (Michael Sopkiw as Peter) in certain angles either looks like Casper Van Dien or Jeffrey Dahmer. At the end of the film we’re also treated with a very 80s sitcom tag that I adore. Peter and dolphin trainer Stella are loading up the truck for vacation. She asks where they’re headed and he replies “to the mountains,” as they both laugh into a freeze frame and credits roll. Perfect! Then there’s the sheriff’s deputy, Cortez. Like the majority of the cast he is not billed anywhere and I can’t nail down his identity, but this cop definitely looks more like a pro-wrestler than a lawman. Maybe he’s the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson just some 25 years too early.
There are a few different versions of this film. It’s never been released in its entirety on DVD in the States but Germany has a couple of releases, one of which I watched. If you do want to check it out and can’t find the VHS then you are in luck because those loveable robots, and their lone human, from Mystery Science Theater 3000 watched it in season 10. You can buy the set that contains it or you can stream it on Netflix Instant. I watched this version as well and it’s full of great laughs but the Devil Fish branded cut they watched is quite different. The editing is really weird and it starts with a scene that’s over a half hour into the Monster Shark branded release, it shows the opening titles twice and overall makes even less sense. Something I didn’t think was even possible.
I kept thinking that I had seen this before when certain things happened. The sets, scenarios and characters seemed familiar but I didn’t remember much else. Then I went back and checked my meticulous film journaling to find that I evidently watched this in March of 2010. This shows you just how exciting and memorable Monster Shark is – a lasting impression only as strong as déjà vu. It still has a few charming moments, and the rubber fish monster is fun to watch. You’ll just need plenty of friends to laugh and drink Dr. Bob Hogan amounts of beer with while the madness unfolds.
Until next week – make sure to stock your boat with a flamethrower.
Body Count: 16 – give or take a couple soldiers/cops from the finale
First Death: 2:25
Best Death: Hitman strangling a woman and saying “croak” just before she does. Ha!
First Appearance of the Devil Fish: 21:35
Number of Beers Downed by Dr. Hogan: 8
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-11/30/11: Creepazoids (1987)
-12/7/11: Mutant Hunt (1987)
-12/14/11: Society (1989)
-12/21/11: HMN Christmas Edition – TBA
-12/28/11: The Shaft (2001) Last HMN of 2011!