It certainly feels like summer is here, doesn’t it? And with the advent of Summer comes the advent of summer blockbusters. Arguably, the first true “summer blockbuster” to ever hit the theaters and start the tradition was Stephen Spielberg’s 1975 classic, ‘Jaws’, which has since gone on to not only be seen as the quintessential summer blockbuster, but also inspired some of the worst knock-off films ever to be conceived. A few of these ‘Jaws rip-offs’ are well known to the cinematic community at large, while others have — until now — escaped much of the public’s eye.
Lamberto Bava’s 1984 disasterpiece ‘Monster Shark’, aka ‘Shark: Red on the Ocean’, aka ‘Devouring Waves’, aka ‘Devil Fish’, (3 Alternative titles? Not a good sign), belongs to the latter category, and for very good reasons. Ostensibly the film takes somewhere in Florida, where a local tourist spot has become plagued by attacks from a mysterious marine creature. Little do they know that the monster is in fact the product of a secret military experiment (your tax dollars at work, people) — a genetic hybrid mutated from an octopus and the prehistoric shark (a sharktopus, if you will).
Unfortunately, the sharktopus-creature has broken loose from its confines, and is now feeding on swimmers and tourists along the coast. Therefore, it’s up to marine biologist Peter (Michael Sopkiw) and his plucky colleague, Dr. Stella Dickens (Valentine Monnier), to try stop the creature before it’s too late, all the while contending with a group of military scientists who are out trying to stop them from learning the truth about their insane biological experiments and unflinching desire to play god.
Where to begin? Possibly the most notable issue with the film is that the American version (i.e. the only one you can get here) has been severely edited and chopped down, to the point where scenes will just abruptly end without any sort of climax and then move on, so that characters appear and vanish never to be seen again, and several subplots remained utterly unresolved by the end of the film. Of course, even if you could get their hands on a less mutilated version of the film, it wouldn’t be much of an upgrade since the story is too derivative and familiar to keep anyone interested for more than five or six minutes tops (which is a severe problem, considering the film is about 84 minutes longer than that).
The acting in Bava’s film is…well, it’s difficult to give an honest opinion on the acting because most, if not all of the principal actors involved, are speaking Italian to each other, meaning their dialogue had to be redubbed so that English-speaking audiences could understand what little is going on during the course of the film.
While it might be possible to believe that the actors and actress performances in their nature tongue are believable enough (I wouldn’t know, not having a command of the Italian language), it is utterly impossible to believe that the dubbing done in this film was to the benefit of the actors and actresses involved. There’s a lot of unnecessary shouting and confused passion in the voices of the actors (or rather, those who dubbed them) as though they’re afraid American audiences won’t be able to discern the characters moods or thoughts from the actors’ expressions or physical nuances, and thus felt compelled to shout even the most inane and obvious information at us so that none of us would mistakenly stumble over the “deep, entrenching” plot of the film (please note that those previous quotation marks are actually “sarcasm” marks).
But even if one forgives the actors and actresses for the less than inspiring dubbing job, there’s definitely something a bit off about the fact that the scientists (Peter and co.) in the movie spend most of their time sitting around a boat and drinking beer all day while they wait for the monster to show itself. Now, the act of sitting around in a boat and drinking beer all day is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. However, it should go without saying that unless you’re Ernest friggin’ Hemingway, it’s pretty darn impossible to harpoon a half-shark/half-octopus monster when yourself are half-in-the-bag drunk. Maybe if they hadn’t spent so much time kicking back a few buds, a few of them wouldn’t have been eaten by the shark monster due to their diminished faculties and drunken locomotion. Hmm?
Ultimately, Bava’s ‘Monster Shark’ is a lacking, trying, unimaginative film that supplements suspense with mindless gore, and offers little to no novelty to the “Beast vs. Man” movie sub-genre. Though connoisseurs of terrible cinema might enjoy the film ironically and get a good deal of fun out of riffing and mocking its terrible production values, shoddy editing and insipid dialogue, there is almost at all in Bava’s film appealing to those in need of a good, classic film, and should be avoided no matter which of the four titles it appears under.
Find the nearest Blockbuster near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.