Written and Directed by: Robert Feen, Linda Morrison, and Bruno Mattei
Directed by: Bruno Mattei
Starring: David Luther, George Barnes Jr. and Scott Silveria
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ďWe're gonna need a bigger helicopter!Ē
Of all the Italian Jaws rip-offs, youíd probably peg Cruel Jaws to be the worst if you had to hazard a guess (which is much less hazardous than actually watching these bad boys). Not only was it directed by Bruno Mattei, but it was done so when the countryís film industry was in its mid-90s death throes. So you can just imagine what this shit looks like, and itís almost as if Mattei had a light bulb go off that reminded him that he missed out on the killer shark craze a decade earlier. This didnít stop him (or his producers) from slapping this together and having some pretty brass balls by putting Jaws in the title in some markets, not necessarily because of Universalís legal sharks, but because I canít imagine anyone wanting to be associated with that franchise after Jaws: The Revenge. I donít know, maybe Mattei actually did Universal a solid after all by making a movie thatís even worse than that one.
As always, a sleepy seaside town serves as the setting, where Dag (Richard Dew, a dead-ringer for Hulk Hogan) operates a Sea World-style attraction. Heís recovering from an accident that resulted in the loss of the love of his life, his will to live, and his daughterís smile (not to mention her ability to walk, but thatís a trifle I guess). This poor bastard canít catch a break because heís also on the verge of getting evicted on the verge of his annual regatta thanks to a greedy local mogul and the mayor. When a killer tiger shark descends on the local waters, it should really be the least of his worries, but he and his buds are the few people really worth a damn in Hampton Bay, plus they could really use that $10,000 reward to save their aquarium.
Not simply content to pillage Spielbergís original, Cruel Jaws also borrows elements from all of the sequels--youíve obviously got the setting of Jaws 3, complete with the dolphins and everything (thankfully, thereís no over-exuberant Bess Armstrong, but, hey, you get a little crippled girl instead), the helicopter attacks and teens on sailboats from Jaws 2, and thereís even some throwaway dialogue about how the shark is sentient due to some government project (just sub in a witch doctor and you have Jaws: The Revenge Redux). And of course Jaws itself is on the chopping block to be cannibalized, and the movie borrows lines, beats, and even footage wholesale from it. To its credit, Cruel Jaws also recalls the mob element from Peter Benchleyís original novel that Spielberg didn't bother with, as the guy gunning for Dagís land keeps the mafia in his employ. To its detriment, the film has to juggle them and everyone else with the sheriff (Gregg Hood, who vows to ďkill that motherfuckerĒ of a shark) and the Hooper-style nerd who would rather research sharks than make out with the babe thatís constantly trying to jump his bones (he realizes the error of his ways when he loses her to the jaws of the shark).
Matteiís crowning achievement, however, is his pilfering of footage from The Last Shark; the aforementioned helicopter and sailing attacks are actually lifted directly from Enzo Castellariís notorious Jaws xerox, so thereís layers and layers of unoriginality to sift through here. Even Deep Blood isnít spared from being cut and pasted into this incredible collage that brings together Castellairi, DíAmato, and Mattei, which I think makes it the Avengers of Jaws-knock-offs. Perhaps due to getting out of the gate first, The Last Shark is the most infamous of the Italian trio, but Cruel Jaws is much more awe-inspiring in its badness and shamelessness. Itís a one-stop shop that rolls incoherence, absurdity, and disparate shark footage into a ball that perfectly summarizes Matteiís career as Italyís best hack auteur.
If that badness and shamelessness was Matteiís auteurist trademark, he arguably never stamped it more forcefully than he did here. This is a film so lazy that it feels like it actually required effort, as if every move was made with calculated unoriginality. Sometimes, itís so unhinged that it begs for self-awareness, and its mid-90s context might lead one to wonder if this is Matteiís ultimate pastiche--itís not a rip-off so much as itís completely culled from pre-existing scripts and footage, making it a great unintentional parody of the dark side of the Italian film industry that thrived on this sort of thing for decades. Cruel Jaws is something of a crumbling Ozymandias, there to remind us of the faded glory of the empire that spawned it. By this point, the tank was exhausted, leaving the survivors to feast upon each otherís corpses until the whole scene finally starved to death.
In addition to being something that allows me to incongruously wax poetically, Cruel Jaws is also a wildly entertaining, shitty shark movie that thrives on its incoherence and tone-deafness; the beast is supposedly a tiger shark until stock footage turns it into a great white, and the design resembles the cardboard-looking monstrosity from The Last Shark (which I think also makes an a re-appearance in the recycled footage). The score is a patchwork of horror strings, jazz beats, and some bars from the Star Wars theme, which trumpets our heroes off to sea to do battle. Thereís ferocious zooms, crude gore, comedy seals, mob hits on dolphins, cringe-inducing 90s fashion, continuity gaffes, riotous dialogue, and a total, complete earnestness that makes it even cornier than Jaws 3.
Is it the worst product of Italyís Jaws obsession? I donít know. Save for a handful of scenes (including the all-too-murky underwater prologue and climax), I was never bored, though Iím not sure if I wasnít just rapturously aghast at the whole thing. If Dag had actually been played by Hulk Hogan, itíd probably contend for one of the most incredible cult films of all time, but, as it stands, itís a pretty wicked epilogue to the Italian shark saga. Because Universal will likely never allow its release in many regions, youíve got to find a way to track it down, and Iíd say itís mostly worth the effort. Upon reflection, The Revenge might remain the cruelest Jaws because at least you expect this kind of crap from Mattei. He delivers. Rent it!
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