Written by: Ramon Bravo (novel), René Cardona Jr. (screenplay), Christina Schuch (adaptation)
Directed by: René Cardona Jr.
Starring: Hugo Stiglitz, Andrés García, and Susan George
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"I bet you I'll go to bed with her before you do."
"That's a bet I wouldn't want to lose."
"That's a bet I wouldn't want to lose."
Exploitation movies rarely come more exploitative than Tintorera. Subtitled Killer Shark (which means the title roughly translates as Tiger Shark: Killer Shark), it would lead you to believe it was one of many Jawsploitation riffs that flooded the market during the late 70s. In reality, it sort of is and isn’t all at once: sure, it features plenty of stock footage of sharks, but one has to wonder if René Cardona Jr. didn’t decide to just haphazardly wedge them in at some point along the way upon realizing just what a dud he had on his hands. Less a grue-filled schlockfest and more a softcore male fantasy, Tintorera imagines a world where killer sharks might only be the third most dangerous predator behind a pair of sex-obsessed beachcombers trawling for babes.
We meet our first lothario amidst the chaos of a rambunctious prologue that’s either the best or worst tourism ad for Mexico. Here, undersexed housewives have rendezvous with gigolos and young hitchhikers decide to put out even when it looks like their rides will attempt to rape them. Missing out is Steven (Hugo Stiglitz), a businessman who’s landed in the hospital after a nervous and physical breakdown, the result of smoking seven cups of coffee and smoking three packs of cigarettes in the span of a few hours. When his doctors order him to rest, his sister arranges for him to spend a few months on a yacht on a Mexican beach, where he falls in with a local shark hunter. During one of their first outings, he watches as his new friend savagely fishes for the beasts before admitting that he feels bad for the sharks. “That’s life, though,” he can only utter.
Indeed, man. Tintorera seems to be guided by this principle: life is what it is, and maybe you should embrace your basest instincts. Steven is the sort of guy where nothing’s operating beneath the surface: he says exactly what’s on his mind, even if it’s obvious, cloying shit like “I’m so happy because I think I’m falling in love to you” to the first woman (Fiona Lewis) he meets on vacation. But when pressed if his love is pure or just physical attraction, he can only be honest: “I don’t know,” he grunts, and she rides right out of his life and back onto the beach. There, she meets Miguel (Andres Garcia), much to the dismay of Steven who, in a jealous rage, tosses sands into his new rival’s eyes. Disgusted, his former lover takes off with Miguel and decides to go for a morning swim that ends with her being devoured by a tiger shark. That’s life, though.
Have I mentioned that all of this goes down within the first half hour? Psycho has nothing on this shit. In fact, imagine if Sam Loomis and company didn’t give a damn about Marion Crane’s disappearance because that’s more or less what happens here: Miguel just sort of shrugs his shoulders and assumes the lady went back home heartbroken. Meanwhile, for whatever reason, Steven checks in on his rival, who actually holds no malice; instead, Miguel proposes a truce that leads to the duo living the free-love dream by bedding women together (including the two American hitchhikers from earlier, believe it or not) and occasionally hitting the sea in search of sharks. Eventually, the film insists they settle down with Gabriella (Susan George), a tourist with no qualms about living in a non-love triangle (she insists that love nor jealousy ever taint their relationship) with the two aboard their yacht. After about an hour, Tintorera reveals that this is its actual story—if you consider insinuated softcore trysts and pseudo-philosophical discussions about polyamory much of a story.
When Fiona Lewis is so quickly and callously dispatched without a care, it looks briefly like Tintorera will be one of the great batshit movies because you assume the titular shark is set to raise hell on Steven’s idyllic existence. And while that still continues to happen throughout, it does so at such a lethargic pace that it becomes a chore. With the exception of the sporadic shark, the only thing Tintorera has in common with Jaws is a nearly identical runtime just north of 2 hours—only this feels at least twice as long. The stretch with the trio living in unwedded, sexually charged bliss is especially dreadfully dull, save for an awkward encounter where Stiglitz and Garcia lock eyes in homoerotic tension, implying that these two bros have actually fallen in love for each other. Now there’s a movie, but one that is only explored in the margins.
Forgiving Tintorera’s bait-and-switch tactic would be easier if Cardona didn’t follow some of the worst exploitation instincts: the editing is ragged, the photography shaggy and full of tactless zooms (you can make a drinking game out of how many times the camera pushes in on Stiglitz’s bewildered face), and the acting is often exactly what you would expect from a softcore porno in denial. Every bad 70s aesthetic surfaces too, from unseemly chest hair to perv-‘staches, both of which often arrive in speedos. Just about the only thing that feels more grimy is the eventual shark action, captured here with actual footage of sharks being hooked and fished, among other instances of animal cruelty (it appears they also slit a turtle’s throat for bait). If Tintorera weren’t already ugly enough, it engages in this grisly business, so much so that you wonder if it wants you to root for the sharks.
Doing that isn’t hard anyway, though a late turn of events where nature’s fury breaks up the trio left me wondering if I hadn’t developed some form of cinematic Stockholm Syndrome with these knuckleheads. Stiglitz is remarkably vacuous and almost childlike as Steven continues to discover the sleazy world unfolding before him; like any child, he is prone to aggressive fits of rage and is truly kind of a high-strung asshole. If there’s any story to be found here, it’s the saga of this hardened beast trying to become a gentle lover in spite of nature: ultimately, he’s Captain Ahab, only his singular mission to destroy his aquatic rival is interrupted by anything with breasts. He might be an impetuous asshole, but he’s our asshole, one that carries a primal ideal of manliness that insists women will inexplicably melt in his presence. Nothing—not even the grieving process—will keep him from further conquests.
Then again, considering how righteous the sparse human bloodletting here is, you have to wonder how much fun Tintorera might have been had it delivered on that promise. During wholly convincing sequences, human bodies are eviscerated, their extremities left to float to the bottom of the ocean like discarded chum. Blood pools around frenzied survivors desperately seeking the comfort of the shore. Sadly, there are only a few instances of the sort of carnage you’d expect from a movie featuring an apparently preternatural shark hell-bent on wrecking one man’s vacation. Not that it ever seems to especially bother Steven, of course: by the end of the film, he’s made plans to rendezvous with another teenage babe in Los Angeles (whose wealthy father doesn’t bat an eye at his creeper vibe), provided he can destroy this asshole of a shark first. That’s life, though.
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