Written by: René Cardona Jr., Carlos Valdemar
Directed by: René Cardona Jr.
Starring: Arthur Kennedy, Carroll Baker, and Lionel Stander
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
The Violent Storm Was Only the Beginning ... The Sharks Would Be the Merciless End!
If you need ample evidence of René Cardona Jr.’s exploitation credentials, look no further than the pair of “killer shark” films he helmed in the wake of Jaws. First came Tintorera, a film that’s literally subtitled “Killer Shark” despite the fact the film is more of a greasy, softcore melodrama that just happens to eventually feature shark attacks. His follow-up effort, Cyclone, pulls a similar stunt: while there is a cyclone, it’s more of an inciting incident that leaves survivors stranded in the middle of an ocean that’s infested with bloodthirsty sharks—should you believe the marketing, anyway. Of course, this is just another bait-and-switch from Cardona, who looked to exploit both the disaster and shark movie waves from the 70s by blending them into one movie but actually just delivers a plodding survivalist melodrama (that, yes, just happens to eventually feature shark attacks).
To his credit, Cardona goes fucking big with the disaster setup: not content to confine the action to one crash site, he has both a tourist boat and a plane go lost at sea during a storm just off the Caribbean coast. While friends and family frantically beg on shore authorities for information, the survivors—of which there are actually many—do what they can to survive. Fending off sharks is only part of the problem: scarce water and food supplies must be rationed out, much to the dismay of the suffering survivors who are quickly losing patience with each other.
Bait-and-switch tactics obviously aside, pinning down Cyclone’s worst flaw is sort of difficult. Between the disengaged performances, lousy dub jobs, ragged photography, and limp plot, there’s an assortment from which to choose. This is a bad movie, one that’s made all the more intolerable by a dreadfully paced 114-minute runtime. Cardona has little sense of pacing at all: the titular cyclone happens within the first twenty minutes or so, and even it isn’t all that riveting. If anything, its tension is deflated by the fact that an airplane passenger wants to raise hell about the pilot’s decision to turn around, which foreshadows the fact that you’re going to be stranded with a bunch of assholes for the next 90 minutes.
Even this wouldn’t be bad if Cardona infused the film with any sense of verve; instead, it’s a languid, dull melodrama that goes nowhere until literally the last minute or so, when the sharks arrive in full force (realized via some killer actual shark footage where the “victims” are actually just hunks of meat—it works, though!). There are no real character arcs to be found, nor is there much actual suspense—Lifeboat it ain’t, let’s just say that. At first, it seems like the possible rescue missions may provide some kind of tension or plot developments, but it soon becomes clear that we’re just cutting between people bickering at sea to people bickering with authorities at shore. Somewhat humorously, the latter is unceremoniously dropped in the middle of the movie, and it feels like a relief until you realize you’re stranded with a loathsome group in the boat for the rest of the movie.
Maybe Cardona wanted to make his audience truly understand and feel the tedium of being lost at sea. It’s perhaps giving him too much credit, but he undoubtedly succeeds here: Cyclone captures just how boring this predicament must be, as there’s nothing to do but argue with your neighbor and worry about water. Occasionally, some rainfall might provide some relief and a plane might fly over, but that’s just about it—and it’s what counts as plot development in this movie. Its central question about how the group will subsist with limited food and water plays out as a series of debates, random events, and some really disturbing character decisions. In any case, it’s difficult to care if anyone survives: at a certain point, even Cardona seems to sense this, as Cyclone becomes increasingly schlocky.
Cardona is no stranger to this approach, obviously, as Tintorera mostly operated in similar fashion. However, that film at least had some semblance of a plot and a palpable conflict, scuzzy though it may be thanks to Hugo Stiglitz and Andres Garcia’s dueling lothario acts. Those two—along with Susan George—are compulsively watchable compared to the nearly two-dozen characters in Cyclone. Stiglitz is among them, along with the likes of Arthur Kennedy and Olga Karlatos, though so few of them leave an impression beyond a handful of shrill personalities. Most notable is Carroll Baker playing a shrill, pampered lady whose affection for her dog soon becomes a nuisance for her fellow passengers, thus setting up the film’s most infamous and, let’s be real, deplorable moment. That’s not a word I use lightly—by now, I can stomach just about anything, but this even coaxed my jaw to the floor because it’s that distasteful.
It says a lot about Cyclone that it’s most memorable moment is also pretty reprehensible. I’m not sure if it’d be better or worse without it—probably worse since, hey, at least it represents something happening, and it at least adds a brief element of danger. When a pregnant woman gives birth later in the movie, I was legitimately concerned for the baby’s survival since most of the passengers had made it abundantly clear that they’d do whatever they have to do in order to eat. Sadly (?), Cyclone never goes that far. You can imagine how dreadful a movie must be when you find yourself admitting that it could use a little baby-eating cannibalism. Look what you’ve made me do, René Cardona.
Granted, I should have known better after Tintorera: it’s like they say, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. But, no, seriously, fuck you, too.” Or something like that.
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