They say ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. If that’s the case, you can consider 1981 Italian horror movie The Last Shark to be a love letter to Jaws. Too bad Universal Studios responded with a ‘return to sender’. Apparently, following its initial release, Universal was unimpressed enough with the overlap between their classic and the Italian killer shark movie that they blocked its North American release. Today, this knock-off has faded into obscurity, best remembered for just how bad audiences and critics considered it. But is it just a bad movie, or it is ‘so bad, it’s good’?
A small coastal town preparing for a wind surfing regatta and the boon of tourists welcomes an unexpected guest – a giant Great White Shark. But town mayor William Wells – planning a run for state governor – refuses to shut down the big event. Knowing the real risk in the water, horror author Peter Benton and professional shark hunter Ron Hamer race to kill the shark before it preys on the townspeople.
The Last Shark Shamelessly Recycles Jaws When It’s Not Doing Its Own Dumb Thing
Italian director Enzo G. Castellari today is probably best known for making the war movie Inglorious Bastards that influenced Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Following The Last Shark, Castellari made a couple of Escape From New York ripoffs – 1990: Bronx Warriors and Escape from the Bronx – that gained cult followings on VHS. Not much else shows up on writer Marc Princi’s resume. What they came up with for their killer shark movie was … Jaws. How similar are the two movies? Should Universal Studios have been upset enough to block this movie’s release? In short, this shark thriller is literally a note-for-note recycling of Steven Spielberg’s classic that’s shameless in its mugging.
…The Last Shark is literally a note-for-note recycling of Steven Spielberg’s classic that’s shameless in its mugging.
Yet what makes this Italian carbon copy special in its awfulness is what Castellari and Princi come up with when they try to do their own thing. Is James Fransiscus’ (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) ‘Peter Benton’ a marine biologist, town sheriff, or coast guard? No, he’s a horror author, which in no way qualifies him to hunt a shark. And Vic Morrow’s (Humanoids from the Deep) professional shark hunter comes up with the genius idea of strapping dynamite to himself. That’s not even the dumbest idea a character has in The Last Shark. No, the town mayor lowers a steak from a helicopter with the plan of, apparently, lifting the shark out of the water. At one point, a boat propellor grinds into the Great White, which in no way impacts the rest of the movie.
The Last Shark Boasts Some Not So ‘Special’ Effects
No one would have expected Spielberg’s craftmanship from a low-budget Italian horror movie. And CGI wasn’t a thing in 1981. Nonetheless, the not so ‘special’ effects of The Last Shark truly elevate this one into ‘so bad, it’s good’ territory. First, we get a strangely long opening sequence of windsurfer on the water that may make you wonder if you’re watching the right movie. Expect lots of unnecessary and ridiculously melodramatic slow-motion. Sometimes Castellari uses shark footage shot in what looks like an aquarium that never rarely fits the scene. Occasionally, it looks like the killer shark movie uses footage of a dolphin.
…the not so ‘special’ effects of The Last Shark truly elevate this one into ‘so bad, it’s good’ territory.
But the best effect here is the oddly shaped shark model that just rises out of the water once in a while. The lifeless model looks more like a balloon than a menacing Great White. For some reason, Castellari has some victims jettisoned up into the air when the shark attacks. In one scene, a mannequin has clearly replaced the actual actor. If there’s a highlight here, it’s the helicopter scene that mixes incomprehensible logic with the laughable image of the mayor being bitten in half. By the time, the Great White pulls a dock filled with tourists out into the ocean, you’ve either long turned this one off or you’re here for it.
The Last Shark is a Cheesefest For Lovers of Bad Movies
Make no mistake about it, The Last Shark is a BAD movie regardless of what you call it. Whether it’s the shameless verbatim rehash of the Jaws story, the poor production values, or laughable shark effects, Castellari gets absolutely nothing right. When Marc Princi’s screenplay does diverge it’s with bizarre lapses in logic. This is what an 80s version of a SyFy Channel movie without the tongue-in-cheek humor looks like. And that’s what makes this Jaws ripoff so much fun to watch – it’s an unintentionally hilarious movie. In fact, this turkey defines the essence of ‘so bad, it’s good’.