BASTARD PUPS OF JAWS: Barracuda (1978)

Barracuda accomplishes a miracle. It goes from a movie that bored me senseless at the beginning to one that had me riveted at the end. That’s a pretty incredible feat. It’s also a time capsule of the post-Watergate emotions of 1978 while also taking huge bits out of the script for Jaws.

Now, compared to piranha, great white sharks and killer whales, barracudas don’t seem so terrifying. According to Wikipedia, “Like sharks, some species of barracuda are reputed to be dangerous to swimmers. Barracudas are scavengers, and may mistake snorkellers for large predators, following them hoping to eat the remains of their prey. Swimmers have reported being bitten by barracuda, but such incidents are rare and possibly caused by poor visibility.” That’s hardly the ringing endorsement for their potential for carnage.

It all starts out with some promise, as some barracuda digest some swimmers and leave behind a bloody hand. Awesome. Show us more.

Nope — you have to wait a half an hour for more barracuda before we get to the real plot of this film — a top secret government experiment (I love that this film rips off Piranha, which was ripping off Jaws, making this film fish a bottom feeder) leads to barracuda going out of control, but they are really there to make everyone in town hypoglycemic so that they can control the whole town.

Seriously, the last half an hour of this film becomes a conspiracy movie where every single person in the town who could get the story to the public is murdered by men in black, including the two heroes who are gunned down in slow motion.

The underwater scenes were directed by the film’s star, Wayne Crawford, who is also in Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things and HBO favorite Jake Speed. In fact, he was Jake Speed! The land-based director is Harry Kerwin, who also brought you God’s Bloody Acre.

The town’s doctor is played by Jason Evers from The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. The town’s deputy? Cliff Emmich, who played Haddonfield Memorial Hospital security guard Bernard Garrett in Halloween 2. The sheriff? It’s William Kerwin, who in addition to being the director’s brother, is also the voice that warns viewers of how much violence they are about to see in just about every Herschell Gordon Lewis movie. Finally, Papa Jack, the owner of the town’s manufacturing plant, is played by Bert Freed, who was the police chief in the original Invaders from Mars and Ben Golden in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  He was also the first actor to play Columbo, acting as the gumshoe in a 1960 episode of The Chevy Mystery Show eight years before Peter Falk ever donned his famous trenchcoat.

I was totally prepared to hate this movie, but by the end, I was charmed by its left field turn into conspiracy and darkness. Man, the 1970’s were really a rough time to be alive.

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