The list of talent involved in Monster Shark should get you pretty excited about the film. It took seven writers to get this movie made, including Lewis Coates, who you’d probably know better as Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash); Martin Dolman, who is really Sergio Martino (All the Colors of the Dark); Gianfranco Clerici (Cannibal Holocaust); Frank Walker, who is truly Vincenzo Mannino (The Last Shark); Hervé Piccini (Rats: Night of Terror); Dardano Sacchetti (who wrote pretty much every Italian horror and science fiction movie worth watching) and finally, John Old Jr.
Perhaps you know his infinitely more talented father, John M. Old. Yes, that’s just a pseudonym for Mario Bava, which means that the John Old Jr. who crafted this thing called Devil Fish, Monster from the Red Ocean, Devouring Waves or Shark: Red in the Ocean is truly Lamberto Bava. Whew. Sometimes watching Italian genre cinema means that you have to play investigatore.
Somewhere in Florida, the tourist trade is being attacked by a mysterious undersea beast. It’s not a shark. That’d be too easy. No, it’s a secret military operation that combines the worst parts of the octopus with the prehistoric Dunkleosteus.
While just a baby devil fish right now — an infant monster shark, a babina monster from red ocean, a toddler octopi — the beast has still broken loose to gnaw on swimmers, sailors and random females.
It’s up to Peter (Michael Sopkiw, Blastfighter), an electrician and TV repairman whose sole qualification seems to be the amount of beer he can drink; Dr. Bob Hogan, another rampant alcoholic; and dolphin trainer/marine biologist Dr. Stella Dickens (Valentine Monnier, who was also in 2019: After the Fall of New York with Sopkiw) to stop the beast. If you know anything about Luigi Cozzi, you probably realize that amongst his contributions to the script, one of them had to be the name of this character, as he names every female lead in his movies Stella.
Instead of Sheriff Brody, we get Sheriff Gordon, who is played by John Garko, who is better known as Gianni Garko, and who is better known as Sartana. Other Italian horror stars of note include Cinthia Stewart (actually Cinzia De Ponti, who is the bicyclist that gets eviscerated in the beginning of The New York Ripper as well as the ironically named babysitter Jamie Lee in Fulci’s Manhattan Baby); Iris Peynado from Warriors of the Wasteland and Iron Warrior; and Dagmar Lassander from Hatchet for the Honeymoon and The House by the Cemetery.
This is a movie that needs so much padding that it features not one, but two title sequences, yet features only three adult film-sounding Fabio Frizzi on a Casio created music cues.
By the end, when Professor Donald West (William Berger, Keoma) solemnly intones that the creature is “A marine monster, almost indestructible. And whose genetic characteristics are as fearsome as the white shark’s. A gigantic octopus with the intelligence of a dolphin, and as monstrous as a prehistoric creature,” you’ll think to yourself that in better hands, Monster Shark could have been a halfway decent affair.
There is a scene where a botched rescue leads to a man violently losing his legs. And that man was played by an actual amputee, which I guess we should applaud. And whoever decided to this needed spiced up with a subscene where a woman is attacked and electrocuted with a hairdryer? You may not know how to plot, but kudos for trying to keep this plodding affair from being a total snoozefest. And you know how you should never show the monster for the first half of the film? Bava goes one better than that, never clearly showing his titular undersea antagonist for the entire running time.
Lamberto’s Demons films are much better than this, but that’s the kind of bar that you don’t just stumble over, but one that you also stub your toe on. Sopkiw claims that he’s a great director, yet the budget here hampered his talents. I just don’t know how a movie about a giant eyed prehistoric octopus hybrid battling alcoholic flamethrower enthusiasts can be so sleep-inducing.
This article originally appeared in Drive-In Asylum Special Issue #4, which you can buy here.