EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally ran as part of our Bastard Sons of Jaws week on December 22, 2018. Seeing as how it is a Mexican shark film, how could we not bring it back for leftovers?
When I was a kid in the 1970’s, I was sitting in a B. Dalton’s reading — parents routinely dropped kids off places to read without any fear of kidnapping back then — and discovered a copy of Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex on a shelf. I had no idea what it was at the time, but the drawings (by Chris Foss, who would go on to work on Alien, Flash Gordon and Jodorowsky’s Dune) were upsetting to me. Hairy soft focused seventies post-hippies getting it on didn’t jibe well with my single digit mind.
I forgot what that feeling was like. And then I watched Tintorera…Tiger Shark.
This movie is based on the novel of the same name by oceanographer Ramón Bravo, an undersea explorer who studied the 19-foot-long species of shark known as “tintorera” and also discovered the sleeping sharks of Isla Mujeres. You may know him better for his role as the underwater zombie in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.
Here’s the thing — this is a shark movie, but it’s also pretty much a softcore adult movie about the three-way relationship between the heroes. As such, this is the only shark movie I’ve watched all week with full frontal male nudity, which is something of an accomplishment.
Hugo Stiglitz from Nightmare City plays Steven, born in the US but a Mexican businessman here in Cancun for vacation. He falls for Patricia (Fiona Lewis, Dr. Phibes Rises Again) but breaks up with her when he can’t decide whether or not he’s in love with her. Ah, the 1970’s.
Jealousy ensues when she starts hooking up with Miguel (Andrés García, a real-life former diving instructor who is also in Bermuda: Cave of the Sharks), the swimming instructor at the resort. After those two dance the devil’s dance and Steven gets all misty-eyed, she goes skinny dipping and ends up being eaten by a tiger shark that seems to have breathing problems, judging by the soundtrack.
The two fight over what happened to Patricia, but neither ever learn that she was devoured by a shark. That night, the two hook up with Kelly and Cynthia Madison, two American college students looking for fun, and swim to Steven’s yacht as the heavy breathing shark follows them. They swap beds all night long before heading back to the resort and the shark decides to leave them alone. Kelly is played by Jennifer Ashley, who was also in Phantom of the Paradise, Chained Heat and Guyana: Cult of the Damned, while Cynthia is Laura Lyons, which is her real name and not a stage name inspired by the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles. She was the Playboy Playmate of the Month for February 1976 and actually led a strike amongst the club bunnies that led to better wages and rights for them. Other than an appearance on TV’s Love, American Style, this is the only other acting role in her career.
Steven and Miguel decide to partner up both in a shark hunting business and in being womanizers. They start shooting all manner of sharks, but Miguel warns Steven that if they ever meet a tiger shark that they must immediately get out of the water.
The guys meet Gabriella (Susan George, Die Screaming, Marianne) and take her shark hunting. She hates it, but falls for both men. They decide to form a triad relationship where they can’t be with any other woman or fall in love with her. Remember those The Joy of Sex drawings I mentioned earlier? Get ready to watch them play out as the three make love, make omelets and sightsee the Mayan ruins.
Sadly, the next time they go shark hunting, the tiger shark reappears — surprise! — and bites Miguel in half. Gabriella is so upset that she leaves, never to return. Steven vows revenge on the shark and beats up every shark he can find, upsetting even the most hardened fishermen. Surely, they tell him, he has killed the tiger shark by now.
Nope. It’s still out there, killing fishermen and lying in wait for Steven. At a beach party with Kelly, Cynthia and two new American girls (one of them is Priscilla Barnes from TV’s Three’s Company and The Devil’s Rejects), everyone skinny dips. As Steven and Cynthia make out nude in the water, the tiger shark comes back and tears the woman literally out of his embrace. Everyone is injured by the shark’s attack and Steven makes a promise to kill the shark himself.
You may be wondering: how will Steven go about killing this shark? If you guessed “he’s going to blow it up” then congratulations. You’ve been watching just as many shark movies as I have. Are explosives the shark’s natural predator?
Anyhow — Steven uses a devilfish to lure the shark close and then he hears its breathing, because that’s how sharks work. He succeeds in turning that shark into a million pieces, but loses his arm in the process. He wakes up in a hospital bed, minus an arm but filled with happy memories of the sexy times he shared with Miguel and Gabriella.
Keep in mind when you seek out this film that there are two versions. One is 85 minutes long and is more of a shark film. Then there’s the 126 minutes long cut that’s chock full of swinging Mexican resort sex. Also, a warning for those of you sensitive to these matters: many of the scenes of fish being caught and killed underwater are unsimulated. That should be no surprise to anyone who has seen a René Cardona Jr. directed film, as he threw live birds through windows in Beaks: The Movie and a cat over a wall in Night of a Thousand Cats. He’s also responsible for the borderline insane film Bermuda Triangle, as well as the scum-ridden cash-in Guyana: Crime of the Century.
Tintorera…Tiger Shark is one of the stranger films I’ve watched, not only in my shark obsessed week of trying to watch every single pre-Sharknado film of this genre, but really in all the films I’ve watched. I have no idea who it is truly for, yet appreciate its willingness to indulge in spectacle and scum, whether that be people hooking up or being eaten in front of your very eyes.
Update: Kino Lorber is re-issuing Tintorera on January 5, 2021 to Blu-ray. In addition to a new audio commentary track by film historians Troy Howarth and Rod Barnett, the Blu also features the original theatrical trailer and optional English subtitles packed in a limited-edition slipcase and reversible cover art. You can learn more about Kino Lorber’s complete roster of films at their official website and Facebook, and watch the related film trailers on You Tube.