If you thought Joe D’Amato didn’t have a Jaws ripoff in him, then you don’t know Joe D’Amato. Or Federiko Slonisko. Or Michael Wotruba. Or David Hills. Or Kevin Mancuso. Or Joan Russell. Or Raf Donato, the name he used when he directed this.
Joe D’Amato had just as many names as he made movies. Born Aristide Massaccesi, he first became known as a cinematographer on films like What Have You Done to Solange? before directing his own films like Death Smiles on a Murderer, five Emanuelle films include the absolutely berserk Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Antropophagus, Absurd, Endgame and literally hundreds more, as well as producing films by George Eastman, Michele Soavi, Umberto Lenzi, Lucio Fulci and Claudio Fragrasso.
This movie begins as we meet four boys, Miki, John, Jason and Alan, eating hotdogs on the beach with a Native American mystic who tells them the tale of the monstrous Wakan shark. The boys sign a blood oath that they will always be friends and help one another in times of danger.
Much like a Stephen King movie, the boys get together ten years later. However, Wakan shows up, kills John and starts randomly devouring just about everyone in his path. There’s a long extended sequence where a police chopper hovers over the guys’ boat, repeatedly saying “Go back to shore, you should be embarrassed of what you’ve done” that made me laugh so hard I fell off my couch.
If the scene of the shark blowing up at the end — sorry spoiler warning — looks familiar, it’s because D’Amato just recycled the effect from the end of The Last Shark. Yes, the Italian film industry is not above ripping itself off. Also, the effects team only built a shark head. The rest of the undersea footage comes from National Geographic.
The mystic angle adds a different take on a shark movie. And there are moments of sheer absurdity, like the sheriff being named Cody and not Brody, harpoons being shot into the cars of punkers and a fishing scene where it’s obvious that no one knows how to actually fish.
Joe D’Amato may not have delivered the Italian shark movie of my dreams, where George Eastman emerges from the inside of the shark eating its innards, but dammit if he didn’t try.