Monday, March 17, 2008

The Most Terrifying Motion Picture Of 1982

GREAT WHITE is something of a lost picture in the United States, although if you know the right people, you might get to see it. Italian director Enzo G. Castellari (1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS) shot this blatant copy of JAWS (and JAWS 2) in Malta. In fact, GREAT WHITE is such a blatant ripoff that Universal actually sued Film Ventures International, its American distributor, for copyright infringement. The number of exploitation movies that ripped off JAWS during the late 1970s and early '80s is in the dozens, but for some reason, GREAT WHITE put a burr under someone's saddle at Universal. The suit was successful, and GREAT WHITE was pulled from theaters after just a few days. It was never released on VHS in the U.S., nor will it ever be on DVD. Is it worth making the effort to track down a bootleg copy or a foreign DVD? Eh, probably not, but maybe this trailer will help you make up your mind.

James Franciscus (BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) plays an author named Peter Benton (obviously a nod to JAWS author Peter Benchley) who teams up with Vic Morrow (HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP) as a Scottish (!) seaman, when a gigantic great white shark begins terrorizing the Florida town of Port Harbor. The big Windsurfing Regatta is coming up, and even though one teen has already been chomped on, the mayor refuses to cancel. That leads to an amazing scene in which the shark plows through dozens of windsurfers like bowling pins, knocking them into the water one by one, culminating in a great moment where the shark somehow blasts a boat containing a male passenger about 20 feet into the air (he repeats this stunt later). The local butcher must have traded in his Pinto for a Rolls Royce that weekend, because half the people in town, including the mayor, some dumb teenagers, and an ambitious news team, use huge chunks of raw meat to lure the shark out into the open. For some reason, the cops and the Coast Guard never really get involved, leaving it up to the writer (why?) and sea captain to get the job done.

All of the scenes involving the (fake-looking) shark are pretty entertaining, but the dialogue and pacing are otherwise so bad that GREAT WHITE is a mixed bag. Whatever the shark is made from (foam?), it looks hilarious, leaping from the water with a single expression and roaring (!) as it takes a bite out of its human pursuers. The best scene finds the mayor dangling a side of beef from a helicopter to attract the shark. What he planned to do with it after he caught it, I don't know, but it's a moot point after the Great White yanks the chopper (like in JAWS 2) down into the ocean for a quick bite. GREAT WHITE's surface photography is very good, crisp and clean like an American production. However, the underwater scenes are too dark, making it difficult to sometimes make out what's happening, especially the drab climax (I had to rewind it and watch it again).

Franciscus ("Damn youuuuuuuu!") is fine in the lead, but Morrow's Scottish accent is all over the place--when he chooses to use it, that is. Both provide their own voices. Most of the Italian actors are dubbed, although, unusually for an Italian production, Castellari did record some sound live. The de Angelis Brothers provided the obtrusive score, including, I guess, the silly disco tune that plays over the opening title sequence of a guy windsurfing. Film Ventures International had earlier put out GRIZZLY, another JAWS ripoff with a big bear substituting for a shark. It has the same plot as both JAWS and GREAT WHITE. And PIRANHA. And…

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