02 September 2015

Maynard and Craig totally jump the shark: The Jawdroppingly Gargantuan JAWS Megapost (Jaws 1, Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, Jaws: The Revenge + The Last Jaws)

Maynard: In 2013, me and my blog buddy Craig Edwards ("Let's Get Out Of Here") created two absolutely legendary (kinda) blog-collaborations, the "BLOB FEST" (about the three "Blob" films) and the "KILLER SUMMER PARTY" (about the three "I Know What You Did Last Summer" films).

Since then,
we tried to collaborate a few more times, but it just didn't worked out, mostly becaue of various time/stress/etc. reasons and such. However, this year we finally found the time to do another gargantuan collabo, actually the longest and most extensive post that has ever popped up here at the diary!

Craig: On a brief break from my paid writing gig this blog's good buddy Maynard (of the always excellent Maynard's Horror Movie Diary) contacted me about a new collaboration megapost - this time checking out the four movies in Universal's JAWS series from 1975-1987

I am a fan of the series (though like some other series, the actual number of good movies is surprisingly low) so I jumped on the opportunity.



JAWS (1975)

The first movie came out in the summer of 1975 - June 20th to be exact. I don't know why - but at my young age I really wanted to see this movie - and convinced my mom to take me to see it. I loved it - it scared the crap out of me. I got to see it a second time a couple of years later - it was re-released and this time my mom took me to the drive-in. I loved it again.


It's truly a near perfect movie. Maybe it is perfect. The story - from Peter Benchley's hit novel - is great. A shark shows up in the waters off tourist paradise Amity Island. After a swimmer is eaten late one night police Chief Martin Brody tries to shut down the beaches, but Mayor Vaughn - fearing loss of their needed tourist trade - shuts him down instead. Eventually Brody teams up with shark expert Hooper and salty shark fisherman Quint and heads out to sea to try to stop the shark. The characters are well drawn. That they have become archetypes for this type of movie (main character out of his element; smart aleck subject expert; salty old pro, and weasel authority figure) shows how amazingly well crafted they are. A lot of that credit has to go to the actors too. When you hear the stories about the other names who were almost hired for this movie - you have to wonder how it would have been. Names like Charlton Heston, Robert Duvall, Lee Marvin, and Sterling Hayden were considered for either Brody or Quint. Everyone gets praise here - Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfus, Robert Shaw, Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary, Jeffrey Kramer, and Susan Backlinie.


Continuing the praise - the screenplay adapts the novel well, making just the right changes to Benchley's story to make the movie even better than the book. Steven Spielberg shows his incredible talent as director - guiding the movie with a sure hand despite production problems like a mechanical shark that never worked as well as was hoped and shooting on water, which is an incredibly time consuming process.

And that shark is still very cool - and as has often been stated - the shark not working right much of the time forced Spielberg to show it less often than planned - giving its shortcomings much less screen time and in my opinion saving the movie to some extent.


The movie holds up completely to this day - and the Blu-Ray is truly one of the best things I have ever seen. I don't usually get into the quality of a home video presentation - but this Blu-Ray is reference quality - crisp beyond belief, bright, colorful, and pristine. It is the perfect reason to move into Blu-Ray. I will watch this movie with anyone at any time - and I've always been a little nervous to go in to the ocean over my head ever since.


JAWS

Working Title:
Stillness in the Water

German Title:
Der Weisse Hai

USA, 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg

10/10





"Jaws" was one of the very first horror movies I've ever seen, once again big thanks to my mum who basically popped my horror-cherry at the age of 9 (in 1991), showing classics like "Halloween", "The Thing", "Poltergeist", "The Shining" or this one to me - and just like Craig, I ended up loving it. The fact that these animals really exist and that they could totally spoil your holidays by eating your family members, heck, it totally fascinated me. Even though my fish books ("Jaws" made me interested in all things fish and ocean) told me that the Great White isn't nearly as dangerous as the movie makes you wanna believe, and even though I perfectly survived my very first beach holiday in Italy two years later in (the only 'dangerous' thing I gotta saw was a jellyfish), there's still something in me that somehow believes that sharks (all of them) are uber-huge eating machines, and that they're waiting at every coast worldwide for some clueless tourists to enter the water. Thanks, Steven! ;)


The movie is a frigging masterpiece and was one of the main reasons why I'd consider myself a Steven-Spielberg-fan (I gave a presentation about Spielberg in school, 8th grade, German class), and even though I like "Duel" and "Jurassic Park" a bit better, I still consider "Jaws" as one of my favorite horror films of all time. It's one of these movies that I could watch over and over without getting bored of it. I've already seen it plenty of times and it never failed to thrill or entertain me, never failed to get me intrigued in the stunning fight between the shark (which was nicknamed "Bruce" after Spielberg's lawyer Bruce Ramer *giggle*) and the movie's three main heroes: the water-hating police chief Martin Brody (tremendously portrayed by the great Roy Scheider), oceanographer and shark fan Matt Hooper (one of Richard Dreyfus' coolest performances ever) and grumpy, shark-despising shark hunter Quint (it is beyond me why Robert Shaw didn't got any Oscar recognition for this incredible performance).


The already excellent screenplay by Peter Benchley (yes, the writer of the original novel himself!) and Carl Gottlieb ("The Jerk") was perfectly adapted by Spielberg who turned it into a suspense-fest of epic proportions. Spielberg's work on "Jaws" is as outstanding as the work of everyone involved in this goddamn masterpiece: every scene, every shot, every acting performance, every line of dialogue... pure perfection. None of the characters are unlikable, even the slightly brazen mayor of the town of Amity (wonderful performance by Murray Hamilton) is somehow sympathetic. There's no single moment of boredom or tediousness. The whole thing is carefully paced with great focus on thrilling tension. Even the slower scenes are excellent, thanks to the great acting. Just look at the scenes where Brody makes shenanigans with his son, or where Hooper visits the Brodies - there's not that much going on in these scenes, but the way Spielberg and his cinematographer Bill Butler ("Rocky 2-4") shot these scenes is just astonishing.


Aside from the fact that Spielberg 'accidentally' invented the summer blockbuster, revolutionized Hollywood's business models and made sharks the, erm, showers of the 70s, "Jaws" will also always be recognized for a plethora of scenes and things that left its mark in movie history and on basically everyone who ever saw it, be it John Williams' marvellous score (I daresay that he famous "Ba-Dum" is one of the most recognizable cinematic themes of all time), be it several glorious lines ("You're gonna need a bigger boat." / "Smile, you son of a bitch." / "That's some bad hat, Harry." / "I can do anything. I'm the chief of police." / "Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women!" etc.), be it the fabulous jump scares (underwater head, the shark's first surprise appearance), be it everything else in this goddamn masterpiece. I'm with Craig: it holds up completely to this day and it will never be outdated or obsolete. "Jaws" fucking rocks!




JAWS 2 (1978)

It took them a while, but the sequel finally opened on June 16th, 1978. Despite my great affection for the first movie - I did not see the sequel in a theater or drive-in during its run. I don't remember clearly why - I know I was interested - I definitely picked up the novelization of the sequel. But in the summer of 1980 - we had gotten Showtime a few months earlier - and when "Jaws 2" premiered one Saturday night - I was right there glued to the screen. As a very young fellow just into double digits at that time - I loved seeing more shark antics. I view the movie with different eyes all these years later.


It's pretty much the blueprint for a lackluster follow up - most of the cast returns - though some are more contractual than enthusiastic - the same writers - and a different director. Another shark comes to Amity, and now Chief Martin Brody (Scheider) must face his very understandable fear of the water to try to stop the feeding frenzy. Not getting Richard Dreyfus or Robert Shaw back (what, Quint couldn't have had a long lost twin brother show up? It's the only cliché this sequel misses!) doesn't help. Seeing the other returning cast does. Exploring how Brody faces his elevated fears after the first movie is actually a positive - and Scheider is excellent - even if he didn't really want to come back for this one.

And I'll say this - even though I'm trying to be honest about the overall quality of the movie - I still really like it. The story does allow the characters to be further along in their lives - older son Mike and his teenage angst figures big in the regatta storyline that is the framework for the climax of the movie - and there is the primal fear of being eaten by a large creature that works even in repeat mode.


The mechanical shark doesn't work much better - so this one uses a non articulated body towed behind a boat for a lot of the screen time - but it looks good, and the mechanical guy does pop up now and again. (I absolutely love the shot where the Brodys are in the town meeting - and the shot cuts out to the water - and the shark's fin just breaks into the air for a couple of seconds - almost like the shark announcing her arrival - then it goes back down and they stay on the now calm sea for a few more seconds - wonderful forboding moment.)

And yes, I did say the shark is a "she."


That novelization I mentioned? I read it more than once in the months after it was released - and in that book the authors have the shark in the sequel the mate of the shark in the original - and she comes to Amity to get revenge (!) She also gives birth to some baby sharks somewhere in there - which sets up a sequel or sequels that never happened on screen or in print. And hang on to that revenge idea - it will turn up again before this post is over...

This is also the movie that gave us the deathless tagline "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water..." which has been spoofed countless times since
I'm not sure how well this movie did, but they did not rush a third movie into production - so I'm thinking it did well eventually - but didn't make the blockbuster money the first movie made.

 JAWS 2

German Title:
Der Weisse Hai 2

USA, 1978
Director: Jeannot Szwarc

8/10









No, this wasn't the first (that was definitely "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" at the tender age of 6), but it was definitely one of the very first sequels I've ever seen - and I've seen it many times during the golden 90s age when Austrian television still dared to show this repeatedly at prime time. It's obviously not better than the original, but compared to most other sequels, it totally delivers, thanks to a marvellous continuation of the basic "Jaws" storyline, the return of many charactes from the first part, and an unexpected amount of what made the first part so awesome: thrills, chills and suspense.


Director Jeannot Szwarc's movie career started promising with great horror films like "The Devil's Daughter" (1973) or "Bug" (1975), but ended quickly in the 80s after he had three box office bombs in a row ["Enigma" (1983), "Supergirl" (1984) & "Santa Claus" (1985)]. Good thing is, he managed to establish himself as a successful and very prolific television director who's still active and super-busy ("Ally McBeal", "Without A Trace", "Smallville", "Fringe", "Supernatural" etc. etc.) - still, it's sad that he never got the chance to do big budget blockbusters again because the main reason #1 for why "Jaws 2" is such a great film is definitely Szwarc's direction. He took Spielberg's directing style and developed it into his very own style, focusing on a slow but steady pace, a terrific and highly effective build-up and many long shots. Ok, at times it might be a tad too slow, but there's no single moment where I ended up bored because whenever you think it's getting tedious, something unexpected comes along and gets you back
into thrilling mode.

Main reason #2 is obviously Roy Scheider. Although he wasn't too keen on doing a sequel and although he didn't got along very well with Szwarc, he delivered a tremendous performance that is almost as brilliant as in "Jaws". A couple of his scenes are even more intense than anything he did in the first part, such as the amazing "Brody panics at the beach"-scene, the scene in the photo lab, or the whole amazing sequence where he gets fired.


Aside from that, other great moments in this great movie are the badass shark vs. helicopter scene, the tense shark vs. water skier sequence, a few beautifully filmed and pretty gripping underwater scenes, as well as the entire climax which lasts for about a half hour and is extremely suspenseful through and through + several ace lines ("All right, you big bastard! Come On! I've got something for ya' now!" / "Brody, this is nothing! Seaweed, mud, something on the lens..." - "Lens my ass!" / "I'm tired... I'm tired... Too damn tired..." - "Too damn drunk. That's what you are. Too damn drunk.").

Considering the vast amount of bad shark films that were released over the last 40 years, this one is clearly among the Top 10 best shark films ever made.




JAWS 3-D (1983)

In the years after the release of "Jaws 2" - Universal kind of wanted to make another movie - but then they kind of didn't. After the success of "Animal House" in 1978 - the National Lampoon people were courted to make more comedies for Universal - and somewhere along the way the Lampoon writers proposed that they be given the next Jaws movie - to make as a wild spoof. They wanted to call it "National Lampoon's Jaws 3, People 0". It went all the way to script before Universal backed off on the idea (and I've heard that the script is out there to read if you want to track it down and invest some $.)


When that idea was shelved, Universal went back to a serious sequel idea - and it came about in the early 80's - just in time for that brief revival of 3-D in 1982 and 1983. So now the shark was going to come right off the screen at you!

After completing his contractual obligation with "Jaws 2" - there was pretty much no chance in the world of getting Roy Scheider to come back for the third movie. Consequently they decided to leave Lorraine Gary out of the mix as well since it would be too hard to explain her presence without Scheider. So they decided to age the boys a bit - it was eight years after the first movie, but just for the sake of showing off some research - the young actors from the first movie would have been 20 and 15 respectively in 1983. So they hired Dennis Quaid (29 years old) and John Putch (22 years old) to play older versions of the brothers. Mike (Quaid) works at a Florida aquatic park run by brash Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.) Just as brother Sean (Putch) shows up for a visit, so does a 35 ft long shark. Intrepid adventurer FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) is brought in to go all Great White Hunter on the Great White Shark - but who will survive and what will be left of them?


Seeing this in the theater opening day July 22nd, 1983 in 3-D was amazing. The 3-D was beautiful, and there was much to praise about the movie. It's a good cast, and taking the movie in the direction of a disaster movie was a good move. The shark is a danger, swimming around the park, but it also causes problems for the park, like slamming into an underwater tunnel and trapping people in an underwater viewing chamber - forcing a daring rescue mission. The lead foursome (Quaid, Putch, and their girlfriends Bess Armstrong and Lea Thompson) are personable. The late great MacCorkindale and Gossett add lots of value - the former with his effortless British charisma and the latter with a slight Cajun/French accent that comes and goes. The shark is also the best in the series. This time the Big Mechanical Fella works pretty well, and they made it so the shark can pull its upper lip back, giving it more personality as it swims along.


The goofy 3-D stuff is still fun in 2-D - with things poked at the camera and other things floating out at you periodically. If you watch, also keep an eye out for a brief sequence where the shark is stop motion animated, and of course the brilliant moment where the shark swims off the screen right at you. By any real cinematic standards Jaws 3-D is not a good movie - but for me it's a very entertaining one well worth watching.

I think the 3-D helped the movie make some money in theaters - but once again, not the crazy amounts the first movie made, so the series again went into dormancy for a few years.

 JAWS 3-D

German Title:
Der Weisse Hai 3

USA, 1983
Director: Joe Alves

4/10








I've seen "Jaws 3-D" a couple of times on TV during the 90s - not once did I like it. Seeing it now 15 year later, I enjoyed it a bit better, but not much. It's easy to see why this one's still one of the most popular films of the early 80s 3-D revival (next to "Friday the 13th Part III" and "Amityville 3-D), though, like Craig said, it's far from being a good movie, especially compared to its excellent predecessors. The reason for this is pretty simple: director Joe Alves.


Alves is actually a fantastic production designer who received a BAFTA Award and an Oscar nomination for his work on Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", he worked for John Carpenter on "Escape from New York" and "Starman", and he was also massively involved in the production design and second unit direction of "Jaws" and "Jaws 2" which obviously was the main reason why he got the job in the first place. Problem: he never directed a movie before, and it shows. The basic concept of "Jaws 3-D" and the attempt of creating a sequel that goes into an entirely different direction is commendable, but Alves botched it with an awkwardly boring directing style,
and no sense for suspense at all.

Of course, he's not the only bad thing about it. The story itself is rather ridiculous, none of the characters are particularly relatable, compelling or sympathetic, there's tons of lame and super-dull dialogue scenes that seem to go on forever, and most of the special effects, especially the 3-D effects look so ridiculous, it's insane. I'm sure, the 3-D was fun back then in the theaters, but seeing it at home on DVD, VHS etc... man, this is just bad. The fish head at the beginning... the, um, yellow submarine... the disembodied arm... the motionless shark that somewhat glides to the glass wall... man, it looks so unbelievably goofy!


At least, the cast is pretty decent, especially Dennis Quaid as Chief Brody's grown up son (check reason #3 of this hilarious article to see what the highlight of his performance is!), Louis Gossett Jr. ("An Officer and a Gentleman") and Lea Thompson ("Back to the Future 1-3"). The shark scenes are all fun, especially because they all feel slightly slasher-esque with the shark being the demented killer stalking up to his victims and killing them in ultra-gory ways. Love the scene from inside the shark's mouth where we get to see a diver slowly getting crushed to death. Also, the shark's death is a tremendously fun scene.

Still, that all can't save "Jaws 3-D" from being quite a dumb movie. It's by no means terrible, but considering how much better it could have been with an experienced director and a better-elaborated screenplay, it's just disappointing.



JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987)

Four years later they decided to give it another go. However, a pile of wrong headed decisions all along the way did the franchise no favors. This will also be the one movie where I'm going to have to include spoilers - because what happens on the screen is germane to the discussion of the quality of the movie.

They opening scene involves someone having a fatal meeting with a shark - no surprise in this series. The filmmakers wanted it to be Roy Scheider's Chief Brody - a brief cameo to tie to the movie to the classic original - but once again Scheider said no, thank you. Bless his heart. No one in their right minds would want to see the hero of the first movie killed by a shark in the opening minutes of the fourth movie. But, the filmmakers need to get the story going - so it's poor Sean Brody who buys it in the beginning of "Jaws: The Revenge". This is so wrong. Not only does that cute little kid die as a grownup - but it's a long scene with him screaming after losing an arm as the shark eats his boat and then drags him under the water.


And here's the other bad thing about this scene. Sean is on harbor patrol and goes out to remove floating debris blocking the channel and presenting a danger to boating. When he gets there - he finds the debris to be wooden, and deliberately placed - with teeth marks showing who - or in this case what - moved it.

Yes. I'm not kidding. The shark planted a trap, somehow knowing Sean would be the one coming out to clear it - and waited for him so it could eat him. You know - in revenge. Like the movie's titles. WTF? I mean, really, WTFFF?

We then have a lot of drama as Ellen Brody reacts to the loss of her son - and then she goes to see the other son in the Bahamas where he works with and argues with a Jamaican accented Mario Van Peebles a lot. Eventually the same shark follows Ellen Brody there - to waters too warm for sharks - and tries to continue the revenge by eating more people. Ellen teams up with pilot Michael Caine to stop the shark once and for all. Part of this involves her having flashbacks to her husband killing the shark in the first movie and her son dying earlier in this movie - except - she wasn't there to see either one of these things. *sigh*


The shark gets angry and comes to the surface a lot, where it can be seen to be furry (?) and it ROARS.

I wish I could tell you this whole section of this post is an April Fool's Joke - but it's true.

They finally ram the damn thing with a boat, and it promptly explodes. Again, really serious. The boat ramming was supposed to be it, but test audiences complained the shark didn't die enough so they added a poorly shot explosion - and then the same footage of the headless shark's carcass (sharkcass?) sinking from the first movie.


At this point, the Jaws movie series also sank without a trace - and somehow hasn't come up for a remake or new sequel in all the years since. That alone should tell you how much damage "Jaws: The Revenge" did. The movie's only legacy - the poster tagline: "This time it's personal" - which has been spoofed even more than part 2's in the years since.

The last wonderful bit from this godawful movie - Michael Caine accepted his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Hannah and her Sisters via satellite from the set of Jaws the Revenge, which is awesome. And when asked later about "Jaws: The Revenge", Michael Caine said "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."

God bless Michael Caine every day, and twice on Sunday.

 JAWS: THE REVENGE

Working Titles:
Jaws 4: The Revenge / The Return of Jaws / The Revenge of Jaws / Jaws: The Return

German Title:
Der Weisse Hai - Die Abrechnung

USA, 1987
Director: Joseph Sargent

3/10





I wish I could tell you that Craig was only talking rubbish... but no, everything he said is true, and there's no denying in why the fourth and last official entry in the "Jaws" franchise is widely regarded as one of the worst horror sequels ever made. Based on a horrible screenplay by Michael De Guzman ("Caroline?"), prolific director Joseph Sargent, who actually did some great stuff earlier like the super-tense "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1974) or the wonderful horror-anthology "Nightmares" (1983), created one of the worst non-SyFy/non-Asylum Shark-themed movies of all time.


I've only seen it once in my childhood and I remember that it bored the hell out of me. Watching it now was quite a surprising experience because I didn't hated it nearly as much as I expected. Sure, it's a dull borefest with one of the most ridiculous storylines ever brought to film, - a roaring(!) super-shark that is able to stand on its very own tail(!!) seeking revenge for the sharks that were killed by Chief Brody and tries to kill the remaining members of the Brody family(!!!), WHAT THE FUCKING HECK??? - some questionable acting performances, horrid pacing, even more horrid editing and some laughable special effects... I wasn't able to hate "Jaws: The Revenge" as much as others did.

Aside from Mario van Peebles or Lance Guest who are pretty darn annoying, I thought Lorraine Gary gave a quite solid performance, and although Michael Caine didn't exactly try, he's still decent, mainly because he's such a charmer and it's fun seeing him delivering lines like "I have an irresistible urge to kiss you, Ellen Brody." in a really sweet way. The cinematography is pretty gorgeous (John McPherson, "Batteries Not Included"), the music is fine (Michael Small, "The Stepford Wives"), IMO much better than in "Jaws 3-D" and I thought that the opening scene with Brody's son getting killed, despite its basic shark-trap-stupidity, is actually quite gripping (of course, the only gripping scene
in the entire movie).


That said, it's still a dumb movie, boring, frustrating and not exactly re-watchable. It's a tragedy how quick the "Jaws" franchise went down the drain, and, like Craig said, the fact that there haven't been any more sequels and remakes since "Jaws: The Revenge" speaks for itself [ignoring all the movies that came afterwards and have Jaws in the title, like "Cruel Jaws" (1995) or "Jaws in Japan (2009)...].

Oh btw, here's a neat little screenshot-foursome of the film's original ending that was omitted for the theatrical version, but later re-edited into TV versions. It's ridiculous and laughable seeing the shark standing, growling and bleeding like a damaged wine barrel, but in some demented kinda way, it's fun! :-)





This was a very successful and influential series - after the first movie came out everyone was tripping over themselves sending water creatures to attack everyone as soon as possible. Titles like Orca the Killer Whale, Barracuda, Tentacles, and Piranha started to flood into theaters. It really became a sub genre unto itself. In the interests of touching on all the dozens (hundreds?) of ripoff shark movies, here's a look at one from the beautiful land of Italy...

THE LAST SHARK a.k.a THE LAST JAWS a.k.a GREAT WHITE etc. (1982)

I first encountered this movie under the title of "Great White" in 1982 – when I think Siskel and Ebert made it the Dog of the Week, and certainly when Uncle Bob Martin wrote about it in his cool Castle Fango newsletter – what he wrote about "Great White" was that Universal had successfully sued it off American movie screens where it had been having a solid if unspectacular run for two weeks.


I worked for one of the actors in it for most of the 90's. I've had dinner with its director more than once. And it still took decades, but I finally saw it. And while it certainly copies a few scenes from Universal’s franchise – and those bits are cribbed more from "Jaws 2" than "Jaws", by the by – no way could this be considered such a plagiarized copy that it should have been withdrawn as it was.

In the small American beach town of Port Harbor, trouble rises when a 35 ft. long Great White shark shows up in the waters off shore, eating a couple of windsurfers as an opening salvo. It doesn’t take long for local author Peter Benton - not Peter Benchley, mind you - (James Franciscus – imported American star #1) and local salty sea dog Ron Hamer (Vic Morrow – imported American star #2 - complete with variable Irish/Scottish accent) to start ringing the Shark Bell – but wouldn’t you know it? No one believes them, especially not the mayor, who wants to make sure the forthcoming windsurfing regatta goes off without a hitch.


And this is no ordinary shark – this is "The Last Shark" (Or the "Great White", or the "Last Jaws", whichever title it had in your neck of the woods). Once he’s munched that regatta to pieces, it’s open season on anyone in, above, below, or near the water, because this shark proves White Sharks CAN Jump. He eats the mayor, a helicopter, a dock, and several huge pieces of chummed meat – and that’s not counting Franciscus’s daughter Jenny (Stefania Girolami Goodwin – the director’s daughter and one of my former bosses in the industry on several projects) who loses a leg to the beast. Benton has had enough, and he sets out with Hamer for a last stand at sea. But will anything be able to stop the beast?

This turned out to be a typically entertaining Italian shark flick. Its reputation has grown a bit past its reality, but it’s got nearly everything you’d want in a movie like this, lacking only some gratuitous nudity to seal the deal – although the director’s daughter does perform one scene in a wet white shirt with no bra – which makes her screen father hard pressed to maintain his paternal parental persona. The shark is performed by a fair amount of real shark footage, especially in the early going. Finally, a big shark head prop shows up and the movie kicks into high gear, as for the rest of the running time the shark is alternately played by the big head, the real footage, and a miniature shark that I estimate to be between 12 and 24 inches long – which is just how I like Italian shark movies to do it.


Director Enzo Castellari hits all the right notes with workmanlike skill – and the locations – Savannah Georgia for the town and Malta for the ocean – add visual appeal. If you like movies that certainly have an…awareness, shall we say, of movies that have come before – and you especially don’t mind when they have an aroma of fresh oregano and garlic about them – I highly recommend this flick.

THE LAST JAWS

Original Title:
L'ultimo squalo

Working Title:
White Death

Alternate Titles:
Great White / The Last Shark / Jaws Returns / Jaws 81

German Titles:
The Last Jaws - Der weisse Killer / Der weisse Killer

Italy, 1981
Director: Enzo G. Castellari

6/10

Although I have to disagree with Craig in terms of the movie's similarity to "Jaws" (It IS pretty darn similar, as it is similar to "Jaws 2" IMO), I fully agree with him on the movie's entertainment level. "The Last Jaws" is definitely one of the better Italian shark films... no, wait! Thinking about rubbish like "Monster Shark", "Deep Blood" or "Cruel Jaws"... fuck it, "The Last Jaws" IS the best Italian shark movie ever, though it's obviously not the best of director Enzo G. Castellari who made many, many better films in his 6-decades career ("Keoma", "The Inglorious Bastards", "Bronx Warriors"...).


It's a fun exploitation (shark-sploitation?) flick that works much better than both "Jaws 3-D" and "Jaws: The Revenge", and although it's definitely more a remake of "Jaws" AND "Jaws 2" than an actual sequel [it was marketed as a third or fourth part of the "Jaws" franchise in various countries like "Spain", "Brazil" or "Hong Kong"], I consider it as the "real" threequel to the first two parts. Unfortunately, contrary to USA, it has no cult following here in Europe, especially not in German-speaking countries. I'm not exactly sure why, though I assume it has something to do with the fact that it hasn't been shown on TV. It was shown in theaters, it was released on VHS several times and it's also available on DVD for quite a while, but I couldn't find anything about TV screenings, and I also can't remember that the movie was ever shown on TV (note: as a child/teenager, I checked out nearly every shark/sea-monster film on TV...).

James Franciscus delivers a solid performance as the main character, an author, who bears quite a resemblance to Roy Scheider's character - though that's nothing compared to Vic Morrow who's almost an 1:1 ripoff of Robert Shaw's character, yet he's absoutely brilliant and proves what an underrated actor he was (Morrow died only one year later while filming a scene for "Twilight Zone: The Movie"). There's a local governor who acts as ignorant as the mayor in the first two "Jaws" films, several shark scenes straight outta the first "Jaws" films (helicopter attack, shark attacks regatta, death by dynamite) and a windsurfing contest that seemed to be ripped off from Ovidio G. Assonitis' "Tentacles" (1977).


The shark model looks much better than you might expect from such a movie and the shark attacks are all fun, especially the above-mentioned one involving a helicopter, bitten-off legs, and some neat gore. The music by Guido & Maurizio De Angelis (better known as "Oliver Onions") is about as great as nearly every other score I heard from them so far, Alberto Spagnoli's ("Shock") camera work is very solid, and there's some very neat use of shark stock footage. I admit, there's tons of cheesy/stupid dialogue, a few scenes where absolutely nothing happens, some extremely shoddy editing, a few rather lame non-actors and some tacky special effects, but all in all, I have a very soft spot for this Italian sharkfest,
just like Craig *fistbump*



HUGE SHARKTASTIC THANKS to my buddy Craig for his stunningly entertaining and excellently insightful contributions to this overlong giga-blog. See you next time! =)



01 September 2015

Wes Craven's THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW

THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW

German Title:
Die Schlange im Regenbogen

USA, 1988
Director: Wes Craven

9/10








Although it's not Wes Craven's best-known work, and also not his best work per se (that's "A Nightmare on Elm Street"), his 1988 horror film "The Serpent and the Rainbow" holds a special place in my horror movie heart as one of the eeriest, most impressive and most fascinating horror movies of the 80s AND in Craven's entire filmography. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by ethnobotanist / anthropologist Wade Davis, "The Serpent and the Rainbow" takes place on Haiti during the last days of dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's regime, where Dennis Alan, a young anthropologist tries to get his hands on a mysterious voodoo drug that turns people into semi-zombies.
Things get dangerous when he encounters the commander of Haiti's Tonton Macoute, a powerful witch doctor and brutal torturer, who turns his search into a nightmarish ordeal...


I'm not exactly sure what it is that makes me love this movie so much, but I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that it is one of the very, very few films that is able to actually scare the shit out of me. It starts out quite odd and even a tad comedic, slowly becomes more and more eerie until it reaches the 40-minute-mark when the skeletal zombie bride comes along. From this moment on, I'm always hopelessly lured in, complete with sitting on the edge of my seat, eyes and mouth wide open. Damn, there's something about the movie's atmosphere that is so fucking compelling, I'm a fucking wreck whenever I watch it, and believe me when I say that I've watched this movie many, many times over the last 20 years, or so.


Craven created a dark and threatening mood, consisting of a very real, very believable depiction of the Haitian Voodoo magic, and the threatening oppression of the Duvalier regime, resulting in a marvellous little masterpiece, full of great scares, creepy settings, stunning practical effects and fantastic performances, most notably by Bill Pullman (a.k.a the most underrated American actor ever) who constantly manages to switch between fun mode ["Why are you in Haiti, Doctor Alan?" - "It says there on the passport... I'm a tourist. I came to see the sights."] and frightened-to-death mode ["Don't let them bury me!! I'm not dead!!"], Zakes Mokae as one of the most intimidating villains I've ever seen ["The pain I cause you, in the room upstairs, is nothing to the pain I can cause in your own mind."], hawt Haitian chica Cathy Tyson, Brent Jennings as hilarious witch doctor called Louis Mozart(!) and, in a way-too-small role, the ever-amazing Michael Gough.


Although there aren't too many jump scares or fright scenes, the few ones are all so effing frightening, I get goosebumbs just thinking about them, especially the one where Pullman suddenly awakes in a coffin that quickly fills up with blood, the one where he gets buried alive, and the one where a nasty arm reaches out of his soup. It all culminates in a fantastic finale with lots of Black Magic shenanigans, chairs that move by itself, Paul Winfield's character ripping off his very own head, fire, smoke, ghosts, skulls, blood and torture... ah, marvellous! Anything else to mention? Yup, the stunningly chilling -score by Brad Fiedel ("Termiantor 1+2"), the overwhelmingly gorgeous photography by John Lindley ("The Core"), and the awesome production design (David Nichols, "Swamp Thing").


Aside from the fact that "The Serpent and the Rainbow" focuses on dreams and nightmares almost as strongly as "A Nightmare on Elm Street", it is undoubtedly one of Wes Craven's most unique films. An excellently made and superbly terrifying horror film, radically different from your average zombie film, yet about as political as one of Romero's "Living Dead" films. A must-see!

Oh btw, if you're open for some Italo fun, I'd recommend to watch it as a double feature with Marcello Avallone's "Maya". It has nothing to do with "The Serpent and the Rainbow", but in style and atmosphere, it looks and feels very similar. Give it a try! :)

31 August 2015

Rest in Peace, Wes Craven

WES CRAVEN, one of the greatest and most influential horror directors of all time, and also one of my favorite filmmakers, has died at the age of 76 from brain cancer.

Not only was he one of the most original, most versatile filmmakers in horror history, he also had a bouncebackability that was sheer incredible. I assume "Every cloud has its silver lining" was his own personal motto. He tried out many, many things, from slasher to splatter to horror-comedy to action to drama etc. etc. Some things worked, some didn't work at all - but after every setback, he re-invented himself and came back with something new and fresh, at times something completely groundbreaking.


His best known works are the ones that launched whole franchises, like the "Scream" Quadrilogy [he directed all 4 parts ("Scream" 1996 / "Scream 2" 1997 / "Scream 3" 2000 / "Scream 4" 2011) and produced the 2015 "Scream" TV series], the "Hills Have Eyes" films [he directed the first 2 parts (1977 + 1984), co-produced the 1995 semi-sequel "The Outpost", the 2006 remake and its 2007 sequel] and, of course, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" [he wrote and directed part 1 and part 7 (1984 + 1994), wrote and produced part 3 (1987)]. Also worth noting: his creations Freddy Krueger ("Elm Street") and Ghostface ("Scream) became two of the most popular horror icons of all time!

Other fabulous works: his controversial debut "The Last House on the Left" (1972), the DC comic-book adaptation "Swamp Thing" (1982), the bizarre, yet highly entertaining "Deadly Friend" (1986), the criminally underrated "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (1988), the similarly underrated "The People Under the Stairs" (1991) and the surprisingly intense "Red Eye" (2005).


Underwhelming works like "Shocker" (1989) or "Vampire in Brooklyn" (1994), as well as several of his odd made-for-TV works such as "Invitation To Hell" (1984) or "Chiller" (1985)... these are all forgiven, because overall, his filmography is greater than the sum of its parts and his entire 5-decade output is simply impressive.

Since his last feature "Scream 4" (2011), I was waiting patiently for him to create at least one more film. Another sequel to one of his franchises, a big-budget blockbuster, a low-budget indie flick... damn, just one final film. But his time was over before he could fulfill my wish, and the wish of millions of other Craven-fans *sigh* It's so sad. Just yesterday, me and my gf rewatched "A Nightmare on Elm Street" for the umpteenth time... and just a couple of hours later, we got the news that the horror genre's friendliest face is dead. I'm devastated.

Rest in Peace, Wes Craven. I will miss you very, very much :-(
1939 - 2015



27 August 2015

MIDNIGHT LACE (1960)

MIDNIGHT LACE

German Title:
Mitternachtsspitzen

USA, 1960
Director: David Miller

7/10








"Midnight Lace" is a movie that feels as if it was supposed to be made in the 40s, because it's very reminiscent of classic mystery-thrillers like "Gaslight" or "Sorry, Wrong Number", but it was actually made during the hey-days of Alfred Hitchcock, so many people shrug/shrugged it off as a simple Hitchcock-epigone, which might explain why it's quite forgotten nowadays. The fact that actors from previous Hitchcock films appear here, obviously doesn't help (Doris Day, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" / John Williams, "Dial M for Murder"
& "To Catch a Thief").

Nevertheless, it's a very solid, well-made and pretty suspenseful chiller that still delivers the goods, at least if you like these kind of movies. Based on the stage play "Matilda Shouted Fire" by Janet Green, "Midnight Lace" follows newlywed American Heiress Kit Preston who just moved to London with her husband. Everything seems peaches and cream, but then suddenly a mysterious man with a high-pitched voice starts to terrorize her with eerie phone calls and turns her life into a nightmare, not just because the anonymous caller frightens her to death, but also because no-one seems to believe her being terrorized,
especially not Scotland Yard...


Watching it now in this day and age, it comes off as slightly dated and old-fashioned, and although it's splendily directed by then-prolific David Miller ("Lonely Are the Brave") and also well-written by Ivan Goff ("Charlie's Angels") and Ben Roberts ("Man of a Thousand Faces"), it lacks the oomph and that certain something of other suspense thrillers of that time. I also thought that the oh-so-shocking twist ending is not just highly predictable, but also extremely absurd and totally doesn't make much sense.

That said, there's still enough to enjoy, enough good stuff that makes you end up liking this movie, most notably the fabulous cast, led by the wonderful Doris Day in her last dramatic role. She gives an overwhelmingly impressive and extremely intense performance that is just wow! Apparently, during the shoot, she had flashbacks of the time when her first husband was physically abusive to her, so in the one scene on the stairs where she's uber-hysterical, she's not acting: she WAS hysterical and eventually collapsed in a real faint which forced the producers to shut down production for a few days. Makes fully sense that she didn't shoot any more thrillers for the rest of her acting career.


Rex Harrison is excellent as her super-sympathetic gentleman husband, as is Roddy McDowall as obnoxious sponger, John Gavin as charming but odd contractor, the lovely Natasha Parry as her sweet neighbor, the fun-as-always Myrna Loy and the terrific John Williams as skeptical Inspector. The entire movie was marvellously photographed by Russell Metty (Oscar for "Spartacus"), the music is mostly spectacular (5-time Oscar nominee Frank Skinner, "The House of the Seven Gables"), and it's fully understandbale why "Midnight Lace" got an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. Hell, Doris Day wears 17(!) different costumes throughout the movie, and all of them look fantastic!

All in all, not a perfect movie, but definitely good enough to entertain you for about 100 minutes.


Oh btw, I love the trailers which offers some sensational taglines
and excellent words of advice :)



Oh btw, "Midnight Lace" has been remade for TV in 1981. Unfortunately, it's absolutely impossible to find a copy of it. Can one of you, my dear readers,
help me finding it?


(Image stolen from "2 Warps to Neptune"!)



26 August 2015

Neill Blomkamp's CRAPPIE

CHAPPIE

USA / Mexico, 2015
Director: Neill Blomkamp

2,5/10












It's official (or something like that): South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp 
is a one-hit-wonder. His debut "District 9" was a tremendous and very impressive mind-blower, but the follow-up "Elysium" turned out to be so massively frustrating and disapointing, it was, and still is, very difficult to understand that this was made by the same director - and now his newest feature: "Chappie", even worse than "Elysium". An extremely underwhelming, nonsensical, unoriginal and stupid mix of "Short Circuit" (oh-so-cute and semi-clever robot on the loose) and "RoboCop" (good police robot, bad police robots), taking place in the same location as "District 9" (ugly Johannesburg), following a couple of antisocial elements that look like straight outta "Elysium".


With one of the absolute worst casts in recent years [the absolutely obnoxious, absolutely unbearable members of South African garbage band Die Antwoord,
a highly unlikable and surprisingly pretty terrible Hugh Jackman as uber-stereotypical bad guy, a dreadfully unimpressive Sigourney Weaver who once again plays a suit-wearing boss woman *yawn*], a cliché-ridden, foreseeable and really dumb screenplay, hardly any suspense, atmosphere or charm, and a certain kind of tone that is so all over the place, Blomkamp drove the already uninteresting storyline completely into the ground.

Yes, the CGI robot-effects look impressive, and yes, regular Blomkamp-collaborator Trent Opaloch's camera work is about as brilliant as always - unfortunately, that doesn't help anything when everything else is simply awful. Chappie is no Number 5. He's an idiot, his child/gangster behavior is unbelievable, implausible and damn unnerving, and aside from the one scene where he gets bombarded with stones and molotow cocktails, as well as a couple of scenes where he's doing some mildly amusing gangster shit, I felt absolutely nothing for him. I disliked him as much as I disliked everyone else in this piece of garbage. Wait a second... nah, I hated Die Antwoord's characters even more.


[Too be fair: I think several Die Antwoord tunes like "I Fink U Freeky" or "Fatty Boom Boom" are okay, but omg, both Yo-Landi and Ninja are probably the most unlikable fuckfaces since the Gallaghers.]
Furthermore, it's boring, tediously paced, way too long (120 minutes! 80-90 minutes would have been enough), the musical score by legend Hans Zimmer is devastatingly lame, and final battle is sooo ripped off of "RoboCop", I wonder why Paul Verhoeven hasn't sued Blomkamp already.

Final verdict: "Chappie" is crappy.
If Blomkamp will be really allowed to do another "Alien" film... *sigh*
I'd rather have ten more "Prometheus" films, all directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet...

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