When Jaws surfaced in 1975 it smashed box office records and is credited for inventing the summer blockbuster. Imitation is the greatest form of cashing in and shark films soon flooded the market, and still do to this day. Most of these cheap copies were quickly forgotten about but one is still spoken about today, director Enzo G. Castellari’s L’ultimo squalo – The Last Shark. It’s been alleged the movie performed well in Italy and grossed over $18 million in its first month in the United States although this has been disputed. Its apparent success was short-lived as the film was pulled from theatres by a Federal judge who felt it too similar to Jaws.
What’s utterly bizarre about the whole incident is that Universal Pictures initially failed to block distribution before its premiere in the United States, citing plagiarism. Why was this bizarre? Well, it’s clear those that made the initial ruling had not seen, heard of, or were even aware there was a Jaws to begin with. The similarities aren’t only evident, they’re laughably blinding.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen Jaws or at the least, have an understanding of the plot. The following synopsis is from The Last Shark, not Jaws. When a young man is killed by a great white, local author Peter Benton (James Franciscus) and shark hunter Ron Hamer (Vic Morrow) pressure the mayor (Joshua Sinclair) to close the beaches. Mayor Wells is worried about his reputation and refuses to believe that a shark even exists. Naturally, chaos ensues and Benton and Quin…, eh Hamer, team up to go kill the shark.
The Last Shark has earned cult status over the years, but not on artistic merits. Filed firmly under so bad its good, it truly is an awful movie with laughable special effects. Watching stills of the shark in action does it no real justice, this baby needs to be viewed in motion to truly appreciate its absurdity. Granted, Jaws’ mechanical shark had its challenges, here we have a creature with the aesthetic of a low budget Macy’s Day parade attraction. The first time you see it breach the water is truly memorable.
Castellari incorporates loads of stock footage of real sharks, although they appear to differ in size, or at times species as in at least one instance, a dolphin is used. It’s so badly cut with the film footage that you never feel that the shark or the actors share a physical space or time period. It’s not just the star of the show that has issues, the scale models never look like anything other than toys. One particular set piece including a helicopter is so remarkable you’d be forgiven for thinking Gerry Anderson was involved.
As fun as the bad moments are, The Last Shark suffers mostly from its pacing. Mundane events drag on with no excitement and camera shots become repetitive. There is no sustained threat or tension which leads to a flat tone that dominates most of the film. The action set pieces are good for laugh, but the movie itself is a chore. It’s poorly directed, written and acted and lacks any charm outwith the odd chuckle. The climax presents one last laugh before the credits mercifully roll and ends the masochistic misery of the audience.