Cruel Jaws, DeepStar Six, Piranha, and Piranha II: The Spawning

Cruel Jaws – 1995, Italy/US, 95m. Director: Bruno Mattei. Streaming: Tubi

DeepStar Six – 1989, US, 99m. Director: Sean S. Cunningham. Streaming: N/A

Piranha – 1978, US, 93m. Director: Joe Dante. Streaming: AMC/Prime, Kanopy, Shudder, Tubi

Piranha II: The Spawning – 1982, Italy/US, 94m. Director: James Cameron. Streaming: N/A

CRUEL JAWS (1995) This shot-in-Florida Italian turd is so jaw-dropping in its ineptness it’s easy to see how it’s been virtually ignored for years. (Why the filmmakers put time into making a Jaws riff in the mid ’90s is baffling, considering the sub-genre had died out with the Reagan administration.) A literal Frankenstein’s monster of bits and pieces taken from other shark flicks (with a majority of the plot and footage stolen from another Italian production, The Last Shark) the movie concerns yet another beach town terrorized by yet another Great White. Is this really the best they could come up with? Oh, never mind. The characters are all worthless, the dialogue and situations absurd, and the pacing nonexistent. The makers of Cruel Jaws were so lazy they didn’t bother to put any effort into the shark attack sequences, instead relying on the stolen footage from Last Shark and Jaws 1-3, creating a literal (and inexplicable) time-warp of characters suddenly appearing in early ’80s fashions! Utter garbage from one of junk cinema’s most prolific hacks, Bruno Mattei. The director has apparently made a career out of plagiarism—Mattei’s mega-lame Dawn of the Dead clone, Hell of the Living Dead, lifts the plot (and Goblin soundtrack) from the Romero film. Definitely a movie that pulls its punches. F

DEEPSTAR SIX (1989) When word of James Cameron’s upcoming underwater epic, The Abyss, spread through Hollywood, it let loose hungry producers who were ready to jump aboard what they thought would be the next big sub-genre trend. It wasn’t. Cameron’s film received good notices from critics but wasn’t the box-office heavyweight many predicted. This was bad news for the other deep-sea adventure movies that year, especially the ones that opened first. Such is the case with DeepStar Six, a watery creature feature that by no means is good—but it’s not bad, either. Quite the contrary: this is a decent little flick with good acting, solid production values, and an effective (if little-seen) monster. An underwater military compound experimenting with a deep-sea missile silo is invaded by a monstrous crustacean, which proceeds to make mincemeat out of the compound’s various scientists, engineers, and grease monkeys. There’s a few gory moments—one poor diver gets bitten in half—and some suspense towards the end. This is all handled well by Sean S. Cunningham, although the director rips off his own Friday the 13th when the creature makes a surprise last minute appearance topside. It could have been much worse. It could have been Lords of the Deep. B

PIRANHA (1978) Intrepid skiptracer Maggie (Heather Menzies), along with mountain hermit, Paul (Bradford Dillman), stumble upon scientist, Dr. Hoak’s (Kevin McCarthy), hideaway lab while searching for missing teens and accidentally release a school of genetically-altered piranha into the nearby river. The blood-hungry fish were part of a disbanded government weapons experiment for Vietnam, which Dr. Hoak was secretly continuing after the war ended. The super-intelligent piranha eventually reach Lost River Lake, where a nearby summer camp and holiday resort make for an abundance of fleshy treats for the toothy terrors. After several patrons are turned into fish food, the army is called in—only to cover up the deaths and save face. A Jaws rip-off that’s actually good, Piranha doesn’t split hairs and presents its story in a tongue-in-cheek manner, which pays off wonderfully with a balanced mix of laughs and suspense. Actor/filmmaker Paul Bartel steals it as a drill sergeant-like camp counselor who sacrifices his flesh to save some kids from a piranha attack. Funny bit: when told about the situation, greedy resort owner Dick Miller asks, “What about the piranhas?” To which his assistant replies: “They’re eating the guests.” B+

PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1982) This might be James Cameron’s directorial debut, but Piranha II is an Italian production through and through. The guests at a chic Caribbean resort are high on the menu for a school of mutated piranha, which have taken up residence inside a sunken naval ship just off shore. Diving instructor and marine biologist Anne (Tricia O’Neil) thinks there’s something fishy going on when one of her students turns up with his face chewed off, but her arrogant ex-husband, Steve (Lance Henriksen), who just happens to be the town’s chief of police, is more concerned with Anne’s relationship with a flirtatious tourist (Steve Marachuk). More chewed-up bodies start appearing, but on land—that’s because the piranha have spawned wings and have turned into flying killers (inspiring the title of the European release, Piranha II: Flying Killers). Even more of a Jaws wannabe than the first Piranha, The Spawning lifts entire subplots from the Spielberg film, including the nay-saying hotel owner who refuses to close the beach for financial reasons. The script (co-written by Eurotrash producer, Ovidio G. Assonitis) is littered with cardboard characters and hackneyed situations; several tourists are eaten to death while attending a grunion beach party (oh, boy!). Lucio Fulci regular Giannetto De Rossi supplied the make-up FX and they’re mostly effective and bloody, but it’s not enough to distract from the overall lack of energy, so frequent in Joe Dante’s original. Ho-hum. C

Killer Bees!

The Bees – 1978, Mexico/US, 92m. Director: Alfredo Zacharias. Streaming: Tubi

The Deadly Bees – 1967, UK, 84m. Director: Freddie Francis. Streaming: N/A

The Savage Bees – 1976, US, 88m. Director: Bruce Geller. Streaming: YouTube

The Swarm – 1978, US, 116m, 156m (TV cut). Director: Irwin Allen. Streaming: N/A

Terror Out of the Sky – 1978, US, 94m. Director: Lee H. Katzin. Streaming: N/A

THE BEES (1978) The myth of the African killer bee created a cottage industry for filmmakers in the mid-to-late ’70s, with many independent directors ready to cash in on Irwin Allen’s The Swarm. What these filmmakers didn’t take into account was the moviegoing public’s disinterest in the subject matter. But you have to admire people like Alfredo Zacharias who, despite their limitations, make movies as fascinatingly bad as The Bees. A South American apiary operated by a smug scientist (Claudio Brook)—who patronizes the locals by speaking to them in slow, broken English—is destroyed by angry villagers after a child is killed by the “devil bees.” These hybrid bees are the result of a failed experiment to create a bee which can produce more honey, turning the insects aggressive and deadly. The bees make their way to the States, causing chaos in the streets, with a lot of scenes of people waving their arms around wildly in some of the worst “I’m-being-stung-by-bees!” acting you’ve ever seen. Bee experts John Saxon, Angel Thompkins, and John Carradine eventually figure out a plan to stop the killer bees by turning them gay. No, I’m not kidding. Ultimately, they fail and the bees take over the world, even learning to communicate with man. A really idiotic attempt at trying to make honey bees look scary, this is further harmed by too much use of stock footage (one clip clearly originated in the early ’60s) and some truly abysmal music. Saxon gets thrown through a window, while Carradine chews up the scenery—as well as his old Dracula accent. Probably the only killer bee movie to feature a Jimmy Carter lookalike! A real groaner; for hardcore Saxon completists and military stock footage enthusiasts only. What did I expect from the director of Demonoid? D

THE DEADLY BEES (1967) Mod pop singer Vickie Robbins (Suzanna Leigh) has reached her wits end when she collapses on a Top of the Pops-type television show and is later instructed by her doctor to rest for three weeks. Vickie is sent to recuperate at the island farm of her doctor’s friend, Ralph (Guy Doleman), a beekeeper and all-around sourpuss. When Ralph isn’t mincing words with his equally depressed wife (Catherine Finn), he’s experimenting with his bees, which, unbeknownst to Vickie, are mobilizing to kill selected people via a chemical fragrance known as the “scent of fear.” Despite its silly plot, The Deadly Bees is fairly taut, with a likable protagonist in Leigh and a good performance by veteran Brit actor Frank Finlay as Ralph’s neighbor—who might be keeping a secret of his own. A fun little Amicus production with dated special effects but good direction from Freddie Francis, and a satisfying conclusion. B

THE SAVAGE BEES (1976) Hokey but very entertaining telefilm in which a mysterious freight of South American killer bees is accidentally opened, releasing the massive swarm off the coast of New Orleans and onto an unsuspecting populace—and just in time for Mardi Gras! The simple premise and minimalist production values help with the overall impact, creating a genuine sense of panic and menace. There’s also a good dose of suspense, especially during the final 20 minutes, which help to lift the movie out from some of its inevitable TV-movie trappings. Better than The Swarm and many others of its ilk. Followed by Terror Out of the Sky. B

THE SWARM (1978) Probably the most polished of the short-but-prolific killer bee sub-school of movies of the late ’70s. In the aftermath of a devastating attack by a mutated strain of killer bees on a Texas Air Force base, the military is called in to assess the situation and is informed by a scientist (Michael Caine) that the swarm will most likely form a hive in the nearby area. When the surviving victim of a bee attack tries to firebomb said hive, it sends the swarm on a collision course with Houston. While by no means good, The Swarm isn’t so much bad as underwhelming, with too many scenes of people endlessly talking in underground bunkers when director Irwin Allen should have been showing more above-ground bee action. A good cast does its best (with the exception of Caine, whose performance here makes the one in Jaws: The Revenge seem Oscar-worthy), and the bee attack scenes are well-staged, but the film is hindered by an uneven screenplay littered with uninteresting subplots, including a dopey romance between Olivia de Havilland’s school teacher and Fred MacMurray’s town mayor. A box-office dud that killed the killer bee’s future cinematic escapades, until The X-Files took them to a whole new level. Be on the lookout for a movie theater showing The Towering Inferno. C+

TERROR OUT OF THE SKY (1978) The National Bee Center in New Orleans faces a crisis when one of their own is killed by bees at their adjacent apiary, causing concern with scientist Jeannie Devereaux (Tovah Feldshuh) that the breed of bee might be related to the deadly swarm that attacked and killed so many in The Savage Bees. While Jeannie and her coworkers race to stop a new spread of killer bees, she gets stuck in a ridiculous love triangle involving her insensitive boyfriend (Dan Haggerty) and her more enlightened boss (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). A somewhat lackluster sequel, this spends a good amount of time on its central characters looking for the bees, with too many instances of people poo-pooing the science behind the bee attacks, bringing in to question whether the deaths in the 1976 movie were ever reported. Technically well-made, but with very little terror, or anything else worth recommending. C

Beaks, Day of the Animals, Grizzly, Killer Fish, and Wild Beasts

Beaks – 1987, Spain/US, 87m. Director: Rene Cardona, Jr. Streaming: Tubi

Day of the Animals – 1977, US, 98m. Director: William Girdler. Streaming: Roku Channel, Shudder, Tubi

Grizzly – 1976, US, 91m. Director: William Girdler. Streaming: AMC/Prime, Shudder, Tubi

Killer Fish – 1979, Italy, 100m. Director: Antonio Margheriti. Streaming: Tubi

Wild Beasts – 1984, Italy, 92m. Director: Franco Prosperi. Streaming: N/A

BEAKS (1987) Birds seek revenge against their human oppressors in this bird-brained Hitchcock wannabe. Scowling television reporter, Vanessa (Michelle Johnson), and her grinning cameraman lover, Peter (Christopher Atkins), are assigned to cover an incident involving violent chicken attacks and end up scoring the story of a lifetime when the world—which looks suspiciously like Spain—comes under attack by all manner of feathered fiends, but mostly pigeons. The attacks include a small plane taken down by a flock of pigeons, a baby and mother clawed to death, and a game hunter who believes the birds are planning a war with humanity—and has his eye gouged out by a falcon. Stiffly directed and badly acted/dubbed, Beaks is a blatant rip-off of The Birds, right down to the attack on a children’s birthday party. Super lame. Expect a lot of scenes of birds flying in slow motion. The American VHS release entitled Beaks: The Movie (in case you mistook it for Beaks: The Snout?) was shorn of extra gore, with most overseas prints running 100 minutes. You’ll be thankful for those missing minutes. D

DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) The Earth’s ozone layer is depleting, causing chaos around the world, especially in Northern California where the wildlife is turning violent. This is bad news for rugged outdoorsman Christopher George and his large group of wilderness explorers during their excursion through a rocky patch of woods—complete with growling mountain lions, patrolling birds of prey, and grumpy grizzlies. The vacationers include the usual stockpile of characters, including the bickering couple, the wise Native American, the loudmouth Beverly Hills brat, and the naive kid. Director William Girdler learned a lot from his previous nature-gone-amok film, Grizzly, as Day of the Animals is a much more polished, suspenseful production, with the always-welcome team of George and real life wife Lynda Day George on tap for some kick-ass heroics. Taking itself extremely seriously—the film opens with one of those text scrawls reminding us of the dangers of an unbalanced ecosystem—Day of the Animals has its moments of dark humor, with a particularly bitchy character getting attacked not once but twice before her final demise at the beaks of hungry vultures. The film is worth watching alone for the sight of comedic actor, Leslie Nielsen, playing a racist brute who goes mano-a-mano with a very large bear. The bear wins. Good fun! B+

GRIZZLY (1976) Perhaps the first “Jaws on Land” movie to follow in the wake of the Spielberg monster, Grizzly is a film that knows it’s ripping off Jaws, but does it well. The vicious deaths of two backpackers doesn’t bode well for a nearby national park resort when word spreads that the campers were killed and eaten by a rogue, bloodthirsty bear. In the Jaws formula, the plot follows Chief Park Ranger, Kelly (Christopher George), and his merry crew of forest rangers, including bear know-it-all, Scotty (Richard Jaeckel), whose expertise leads him to believe the carnage is the work of a 15-foot grizzly. More pieces of campers surface, causing concern with the park’s supervisor (Joe Dorsey) who’s using the media circus as a ploy to bring in more tourists. The violence escalates when a small boy has his leg ripped off and his mother is killed. Director William Girdler is skillful at setting up the attack sequences, many of which are handled with visceral, gory detail. George makes for a likable Brody-type hero, but one can’t help feel the screenwriters wrote themselves into a corner; unlike the fast-paced climax of Jaws, Grizzly‘s finale is a rather lackluster foot chase. Still, this is an enjoyable piece of ’70s genre filmmaking by the late Girdler, who sadly died in a helicopter crash several years after Grizzly become a box-office hit. B

KILLER FISH (1979) It’s surprising to see Lee Majors, Marisa Berenson, and Karen Black in low-grade cheese like Killer Fish, but here they are, slumming it for Italian exploitation maestro Antonio Margheriti (Cannibal Apocalypse). Shot in Brazil, this heist-horror-jungle adventure (now there’s a sub-sub-subgenre you don’t see much of!) features a gang of thieves trying to retrieve their stolen loot from the bottom of a piranha-infested South American lake. It’s to nobody’s shock when several of the cast members end up getting their limbs torn to shreds by the hungry fish. Unfortunately, it takes way too long to get to that point as we’re forced to watch a good cast chewing the scenery with uninteresting dialogue and tiresome situations, including an amazingly dull romance between Majors and fashion model Margaux Hemingway. They look bored. You’ll be bored. Watch Piranha instead of this snoozefest. D

WILD BEASTS (1984) The first fifteen minutes of Wild Beasts are a total bore, with endless scenes of lifeless characters muttering uninteresting dialogue intermixed with cityscape images more appropriate for a travelogue than a movie. The film comes to life when a couple of hormonal teenagers are eaten to death by hundreds of rats while trapped in their car. This is followed by several instances of characters being torn to shreds by a pride of lions, done in extremely realistic and grisly detail. Say one thing about this Italian production: it really knows how to make you flinch in the face of graphic carnage. As for the plot? It’s the family-friendly story of a European city (Frankfurt, Germany) terrorized by all sorts of escaped zoo animals driven crazy from contaminated water. Unfortunate victims are stampeded to death by elephants, chased by cheetahs, and in a suspenseful sequence, a group of people on a stalled train are forced to watch a man get eaten alive by a tiger. Definitely not a film for those easily rattled, but for the more adventurous viewer Wild Beasts comes recommended. B

Bug, The Food of the Gods, Kingdom of the Spiders, and Mosquito

Bug – 1975, US, 99m. Director: Jeannot Szwarc. Streaming: Kanopy

The Food of the Gods – 1976, US, 88m. Director: Bert I. Gordon. Streaming: Tubi

Kingdom of the Spiders – 1977, US, 95m. Director: John “Bud” Cardos. Streaming: N/A

Mosquito – 1994, US, 92m. Director: Gary Jones. Streaming: AMC/Prime, Shudder

BUG (1975) An earthquake in a desert town unleashes hordes of electrically-charged, prehistoric roaches that, when threatened, set fire to anything they touch. This proves disastrous for the small settlement when the bad bugs begins torching homes—and people. Bradford Dillman plays a science teacher who, in his quest to try and understand the bugs, inadvertently helps them evolve. Way to go, Dillman! This William Castle production (the last before his death in 1977) has the look of a polished studio film, and is well directed by future Jaws 2 helmer, Jeannot Szwarc. Yet at its core, Bug is just a silly B-movie taken way too seriously. Several of the bug attack/fire scenes are fun (especially when poor Joanna Miles goes up in flames in her kitchen), but the middle half drags considerably and relies too much on Dillman’s scientist-turned-madman subplot. The downbeat ending helps stabilize the film, but just slightly. C

THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) H.G. Wells would be rolling over in his grave if he saw this “adaptation” of his 1904 novel, The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth. While on a hunting trip on a British Columbian island, a trio of friends stumble upon gigantic chickens, wasps, and rats—which don’t waste any time in taking over their new place on the food chain and making dinner out of the locals. It seems the animals and insects grew to extraordinary size after ingesting a mysterious substance emanating from the ground on a nearby farm, which its owners believe is God’s way of punishing the sinners of the world. The rats become the dominant species on the island, eventually trapping the survivors inside the farmhouse where they fight to the death. The special FX are very hokey but fun, especially when the rats are chowing down on the humans—the film’s PG-rating is very suspicious! Despite its limitations, this is an enjoyable low-budget romp that was a surprise hit in the drive-in circuit. Pamela Franklin is a hoot as a scientist who, in the face of death, wants macho hero, Marjoe Gortner, to have sex with her before they die. Followed by a 12-years-later sequel. B

KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977) It must have been written into star William Shatner’s contract that he gets to ride horseback and lasso a calf. All this is displayed in the opening scene of Kingdom of the Spiders, a clever little B-movie that’s actually very good. Shatner plays Dr. Hansen, a small town vet—and all around cowboy stud—who’s stumped when livestock in the area start dying from what appears to be spider venom. Things get worse when Hansen’s neighbors start turning up encased in webs. Hansen believes things will settle down once arachnid expert and love interest, Diane (Tiffany Bolling), shows up. But the discovery of several massive spider hills on a local farmer’s property bodes badly for a Hansen/Diane love story when the spiders form a deadly army. The structure of the screenplay has more than a passing resemblance to The Birds, including a scene where Hansen and gang seek shelter inside a luncheonette while hordes of tarantulas drop in through the chimney. In the end, Kingdom of the Spiders is a suspenseful and well-made flick with a likable hero in Shatner, and a downbeat ending that works. A must-see for the “When Critters Attack” lover. B+

MOSQUITO (1994) In an homage to 1953’s The War of the Worlds, Mosquito opens with the arrival of a crashed spaceship. As the door opens, a lifeless alien arms extends out, and a mosquito happens by and bites it. A short time later, the mosquito population has mutated into ginormous monsters, which waste no time in making a buffet out of the nearby state park residents. Various campers and forest rangers are impaled and sucked dry by the flying creatures, leaving a trail of desiccated bodies in their wake. It’s up to a pack of survivors—including Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen, as a God-fearing bank robber—to try and stop the giant bugs from taking over the world. The movie’s low-budget FX and gore are a welcome addition to the intentionally campy nature the filmmakers were obviously striving for, and as a result, Mosquito works fairly well. The pacing (which is at times relentless), a good cast, and an overall sense of enjoyment also help to make Mosquito a fun little Michigan-shot monster movie. Don’t miss the scene where Hansen breaks out a chainsaw found in an abandoned house: “I haven’t handled one of these in 20 years.” B

The Jaws Films

Jaws – 1975, US, 124m. Director: Steven Spielberg. Streaming: TBS, TNT

Jaws 2 – 1978, US, 116m. Director: Jeannot Szwarc. Streaming: TBS, TNT

Jaws 3-D – 1983, US, 99m. Director: Joe Alves. Streaming: TBS, TNT

Jaws: The Revenge – 1987, US, 89m. Director: Joseph Sargent. Streaming: TBS, TNT

JAWS (1975) The original summer blockbuster, Jaws still holds up as not only a terrifying experience, but a brilliant piece of suspenseful filmmaking. In the days leading up to the annual Fourth of July regatta, the quaint island community of Amity is turned upside down by a series of shark attacks, engulfing the beachfront hamlet in terror. New Chief of Police, Brody (Roy Scheider), wants to close the beaches, while greedy town Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) wants to keep them open for the lucrative summer season—which became the benchmark plot device for all Animal Attack movies that followed. Steven Spielberg’s masterful direction keeps the audience tuned into what’s happening on screen while keeping our brains constantly on alert for what we don’t see. As with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the psychological impact the movie’s title had on its viewers before they even saw the actual film, Jaws opens with a white-knuckle attack (made all the more intense by showing less) that gets under your skin until the end. And while the shark is the central figure that draws the characters together, it’s said characters who make the material work. If we didn’t care about them the suspense would be drastically lessened. For an example, just watch any Jaws clone. A+

JAWS 2 (1978) In many ways, Jaws 2 is the ultimate underrated sequel. Sure, it pales in comparison to Spielberg’s masterpiece, but when viewed on its own merits, Jaws 2 delivers the sharky goods. The years following the original shark attacks have been good to Amity officials, Brody (Roy Scheider), and Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), with life returning to normal on Amity Island. That is until a series of disappearances and deaths cause Brody to believe another Great White has staked a claim off the coast—and he’s right. Refusing to again go through the financial turmoil the town suffered at the teeth of the first shark, Vaughn ignores the facts, causing Brody’s suspicions to spiral out of control—leading to Brody’s removal from the police department, and the beachgoers defenseless. This proves especially bad for Brody’s oldest son, Mike (Mark Gruner), when he and his high school friends go on a sailing escapade, becoming potential shark chum. More of a high-tech monster movie than anything else, Jaws 2 is no doubt flawed, but in terms of a big-budget shark movie, it’s good stuff. Admittedly the middle half, dealing with Brody’s paranoia, drags a bit, but once Mike and gang are out on the water and terrorized by the toothy menace, the film kicks into high gear, with some fairly spectacular set pieces. It lacks the characterization of the first film, and most of the suspense, but Jaws 2 is undeniably exciting. According to John Lemay’s book, Jaws Unmade, Spielberg agreed to take over after original director, John Hancock, was fired by Universal, but only if Spielberg could rewrite a better story. He couldn’t and dropped out. B+

JAWS 3-D (1983) The Brody family is once again terrorized by a Great White in this second sequel to Spielberg’s cash cow, and by making the two Brody sons the central figures of Jaws 3-D one can’t help but feel the filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner. Why Mike (Dennis Quaid) and Sean Brody (John Putch) are important to the plot is incidental; their characters could be named Flotsam and Jetsam and it wouldn’t change any aspect of the script. Taking place at least ten years after the events of Jaws 2, Mike is now an engineer and, along with his marine biologist girlfriend, Kathryn (Bess Armstrong), working for SeaWorld in Florida. On the verge of the park’s grand opening of a series of underwater viewing tunnels, SeaWorld is invaded by a shark. The owner (Louis Gossett, Jr.) believes that, if caught alive, it would be a money-making attraction—that is until the shark’s 35-foot angry Mom crashes the party and begins making a buffet out of the never-ending line of bathing beauties and water skiers. Jaws 3-D (or just Jaws 3 depending on what version you watch) isn’t exactly bad as it is misguided. The screenplay focuses its attention on the baby shark for a good chunk of time, with the mother shark not even appear on-screen until an hour into the 99-minute movie. This wouldn’t be a deterrent if the film, like the original, had an ounce of suspense, which it doesn’t. Fortunately, the movie’s last 30 or so minutes are rousing enough to pass muster, including an Irwin Allenesque sequence where the shark traps tourists in one of the flooded underwater tunnels. Unfortunately, there are too many instances of mismatched shark stock footage and badly directed (by the first movie’s production designer, Joe Alves) scenes where you can see the mechanical shark’s floor track. It never really works, but under the right circumstances, Jaws 3-D is cheesy entertainment. C+

JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987) Jaws: The Revenge has the rare distinction of being labeled one of the dumbest movies of all time. Is that a fair assessment? Yes and no. I’ve seen far dumber movies—just watch any of the ten Fast and the Furious films—but Jaws: The Revenge definitely takes the cake when it comes to complete lapses in logic. Ignoring the Florida-set Jaws 3, Revenge heads back to Amity where Sean Brody (Mitchell Anderson) has stepped into his deceased father’s shoes as police deputy. Before you can say “repetition,” a revenge-seeking Great White, which has been patrolling the waters looking for its nemeses, the Brody family, gobbles up Sean—which sends distraught Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) to the Bahamas to spend time with her other son, marine biologist Mike (Lance Guest). In an extremely unbelievable plot twist, the shark follows Ellen from Amity to the Caribbean, where it tortures her psychologically by terrorizing her granddaughter in a scene that must have been inspired by the Jaws attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. The script never explains how this seemingly supernatural shark can track Ellen from New England to southern waters, or how it knows where members of the Brody family are at any given time. There’s also a brief moment suggesting a psychic link between Ellen and the shark. Pretty dumb stuff. But–I’m going out on a limb here, and sawing it off—the movie isn’t that bad. It’s actually well-directed (by Taking of Pelham One Two Three‘s Joseph Sargent) and acted, with the previously underused Gary in fine form. Where else do you see a grandmother as the heroine? It’s not great, but Jaws: The Revenge is a fun, though very stupid, shark flick. Try to ignore the ludicrous plot and could enjoy yourself. B

Anaconda, Ants!, Shakma, Squirm, and Tentacles

Anaconda – 1997, US, 89m. Director: Luis Llosa. Streaming: Starz, Tubi

Ants! – 1977, US, 95m. Director: Robert Sheerer. Streaming: N/A

Shakma – 1990, US, 101m. Director: Hugh Parks, Tom Logan. Streaming: Tubi

Squirm – 1976, US, 92m. Director: Jeff Lieberman. Streaming: Tubi

Tentacles – 1977, Italy/US, 101m. Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis. Streaming: Tubi

ANACONDA (1997) They don’t make gleefully ridiculous creature features like this anymore. While traveling through a remote patch of South American jungle, an urban film crew making a documentary on an Amazonian tribe is menaced by a humongous anaconda. Hip film student, Terri (Jennifer Lopez), thinks she’s in control, along with her jungle-savvy beau (Eric Stoltz), until they unwisely pick up stranded snake-hunter, Serone (Jon Voight), who manipulates them into catching and filming the anaconda—by which point the reptile has devoured several characters, including Owen Wilson’s hormonal surfer dude. The snake proceeds to chew up the rest of the cast, while Voight chews up the scenery. It’s all cockamamie and predictable, but Anaconda works splendidly thanks to its spirited sense of adventure and obvious homages to the “When Nature Attacks” movies that were so prevalent in the post-Jaws 1970s. Lopez and Ice Cube (as Terri’s cameraman) make a spunky heroic duo, and the mechanical snake FX are terrific. Would pair nicely as a double feature with the equally absurd but always enjoyable jungle adventure/horror Congo. B+

ANTS! (1977) A construction site unearths a breeding ground of poisonous ants, which sends the insects on a collision course with nearby Lakewood Manor, a posh country resort. Following the Jaws mold, the ants bump off several characters, causing hysteria at the resort with the possibility of the place shutting down. This is bad news for the owner (Myrna Loy) and her daughter (Lynda Day George) who are on the brink of selling the place to a sleazoid real estate agent (Gerald Gordon). This made-for-TV movie features several scenes of people covered in ants—most notably a pre-Three’s Company Suzanne Somers—but as with many TV films it moves at a slow pace, killing a lot of the suspense. It does build to a genuinely fun final act as the ants slowly cover the resort, trapping the remaining survivors inside. Slight but enjoyable. Also known as It Happened at Lakewood Manor. B

SHAKMA (1990) The sight of an enraged, murderous baboon running amok and making mincemeat of its victims is quite amusing. Unfortunately, Shakma has so much working against it it’s difficult to recommend. While participating in an all-night Dungeons & Dragons-type role playing game, a cast of some of the dumbest characters ever find themselves trapped in a medical building. Soon, they’re stalked and dispatched by Shakma, a medically-tested baboon given an experimental serum by pretty boy med student, Sam (Christopher Atkins). Essentially a slasher with a maniacal primate in place of your typical masked madman, Shakma delivers some impressive scenes of said animal jumping and biting people—but none of these so-called scientists are smart enough to, at any point in the movie, look for a weapon or try to escape. The most intelligent character in the film turns out to be a teenage bimbo (Ari Meyers), who brandishes a kitchen knife as soon as she realizes what’s happening. After finding his girlfriend cut to ribbons, Sam tries to perform his own version of “Shock the Monkey” by setting a trap for Shakma, but ultimately he succumbs to his wounds. Garish lighting, an awful synthesizer musical score, and a lengthy runtime make Shakma a nice try, but no banana. C

SQUIRM (1976) The isolated coastal town of Fly Creek, Georgia, is cut off even more from the outside world when a freak storm floods the roads and downs the power lines. Things are worsened when the electricity from the shredded power cables surges into the ground, causing millions of earthworms to come crawling out—with an appetite for human flesh. It takes a while to get going, but once it does this Southern-fried shocker delivers plenty of gory, squishy mayhem as various people have worms burrow into their skin or get eaten alive from the inside out. They even take over some idiot’s brain, turning him into a psychopathic zombie. Soon the entire area is overwhelmed in a flood of worms, trapping the survivors inside a farmhouse to do battle against the slimy horde. Inventive (and gross) make-up FX and a good cast help to make Squirm a fun little flick. Star Don Scardino went on to have a prolific career in television, including directing several episodes of critical darling, 30 Rock. B

TENTACLES (1977) This Italian-made Jaws rip-off is such a lame duck it’s almost charming. A giant octopus wrecks havoc at Solana Beach, a small resort town in California, where the usual stock characters of bikini beauties, gluttonous tourists, and empty-headed skin divers are high on the menu. And, wouldn’t you know it? The octo-monster party-crashes just in time for the annual regatta. This is strictly by the numbers—but it’s better made than the similar Italian production, The Last Shark—and features a bunch of old-timers going through the motions, including Shelley Winters, John Huston, and Peter Fonda (whose participation is all of a few minutes of screen time). The octopus FX are a mix of plastic tentacles, background screen projection, and the use of a real animal with miniatures. A ’70s crap classic from the director of Beyond the Door. Might be the only post-1950 movie to feature a character with an actual peg-leg. C

Alligator, Alligator II, Crocodile, Killer Crocodile, and The Last Shark

Alligator – 1980, US, 91m. Director: Lewis Teague. Streaming: AMC, Roku Channel, Shudder

Alligator II: The Mutation – 1991, US, 94m. Director: Jon Hess. Streaming: AMC, Roku Channel, Shudder

Crocodile – 1979, South Korea/Thailand, 92m. Director: Sompote Sands. Streaming: N/A

Killer Crocodile – 1989, Italy, 90m. Director: Fabrizio De Angelis. Streaming: Roku Channel, Tubi

The Last Shark – 1981, Italy/US, 87m. Director: Enzo G. Castellari. Streaming: Tubi

ALLIGATOR (1980) A little girl buys a pet alligator while on vacation in Florida—this is after she witnesses the vicious attack by a grown gator on its trainer!—and names it Ramon. Her mean dad flushes the baby gator down the toilet, and twelve years later (and a steady diet of hormone-experimented dog carcasses) turns Ramon into a 35-foot monster. Good news is Ramon’s former owner is now a herpetologist (Robin Riker) who’s called in to help a cop (Robert Forster) when chewed off body parts start showing up in the water treatment plant. Like Piranha, Alligator is more of a horror-satire than a straight-up Jaws clone, although it has its fair share of scares, including a terrific reveal of the enormous reptile during a routine sweep of the sewer by Forster and company. The script (co-written by The Howling‘s John Sayles) is witty, and the characters are smart and sympathetic, including Forster’s detective, who’s very sensitive about his male pattern baldness. Funny, gory, and suspenseful, Alligator is not to be missed. B+

ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION (1991) Straight-forward direct-to-video sequel lacks much of what made the first Alligator work. When body parts start surfacing at a lake adjacent to an upcoming multi-million dollar housing development operated by slimeball real estate mogul Vinnie Brown (Steve Railsback), cop Hodges (Joseph Bologna) and his scientist wife (Dee Wallace Stone) think it’s the work of a large gator. Of course no one believe’s Hodges’s alligator theory, especially the mayor (Bill Daily), who’s in Vinnie’s pocket and refuses to delay an upcoming waterfront carnival. Guess what crashes the event? Basically a loose remake of the first movie, Alligator II‘s differences in plot are so minuscule that by a certain point you’ll throw your hands in the air and try to enjoy the film for what it is—but there isn’t much to recommend. There are some juicy alligator attacks, but too many close-ups of the gator reveal its cut-rate FX work. The humor from Alligator is sorely missed, and one can’t help but feel the good cast is wasted on bland material, although veteran ’80s actor Richard Lynch adds some color to the script as a Quint-like gator hunter. The climactic attack is a rip-off of the much superior Humanoids from the Deep. Look for Jason Voorhees himself, Kane Hodder, as one of Lynch’s stooges. C

CROCODILE (1979) In the post-Jaws nature-gone-amok sub-school of movies, Crocodile ranks at the very bottom of the barrel. Two overworked colleagues take their families on vacation to a resort on the Gulf of Thailand, only to have several family members eaten by a giant crocodile. The beast, which is the result of genetic mutation from nearby atomic bomb testing, continues to gobble up the locals (and wildlife) until the doctors hire a salty fisherman to destroy the animal. Tone-deaf and dull, Crocodile is made by people who thought audiences would be enthralled by never-ending close-ups of crocodile eyelids, atrocious editing, terrible acting, and a lot of scenes of people thrashing around in red-tinted water. The croc inexplicably changes size to appease the screenplay—the reptile is small enough to hide in shallow waters, but is big enough to take down entire villages with a swipe of its tail. There are a couple of gory moments of victims with chewed off limbs and a scene where the croc swallows a trio of skinny-dipping children (a bit that would never get passed by American censors). That’s not enough to compensate sitting through this incomprehensible dreck, which is actually a re-edited 1978 Korean production entitled Crocodile Fangs. Not to be confused with the Italian-made Killer Crocodile, which, compared to this, looks like Jaws. F

KILLER CROCODILE (1989) Fulvia Film, the Italian production company that gave us such classics as Escape from the Bronx and Zombie Holocaust, is responsible for this cardboard Jaws rip-off, which despite its low-tech awkwardness is quite fun. A small group of nature activists combing a large tropical riverbed for radioactive material comes face-to-face with a giant crocodile made unnaturally aggressive from toxic waste. The poisonous chemicals are the result of illegal dumping by a local company, who’s got the town’s bigwig judge in their pocket. When a little girl is almost eaten alive—her father is snatched up by the croc instead—salty game hunter Ennio Girolami is called into action to kill the reptile. The screenplay tries to update its nature-gone-crazy plot for the times by having the protagonists being more environmentally conscious and wanting to protect the crocodile in its natural habitat, but the characters are so idiotic (made worse by stiff acting and bad dubbing) you end up rooting for the croc. In a little bit of plot convenience, the judge and his cronies are devoured by the crocodile before the creature is blown to bits by activist Anthony Crenna. The plastic special effects and exaggerated action scenes lend the film a genuinely cheesy B-movie charm, and you find yourself in more ways than one enjoying it all. Filmed back-to-back with the inevitable Killer Crocodile 2. B

THE LAST SHARK (1981) One of many Italian-financed, filmed-in-America shark epics churned out in the late ’70s/early ’80s, this amalgamation of Jaws and Jaws 2 is, despite its amateurishness, made by people who seem to respect the material they’re blatantly ripping off. Released in the States as Great White, this features a large shark terrorizing a coastal community. The first to get gobbled up is a windsurfer, who’s shot up into the air when the shark bumps the victim’s surfboard as if the guy was launched out of a cannon! This is followed by the surfacing of body parts, at which point local shark expert, Ron Hamer (Vic Morrow), calls concerns over the town’s upcoming regatta. Why do these plots always involve a regatta? Anyway, the town’s heavyweights (including a powerful politician running for state governor) veto Ron’s worries about more shark attacks and continue with the celebration. The town then sets up shark nets, which cage in beach swimmers from deep water threats—an idea that was originally pitched for Jaws 2, according to Jaws Unmade. It’s not long until the Great White chews its way through the net and turns the regatta into a smorgasbord of shark chum. Gee, do you think the bigwigs could use Ron’s expertise in shark hunting to kill the shark once and for all? Morrow does a Quint impersonation, but in a weird Scottish accent. James Franciscus is a mix of Brody and Hooper (and even Peter Benchley) as a local horror novelist who aids Ron in the destruction of the shark. All of this is stiff and unconvincing, and with a fake shark that looks like a swimming pool float. Universal successfully sued the filmmakers and got the movie removed from theaters, but not before it pulled in big box-office. There’s no accounting for taste. C