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Exploitation king William Grefe (Stanley, Death Curse of Tartu) decided to jump on the post-popcorn hit Jaws bandwagon by delivering his typical pro-ecology, anti-man rant. In this case, Richard Jaeckel learns that he has a deep karmic connection with sharks, and thanks to a medallion given to him by a shaman, can control their killer instincts. He then sets out to get revenge on anyone whose wronged his oceanic bffs. Have no fear, Spielberg and company were safe. Grefe had his own ideas about how to take advantage of the new finned hysteria.
Before Jaws turned great whites into cultural talking points, this terrific documentary by Peter Gimbel (whose crew eventually helped Spielberg out with his ode to swimmin’ with bow legged women…) highlighted the import of this creature to our current ocean environment. With amazing footage that captures these creatures in their natural, nasty habitat, the effort shed light on the animal’s by now characteristic traits. While the making-of material fills out a bit too much of the running time, the shark material more than makes up for it. It’s suspenseful, and superb.
Imagine Jaws on steroids with a cheekier sense of humor and you have this outrageous excuse for b-movie fun. Genetically altered sharks (made smarter as a means of combating Alzheimer’s disease?!?) go gonzo in and around an underwater lab that also happens to be in the direct line of an oncoming hurricane. Your typical cast of character studs (including a destined to be classic Samuel L. Jackson and L. L. Cool J) battle the bad fish by any means necessary, including chewing the scenery. One of the last great ones from action ace Renny Harlin.
When The Blair Witch Project proved that almost any subject could be “reinvented” via the found footage ideal, a lot of filmmakers tried their hand at the creative conceit. Few succeeded outright, though. This was the rare exception, a movie, while not 100% in the first person POV style, that used a true story and a startling “you are there” approach to place the viewer in the position of a stranded scuba diver. Left behind by their tour boat, our couple wonders how things could get worse. When they see the first dorsal fin split the surface, they have their answer.
It’s one of the classic films in any genre, a work of wild invention that takes a typical monster movie trope and reinvests it with a kind of excitement and urgency rarely seen in the ‘70s… or now, even. It marked the arrival of one of the great filmmakers of the 20th century and still manages that rare Psycho-like feat of making one instantly afraid of the water even decades later. While some of its elements are starting to show their age, the final result flies higher than any celluloid skyrocket. Terrific and terrifying.
// Notes from the Road
"Cage the Elephant rocked two sold-out nights at Summerstage and return to NYC for a free show May 29th. Info on that and a preview of the full Summerstage schedule is here.READ the article