Top 10 Jaws Rip-Offs!
Holy T.S. Quint! Can you believe JAWS turns 40 years old next June? Fucking crazy, despite how timeless the infamously-difficult-to-make Spielberg classic still feels all these years later. Let's be real, JAWS is not only a master-class in first rate filmmaking, remember, it also spawned the modern day blockbuster - which doubles its importance when discussing the annals of cinematic impact. And speaking of impact...do you happen to be old enough to recall the countless spate of JAWS imitators and wannabes that flooded the masses in the immediate aftermath of its success? Hell, even to this day, shite like SHARK NIGHT and SHARKNADO are no doubt desperately trying to capitalize on the success of JAWS, but back in the late 70s? My lord, every other drive-in movie that was released felt like it was some sort of JAWS offshoot. Don't believe us? Well goddamn it, hop on the barge, pop a brew and check out our Top Ten JAWS Ripoffs!
Consider this a collective, basis-covering shout-out to the recent run of killer shark pictures that must, in one way or another, owe a lot to the OG JAWS movie. The 2010 Aussie flick THE REEF, the 2011 bayou-set romp SHARK NIGHT 3D and the 2012 South African production DARK TIDE all lead the charge of such a sub-generic resurgence, which in turn set the table for SyFy's underwater scourge of shite like SHARKNADO. However, as you peruse this here Top 10, you will notice we're much more focused on the immediate JAWS rip-offs, the ones that were released no more than a few years after the original. Granted, the pull and sway of JAWS is timeless, but in our eyes, too much time elapsed moves away from rip-off status and into homage.
Wowser! You know you're an irredeemably bad mimic when Lamberto Bava doesn't even want to associate his royal namesake with you. Such is certainly the case with the blatant 1984 JAWS wannabe DEVIL FISH (AKA MONSTER SHARK), which Bava clearly felt so ashamed of he decided to credit the film to his directorial alias, John Old Jr. Not telling enough? How about the 2.2 IMDB rating the sucker is currently rocking? My goodness, that's good enough for 47th place on the IMDB Bottom 100. However, inferiority aside, I actually see some similarity with MONSTER SHARK and SHARK NIGHT, and hell, even DEEP BLUE SEA...as all three feature genetically engineered sharks created to wreak havoc on behalf of a nefarious human interest.
As cheap and schlocky as the 1979 JAWS imitator UP FROM THE DEPTHS remains, it at least it's one of the only on our list to consciously incorporate some comedy to the mix. Some silly shite, this one, intentionally so. Alternatively titled JURASSIC JAWS, the flick centers on a series of deadly aqua-attacks upon a myriad of Hawaiian tourists. The culprit? Turns out it's a gigantic unidentified species of shark with a taste from human hemoglobin! '70s actor Sam Bottoms takes the lead in this movie that New World Pictures felt good enough to play behind David Cronenberg's THE BROOD on a double-bill. Not sure it's worthy of that, but it's worth noting that director Charles B. Griffith also wrote the original BUCKET OF BLOOD and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.
Burt Young and John Saxon in the same 1980 JAWS knockoff? Ah yes...it must be BLOOD BEACH! Ever see this low-budget drive-in doozy? Well, despite boasting a Venus Flytrap-like monster instead of a deadly shark, that didn't stop producers of BLOOD BEACH from stealing the tagline of JAWS 2, with one sly addendum: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water - you can't get to it!" That's some flagrant pilferage right there! But it's not just the tagline. The beachfront setting with subtracted tourists and trade, as well as the underwater musical stings that accompany the monster's approach, also ring redolent of Spielberg's masterpiece. Not only that, but the shroud of the monster, saved for viewing only in the final few minutes, is too a similar technique.
So what do you get after attempting to meld the star-studded paradigmatic 70s disaster flick with the high-concept thrills of JAWS? TENTACLES...that's what! I mean, Henry Fonda, John Huston and Shelley Winters? That's a collective 5 Academy Awards between them - yet here they are effetely fighting for survival in TENTACLES after a humongous, toxically-mutated octopus starts sucking Regatta racers into its sticky-hold. And not just sucks...but gnaws, drains and strips every shred of flesh and bone-marrow from each of its victims. Problem is, for a joint-Italian horror flick from the 70s, you'd expect a lot more carnage to be shown onscreen. As it is, there are too many off-screen attacks and bloodless bouts of butchery that, despite the stellar cast, never transcend.
Only three years after helming the original INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, the diverse and underrated Italian director Enzo G. Castellari put his own personal and regional touch on the killer shark picture with the 1981 flick GREAT WHITE (AKA THE LAST SHARK), starring the late great Vic Morrow. Made at the height of Italian splatter cinema, in turn directly influenced by the graphically violent American contemporaries, GREAT WHITE is, despite the unoriginal story, pretty damn amusing. Thing is, it'll likely always be remembered as a practically bloodless film, in even comparison with Spielberg's. Put it this, way, Castellari could have learned from his Italian colleague in Lucio Fulci's underwater shark vs. zombie tussle in ZOMBIE.
HA! Anyone else have a hearty chuckle over the 1977 Mexican JAWS parrot TINTORERA: TIGER SHARK? Shite's pure comedy, unintentionally so. For those who've not laid eyes on this sucker, it follows a pair of sleazy, shark-hunting Mexican Don Juans as they try to slime the knickers off of some British hussy sitting starboard. One distraction...a gigantic tiger shark is chomping, chewing and swallowing every damn person on the coast! As most on our list of pre-CG 70s B-movies, this one also features real footage of live sharks interacting with cast members, however dangerous or protected each individual was. Truth be told, the shark only appears large due to trick photography, as the real stock footage features only a 5-footer...likely with pulled teeth.
As our most immediate crib-job on the list, MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH was released only 13 months after Spielberg's JAWS consumed the globe. Here's the catch though. Despite being released a year later, replete with the word Jaws in the title, MAKO's storyline really has little to do with the movie it tried to capitalistically piggyback off of. See, instead of a giant bloodthirsty fish terrorizing a small town on its own volition, MAKO focuses on a crazy sumbitch who thinks he has a telepathic connection with sharks, this as a result of a mystical medallion he received from a shaman. And when people threaten or question his tactics, dude sends brainwaves to the sharks to go out and do his murderous dirty work for him. More like JAWS meets CARRIE!
Perhaps the most emotionally wrenching on our list, ORCA isn't so much a JAWS rip-job as it is a venally exploitative spin-off. Does it feature a shark? Yes. Does it feature gruelingly dramatic action on the high seas? Absolutely. But again, the story here has enough variation and a level of pathos to proudly stand on its own. Moreover, by showing us the death of the Orca's mate and offspring in the beginning, and the reciprocated torment the badass Richard Harris affords the sea-behemoth throughout, we actually come to sympathize with and almost root for the Orca to prevail. Now that was never such the case with JAWS, at least not in the original (JAWS: THE REVENGE though?) Not saying ORCA would exist without fellow-four-lettered JAWS, but it's good enough to.
Joe Dante at the helm, John Sayles on the keys...yup, the pedigree alone assured PIRANHA to be one of the better out-and-out JAWS offshoots. And it still is! Hell, I suppose we could even throw some love to the silly-beyond-belief 3D remake from 2010, but even in comparison, Dante's flick has far more bite! Subbing a school of toothy, uncouth flesh-eaters for a lone great white...and an infested river for an open ocean, Dante wisely differentiated his film enough from Spielberg's to warrant its own merit. Granted, it's a B-movie through and through, but with the talent of Dante and Sayles shining through with the acting likes of Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller, Barbara Steele and Paul Bartel - PIRANHA pretty much outclasses the entire school of JAWS followers!