Peter’s Retro Reviews: Barracuda (1978)

November 23, 2018

barracuda-posterby Peter Nielsen

”Something deadly in the water… more dangerous than any shark or killer whale!”

Here’s another one that slipped past me when I was young! I remember the trailer… I remember reading about it… and I remember seeing the cover in the video stores back in the day, but for some reason, I never watched the damn movie! A couple of years back I happened upon it on a “Drive-In Double Feature” DVD, paired with Island Fury aka Please Don’t Eat The Babies from 1983, which we may get to later!

The movie takes place in a small, quiet coastal town called Palm Cove, and starts with two divers getting killed in an unprovoked attack by aggressive barracudas. Since this is not normal behavior for barracudas, marine biologist Mike Canfield looks into it, and suspecting the local chemical plant might be dumping something in the water, he tries to take water samples from one of their underwater pipes. Him, and his colleagues, are noticed by the plant’s security guards, and a minor scuffle ensues, resulting in Mike getting arrested and thrown in jail.

Mike (Wayne Crawford) & Liza (Roberta Leighton)

Mike (Wayne Crawford) & Liza (Roberta Leighton)

Mike is played by Wayne Crawford, who also co-wrote and co-directed the movie together with Harry Kerwin. Mr. Crawford directed all of the underwater sequences! I mostly remember him as an actor, in movies like Valley Girl, White Ghost, Diary of a Hitman, or Jake Speed!

The town sheriff, Ben Williams, doesn’t really think of Mike as a bad guy, and he really doesn’t mind him checking up on the chemical plant either… or its manager, Papa Jack! And if it turns out that they are dumping stuff in the ocean, making barracudas attack innocent swimmers, he wants them to be held accountable for it. As it turns out though, the plot is a bit more sinister than that!

The sheriff is played by character actor William Kerwin, whom you may (or may not), recognize from a bunch of Herschell Gordon Lewis directed movies in the 60’s, like Scum of the Earth, Blood Feast or Two Thousand Maniacs. He also had a small part in The Evictors… a little movie directed by Charles B. Pierce… and why, you ask, should that name ring a bell? Well, among others, Mr. Pierce directed the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown from 1976… another little movie I enjoy! William Kerwin also worked together with his brother, Harry, on a couple of movies… and yes, his brother is the same Harry who directed Barracuda! But I digress…

So... you wanna date my daughter, huh?

So… you wanna date my daughter, huh?

Roberta Leighton, from Stripes and the TV show The Young and the Restless, plays Liza, the sheriff’s daughter who takes a liking to Mike, and the two kind of starts “hanging out”. The sheriff doesn’t seem to mind them spending time together either, and when Mike’s out of jail, invites him to stay in their spare bedroom.

The town’s doctor, Elliot Snow, has his own lab, so Mike asks him if he can use that to look at the water samples, and also a couple of the barracudas he’s caught… what he finds, are traces of different chemicals that can cause Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and that could explain why the fish are more aggressive than usual. The scary part is that, all through the movie, you get little hints here and there, that something might be affecting the townspeople too! They seem to drink a lot of water… they feel warm… there’s irritability… fatigue… confusion… and when you put two and two together, it kind of fits!

When Mike investigates further he finds that the good doctor is involved with something called “The Lucifer Project”, which seems to be some sort of behavioral experiment, sanctioned by the government! And we all know that, in this type of movie, when the government is involved, things don’t always go too well for our protagonists.



With the poster, and taglines, you’d think that Barracuda is just another Jaws rip-off, but it’s actually not… it’s more of a conspiracy thriller, and the barracudas don’t really have much to do with it, other than to work as a trigger to get the story going. You do get a couple of barracuda attacks though, but not much, and if you thought you’d get a lot more of that, well… you will be disappointed, I think, because that’s what the poster leads you to expect! It’s a marketing thing… to get butts in seats… we all know it! What you do get though is (like I said) a low budget, standard conspiracy thriller, with a little twist at the end, and you know what? I kind of liked it!

Sure, it’s a bit slow sometimes, and the acting isn’t top notch from all the cast-members, but the story is intriguing enough to keep you entertained throughout. I like the interaction between Mike, the sheriff, and his daughter… it feels genuine, for lack of a better word. The bumbling deputy, Lester, played by Cliff Emmich (Halloween II, Return To Horror High, Mousehunt), grows on you and, although a bit rotund and lazy, is a guy you can rely on when the shit hits the fan!

A normal work day at the sheriff's office!

A normal work day at the sheriff’s office!

The doctor is played by Jason Evers, who’s done a lot of TV, as well as movies like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and The Green Berets (with John Wayne). It’s a weird character and Mr. Evers does a good job portraying him. He doesn’t really think he’s done anything wrong and says he can make everything right again, whenever he wants to.

I also have to mention the music in Barracuda! The score is done by Klaus Schulze, a name I recognized immediately… he was, briefly, a member of the band Tangerine Dream, in one of their earlier line-ups, and I’ve been a fan of Tangerine Dream since my early teens. The score for Barracuda is very reminiscent of their music, so that was a big plus in my book!

Now… would I recommend this movie? I don’t know… if you expect a nature gone wild with lots of barracuda mayhem kind of movie, then no… this movie’s not for you! But… if you like a good little conspiracy thriller, with a smidgeon of barracuda action thrown in for good measure… Yeah, I’d say you should give it a try! I did… and I ended up liking it!

So, my friends… that’s it for me this week!

Until next time… watch a movie… check out my earlier reviews… or why not head on over to the Retro Movie Geek site, and listen to our shenanigans on the podcast! You won’t be disappointed! I promise!


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