Peter’s Retro Rewind: The Last Shark aka L’Ultimo Squalo (1981)

July 10, 2013

The last shark movie posterby Peter Nielsen

When this film was first released in the U.S. it actually did pretty well. That is, until Universal Pictures filed a lawsuit to have it pulled from theaters across the country for being too similar to Jaws. And in all fairness… it is a blatant rip-off, but to have it pulled and even outright banned might seem a bit harsh, wouldn’t you agree?

I mean, especially if you consider how may rip-offs that has been made from popular movies like Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian, The Road Warrior and Raiders of the Lost Ark, for instance. The fact that it was banned in the U.S. didn’t stop it in the rest of the world and in some countries it was even released as a supposed sequel in the Jaws series.

That might actually be taking it a bit too far though, but it’s not like that was a novelty in the movie-industry back then.

The Last Shark starts almost like some sort of promotional sports-video for windsurfing with a guy riding a board across the sea. There are lots of fancy camera-angles to show off his skills and as he glides close past the camera it’s in slow-motion! Yeah… of course! Oh, and don’t forget the classic 80’s music playing in the background. There’s a big regatta coming up and this guy is the one everyone is rooting for. All of a sudden something takes a big bite out of his surfboard and he quickly becomes the first victim in this movie.

He is, of course, not the only one and soon the body-count start to rise, but despite this, the mayor of the town refuses to close the beach. He’s afraid the tourists will stop coming if they find out about the deaths. Does any of this sound familiar? It’s like you’ve seen it before, right? Yup, as I stated before, a very obvious Jaws rip-off! Only, with a lot less money obviously!

Benton and Hamer discussing sharks.

Benton and Hamer discussing sharks.

One of the two heroes in this movie is Peter Benton, played by James Franciscus, who’s also been in Beneath the Planet of the Apes and The Valley of Gwangi, for instance. The other is an old sea-dog by the name of Ron Hamer and he apparently bears a grudge against the shark, or at least sharks in general.

He’s played by Vic Morrow who’s also known from The Bad News Bears and Humanoids from the Deep. The sad part is that most people remember him for his tragic death during the filming of Twilight Zone – The Movie in 1982, where he and two kids were killed in a freak helicopter accident.

Well, despite the mayor’s best efforts to protect the surfers with nets and what-not, the shark still gets through and Peter and Quint… sorry, Hamer set out to sea to kill it. There’s lots of shark –action here, both underwater and at the surface, and the director has tried to do what Spielberg did in Jaws… to make the shots of the mechanical shark match the shots of the real ones.

But whereas in Jaws it was sometimes hard to spot the difference, with The Last Shark… you don’t have that problem! The shark actually looks kind of crappy and weird, especially at the surface. And what’s with that strange sound it makes?

NO... this is MY diver! Get your own!

NO… this is MY diver! Get your own!

Oh, and by the way, while we’re on the topic of sounds and noises… what’s up with Vic Morrow’s accent? I guess he’s supposed to be from Ireland, but his accent sometimes sounds like some kind of weird mix between Irish, Scottish and Italian?? It’s very inconsistent, that’s for sure.

The director of The Last Shark is Enzo G. Castellari and some of you might recognize his name. He is, for instance, responsible for The Big Racket, Keoma, 1990: The Bronx Warriors and also the original The Inglorious Bastards. With The Last Shark he’s made a movie that, despite its flaws, isn’t actually that bad… Or at least not too bad!

Ah, hell… who am I trying to kid here? Of course it’s bad, but in a good campy fun way. I mean where else will you get a movie where the shark, after it’s bitten a guy in half while he’s hanging from a helicopter, comes up again and pulls down the helicopter too?

The buffet is open!

The buffet is open!

There are also some unintentionally (I hope) funny lines in this movie that you won’t believe you actually heard. I’ll give you an example… At one point Benton and Hamer are inspecting a bitten-off piece of a surfboard with some nasty bite-marks on it, while discussing what could have made them. Benton then utters these wonderful words: “One thing’s for sure… it wasn’t a floating chainsaw!” HOLY CRAP!! Who comes up with a line like that? Absolutely hilarious!

This shot doesn't look fake, does it?

This shot doesn’t look fake, does it?

Somehow I’m sure the character Peter Benton is a very intentional nod to the author of the original novel. Peter Benchley wrote Jaws and Peter Benton writes books about sharks! Peter Benchley – Peter Benton… Coincidence? Yeah, sure!

I have seen The Last Shark before, because it was released on VHS in Sweden (minus 49 seconds) and in 2008 it was released on DVD, so I finally got the chance to watch it again and I quite enjoyed it.

As I stated before, it’s good campy fun and not to be taken too seriously, and it’s a shame that it still, to this date, hasn’t gotten an official release in the U.S. At least as far as I know!

So, my friends… that’s all I have for you this week. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Until next time…

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