Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cult Movie Trash: GREAT WHITE (1982)

This review was originally published in a slightly different form in June 2011 on the Mobius Home Video Forum.

(Italy - 1982)  Directed by Enzo G. Castellari.  Written by Mark Princi.  Cast: James Franciscus, Vic Morrow, Micky Pignatelli, Joshua Sinclair, Timothy Brent (Giancarlo Prete), Stefania Girolami, Thomas Moore (Ennio Girolami), Romano Puppo.  87 mins.  PG

Shot in 1980 as L'ULTIMO SQUALO (THE LAST SHARK), this is the infamous Italian JAWS ripoff from Enzo G. Castellari that was released in the US by Film Ventures as GREAT WHITE in the spring of 1982 only to be yanked from theaters after two weeks (not after the opening weekend, which has been commonly cited) when Universal sued. It hasn't been shown in any capacity in the US since, and a planned screening at the New Beverly in Hollywood for a Castellari retrospective a couple years back was shut down by a still-irate Universal. It is a pretty shameless ripoff, but there's really no reason for Universal's legal department to still be acting like dicks about it.

Filmed mostly off the coast of Malta with some location work in Savannah, GA, GREAT WHITE has a small resort town being terrorized by a great white shark. Sound familiar? The sneering mayor (Joshua Sinclair), with his eye on becoming governor, plans to go ahead with his regatta despite the obvious danger. Meanwhile, famous hometown author and shark enthusiast Peter Benton (James Franciscus as both Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss) shows the townies a slide show of shark information, as if they and the moviegoers live in a world where JAWS doesn't exist. Soon, after some more killings and a hilariously botched attempt by the mayor to reel in the shark by dangling a slab of meat from a helicopter, Benton and crusty old sea salt Ron Hamer (Vic Morrow as Robert Shaw) hunt down the shark after it bites off the leg of Benton's daughter Jenny (Castellari's daughter, Stefania Girolami).

This is a terrible but undeniably entertaining film. The completely immobile, stationary shark always pops out of the water with his mouth open, roaring (!!!), and just kinda bobbing in place. For scenes requiring movement, Castellari cuts to completely mismatched, grainy stock footage of smaller sharks that look nothing like a great white. There's some use of miniatures and toy helicopters that would have Antonio Margheriti looking the other way in embarrassment. But Film Ventures and Edward L. Montoro bet the farm on this, spending a few million on publicity and giving it a national release. My dad and I actually saw this opening weekend, and we, and the rest of the audience, weren't pleased. Not long after this, Film Ventures, a successful drive-in and B-movie outfit going back to the early 1970s, went broke and Montoro vanished, never to be seen again. As far as the actors go, Morrow chews the scenery with gusto, using an unconvincing Scottish accent (!), while Franciscus actually seems to take this seriously, but then he always had a Richard Crenna-esque way of bolstering even the most dubious material. If you get a chance (meaning, bootleg DVD), any self-respecting bad movie fan needs to treat themselves to this one. In one scene near the end, you can actually see the ropes being used to pull the immobile shark in a certain direction.

And can anyone tell me how Yvonne Wilkins' "Hollywood Big Time," the scorching tune played over GREAT WHITE's opening credits, failed to top the charts?  Livin' on cocaine!  Drivin' you insane!


  1. There's now a rather nice looking PAL 16:9 DVD of this available for those of you sick of looking at your Japanese subtitled bootlegs.

  2. The PAL disc is from Sweden's Studio-S and is a vast improvement.