Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Zombie Club... we go and bring you two of the most notorious Italian-made Jaws rip-offs ever. And not before time too. Casterelli's L'Ultimo Squalo, or Last Shark as it was known Stateside, is perhaps the more well known, forever remembered as the film that was pulled from general release after a Universal Pictures lawsuit brought on by the flick’s glaring similarities to Jaws & Jaws II, despite having more money spent on it on marketing in the US than its original budget. Shame.
Monster Shark, on the other hand, has been a long time coming for a different reason. Yes, tonight we say farewell to one of Zombie Club's oldest friends as Monster Shark is the last film starring the not-very-famous Michael Sopkiw that we have yet to feature in these hallowed pages. Yes, 2019, Massacre in Dinosaur Valley and Blastfighter we officially dig, so I think it's time we completed the Sopkiw quadrilogy. Bring it on.
Tonight's Zombie Club is bought to you by Jim in association with the American league of small town fishermen who sit on their boats all day with the 'leg up' stance drinking beer while waiting for someone to come and talk to them.
The Last Shark (L'Ultimo squalo) (1981)
Plot When a big shark threatens to ruin the wind surfing regata, Steven Spielberg sues.
Jim So Last Shark, eh? Well, James Franciscus is a sheriff in a small local town with a teenage daughter Jenny who hangs around with a load of cool windsurfers that all have "the same diameter hair" (Zomblee). When one of said windsurfers whose name I don't recall is killed ("He's dead, what's the point of writing his name down?" - Rawshark) and half his chomped up board turns up on local drunk shark hunter Vic Morrow's boat, it's time to call a committee meeting to discuss postponing next week's annual wind surfing regatta ("No small town would be complete without a committee meeting!" - Zomblee).
But, of course, that's not going to happen, especially if helicopter owning, local politician Wells has anything to do with it. With the aid of a wonderfully ornate sculptured map ("You had to improvise in the days before PowerPoint...”. - Rawshark) he explains the security measures, calming the populous, but of course everything goes horribly wrong culminating in even the guy who shouts "Don't panic!" a lot getting chomped, much to our amusement.
From here on in it's a shark movie cliché avalanche. James and Vic go shark hunting (Jaws style), while Jenny and her mates try the same thing but fluff it (Jaws II style). Then the James and Vic show do a spot of cave diving ("The shark's not gonna be in there, is it?" - Rawshark) and escape being trapped thanks to Vic's unhealthy obsession with dynamite. Strange that, for an Irish - sorry - Scottish shark hunter.
We are, it has to be said, big fans of Vic Morrow here at Zombie Club. "We actually know him from Bronx Warriors. We know a lot of people from Bronx Warriors... like Romano Puppo, who'll forever be known as Trash's dad..." observed Zomblee, quite rightly. And then, lo and behold, none other than Trash’s dad himself enters from stage left, to huge applause, only to become shark chum five minutes later. And despite a rather fumbled climax ("Can't see much!" - Zomblee) I don't think any of us will be forgetting Last Shark any time soon. ("It's reasonably well made, good fun!" - Rawshark). And I haven't even mentioned the astounding shark vs. helicopter fight in the middle that's worth the price of admission alone.
"No damned shark is gonna screw up a whole year's work and planning!"
Zomblee Yeah but the ending is shit. How frustrating it is when you've given 85 minutes of your life to a Jaws rip-off, expecting some OTT Italian explosive shark blood and guts spectacle at the end, only to be disappointed with an explosive that may as well have come from James Fransiscus' arse. The rest of the movie however holds up well, and is immensely enjoyable even if it's in terms of how much it can rip off the Spielberg movie. That's why we have the legendary Vic Morrow as a salty old seadog (with a truly ridiculously bad Scots accent - another reason to see this movie), James Fransiscus as the concerned small town cop, and Joshua Sinclair as the local mayor. Any of this sound familiar? Can't think why...
James Fransiscus (”From the second Planet of the Apes movie!” - Jim) wears what surely must be the coolest red wetsuit of all time (”The Ferrari of all wetsuits!” - Rawshark) in this movie. He almost looks as good as John Saxon, and that’s no small praise at ZC. Sadly, some of the other fashions in The Last Shark left a lot more to be desired but maybe Jim has more of a finger on the fashion pulse than what we’d previously thought (”That kid is wearing a white belt. White belts are back in fashion now, you know.”) but he got a helluva lot more excitable when he noticed this amazing car with ”the extra viewing panel at the top” – if you ask me, this extra head space was required to house the extremely large diameter haircuts that appear in The Last Shark.
Watching this movie when drinking booze may just make you believe it’s actually better than Jaws in a fun kind of way. After all, you’ve got two movies for the price of one (because it’s a bit like Jaws 2 as well) and also, you’re in for a treat deciding whether Vic Morrow is Scottish or Irish (“McMorrow…O’Morrow?). Jim and myself argued over this for ages but it wasn’t until Vic used the well-known Scots verb, ‘dinnae’, that I admitted defeat. Scottish it is then. In case that isn’t enough fun, then check out good old Romano Puppo – Trash’s dad to you and me – who arrives towards the end to kick some ass (”Hi, I’m Trash’s dad and I’m here to kill the fucking shark.” - Jim) All of this leads up to a scene towards the end where we all got admittedly over excited because the shark actually pulls a helicopter into the sea. What more do you want? Chum?
Rawshark Yeah, that ‘Shark pulls helicopter into the sea’ scene was great! As was the moment a Windsurf Regatta Marshall in a boat (well, ok, more a very stiff dummy of him) is flung 20 foot into the air by an underwater attack, before being chomped on by an emerging fibreglass shark head – all caught on TV camera. As Zomblee said, it’s ”as good as anything in Jaws”. It certainly is. Well, apart from the dummy bit.
From it’s opening stunt windsurfing credits sequence, The Last Shark is breezy fun entertainment, especially if you, like most of us, were scared shitless the first time you saw Spielberg’s original masterpiece. You can actually list off identical plot points here – finding a human limb, the enlisting of the salty seadog who sits on his boat drinking beers (Vic!), the floating buoy to indicate to the above-water cameras where the shark is (although we never did figure out how it ever got attached) – but so what? It’s all fun, and The Last Shark even adds a few new plot points of it’s own such as a cave-diving sequence and a jetty being ripped from the shore. Well, actually maybe not that last one.
Apparently released in Spain as Jaws 3 (”What? Jaws Tres?” - Zomblee), The Last Shark is a really enjoyable rip-off with added cult icons (”It’s Trash’s Dad!” – Zomblee and Jim together in an unified excited scream), gory leg chomps and buckets of chum. Yes, chum. Such a good sounding word, we ended up saying it a lot this evening (”She’s chum!” - Jim). Shame about the ending though, but you can’t have everything. Oh well.
Director Enzo G. Castellari
Cast James Franciscus
Stefania Girolami Goodwin
Runtime 83 mins
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Monster Shark (Devouring Waves) (1984)
Plot Octoshark or Sharktopus? While they argue amongst themselves Bob drinks as much beer as possible while Sopkiw beds a couple of hot chicks.
Rawshark Monster Shark, the second film of the night was directed by (as we all know) Lamberto Bava, but the opening onscreen credits clearly state the film was directed by John Old Jr. ”Well make your mind up” said Jim, and that seems upon reflection, a pretty good description of the film itself.
After an initial gory leg decapitation, Michael Sopkiw finally enters stage left as Peter (”Hey, the second hero of the night called Peter. We should call tonight Peter Night!” - Jim). It seems there’s some pirhana-type shark with Bob Marley-style tentacles on the loose, so Peter teams up with two scientists, some random girls and a beer-swilling boat captain to track down the vicious creature using a special ‘pinging’ sonar screen.
It’s all a bit of a mess really (it turns out in the end that it’s all a WOI genetic experiment gone wrong), but along the way there are moments to enjoy such as the random bad guy murdering a girl in a bath before then exploitatively deciding to rip her pants off (”to make it look like she was having a bath” - thanks Jim for the expert Crime Scene report) and a fairly decent tentacle attack towards the end.
A fair few Zombie Club favourites too, such as tight red pants, terrible monsters, actresses who also appeared in 2019, the afore-mentioned beer-swilling boat captain and of course our last ever Zombie Club appearance of Michael Sopkiw who gets to bed all the birds (”Well, he is a good-looking guy” - Zomblee). Perhaps the highlight though, is muscle man Fernando Cortez, who steals every scene he’s In with his pec-flexing and range of three acting faces, ”concerned, worried and dead” (Zomblee). Says a lot about a movie when a barely-speaking background actor steals the show.
”We could find ourselves up the assholes in monsters”.
Zomblee "Cortez is the unsung hero of this movie really", agreed Rawshark towards the end of this amusing if confused little offering from the director who can't make his mind up. I can't quite remember whether he does anything to save the day but he sure gets his name mentioned plenty for a guy who essentially stands in the background with his massive arms folded, always in preparation of his next acting face. Go on Cortez, you knock 'em dead, kiddo.
Getting accustomed to movies like Monster Shark goes with the territory here at Zombie Club, and we’ll normally recognise other actors who your average punter won’t know from Adam. Or Eve for that matter (”Do you recognise her from 2019?" – Jim). And the same goes for the music. Just how many ZC movies have the De Angelis brothers (AKA Oliver Onions) scored? Quite a few by my reckoning, and here they turn in a chirpy soundtrack that Rawshark describes as ”John Carpenter in a happy mood…after spliffs and wine…”, and he’s not far wrong. Of course, John Carpenter would never smoke pot or associate with anyone who does.
A lot of beer is drunk in Monster Shark, and a lot of beer is also required to get you through watching it. For a start, there’s a distinct lack of chum. But for every chumless scene you’ll get rewarded with the kind of ridiculous that only these Italian movies can muster, like the idea of a getting an amazingly accurate cast from a messed-up bite would. You will also be fighting your curiosity to see just how monstrous this octo-shark actually is, or hoping it will not just be a normal shark with a couple of tentacles and ”a big under-fin thing (Rawshark). Hey, at least we got a new favourite word tonight: CHUM.
”If you think I’m doing this because Stella has a cute little ass, you’re exactly right.”
Jim There is a distinct and disappointing lack of chum in tonight’s second film, but there's not a distinct lack of cool boxes. You see, in L'Ultimo Squale every cool box had chum in it, but in Monster Shark every cool box you see has something else in it. That something is beer, most of which is drank by the exceedingly reliable Dr. Bob who just so happens to have a beer can in his hand in every scene. And I mean every scene - at one point a sequence even started with Dr. Bob sans bieré only for him to say "Beer anyone?" halfway though and reach over to that trusty cool box. No wonder he was absolutely no use in the final octo-shark attack and gets dragged to his death by a giant rubber tentacle, the drunk fool.
But it's not just about beer and rubber tentacles, this movie is also about dodgy sonar equipment (or is it a Vic 20?), Sopkiw bedding hot chicks, ridiculous tooth casts ("Oh no, they're gonna start worshipping the tooth, like in Close Encounters!" - Rawshark) and a subplot about it all being a genetic experiment gone wrong that completely went over our heads. I'm assuming that's why that girl was randomly killed and then put in the bath (I thought it was important to explain why he ripped her pants off after the fact) and why there are many non-fishy scenes with hard to remember scientists and policemen talking about something. Hard to remember, that is, except Cortez, who does indeed steal every scene with his constant flexing ("C'mon Cortez, stop flexing!" - Zomblee)
In fact, it had all got so nonsensical by the end (not helped much by the ridiculously abrupt editing) that I have hardly any memory of the end at all, although I'm sure there were some flamethrowers involved. That would make sense wouldn’t it, flamethrowers at sea? Yes, that’s Italians for you.
"He'd sit on his mother's head if he had something to gain by it. "
Director Lamberto Bava
Cast Michael Sopkiw
Runtime About 90 mins or so
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So that's that then, that's the last Sopkiw movie finally covered. It seems only yesterday that we were watching 2019 saying "Who is this guy?" whereas it's actually a couple of years ago. But we made it through them all (2019,Massacre at Dinosaur Valley,Blastfighter and Monster Shark here) so we at Zombie Club would just like to say a big thanks to the one and only Michael Sopkiw. God bless you. Shame we didn't end on your finest work, but that's the way it goes.
L'Ultimo Squale, or The Last Shark, we'd been waiting to see for absolutely ages and it sure as hell didn't disappoint. Big sharks, gore, some breast action, a salty Scottish sea dog played by the late, great Vic Morrow and James 'I know Bruce Lee' Fransiscus on fine form meant that it was always going to be a winner, but we didn't realise quite how much fun there was to be had here. Shame about the lack of a big shark blowing up ending, but at least we got to see Trash's dad again, so I guess we can call it even.
Tune in next week when we'll be watching a pint sized Philipino midget do secret agent stuff and kung-fu in two late 70s grindhouse classics. Yeah I know, I didn't believe it either at first, until I saw this...