Great White (1981)

Great White (1981) - poster 1According to its Wikipedia entry, 1981 Italian film Great White (alternate title: The Last Shark) had only a short theatrical release in the US before it was pulled “after accusations of plagiarism of Jaws“. You don’t say? The film doesn’t only rip-off Jaws – and Jaws 2 – right down to an attempt on the iconic music theme, it does so without even delivering a knowing wink. The result is a rather humorless affair that dirges through, chomps a couple people in half, and leaves off rather abruptly. The most expensive looking thing in the film is the lead’s full orange wetsuit.

Great White takes place in the sea town of Port Harbor, and instead of the Jaws 2 sailboat regatta we are treated to a windsurfing one. Standing in for leathery town policeman Brody, leathery horror author Peter Benton (James Franciscus, whose character name is homage Jaws author Peter Benchley) finds himself at odds with the murderous fish. Gruff shark hunter Quint has been replaced by gruff shark hunter Hammer (Vic Morrow sporting a… ? Scottish?… accent). And of course, in place of the horribly-bejacketed mayor the sleazy politician Wells (Joshua Sinclair) keeps the beaches open even as the body count rises.

Great White (1981) - still 1

Not content to merely ape the 1975 eco-horror blockbuster, the filmmakers double down on the elements they think most lucrative. In this case, the shark makes itself known to the town relatively early on, charging a small dingy and (in an unintentionally comedic scene) launching a man straight out of the boat in some kind of shark-splosion. Numerous shark hunters descend into the water and and several expensive cuts of meat are dangled by fishing line, rope, or (in a rather regrettable scene) the winch on a helicopter – Jaws 2, again. Not content to vaguely menace our lead’s children, the shark bites the leg off Benton’s daughter Jenny (Stefania Girolami Goodwin) and terrorizes his wife Gloria (Micaela Pignatelli). In the last act of the film a heretofore unknown shark hunter strides onscreen in Wranglers with a rifle, only to be eaten a few moments later along with a cameraman. At this juncture, the (seemingly always hungry!) shark tows a terrified group of onlookers, including Gloria, out to sea. This third act was the most incomprehensible portion of a rather silly film, as literally no one from town comes to rescue the group on the pier, despite everyone in town witnessing the shark towing them off. Quirt and Brondy – I mean Hammer and Benton – come to the rescue with predictable results.

The worst thing about these b-grade shark movies, is the back-and-forth between real shark stock footage, and puppety shark chomping. Great White is no exception here; the shark constructed for the film would be an incredible win if used for some kind of stage prop or as a Halloween venture, but comes up short when pushed out of the water to bob about threateningly. The scenes of underwater real sharks swimming about in no way look menacing. The audience has to use their imagination to experience any kind of scare, although there is a bitten-in-half scene that is highly comedic, and several dummies serving as corpses that try valiantly to give us a sense of horror.

Great White (1981) - still 2

Great White (1981) - poster 2

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