L’Ultimo Squalo (The Last Shark)

I finally found a Japanese laserdisc copy of this notorious Jaws (1975) rip-off from Italian director Enzo G. Castellari. This is the guy that gave us the original The Inglorious Bastards (1978), which isn’t a half bad WWII actioner. L’Ultimo Squalo (The Last Shark, 1980?) was a big hit in Italy and released in the U.S. in 1980 (some sources note 1981 or 1982) as Great White. It had a limited run. Universal sued the distributors and the film was pulled and banned in the U.S. The film is largely found now as Japanese bootlegs from laserdisc sources. The film stars James Franciscus as reporter Peter Benton (not Benchley) and Vic Morrow as crusty sea captain Ron Hamer.

No doubt it’s a blatant Jaws (and Jaws II) rip-off. It’s slow and poorly paced, but it’s fun and worth watching. Actually I think it’s a decent little movie and certainly not one of the 50 worst films ever made (IMDb, 2011). However, the film is deliberately paced and suffers from a lack-luster score —there’s virtually none of the suspense seen in Jaws. It’s a bit of a curiosity. I particularly like James Franciscus, who was an underrated actor, and well-suited for action roles. I think he could’ve pulled off the role as Brody (Roy Scheider) in the original. My main gripe about the film was the unmoving score and Vic Morrow’s horrible accent. I can’t tell if he’s supposed to be Irish, Scottish, Greek, Russian… What the hell is his nationality? Morrow’s no Robert Shaw, but he gives it his best.

Check out the shark. Most blogs and film books trash the full-scale prop, but I like it. In some ways I think it’s an improvement over Bruce the shark from Jaws. IMDb notes the special effects were by Antonio Corridori and the shark was constructed by Georgio Ferrari. This shark is painted correctly, and the Jaws and teeth anatomically match a Great White’s. As with Jaws, this film is inter-cut with real shark footage (although at times the shark doesn’t always appear to be a Great White). Ah gorilla film making. In a few scenes, The Last Shark doesn’t hold back. In one of the better moments from the film, a chunk of meat is lowered from a helicopter as two idiots attempt to go shark fishing. I found these scenes an improvement over Jaws II, which is just bad. I hated the design of that shark with fire scars.

Some of the scenes are nearly identical to Jaws. Here Peter finds Ron as the shark moves in for the bite. Earlier we see a shark cage sequence and similar shenanigans on an Orca-like boat. There’s a beach scene and plenty of attacks on tourists. Surprisingly, the film doesn’t show much gore and doesn’t try to outdo Jaws with shock scenes. It’s actually fairly low-key.

I wonder if Castellari nick-named the shark. Maybe Luigi or Guido? The film is not without camp. Check out this body. All in all, The Last Shark isn’t a bad little film and worth seeing if you’re a fan of shark films. I’d put it about on par with some of the Jaws sequels. I doubt it will ever get a U.S. DVD or BR release. Look for it at horror cons and the usually sources.



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