Six reviews in on a blog about bonkers cinema, and this is our first Italian film? Talk about a highly suspect operation. But worry not, Bruno Mattei is here to lend me some much needed credibility.
I’ve often joked that Bruno Mattei is the poor man’s Joe D’Amato, as his most notable accomplishment is having directed over fifty films—not one of them any good. Say what you will about the similarly prolific D’Amato, but at least he managed to churn out a couple watchable films such as Beyond the Darkness (1979) and Antropophagus, a.k.a. The Grim Reaper (1980). Also like D’Amato, Mattei operated in just about every sleazy exploitation category there is: Nazi sexploitation, regular good ol’ boy sexploitation, straight up porno, porno-horror hybrid, cannibal, women in prison, nunsploitation, and of course, the knock-offs of popular American films.
Which brings us to Cruel Jaws, a.k.a. Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws, a.k.a. The Beast (1995). This isn’t just a regular Jaws rip-off; this is a rip-off of a Jaws rip-off film. In 1980, Enzo G. Castellari (director of one of mine and Quentin Tarantino’s favorite Italian films, The Inglorious Bastards) directed The Last Shark, a.k.a. Great White. The Last Shark is a defiant, pure rip-off of the original Jaws. So much so, Universal sued and successfully blocked its distribution in the U.S.
What does this all have to do with Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws? Well, leave it to the genius director of S.S. Extermination Love Camp and Caligula Reincarnated as Nero to go full At Swim-Two-Birds levels of meta, intertextual batshit. Cruel Jaws is completely cobbled together by footage from The Last Shark, stock footage, and shots and dialogue 100% taken from the actual Jaws films. The only new elements filmed for this movie were the scenes with the new actors. All of the underwater and shark footage was lifted.
It would be a massive waste of my time and your time to rehash the plot—if you’ve seen the first three Jaws movies, there are not gonna be any surprises here. There’s a beach community, an overprotective Sheriff Brody (I mean Berger), and a piece of shit mayor who ignores warnings. Hell, there’s even a big aquarium, which is obviously a callback to Sea World in Jaws 3. And, of course, a big fucking great white, which for some reason, they call a tiger shark, even though every shot—stock footage or otherwise—is of a great white.
This gem of a film hits every mark you’d expect a bonkers Italian film to hit, including the weird interpretations of American life. After the opening shark attack scene, we cut to a young scientist (the Richard Dreyfuss character) and his girlfriend driving in an RV, which young couples are wont to do. The woman asks what their plans are for the summer, and the guy responds, “This year? Sailing, tennis, discoing ‘til dawn…” I should reiterate that this film was made in 1-9-9-5. Not to mention, you gotta love the stuff that doesn’t exactly translate, like when someone is slamming a person for being a “dick brain.”
OHHHHHH! There’s a total Hulk Hogan lookalike as well.
I love, love, LOVE this movie. The first half, though, is really slow, incompetent, and boring, but I’d say for a first time viewing, you should watch the entire thing just to get the flavor of the wackiness. However, for the best experience ever, simply drop the needle halfway through on the big windsurfing scene—that again, is ripping off the sail boat antics from Jaws 2. From here on out is some of the best and wildest attack stuff in the entire sharksploitation genre. The shark from the Last Shark looks amazing. The kills come fast and gloriously.
Someone at some point says “we’ll need a bigger helicopter.”
Unfortunately, there’s no real good copy out there of this thing. Scream Factory had actually planned to put this on a double blu ray with Exterminators from the Year 3000 a couple years ago, but soon discovered it probably wasn’t worth clearing the rights with Universal and abandoned it. I have a crappy DVD bootleg that I think is the same VHS transfer that’s on YouTube, so you may as well go there and enjoy this sucker in all its glory.
Final item of note: The soundtrack hilariously steals the first several bars of the Star Wars theme.