WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
After suffering through several awful movies during last year’s Summer of the Shark celebration, I was hesitant to dive into any Italian shark flicks this year. In fact, the wounds left by Joe D’Amato’s DEEP BLOOD are still so fresh (even a year later), that I nearly decided against reviewing Bruno Mattei’s CRUEL JAWS. But curiosity got the better of me Vault Dwellers, and I found myself inexorably pulled towards Mattei’s incredible rip-off of the entire JAWS franchise.
The film begins with two divers intending to pillage the wreckage of a U.S. naval vessel. As they investigate the sunken ship, they are suddenly attacked and killed by a “Tiger Shark.” The movie then introduces us to Dag Soerensen (Richard Dew), Hulk Hogan look-alike and owner of a miniature backwoods SeaWorld. (i.e. Florida’s Theater of the Sea.) Dag’s seal and dolphin show just isn’t as popular as it once was, and now he’s way behind on rent and facing eviction by greedy real estate tycoon, Sam Lewis. (George Barnes Jr.)
Eventually the Tiger Shark (an experimental bio-weapon created by the Navy that looks suspiciously like a Great White) stakes its claim in Hampton Bay, and begins threatening the populace. Naturally the Sheriff wants to shut down the beaches, but Lewis and The Mayor refuse, citing the economic harm it will bring to the town. But after more victims are claimed, the Soerensens, aided by a nerdy oceanographer named Bill Morrison (Gregg Hood), finally take the fight to the shark. Together they must develop a plan to save the town, leading to a finale that I’ve already seen twice before!
If you look at CRUEL JAWS objectively, it is a complete and utter failure. The acting is awful, the dialogue (that isn’t stolen from JAWS and JAWS 2) is laughable, the editing is often amateurish, and one-hundred percent of the shark scenes in this movie are either stock footage, or have been cribbed from other films. (Most likely without permission.) CRUEL JAWS does nearly everything wrong, and is easily one of the most incompetently made films I have ever laid eyes on! And yet… I kind of loved it!
With CRUEL JAWS, Bruno Mattei has attained a level of cinematic thievery that I have never experienced before. Up until now, I have always regarded THE LAST SHARK as the quintessential knock-off of Spielberg’s JAWS. (And Universal Pictures would agree with me, seeing as how they banned Castellari’s film from U.S. shores forever.) CRUEL JAWS goes even further! Not only do they recreate memorable sequences from the JAWS franchise, but they also straight-up steal one-liners, full exchanges of dialogue, and snippets of footage from nearly all of the JAWS movies.
And they don’t stop there, as this film makes references to several other Hollywood blockbusters, like JURASSIC PARK (“The point is, you are alive when they start to eat you.”) and STARS WARS (the CRUEL JAWS theme contains a blatant John Williams’ trumpet fanfare). Hell, it even borrows a tad from Peter Benchley’s novel, by including the mafia’s involvement in Sam Lewis’ real estate dealings! This all proves to be distracting at first, but as you watch this insane JAWS/LAST SHARK supercut, you may find yourself having a bit of fun playing “where’d they steal this from?”
And while CRUEL JAWS “borrows” a lot from the JAWS series, it’s Enzo Castellari’s THE LAST SHARK that gets ripped-off the most here. Nearly all of its shark scenes were harvested and re-edited into this movie! The script for CRUEL JAWS (yes it supposedly had one) seems to have been written around all of the main action setpieces from THE LAST SHARK: The windsurfing regatta is present, as is the helicopter sequence, and the final shot where a miniature of the shark blows up! (Yeesh, this movie seems more like THE LAST SHARK 2 than JAWS 5!)
The remainder of CRUEL JAWS is made up of intersecting storylines that would be well-suited for a soap opera. One plot thread follows star-crossed lovers Bob Soerensen (Scott Silveria) and Gloria Lewis (Natasha Etzer). Gloria’s brother and father don’t want her to see Bob (as evidenced by the way they backhand her when she does not comply), which gives a nice little “Romeo and Juliet” feel to the film’s padding. Another storyline focuses on Billy’s girlfriend Vanessa (Norma J. Nesheim), who suddenly hates that he’s an oceanographer halfway through the movie.
Jealous that he’s more concerned with the finned menace swimming offshore than attending a stupid party, Vanessa attempts to cheat on Billy with the film’s resident jerk, Ronnie Lewis (Carter Collins). But before things can go too far, their make out session is interrupted by a prank that is taken directly from JAWS 3! The following day Vanessa seems to be all about Billy again, but it doesn’t matter much because she is eaten by the shark! (Trust me Billy, that shark did you a favor man! You didn’t need that negativity in your life!)
CRUEL JAWS does nearly succeed at capturing the feel of an exploitation flick, but it never quite gets there. That’s probably because this was a made-for-TV movie (according to IMDB, so take it with a grain of salt), which could explain the distinct lack of boobs and blood. That being said, I was actually quite surprised by this film’s liberal use of “The ‘F’ Word.” For a mostly bloodless sharksploitation flick that features a young handicapped girl, a mischievous seal, and some happy-go-lucky dolphins, it is shocking that the cast utters “f*ck” as often as they do! (Perhaps the cussing was added in for effect on the English dub to make the movie seem more American?)
I don’t have much else to say about CRUEL JAWS, other than it is quite possibly the most creatively bankrupt movie I’ve ever seen. This feature-length medley of copyright law violations, feels like a cobbled-together fan-edit, but I can’t help but adore it! Truth be told, I was thoroughly entertained by this movie! I laughed (in disbelief) frequently, and I very much enjoyed trying to point out everything that the filmmakers plagiarized. CRUEL JAWS definitely falls into the “so bad it’s good” category (I now refer to it as the “TROLL 2 of killer shark movies”), and I feel compelled to give this epic rip-off a very enthusiastic rating of: