WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
With Summer of the Shark 2017 coming to end, I found myself torn on how to cap off this year’s mini-marathon. I was at crossroads: I could review a big-budget shark flick, something new that was made on the cheap, or subject myself to a René Cardona Jr. movie. After weighing my options carefully, I whittled my choices down to two films, namely TINTORERA and CYCLONE. The latter won out, mainly because I had never seen it, but also because I recall TINTORERA being light on sharks and heavy on three-ways. It turns out I was doomed either way.
As CYCLONE begins, authorities are warned that a powerful storm is building up strength and could be heading their way. Taking action, they ground all flights, and warn all ships at sea to return to port before the hurricane hits. Despite their efforts, a fishing trawler, a small tour boat (the “Moby Dick”), and an airplane full of passengers get caught up in the storm. The plane ends up taking a dive into the ocean, and the trawler sinks, but somehow the Moby Dick miraculously makes it through the ordeal unscathed.
After floundering in the sea for days, the survivors from the plane and fishing vessel climb aboard the Moby Dick. With no food and little water, everyone struggles to survive as naval search and rescue teams scour the area. With tensions running high, and starvation and dehydration taking their toll on the group, they grudgingly resort to cannibalism. And just when they think things can’t get any worse, their boat is damaged during a fight, and begins to submerge.
As the film trudges to its conclusion, it’s a race against time as the remaining survivors wait to be rescued, while hungry Tiger Sharks begin to pick them off one by one. Who will survive, and what will be left of them? To tell you the truth, I could care less!
René Cardona Jr.’s CYCLONE really tested my mettle Vault Dwellers. Right off the bat, my main issue with this movie is its lethargic pacing. The film’s first half-hour is promising, as we get to see the devastation caused by the storm, which includes a relatively convincing sequence where the plane splashes down and begins to sink. But once the action ends, the movie hits the brakes and gives you the feeling that you too are trapped on a boat with the unluckiest group of people on Earth.
As far as characters go, no time is spent to flesh any of them out: They are merely one-dimensional placeholders, only distinguishable by certain traits. (i.e. Woman with dog, priest, pregnant lady, tour guide, old man with briefcase, Hugo Stiglitz, etc.) As a result, you most likely won’t give a damn about any of these people as they fight among themselves, and struggle to see another sunrise. In regards to the acting, everyone is ok for the most part, but it is difficult to grade the cast when they don’t have much else to do but look sad, angry, and/or hungry.
So to sum it all up: CYCLONE is a bore. But that briefly changes at about the sixty-seven minute mark (depending on which cut you’re watching), when the film commits the ultimate cinematic sin. One of the women in the boat has a dog and keeps sneaking it water, even going as far as to give a thousand bucks to someone else in exchange for their H2O ration. The captain of the capsized trawler, Pitorro (Mario Almada), is none too pleased with this, and chucks the little dog overboard. Upsetting right? Well read on at your own risk…
Seconds later, one of Pitorro’s shipmates leaps in after the dog and rescues it. (YAY!) When asked why, the fisherman yells “Because it’s food, that’s why!” (Wait…. WHAT?! Oh no…) The guy then yanks the pooch out of a little girl’s arms, pulls out a knife, and SLITS THE DOG’S THROAT! (I guarantee a lot of you just put this on your “Movies I will Never Watch” list.) The scene then cuts to some time later when he has FULLY SKINNED AND GUTTED THE DEFENSELESS DOG, so that everyone can partake of the raw flesh in order to stay alive.
I have to admit that my jaw dropped when this happened Vault Dwellers. I knew it was coming, but I figured that the dog-murder would have been hinted at, or at least performed offscreen. And despite the bright red stage blood, this whole sequence is jolting, and is a definite make or break moment for the film. (It certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.) Even the cannibalism stuff that happens later is extremely tame when compared to the visceral shock of seeing a large man sawing at a yelping dog’s neck with a blade!
Speaking of the cannibalism, it sadly never strays into exploitation film territory. In fact, the characters avoid eating someone at all costs, preferring instead to cut some meat from a dead comrade for fishing bait. But hunger soon takes over, and after another person dies, they take a group vote before chowing down on the poor bastard. (Mmmmm…. dude jerky.) This keeps them going for a few more days, but ultimately proves to be a bad idea when their boat starts to sink. (Important safety tip: Don’t throw or drop anything heavy when you’re in a glass-bottom boat.)
The thrashing humans, plus the sinking remains of the man they dined upon, gains the attention of some Tiger Sharks. Though teased twice earlier in the film, the sharks finally get their big moment during the climax, and begin devouring the easy prey. This is probably the most tense sequence in the film, as the remaining survivors bob helplessly in the sea as they wait to be rescued by a pair of amphibious aircraft. It’s like a miniature scale version of Quint’s U.S.S. Indianapolis tale: “Sixteen men and women went in the water. Five come out, the sharks took the rest, October 26, 1978.”
CYCLONE is not an easy film to sit through. The story (what little there is) moves along too slowly, the characters are uninteresting, and the film’s running time (a whopping 119 minutes if you watch the complete version) should have been pared down considerably. And when you finally get to all that sharky goodness in the final act, it really doesn’t seem worth it. You have to power through so much padding, and a gruesome canine killing (that was clearly only added for shock value) to watch Tiger Sharks (and Grey Reef Sharks) chomping on chunks of meat dressed in human clothing.
I totally expected CRUEL JAWS to be the worst thing I would watch during this year’s Summer of the Shark, but that dubious honor goes to CYCLONE. Though the film has some good camerwork (René Cardona Jr. was no slouch, having directed a hundred films before passing away), and features the musical stylings of Riz Ortolani (who composed the hauntingly beautiful theme music for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), it’s not nearly enough to save CYCLONE from receiving a rating of: