Nothing scares you like the stuff that scared you as a kid. Some of my favorite movies remain the ones I sneak-watched by peeking out the door of my bedroom at the tender age of 8. Alien. The Thing. Up from the Depths… one of these things is not like the other, you say? Well, I dug up this fossilized turd from the ’70s to re-watch it, and damn, this ripoff is so far from Jaws that it makes Jaws 3-D look like a masterpiece.
Set on the fictional Hawaiian isle of Mahu, this killer fish picture by the writer of Death Race 2000 and Little Shop of Horrors shows that he should have stuck to writing. It begins with a pretty girl diving alone while a Peter Fonda lookalike lounges in the boat. Scary music thumps at us, like the Cookie Monster playing the piano, as she swims through craggy reefs. Suddenly she turns around and poof, blood in the water! Severed arm in the water! The boat dude- who later turns out to be a scientist- notices the seas roiling around the boat, and dumps his brandy snifter to scoop up some bloody water. I wish he’d have drank it and done a spit-take, but no such luck.
Later on the beach, some annoying fat rich tourists get slimed with innards that the dorky hotel director- who looks remarkably like Ted the Lawyer from “Scrubs”- tells him is chum. Yeah, human chum. As El Dorko Mr. Forbes rants to sexy gal Rachel, our eye candy for this picture, and they come upon a severed shark’s head on the beach. He thinks it’s a prank played by the Captain Earl and Greg, two swindlers who take folks looking for the “Kahuna Maru,” a shipwreck containing stuff like “an ivory and jade handled samurai sword, work like eight hundred bucks.” The Captain sounds like a cross between Jack Elam and Burl Ives doing an impression of Dr. Gonzo. His assistant Greg, he of the impressive muttonchop sideburns, plants cheap treasure on the wreck for their marks to find later. Not a bad gig if you can get it.
Next, a French tourist gets pulled into the water while taking photos of a young hottie, and large fins are spotted by kids on the glass bottomed boat. One of the local divers finds a severed hand, but Forbes tells him to throw it away, since it wasn’t found on his property. The dorky hotel guy has the best lines, though. “There are no sharks in the Hawaiian archipelago!” “The ocean is fine! I go in it all the time! I drink it!” Tropical Palace, situated on the lovely island of Mahu- which is obviously between Maui and Oahu- seems to encompass the whole island, have no police or security, and is peopled with strange, dubbed people. I love the little touches, like when the cook is roasting a pig, some guy in a big floppy hat walks by and says, “Remember what I said! Don’t cook it too long, or it’ll shrink!”
“Hey, the fish were there first!” says the scientist, who of course wants to study it, and become famous, even if that means letting it eat a bunch of bathers. After the first attack, when the huge grouper-like prop smashes a gondola and chomps a bunch of cliff divers, he rescues the known characters and leaves the poor native divers to hang on the sides of the rocks like bait. My favorite scene is of course the gratuitous titty interlude, where a photographer is doing a shoot with a leggy model. Hey, I was like 10 when I first saw this. Gimme a break. She first poses on a net on a catamaran, and then scuba dives topless, enraging the fish’s delicate sensibilities. Either that or her buoyant boobies look like puffer fish, its natural prey. No one seems to care that the model and photographer just got eaten; they don’t even try to grab her hand as it reaches from the water! Now, talk about the fragility of memory. I distinctly remembered her severed boob and the camera floating to the bottom, the flash going off as it bounced along the rocks. But I guess even this movie had limits. So I guess that says more about my morbid imagination than horrible movies of the late ’70s.
Greg and the scientist’s flunky, armed with an M16 and a shotgun, try to gun it down from dock, but it rams the pilings and chomps on one of them. “Oh my God, it’s a monster fish!!!” Everyone runs from the water, and keeps running, through the luau, the Tiki bar, and beyond, as the Thurston Howell lookalikes watch with disinterest. A husband slaps his wife, yelling at her, “fish can’t walk!!” “But everybody’s running!!” “Fish can’t run either!!”
Which to me, was the best part of the whole movie. It’s sort of like a cross between Black Lizard’s muddled Club Dread and well, any number of Jaws ripoffs, because it doesn’t take itself seriously. Jaws gave us good reason to go into the water- the shark was killing not just tourists, but the town’s livelihood, and they hire shark-hunter Quint to put himself in harm’s way. Brody and Hooper have their own reasons; knowledge and conquering fear. But in any number of copycats, you could just stay the hell out of the water, have a damn drink by the pool and forget about it. Even a movie this lousy knows that, and makes good jokes out of it.
When Forbes offers a thousand dollar reward for whoever kills the fish, the middle-aged tourists grab the spears from the Tiki lounge to go after it in a drunken stupor. Scuba divers with spearguns, hunters with rifles and crossbows, and of course, the ubiquitous Japanese tourist with nothing but a towel wrapped sumo style, sunglasses, and a samurai sword. But the best of all are the rednecks with the homemade propane flamethrower. That works as well as expected. Another favorite is when a diver gets bitten, without his wetsuit being punctured. “His insides are all busted.” This time, the fish retracted its teeth and gummed him to death. But the best part is that they use his body as bait! They wrap him up with plastic explosive, and go trolling with the corpse. So despite the lousy production values and inane dialogue, this slapdash piece of craptacular celluloid has its redeeming qualities. Sure, Quint used Hoopah as bait, but would he have used his corpse for chum? Yeah, I’m pretty sure he would’ve, actually.
Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? Fish Movie!
Quotability Rating: There are no quotes in the Hawaiian Archipelago!
Cheese Factor: There is no cheese in the Hawaiian Archipelago!
High Points: The goofs
Low Point: My own depraved imagination
Gratuitous Boobies: Lots