With Shark Week arguably America’s most beloved religious festival and the unprecedented worldwide cultural impact of Anthony C. Ferrante’s acclaimed Sharknado trilogy showing no sign of letting up, who could deny the necessity of the Jaws sequels finally getting a Blu-ray release?
The immediate answer is obvious (well, anyone), though this belated look at Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, Jaws: The Revenge and Jaws 5: The Sharkening was, for this writer at least, a nostalgic journey through a world where morbidly obese fish bear grudges, Michael Caine fights a script far deadlier than any marine predator and where lines such as “Weld that sonuvabitch” are somehow deemed passable.
Generally considered the best of the sequels, perhaps Jaws 2 holds a special place in the heart of the reader who, in 1978, saw it in the midst of childhood idiocy. Perhaps, too, the similarities to Steven Spielberg’s classic have convinced said reader that it was comparable in quality to the first Jaws. Sadly, the grim expression on our beleaguered police chief’s face throughout says otherwise.
Reportedly a troubled production, with Roy Scheider apparently only on board to get out of his Universal contract, director Jeannot Szwarc (Supergirl and Santa Claus: The Movie) does his best to ape the original’s thrills and Spielberg’s genius for set-pieces. Instead, though, we get a joyless re-tread of past glories. This time around, the action remains in Amity Island, though follows Chief Brody’s sons, who, along with their anonymous teenage chums (as in the name for the bait used to lure sharks), sneak off for a spot of sailing.
So we get the usual Murray Hamilton ignorant mayor hijinks (surely he’s the Jeremy Hunt of Amity) as Brody scowls, his charisma-void wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) frets and a Michael Myers-esque great white bumps off kids only distinguishable by things like ‘ginger afro’ or ‘wears a hat’. Scheider understandably jumped ship soon after, and (insert bitingly sarcastic nautical pun here).
When the producers of Jaws 3-D visited Southend Sea Life Centre in 2013* to commemorate thirty years since Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr bumped heads, their walk through the underwater glass tunnel must have felt like a horribly familiar surrealist nightmare. Yes, the third sharkstallment sees a state of the art marine park housing dolphins, killer whales and presumably one of those shallow pools where you can touch the rays – though need to make sure you wet your hands first as otherwise it burns their extremely sensitive skin – besieged by yet another tough bastard Carcharadon Carcharias.
Quaid takes on the role of Michael Brody, by now a marine biologist, who, two near-misses in, still doesn’t realise he should probably stay away from big things with sharp teeth. Gossett, Jr is his boss, the straight/shit talking aquarium owner Bouchard, who shows about as much wisdom as the first two films’ stoopid mayor.
Michael’s cowboy hat-wearing dick of a brother Sean turns up apparently purely to have sex with Marty’s mum from Back To The Future (Lea Thompson). Manimal and Casualty star Simon MacCorkindale (sadly the crossover show is in development hell) is a self-serving English photographer who might as well be clad in red Starfleet uniform.
With lashings of ridiculous ‘look, it’s 3D!’ shark shots courtesy of Oscar-nominated set-decorator and Razzie-nominated director (for Jaws 3-D of course) Joe Alves, finally, we get the spectacle of various marine items pointing out of our soon-to-be-defunct 3D tellies. MacCorkindale and his evil-faced assistant pull off that old trick of actual British actors sounding like they’re Americans pretending to be British (see also Helen Baxendale in Friends), whilst cuddly dolphins out-act everyone else with ease. With the seventies disaster vibe live and kicking even in 1983, this emerges as the most entertaining non-Spielberg outing.
Viewers would surely have been pleased in 1987 to see Sean Brody getting his just desserts at the start of Jaws: The Revenge, though arguably his character gets off the easiest compared to the film’s latter indignities.
Incredibly, Michael is still a marine biologist and, less incredibly, Dennis Quaid has morphed into The Last Starfighter’s Lance Guest, whilst Ellen Brody is mourning the death of her husband Martin. For some reason, Michael Caine, being more out of place than John Lithgow playing Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back radio play (look it up), is a charter pilot called Hoagie and everything’s happening in the Bahamas, with all the necessary racial stereotyping (imagine Mario Van Peebles uttering the word “ting” repeatedly) that would make Futurama’s Hermes proud.
If Jaws 2 was a slasher film and the third a disaster movie, Jaws: The Revenge is – obviously – the psychodrama of the celluloid shark family. This means we’re treated to bad soap opera moping from Ellen whilst Hoagie cracks out his party dance moves to seduce her and Michael’s wife Carla welds sculptures in the way all eighties film women tended to do. Oh, and the original, ridiculous ending on this Bluray edition.
Whilst all this is happening, we learn that great white sharks tend to focus on hunting down human families over a course of years and that the survivors left behind develop a psychic link so strong to the sharks in question that they (in this case, Ellen) can even go so far as to have flashbacks to scenes from previous films that they weren’t even present for.
As if to highlight the disparity in quality, Michael De Guzman’s misguided script incorporates as many callbacks to the first film as possible, most glaring during a deeply awkward mimicking of the scene where Brody in turn is playfully mimicked by his son. Photos of our beloved Chief are pasted around the place as the audience shifts in their seats, wishing they’d gone to see Spaceballs instead.
As Michael Caine greets a roaring shark (yes, they roar) with the line “Sweet Judas: we’re heading straight for it”, the connoisseur will understand the essence of why Jaws: The Revenge is paradoxically so very good.
By the end of the fourth Jaws instalment, our plastic, slow-moving shark is about as far removed as possible from the admittedly already slightly dodgy Bruce (famously named after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer) of the first film, though all pale in comparison to the bug-eyed beastie roaming the wilds of Ib Melchior’s 1959 B-movie classic The Angry Red Planet, out on DVD.
Written by Reptilicus director Sidney Pink, this monster movie has all the silly charm and occasional directorial competence of Pink’s later film as survivors from a scientific expedition to the red planet recall, Ghosts Of Mars style (but better, obviously), the nasties they encounter there. Pink’s often-ridiculous script sees our romantic leads Gerald Mohr and Naura Hayden flirting outrageously, with lines as good as “When we get back, Irish, how about we explore that dark alley” lingering awkwardly. Cheapo critters and glaring errors (the sky looks blue from inside the rocket ship, whilst outside, all is seen through a creepy red filter) clash wonderfully with some decent tension-building from Robinson Crusoe On Mars writer Melchior.
The star of the show, though, is the lovably big-eyed galoot of a giant bat-rat-spider thing (I assume the new Spiderman movie will be something like this), which stomps around like something made by middle-class mums for their nearest family festival (shudder), only for it to go horribly wrong somewhere in the construction.
Less likely to show up at a vintage-themed gathering for the littl’uns and their gluten-free parents (complete with jazz band, vaguely ethnic snacks and stalls selling home-made photo frames), though, is the genuinely creepy killer’s mask in L. Scott Castillo Jr’s 1984 slasher also-ran Satan’s Blade, getting an unearned Bluray release.
Sadly not at all reminiscent of that South Park episode where the boys try skiing and get into a rivalry with the local instructor, prompting that montage-themed song, instead, we get a generic tale of youngsters who visit a mountain resort, only to be terrorised by a nearby resident possessed by the vengeful spirit of a murderer. Needless to say, there are tits out, gory deaths and deeply unlikeable protagonists and the whole thing has an outstandingly cheap feel to it.
What perhaps sets this out from every other lesser-known film from this genre, though, is Castillo Jr’s almost Tommy Wiseau-level disregard for film-making convention, with nary a thought towards keeping the audience’s attention and a bizarre and unexplained bank heist opening scene that becomes rapey pseudo-lesbian erotica, only tenuously linked to the main plotline, if we’re feeling charitable. A decentish synth score more than slightly influenced by good old John Carpenter makes up for a lot of (bad) weirdness, though it’s not quite enough to save the day.
What would have saved the day, though, is obviously Chuck Norris, unbelievably making his first appearance in this blog more than two years since its glorious inception, with 88 Films’ Bluray release of the equally glorious Invasion USA. The year is 1988 and a permanently nonchalant Norris sports a vague mullet and double denim as he faces an imminent Commie threat to the American way of life.
Of course, the most logical place for any invasion of the USA to begin would be the Florida Everglades and suburbs of Miami, making for the most ridiculous swamp-based scenes since Wes Craven’s 1982 Swamp Thing film. In between fighting Ruskie airboat pilots and shooting guerrillas in the goolies, our presumably NRA-supporting hero makes time to look after his pet armadillo and spout lines like “I’m going to hit you with so many rights, you’re gonna beg for a left”.
Arch villain Rostov (the definitely not typecast Richard Lynch, from, ooh, probably 80% of films covered by this writer) is a Russian shit working with the Cubans and has an old grudge against Chuck (does it matter what his character’s called), plus apparently employs Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler as his evil helicopter pilot to boot. We know how that plan goes, really.
Embodying everything great about the Golan-Globus produced Cannon films (King Solomon’s Mines, Stallone’s Cobra and Rumpelstiltskin just a few prime examples), Invasion USA remains a resplendently silly introduction to the wealth of entirely straight-faced foolishness Norris’ movies have to offer.
*this didn’t necessarily happen.
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