SEPTEMBER 26 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : CRUEL JAWS
A killer shark terrorizes a small seaside town during its financially busiest time of season, with a much-hyped regatta, and it is up to a cop and shark expert to stop it against the wishes of the mayor. No this is not a review of Steven Spielberg's Jaws or Enzo G.Castellari's L'ultimo squalo, but they do have identical plots. Unfortunately, the comparisons do not end there either. Cruel Jaws might be the biggest hack job ever committed to film, using key action and attack sequences spliced in from Jaws, Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, Deep Blood, and the aforementioned L'ultimo squalo. Then again, this is a Bruno Mattei film, so there should be no surprise in the offending hack-manship involved.
The only entertaining value that can be derived from this film is that the main protagonist freakishly resembles pro wrestler Hulk Hogan from the 1980s, the usage of John Williams' Star Wars soundtrack during certain scenes and the delivery of blatant rip-off dialogue such as "I think we're gonna need a bigger helicopter". The most unintentionally hilarious plot hole is that the villain is supposed to be a tiger shark when all of the footage used is obviously that of a great white shark.
Cruel Jaws cannot even be classified as a "so bad it's good" feature, but can be classified as a waste of celluloid. If the film was played as a spoof, it could garner some appreciation. However, the film is played straight for 100 minutes and quickly becomes a giant borefest of a giant shark film. Marketed outside the U.S. as Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws.
SEPTEMBER 26 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : CRUEL JAWS
Wait a minute, hold on... Steven Spielberg... Jeannot Szwarc... Joe Alves... Joseph Sargent.... Nope, no mention of Bruno Mattei in any of their respective biographies. We're good.
I've alluded to this one before, in my numerous tirades against why foreign countries should never be allowed to watch our movies (Why? Because they usually end up copying them!), and also because it was made by bad boy Bruno.
Oh, Bruno. Bruno Bruno Bruno. Anyone who knows Bruno Mattei's body of work knows what to expect: ripoff story line, bad effects, spliced-in footage from other movies and bad acting. REALLY bad acting.
I knew what to expect. I sallied forth regardless.
It's bad enough that you make a ripoff movie, but a ripoff that purports to be a sequel in a series of already-established films? That takes guts, if not brains, and I'll say this much for Mattei: his guts are on display here in full.
This is the man who's made lots of zombie movies, many gladiator movies, a good hunk of sexploitation movies and even had the time to zip off a little sequel to The Terminator that was more about aliens underneath Venice, Italy than it was about robots.
Even though Bruno passed on in 2007, he left behind a legacy of over 50 films, none of which had one original idea in them. And as we're about to see with Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws, not only were these films not original, they weren't good, either.
You know what really makes me mad about this one? This is probably the laziest movie about shark attacks, shark hunting, shark catching and shark destruction I have ever seen in my life, and at no time did I ever believe this was anything more than what it was: a cheap ripoff that gives cheap ripoffs a bad name.
Of course, what can you expect from a man who has to splice clips from other directors' product into his own to be able to call it "complete"? If the man is Bruno Mattei, you shouldn't expect any less.
Now, about Jaws 5: I don't know why I insist on calling it that, seeing as this is about as much a sequel to any Jaws film as Re-Animator is a sequel to Porky's.
Get a load of this plot rundown: A tiger shark bred by the Navy as a killing machine is wrecking havoc in the sleepy tourist town of Hampton Bay. In the meantime, the Mafia is involved with sleazy real estate investments, and send their thugs to keep a lid on the fact the residents are (as Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th would say) all doomed. However, the residents of Hampton Bay and the local dolphins come to the rescue to save the hamlet from both the mob and military covert operatives.
First of all, I say "tiger shark" but it really just depends on what stock footage you go by. Sometimes it is, as I said, a tiger shark. Other times it's a great white like we'd be used to in this situation. Then there are other times in the proceedings that we're afraid the papier-mâché is going to deteriorate if left in the water too long.
Now as far as the plot goes..."a tiger shark bred by the Navy as a killing machine"? "Mafia"? "Sleazy real estate investments"? "Military covert operatives"??? The IMDb dares to sully the name of Peter Benchley by claiming this screenplay is based on his own classic novel.
Of course, that's like saying David Lynch's Dune is based on Manos: The Hands of Fate, what with all the hand references....
And speaking of hands, this is a screenplay that not only Mattei had a hand in but was also touched by co-writers Robert Feen and Linda Morrison, two writers whose previous credits have been...well, nothing. But who, since Jaws 5, have gone on to write...well, nothing again.
As is par for the course in a Bruno Mattei movie, all of the actors were recruited from the entry kiosk for "America Ain't Got Talent", since not a one of these individuals could act their way out of a wet paper shark. In fact, for most of them, this was their one and only shot at a big movie...and this went straight to Italian TV!
I'll take that back; one of these actors, Larry Zience, went on to an illustrious career...as a second unit director. Oh yeah; films like 2 Fast 2 Furious, Bad Boys II and Wild Things: Foursome benefited immeasurably because of Larry's involvement. Good for him, you know?
You want Matt Hooper/Richard Dreyfuss? Sorry, you're stuck with Bill Morrison (Gregg Hood), who's supposed to be a marine life expert but whose expertise is in equating a shark to a "locomotive with a mouth full of butcher's knives". Just in case you didn't know what to compare sharks to. And he kind of looks like the "Oh My GAHHHHHHD" kid in Troll 2, which does NOT help me take him any more seriously.
You want Sheriff Brody/Roy Scheider? Sorry, you're stuck with Sheriff Francis Berger (David Luther), whose main purpose is to show us what Sheriff Brody would have been like if the part had been cast with beefy gung-ho guy who's good with a machine gun and a helicopter. Yes, those get utilized in Jaws 5, too. The Sheriff? Not so much.
You want Sam Quint/Robert Shaw? Sorry, you're stuck with Dag Snerensen (Richard Dew) who may look like Hulk Hogan but has the onscreen presence of a hoagie, even when talking about the accident (What accident? Don't ask...) that claimed the life of his wife (What's her name? Don't ask...) and crippled his little buck-toothed daughter Suzy (Kirsten Urso), who may actually have the cruelest-looking jaws in the whole movie.
This of course coincides with the threatening of Dag's Sea World-ish park and its three dolphins from the mayor who wants to foreclose on it and build something-or-other, I don't really remember and it isn't important. The only reason the mayor even gets any screen time is to foist bad Mafia stereotypes, get insulted by people or get pushed into the water. Twice. He doesn't get eaten by a shark, though, which is a bet I think they always missed with Jaws' mayor (Murray Hamilton).
Something else I have to comment on is how they film the shark attacks, or at least 90% - 98% of any scenes involving a shark. Mattei keeps up the standard everyone is used to in his movies by getting out his scissors, sneaking into the film lab and making off with gigantic chunks of other films to splice into his own.
Clips from movies like Speilberg's Jaws, Szwarc's Jaws 2, Joe D'Amato's Deep Blood and Enzo G. Castellari's The Great White (the one with James Franciscus and Vic Morrow... remember?) are all on display here and...this is the worst part...are really indiscernible from any of the rest of Mattei's Cruel work herein. I guess that means that no matter what kind of a shark movie you make, it's all pretty much the same. Doesn't matter.
My biggest gripe with Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws is the same gripe I had with Alien 2: On Earth - why do film-makers from other countries feel it necessary to make all of these unofficial sequels to films that come from our shores anyway? My basic knee-jerk cynicism say it's for the almighty dollar (or almighty Euro) and nothing else, but something else comes into play here as well. An absolute lack of any creativity. I mean look at it this way; for every original, thought-provoking foreign film like The Bicycle Thief, La Dolce Vita, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, That Obscure Object of Desire or even, God help me, Last Year at Marienbad (hey, at least it was original!), there is something that makes the viewer think they are looking at the latest production from Mad Magazine cross-bred with Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. It just doesn't mesh. It makes your eyes water. It makes your soul die. It just plain makes you want to boycott Europe.
Then again, America's no prize either when it comes to wannabe sequels and ripoffs and outright unwarranted copies of our own films. So maybe I'm the pot calling the kettle black. I'll admit it; just don't ask me to like it.
I know there can be fun to be had in a bad ripoff of a film. I know that and I have seen examples of such, I swear I have. But Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws is NOT that film. It is stupid, lunk-headed, lame-brained, tries too hard in some parts and not hard enough in most others.
So if you want to watch this after all the warnings I just gave to you, then you are a sick, diseased, twisted individual whom there is no hope for. And I'll let you watch my copy with me.
I'm surprised they didn't add in any footage from Jaws 3. Could only have helped. My guess is that Mattei figured he owed Dennis Quaid a favor or something.
Because Mattei sure didn't do anyone else any favors....
SEPTEMBER 26 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : APRIL FOOLS DAY
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Muffy St. John is having a weekend get together at her parents’ island home. Guests include “southern” gentleman Harvey (Jay Baker), literary-minded drama girl Nan (Leah Pinsent), jock-type Arch (Thomas F. Wilson – yes, it’s Biff Tannen!), the buffed up Rob (Ken Olandt, who later starred in Leprechaun), Rob’s level-headed girlfriend Kit (Friday the 13th Part 2‘s Amy Steel), and video camera-weilding Chaz (Clayton Rohner). They’re all rich, just graduating, and nobody has any idea what he or she will be doing for the rest of their lives. Everyone seems to be harboring some sort of secret (hey, don’t all well-to-do folk have skeletons in their closet?), but there is too much fun to be had right now, as it is April Fool’s Day, and the pranks are numerous. Collapsing chairs, dribble glasses, trick lighting, whoopee cushions… they’re all here. And what about the disappearances, and the dead bodies… are they pranks too?
That’s what you have to figure out in April Fool’s Day, an entry into the “holiday horror” genre that is really only “horror” on the outside. On the inside, it’s part comedy, part Agatha Christie novel (the film runs with the Ten Little Indians premise), and it mostly succeeds at mixing the two genres. My main issue is that we are only offered mere glimpses of the contents of everyone’s “closet”. For example, Harvey has a history involving some kind of car crash, and Nan’s apparently involves abortion. But we never really explore these revelations – they are brought up and then the plot moves on. The killings themselves are hardly shown and mostly take place off screen (but this is for a reason). I think a lot of horror fans were turned off by the film, because it promises to deliver something, sort-of delivers it, and then takes off its mask at the end and reveals the trick. Hey, the movie is called April Fool’s Day – what did you expect?
I can go no further talking about this movie without revealing some spoilers, so you might want to stop reading if you haven’t seen the film yet. I am reminded so much here of David Fincher’s The Game, which seems like it took its cue from this film. If you have seen that Michael Douglas vehicle, you know about a man’s terrifying ordeal involving a company called Consumer Recreation Services, which goes all out in delivering him a “game” to play. Douglas’ character is drugged and left in Mexico, has his house vandalized, and is shot at, among other things. The twist-reveal at the end of The Game is like the one at the end of April Fool’s Day; we find out that the purpose behind the mayhem is to commence a test run for a special hotel experience (a B&B for mystery buffs? Haunted house for the rich?). Good luck with that one – how long until a guest suffers a heart attack and sues the pants off the management? Anyway, when I first saw this film many years ago I felt cheated, because a big joke had been played on me (and the audience). I expected Friday the 13th, and instead was given something like a documentary of life on the Friday the 13th set! After seeing it again recently, I admired the movie for this move and for staying true to its purpose. It’s not a horror movie – it’s a horror movie commentary. For example, is it plausible that a girl everybody knows would turn out to be an asylum inmate? Isn’t the idea of Muffy having a twin sister Buffy even more absurd? Should you be laughed at for believing it?
There is merit in exploring the messages of the film, which I think are an indictment of the upper class. The tricks played in this movie are cruel when you look at the whole picture – what I find interesting is that those who figure out the joke agree to continue playing the game when anyone could have ended it at anytime. Life is a joke to the rich brats, and the suffering of others is warranted if there is treasure to be had. There might also be a connection with this theme of “temptation” of our main characters and Milton (Nan is reading Paradise Lost at the beginning). And note the ending, where the “remaining” couple, having been exposed to the worst parts of the game eventually fall in line as well, and the one girl who suffers the cruelest joke one-ups the perpetrator, having also fallen under the spell of power and manipulation. That’s what I think April Fool’s Day is really about – manipulation – of the main characters and of the audience. Why do we go to the movies? I think partly, we want our emotions to be manipulated, we want to be the willing puppets. April Fool’s Day simply exposes the strings. I suppose that how you react to it reveals how seriously you take slasher films. If you’re mad because Jason Vorhees didn’t really kill that guy (like say, in Part 5), you probably won’t want to accept what this movie has to tell you.
Somebody at Paramount decided it was necessary to do a remake, and in 2008 that remake went straight to video. It basically copies the “skeleton” of the original’s plot, but makes some modifications, like moving from an island to a city setting and turning all the main characters into complete assholes. The characters in the original are assholes, sure, but you could believe that they have good sides, that they are really friends with one another. In this movie, everyone that’s either in on the prank or a victim of a prank are equally vile. You may have heard otherwise, but this remake isn’t that bad, really. It’s competently shot by The Butcher Brothers, however if you are expecting gore because of the name “Butcher Brothers”, you can look elsewhere. The twists in this new version are that there are indeed a few “real” deaths. The first death, which is a prank gone wrong (a girl has roofies slipped into her drink, she has a bad reaction, falls off a balcony) is the catalyst for the goings on – everyone that was at the party gets a note saying that unless the “killer” confesses, more people will die. Some of these victims include a gay gossip colomnist Charles (Joseph McKelheer) , aspiring actress Torrance Caldwell (Scout Taylor-Compton), Senator-wannabe Peter (Samuel Child), freaky Spielberg-wannabe Ryan (Joe Egender), Desiree (Taylor Cole) and her brother Blaine (Josh Henderson), who have been fighting over their parents estate.
The plot itself is fairly predictable – hey, this is a remake, so you already know that there will be a revelation at the end and most of the “deaths” will be exposed as magic tricks. But this isn’t that hard to figure out – since Desiree is the one who witnesses most of the deaths by herself we can guess that she is obviously the mark. Acting and dialogue here ranges from so-so to horrible, but I was willing to let it go; the “shock” ending, which I actually didn’t expect, sorta makes the tedium worth it. Especially considering that the unfortunate victim at the end is the one person who came closest to redemption. That makes the ending quite nihilistic – learning the difference between good and bad doesn’t seem worth it when everyone around you doesn’t give a damn about being good. I was actually intrigued by the lack of morals and the self-indulgent behavior on the part of the characters in this film – Peter’s extreme self-obsession is particularly funny. Ultimately, 2008′s April Fool’s Day is 1986′s April Fool’s Day mixed up with Peter Berg’s Very Bad Things and a whole lot of bad WB 90s-style soap opera. In the end, like so many remakes, it doesn’t come close to the original, and on top of that nobody really asked for it, anyway.