The Last Shark/Great White/L’ultimo Squalo (1981)

The Last Shark/Great White (1981)‘One thing’s for sure, it wasn’t a floating chainsaw.’

When a windsurfer disappears and a boat is mysteriously wrecked, a writer and a shark hunter try to persuade authorities to cancel their hometown’s centennial regatta. Unfortunately, it’s the centrepiece of a prominent local businessman’s campaign to run for governor of the state and the event goes ahead…

Italian ‘Jaws’ (1975) rip-off so blatant that Universal studios gained an injunction through the courts to have the film pulled from US theatres. However, it was released in other territories with no such restrictions, appearing in Spain as the third part of the killer shark saga, in Brazil with a title so similar that audiences expected a longer cut of the original Spielberg film and on VHS in Japan under the title ‘Jaws Returns’.

Ironically, the film isn’t all that bad. Sure, it’s just a shameless copy of a huge Hollywood hit, but production values are not rock bottom, and we have professional performances from US ‘name’ actors James Fransiscus and Vic Morrow, albeit with a terribly wandering accent. The mechanical shark isn’t as bad as you might expect either, although it doesn’t do very much, and the random stock footage of sharks thrown into the mix are a collection of completely mismatched clips.

The plot is exactly as expected; our heroes butt heads with local head honcho Joshua Sinclair who is determined not to let anything derail his political ambitions, even the presence of a murderous great white in the waters just off the coast. He soon wises up though and gets his comeuppance whilst hanging out of a toy helicopter!  Placing Franciscus’ daughter Stefanie Girolami Goodwin and her friends in harm’s way also riffs on ‘Jaws 2’ (1978) and the filmmakers really rub it in by having Francsiscus play a writer called Peter Benton, a character name not a million miles distant from that of Peter Benchley, the novelist who created ‘Jaws’ in the first place!

The Last Shark/Great White (1981)

Seaworld’s latest show needed some work…

The main problem with the film is a saggy middle section, a complete lack of character development and a total absence of suspense or surprises. Director Enzo G Castellari has a long history in exploitation cinema, both as a writer and a director. He always had one eye firmly on the box office, from spaghetti westerns in the mid-1960s, through Giallo thrillers and organised crime flicks in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, he was behind such Mad Max knock-offs as ‘Bronx Warriors’ (1982) (with Morrow) and cult favourite ‘The New Barbarians’ (aka ‘Warriors of the Wasteland’) (1983), which starred Giancarlo Prete, who also appears in a supporting role here as a slimy TV reporter. Castellari had even been down the ‘Jaws’ route before with ‘The Shark Hunter’ (1979), although that did bear more of a resemblance to author Benchley’s other 1970s’ best-seller ‘The Deep’, which was filmed in 1977 with Nick Nolte. Castellari’s work has found its champions in recent years, including Quentin Tarantino, but it’s hard to imagine anyone banging the drum too hard for this particular effort.

Franciscus is best remembered for going ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ (1969) with fellow astronaut Charlton Heston, and was a familiar face from other such fantastical projects as ‘Killer Fish’ (1978), ‘Night Slaves’ (1969), ‘The Valley of Gwangi’ (1969) and ‘Marooned’ (1969). He also top-lined Dario Argento’s hit Giallo ‘Cat O’Nine Tails’ (1971) with Karl Malden. Morrow became a star thanks to the TV show ‘Combat!’ in the 1960s, but his career was on the skids by the late 1970s, and mostly involved movies made for television. Ironically, he looked to be back on track when he was cast in  ‘Twilight Zone – The Movie’ (1982), only to be decapitated in a tragic on-set accident, proving that actors should never allow directors to persuade them to do their own dangerous stunts.

This aquatic outing is just a cheap, slightly tatty and rather dull photocopy of a beloved original, without the necessary personality to become a cult classic in its own right.

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3 thoughts on “The Last Shark/Great White/L’ultimo Squalo (1981)

    • ‘Tentacles’ makes ‘Great White’ look like ‘Citizen Kane’! Not just the model, but the whole film! Although I kind of admired the filmmaker’s cheek…John Huston, Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters…obviously they spent more money on salaries than the plastic octopus head. What also struck me about that film was that all the main actors disappear about halfway through and it’s suddenly a different movie with Bo Hopkins talking to his octopus-hunting killer whales (which still makes me giggle). Did they run out of money at some point? Perish the thought. Anyway, I didn’t think ‘Great White’ was truly terrible, just desperately unoriginal. ‘Out of the Depths’ (1979) from the Philippines with Sam Bottoms is a lot, lot worse. Have you seen that one? ‘Your Vacation is About to End!’

      • Yes, I’ve seen it and even have the film poster for that one two. Best thing about the whole movie is the poster but isn’t that often the case?
        Tentacles a bad one but on the plus side it gave Bo a leading role of which he didn’t get too many.

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