The Last Shark

If you squint, it’s Quint…The Last Shark, aka, L’ultimo squalo is basically Jaws minus Chief Brody and all elements intact (even if limbs are not). In his stead, an author (of all people) and a Robert Shaw-aping Vic Morrow are tasked with taking down the killer fish.

The town of Port Harbor is gearing up for a windsurfing regatta, and the denizens are treating the spectacle as if it’s hosting the Formula 1. It’s all anyone can talk about, and even radio blabbers provide traffic-and-weather-together-type updates about the big race in between songs.

When a surfer bum becomes chum, things get glum. That’s one way to put it. However, like Jaws, there’s a stonewalling elected official who wants the big race to proceed, damn the torpedoes, if you’ll excuse the mixed nautical metaphors. The horror author tries to sound the alarm, but the politico has aspirations of state governor and insists that it continue. And he’s got a plan in place to protect the beaches with extra patrols, netting, vigilance, etc.

Hence, the race is on.

From there, things don’t go too swimmingly for the bipedals as The Last Shark’s incredibly fake version of Bruce the Shark, starts making the townsfolk his waterlogged repast.

And what a shark this is. It’s been likened to a Macy’s parade float, but with it’s silly verticality resembles one of those Bozo the Clown pop-up punching bags.

Vic Morrow as Quint-alike Hamer chews the scenery like ballplayers do tobacco. It’s a dreadful performance and he vacillates between Irish brogue and what sounds like upset stomach Hungarian (and possibly Greek too, or maybe that’s just the cable-knit sweater/po-boy cap Corsican figure he cuts).

This is unquestionably a terrible movie. However, it holds up well as compared with other horror rip-offs from Italy’s boot (Bruno Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead, for example) and horror knock-offs more broad (Abby, the cheap-o Exorcist).

And word of advice: don’t dangle steak from a winch in a helicopter. Trust.

*** (out of 5)

[Check out our Really Awful Movies Podcast episode of The Last Shark]

Touch of Death

Good-natured isn’t exactly the right word for a movie which features a chainsaw mutilation pre-credit roll, but Lucio Fulci’s Touch of Death is an easy-going, almost casual serial killer flick and a film which (probably for the best) doesn’t take itself too seriously.

As to whether Fulci himself took his work as seriously at the time of this production is a question unto itself, as the Godfather of Gutmunchers, who’d ridden high in the saddle for the much of the 80s, was starting to see his creative lights fade.

With release issues, Touch of Death (aka, Quando Alice ruppe lo specchio – when Alice broke the Mirror) languished in pre-production purgatory, finally seeing daylight at a time when Il Maestro’s creative decline matched horror’s Golden Era home-plate slide into the dreadful 90s (Touch of Death came out in 1988, along with the likes of Child’s Play, Waxwork, Night of the Demons and Killer Klowns from Outer Space, a great year all things considered before things took a turn for the worse)

Here, Lester Parson (played by sleaze/genre vet Brett Halsey) is a cannibal deviant divorcee who lives on a sprawling villa and feeds his vics to pigs. Parson suffers delusions that he’s been communicated with privately through radio dispatches, and spends his days wooing (and bedding) what in today’s politically correct times could still be referred to as “mature women.”

Halsey’s performance carries the day here, and it’s easy to believe disaffected society women would be charmed by the likes of Lester, who’s a dancing, sweet-talking, crustacean dinner-fashioning gallant.

Put into the context of Fulci’s other work, sure, there’s no contest: Touch of Death will never been up there (or as Fulci critics might have it, “down there”) with the likes of the incredible Zombi, City of the Living Dead or The Beyond). However, with touches of gallows humor, (including the protracted demise of an amateur opera diva), and some unintentional hilarity courtesy of TV journalism, Touch of Death brings the goods.

*** (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of Touch of Death]