Written by: Tito Carpi, Jaime Comas Gil, Jesķs R. Folgar, Alfredo Giannetti, Gisella Longo
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Starring: Franco Nero, Werner Pochath, and Jorge Luke
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďI'm pretty good at catching sharks..."
Enzo G. Castellariís storied career took its most infamous turn in 1981 with The Last Shark (aka Great White), a film that so brazenly ripped off Jaws that Universal managed to obliterate it from the North American market. To this day, itís still not legally available on video and is unlikely to be anytime soon, and this strange chapter will always be a notorious highlight of his career. However, he actually ventured into shark-infested waters a few years prior with The Shark Hunter, much less litigious (and therefore less interesting) outing thatís actually more of an action-adventure film than a killer shark movie, and not an especially thrilling one at that.
But it does have Franco Nero as Mike, the titular shark hunter who hangs around a sleepy seaside Mexican town. When heís not hunting and killing sharks for sport, heís instigating brawls at the local bar or making love to his girlfriend. Heís also fond of diving and wrestling with the sharks in an effort to form a bizarre bond with them, which is part of an elaborate plan to recover $100 million of sunken treasure at the bottom of the sea. Because the loot rests near a cove frequented by sharks, Mike figures heíll need to tame the beasts first; unfortunately, they donít prove to be nearly as dangerous as a group of mobsters that descend upon the town looking to claim the treasure for themselves.
The Shark Hunter proves to be fairly talky affair, as the various interested parties hatch their own plans to find the treasure. All of them obviously involve Mike, whose services are necessary because heís the only one who knows exactly where it is. Multiple representatives of the shady ďorganizationĒ approach him, from the head honcho to a lackey looking to screw over his boss. The plot almost threatens to go into Yojimbo territory, with Mike playing and pandering to both sides, but it never quite goes there, leaving the audience with a pretty standard, gritty little crime drama with greasy henchmen, menacing dialogue, and even a seductive femme fatale. It just happens to also involve sunken treasure and man-eating sharks, meaning thereís plenty of stock footage of the creatures too.
Castellari would have been as good a candidate as any to helm this sort of thing after establishing himself as one of Italyís finest schlock-action filmmakers throughout the 60s and 70s with films like Street Law, Keoma, The Heroin Busters, and The Inglorious Bastards. Unlike those films, however, The Shark Hunter isnít consistently exciting or compelling, and only boasts a handful of standout scenes. Theyíre all memorable in their own way, but each of them shares a weird sort of audacity. For most of its runtime, The Shark Hunter is content to hum along without much of a fuss until it roars to fucking life with these wild outbursts. One comes early, with the opening credits: Guido and Maurizio De Angelisís funky, upbeat score introduces Mike on the shore, eager to jump into a boat and hunt down some sharks. Some unsavory footage captures the grisly act in unfortunate detail, as Nero hooks a poor creature and drags it back to shore with him, setting a wild, unhinged tone that the rest of the film rarely matches.
Another scene finds Mike parasailing, and not just for fun: donít get me wrong, itíd be cool enough if The Shark Hunter featured an entire diversion dedicated to Franco Nero parasailing, but it gets better once you realize heís doing it to spot sharks so he can wrestle with them. Is it actually his stunt double? Probably. Iím not ruling out the possibility that itís Nero himself, though. He can probably still destroy me. Speaking of, the last standout scene involves Mike chasing down a henchman responsible for killing his girlfriend using enhanced interrogation techniques; itís not any chase either, as Mike has to commandeer a plane when the goon tries to escape via boat, leading to a fantastic action sequence that ends just like you want it to: with bullets, flames, and Nero glowering in satisfaction.
But Hawkesís mantra about ďthree good scenes and no bad onesĒ unfortunately doesnít apply here because these moments are like oases in an otherwise dry desert. Nero does his best to keep The Shark Hunter afloat, and I have to imagine things would be much worse without him. Those steely blue eyes are, as always, haunting windows peering into a wounded soul, so itís no surprise when nightmarish flashbacks reveal that Mike is still reeling from the loss of his family due to a car accident. His internal conflict is further complicated by a mysterious past, which included ties to the same organization heís trying to outfox, a revelation that throws Mikeís character into question: if he does recover the treasure: will he keep it for himself? Use it for nefarious purposes? While itís not exactly the point of the movie (which exists mostly as a vehicle for low-grade schlock), it at least provides a weirdly heartwarming climax for a movie where a guy fends off an attacker by feeding him to a shark.
It goes without saying that the sharks are very much in a supporting role here. In some ways, The Shark Hunter offers a glimpse into an alternate universe where this was the standard template for shark movies. While it seems like an outlier in retrospect, itís actually among the last of a decent line of action-adventure films that just happened to feature sharks, like Shark, Deadly Jaws, and Sharkís Treasure. Of course, these would become even fewer and far between in the wake of Jaws, a movie so monumental that it even earns a forced shout-out here, virtually confirming that pretty much every single shark movie ever produced is mandated to reference it. Castellari leans on schlocky mondo-style footage for most of the shark action, and, in an unfortunate turn, even seems to actually kill at least one of the creatures on-screen. Wikipedia even insists that its opening scene helped to popularize a form of spearing sharks, but the article provides no reference to confirm it.
Either way, just know thatís what youíre in for with The Shark Hunter: unseemly exploitation with a dash of occasionally entertaining violence. Iím hesitant to even criticize the filmmaking too much since the film is only available on Video Asiaís Grindhouse Experience Vol. 2, which is a.) apparently unauthorized, and b.) features a murky VHS rip from a German release. As such, itís difficult to judge the cinematography, which is likely much more vibrant and appealing than itís presented here. I will say this, though: I wouldnít mind giving The Shark Hunter another chance with a restored, official release, which is more than what I can say for a lot of movies dumped into budget packs. With most of them, you can tell that no amount of restoration is going to offer much hope; The Shark Hunter at least earns that benefit of the doubt. I know that ďIíd maybe watch it again!Ē doesnít sound like a ringing endorsement, but it beasts the crippling sense of regret and wasted time I usually feel when scraping the bottom of the shark movie barrel.
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