Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Donati
Directed by: Michael Anderson
Starring: Robert Harris, Charlotte Rampling, and Bo Derek
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"You want revenge? Well, you'll have it! I'll come out and fight you! You revengeful son of a bitch!"
After the rousing success of Jaws in 1975, hordes of "nature gone amok" films started hitting the market. No one was immune, including famed producer Dino De Laurentiis, who was coming off the success of his King Kong remake. A year later, De Laurentiis looked to the seas and produced one of the most absurd Jaws rip-offs in Orca, a film about a killer whale that terrorizes a Canadian fishing village. Considering that the Jaws series largely informed my viewing habits during my childhood, Orca was a natural curiosity to me when it aired on television some afternoon in the early 90s. It must not have left much of an impression because the film didn't earn any repeat viewings from me until recently, and let's just say the years haven't been much more kind to it.
Captain Nolan and his crew aboard the Bumpo open the film in search of a Great White Shark to capture for an aquarium. However, after witnessing a killer whale attack and kill his target, Nolan turns his attention to capturing an Orca instead. Ignoring Dr. Rachel Bedford's warnings that Orcas are not only extremely intelligent, but also rather vengeful, Nolan sets out and mistakenly harpoons the mate of a male Orca. After it attempts suicide (!), the pregnant Orca is finally hauled on board, but she soon miscarries as her mate watches on and screams in anguish. This firmly fixes Nolan in the crosshairs of the killer whale, who goes on to terrorize the nearby village until Nolan sets off for one final confrontation.
Obviously, the premise of this film might be a bit difficult to swallow, and, unfortunately the film doesn't execute it well (not that it ever had a chance to do so). Indeed, this is one of the cheesiest affairs you're ever likely to encounter, as the rivalry formed between the Orca and Nolan is truly something that has to be seen to be believed. At one point, Nolan even ponders simply asking the whale for forgiveness and that he understands what it's going through because a drunk driver once killed his wife and unborn child! Perhaps the most humorous aspect of this rivalry are the extreme close ups of the Orca's eye that are supposed to reveal just how pissed off and evil the aquatic bastard is.
And this is no doubt one extremely pissed off mammal. Not only does he lay waste to every boat in the dock besides Nolan's (you know, to force him into a confrontation), but he also succeeds in causing a large scale explosion off the coast. If anything, the film is smart enough to give us copious amounts of this title character, no matter how absurd its exploits are. The Orca actually gets some pretty decent deaths in there, and even ends up tearing a girl's leg off. It's also somewhat creepy that the Orca does seem to have a personality, no matter how absurd that might sound.
Interestingly enough, I'd say that he's actually the best developed character in the whole film because the human characters are about as dull as dishwater. Of course, the script doesn't give the actors much to do, so it's hard to fault Harris and Rampling, who do an admirable job save for a few melodramatic moments (the moment when Nolan finally relents and agrees to face the whale comes to mind). The main problem is that Nolan himself isn't a very sympathetic character no matter how hard the film tries to paint him as such; instead, it just seems like Nolan deserves everything that happens to him. Thus, not only is the title character the most developed, but he's actually the most sympathetic to boot!
So, does Orca get anything right? Michael Anderson's direction is a decent, workman-like effort. Furthermore, the film's cinematography is excellent. I also will admit to enjoying the film's climax, as the icy, Arctic setting is pretty atmospheric, even if the film just sort of peters out at its conclusion. Without a doubt the best thing to come from Orca is Ennio Morricone's score, which is certainly better than this film deserves. From a horror perspective, there's little to be found here, though the Orca's miscarriage is a fairly shlocky moment that's somewhat disgusting. Ultimately, the film just falls into the "so bad it's good" category, as the film is so absurd that it's nearly charming. It's almost a shame that De Laurentiis never followed through with the idea to pit King Kong against the Orca in the 80s, as one can only wonder what sort of mozzarella madness might have ensued there.
It's actually kind of funny to ponder the interplay between Orca and the Jaws series. Of course, this film served the opening volley by having an Orca take down a Great White; the first Jaws sequel would return the favor by making an Orca a victim. However, the crème de la crème occurred when Jaws: The Revenge actually stopped to ripping off Orca with the vengeful shark routine in what is perhaps the ultimate "so bad it's good" film. It's hard to say which is worse between those two, but, at any rate, Orca is worth at least one look, particularly if you have an affinity for films of this ilk anyway. There's only been one bare bones release from Paramount, and it features a decent anamorphic trailer, a solid mono soundtrack, and nothing else. However, that's alright, as this is one you'll just want to dip your feet into once--just make sure you don't anger any killer whales first. Rent it!
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