Studio: Severin Films
Release date: April 27th, 2021
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
The discourse surrounding Italian exploitation movies often drifts towards the country’s tendency to produce hordes of knock-offs, sometimes going as far as to make unofficial sequels to hit movies. This is especially true of the industry’s last gasps, drawn during the late-80s and early-90s, a stretch that yielded some of the more infamous titles from this trend. But simply contextualizing these movies within the boundaries being rip-offs sometimes does them a disservice because it ignores how wildly imaginative and strange they could be. Take something like Joe D’Amato’s Deep Blood, a film that was still riding the sharksploitation wave, no matter how ill-advised that might have been in the wake of Jaws: The Revenge. It’s inevitably lumped into Italy’s infamous run of shark movies, including Great White, easily the most notorious of the bunch since Universal successfully sued to block its release. I get it—something that infamous boasting that kind of star power is going to grab the spotlight. But it’s also true that Deep Blood doesn’t deserve to live perpetually in its shadow: of all the movies from this run, it’s arguably the most quietly unhinged of the bunch.
Consider the opening shot: a close-up on a roasted weenie dangling over a beachside campfire, a perfectly perplexing introduction to an increasingly bizarre first scene. Four childhood friends—Miki, John, Jason, and Alan—are minding their business around the campfire when a Native American strolls in and begins lecturing about the strange, monstrous beast that dwells in the nearby ocean. He insists they all make a blood pact and bury artifacts in the ground before vowing to always be there for each other in times of trouble. Ten years later, those times have arrived: now stuck in a late-teens malaise, they’re all grappling with some kind of drama. Miki is still haunted by the death of his mother and an estranged relationship with his father. Allen’s own daddy issues have him worried about carving his own legacy since his dad’s the mayor. Ben just wants to play golf, much to the dismay of his father, who wants to see him do something more productive with his life. They’re all scrapping with an asshole gang of miscreants, who go around terrorizing the podunk town. Our boys have a lot on their plate before a killer shark descends on the waters, putting them on the path to fulfill the destiny of their blood oath a decade earlier.
Enjoying Deep Blood requires an appreciation for some specific cinematic idiosyncrasies. You probably need to be well-versed in the rhythms and tones of these Italian productions produced in America, where the cultural barriers become a feature rather than a bug. Deep Blood was filmed in Florida but it very much feels like a parallel dimension’s idea of Florida, with its hayseed sheriff, inconsistent accents, and background extras that look like they’ve wandered straight in from the local K-Mart. You’ll need to be prepared to find humor in random, odd shit, like the sheriff’s reelection poster and a mysterious, boarded-up door in the police station simply labelled “Robocop.” (You will need to brace for disappointment that the force doesn’t unleash Robocop to deal with the shark, but it says a lot about these Italian productions that you believe this to be a possibility). You’ll probably need to have the very specific desire to wonder what it would look like if Italy produced a Beach Party 30 years after that genre’s heyday and then terrorized it with a (mostly unseen) killer shark.
I admit I might be the only person who has ever wanted to see such a movie, which explains my fondness for Deep Blood. Of all the Italian shark movies, it features the least amount of obviously outrageous stuff you’d expect, like wild gore and the uncanny valley effect engendered by rip-offs. But it’s outlandish as hell nonetheless because I feel pretty confident in assuming it’s the only movie where a Native American randomly binds together a group of friends for a blood oath that ends with them confronting a killer shark. Throw in the other stuff you expect from Italian horror—gonzo dialogue, baffling character interactions, low-rent effects work, ill-fitting music—and it all comes together to form a singularly strange experience. Most importantly, it doesn’t have an ironic frame in its entire runtime: it’s exactly as sincere as those old Beach Party movies in the sense that you really believe these doofus kids are best buds and you can’t help but root for them. If they were inexplicably in a band, Deep Blood would have the exact same energy as Miami Connection.
To be fair, Deep Blood also doesn’t quite have the infectious cinematic verve of that movie, particularly in the way it can’t stage any truly impressive shark carnage. Despite having a mechanical shark at its disposal (that’s only glimpsed a handful of times), the production mostly leans on stock footage and blood spurting out of the water to give the impression of shark attacks. Astute readers might point out that Jaws resorted to similar tactics because of its finicky mechanical beast, but, god love him, Joe D’amato isn’t exactly Steven Spielberg working with big studio money. Not that it stopped him from staging a bewilderingly explosive climax all the same when the boys come up with a foolproof plan of rigging a shipwreck with dynamite and luring the shark into it. To be fair, it makes about as much sense as the climaxes in any of the Jaws sequels. The big difference is that Deep Blood intertwines shark-slaying with male bonding for the most bone-headed familial catharsis this side of the Fast and Furious movies.
Could Deep Blood use some more impressive shark carnage? Could it benefit from being a brazen rip-off of a Hollywood hit? Could it use some more, well, blood? Sure, but you can get that stuff elsewhere. Deep Blood’s the only one of these things where the obligatory helicopter scene just features some light admonishment as the cops tell the boys they should be ashamed of themselves for trying to kill the shark on their own. It’s the only one where a Native American spirit (?) haunts the characters, reminding them of their destiny. Ellen Brody going HAM to get revenge on the shark that killed her son doesn’t have anything on this shit.
Like its Italian shark brethren, Deep Blood has had a patchy home video history, especially during the last 20 years. The long wait is now over, though, thanks to Severin bringing it to Blu-ray and DVD last month. “Upgrade” doesn’t even begin to describe the presentation upgrade offered by this legitimate release, which boasts a restoration so sterling that it’s downright startling. Aside from some minor and infrequent print damage, Deep Blood looks immaculate, especially its underwater scenes. It almost looks too lucid, and you don’t have to look any further than my original review to see the uptick in quality here. Severin presents the film in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but that seems to be proper, per IMDb. The fact that it was (apparently) a direct-to-video release also lends credence to this being the right ratio.
Unfortunately, there are no supplements to let us know for sure. Severin has only provided a trailer, so this release is a little sparse compared to their more lavish editions. It’s hardly surprising, given D’Amato passed away twenty years ago and the cast is full of people with sparse filmographies (in fact, for many involved, Deep Blood remains their sole credit). It’s also worth noting that Severin provided a nice Italian Sharksploitation overview on their Cruel Jaws release. And it’s even more worth noting that we should be happy to have any of these movies officially released at all, so it’s hard to be too upset. I’m just happy to finally retire my sketchy bootlegged disc, and I’m even more happy that a wider audience will be able to experience one of the strangest chapters in the Italian exploitation saga. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the dumbass Severin quoted on the back of the box, who calls it “a weird, demented experience that begs to be discovered and embraced.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
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