Jaws is the best film ever made. Because of this, everyone and their cousins were inspired to make a shark movie. Some were either courageous enough or stupid enough to actually get their shark movies made. There are A LOT of shark movies. In spite of all my poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’, I am going to watch them all. I don’t know what will be left of me afterwards.
The Flick: Devil Fish a.k.a. Monster Shark (1984)
The Chum: Michael Sopkiw, Valentine Monnier, Gianni Garko, William Berger, Iris Peynado (actors), Lamberto Bava (director)
Species of Shark: Sharktopus (Cormanadon rippedoffeous)
The Meat of the Movie: Author’s note: I purposefully avoided revisiting the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring this film. I have only seen it once and that was almost a lifetime ago. Any humorous observations or riffs that bear any similarity to the jokes cultivated by Mike and the Bots is purely coincidental.
I thought I’d be safe with my good friends the Italians. They made The Last Shark surprisingly enjoyable, and their jaunty attitude often lends itself perfectly to silly cinema like a shark movie. I figured that Devil Fish (the copy I have calls it Monster Shark) would be a tasty slice of cheese. Instead, it will now be my backup when my medicine cabinet has run out of Ambien.
The opening credits, which are full of delightful psuedonyms like John Old Jr. (director Lamberto Bava, son of Italian horror guru Mario Bava), are set over footage of an unidentified individual in a diving suit feeding some fish (integral plot stuff here, folks), and then smash cut to a Coast Guard helicopter searching for… something? Oh, I guess it’s that wrecked boat and floating body they come across. Two men jump out of the helicopter and into the water, screaming all the way down as if they were hurtling headfirst off of a cliff. They attach the helicopter’s harness to the body and lift it up, only to discover that this guy’s dreams of performing as Prince Siegfried in the local production of Swan Lake are now as extinct as his legs.
Who was this man? What attacked him? Why does he continue to look like the most graceful of ballerinos even when he’s in the middle of a decent Lieutenant Dan impersonation? Devil Fish doesn’t care! Cut to some dolphins jumping around and being fed by their handler, Klaus Kinski, who just walked off the set of the Steven Tyler biopic, Trying to Forget You.
She feeds the dolphins and makes them do a few tricks for some slack-jawed tourists. One dolphin makes that awful squeaking sound that dolphins make. You know, the one that sounds like a nutcracker farting? Anyways, this woman (her name is Stella, by the way) says that her associate, Dr. Bob Hogan, is out at sea conducting some experiment. This experiment seems to involve throwing sharks in the water and drinking Budweiser. The King of Beers (that’s a weaker claim to the throne than the Lannisters’) shows up so much in this flick, I kind of wonder if they helped fund all $500 dollars that was spent on this movie. Doc Bob is kicking back some brewskis when his Science Instruments start flipping out. He starts recording the sound he’s hearing (I’m no scientist, but fish noises? Someone educate me) and then is subjected to bridge-of-the-USS-Enterprise levels of danger. Like, the camera shakes all around to simulate motion. Aaaand then the thing goes away, as purposeless as it was when it first showed up.
Let’s leave all of that for a morgue scene! The coroner is puzzled, the sheriff and his ridiculously buff deputy are nonplussed, and the mother of Lieutenant Dan is all weepy. Important to the story, right? You’ve already forgotten the flick you’ve been watching. Back at the aquarium, Doc Bob plays Stella his fish noises but nothing was recorded. Huh. Doc says that the sound he heard was “full of hate.” Hateful fish noises. He says that Peter is the only one who can help them. So neither of you are going to fulfill the role of protagonist? I guess we should meet Peter.
Peter is some hunky tech guy that is about to go on vacation, leaving his shop in the capable hands of his assistant, off-brand Valeria Golino.
But right before he can drive away, Stella shows up and asks for his help. Cool, so we’ll get to learn about Peter’s character now and see some- hey, more new characters and a different location! Exactly what I want in a movie about a killer sea creature. There’s a scientist named Davis and he’s having an affair with his colleague’s wife, Sonja. I wonder how this will tie into- oh, new scene with Peter and his assistant. He’s fixing up some techie thing, and his assistant asks why he’s doing this. Peter says it’s because Stella has “a cute little ass.” They make out and I start to realize that I’m not dreaming this.
Hey, it’s been two minutes, so Devil Fish needs to change locations and introduce another character! Her name is Florinda and she’s telling some guy on the phone that she’s gonna spill everything to the press. Florinda is not long for this world, I fear. My suspicions are confirmed when her doorbell rings and Italian Michael C. Hall is revealed to be the ringer of said doorbell.
He yanks her top off (because Italian filmmakers are contractually obligated to get at least one pair of breasts in per film) and strangles her to death, then takes her upstairs and places her in her already-full bathtub… ewww, why is her bathwater green? That’s a mystery you actually have me intrigued by, Devil Fish. Italian Michael C. Hall turns on a hairdryer and throws it in the bathtub. This guy knows what he’s doing. Okay, enough of that scene! Cut to Peter and assistant having unconvincing sex. Peter hears a noise and finds some guys smashing his techie thing. What is going on? Who is everybody? Why do I care when the film obviously doesn’t? Devil Fish! New scene and new characters!
Some guys head out on their boat to do some spearfishing. One guy dives down but notices a tiger shark coming towards him. He gets back up on the boat, but not before we get our first glimpse of Devil Fish.
That’s… kind of charming and cool in the most goofball of ways. I love the abundance of teeth and it’s bucktoothed bottom jaw. Where was this for the first twenty minutes of the movie? Oh no, my complaining made the scene immediately cut back to Sheriff and Deputy theorizing that Florinda might have been murdered. They go and visit the place where Davis and Sonja were sucking face and… another new character? Is Devil Fish the no-name, no-talent, no-humor version of a Christopher Guest film? This guy is Dr. West (Sonja’s husband), and he’s the big boss man over at We Definitely Don’t Genetically Engineer Sharktopuses (sharktopi?) Inc. Turns out Florinda worked there on… ugh, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Dr. West is the test tube offspring of Bill Nighy and Rock Biter.
Two minutes have gone by, so time for something completely different. A hapless lad frolics down the shoreline with his pearl-colored puppy. The kid is filled with an innocence so pure, you could bottle it and sell it as hand sanitizer. Time for a grisly dose of reality, you cherubic little fuck. He runs into the boat those guys were using just minutes ago before getting off-screen chomped. Guess who is there to give him a high five?
The reaction on the boy’s face is almost worth all the tedium and haphazard structuring I’ve had to endure so far.
After a brief scene with a doctor saying that Mr. High Five was definitely attacked by a thing that has teeth, we’re out on the boat with Peter, off-brand Golino, Stella and Doc Bob. It’s at this moment, when the movie is a third of the way over, that I discover that this film has no main character. Maybe that’s because it’s been so busy introducing several in the first thirty minutes of its running time. Anyways, our intrepid gang uses a ColecoVision to locate Devil Fish and record his hate noises.
This must mean an action scene or something is going to happen- sunavabitch! Nothing! Unless you count Peter’s nut popping out of his shorts as he scales down a ladder (no, I won’t screencap it. I already had to see it once). Doc Bob breaks out some Buds and we cut away to Italian Michael C. Hall meeting with a shadowy figure who gives him a fat stack for icing Florinda. Spoiler alert: this guy is Davis. I don’t care about maintaining secrets. Devil Fish doesn’t care about being a good movie, so screw it.
Back at the hospital, Sheriff and Doctor Who Isn’t Bob are standing over Mr. High Five and talking about his chances at survival. Immediately as they exit the room, Mr. High Five convulses and dies. The Sheriff uses his immense medical expertise to conclude that, “fear stopped his heart.” There’s a reason you’re a Sheriff and not a Doctor, Sheriff.
Peter and Stella drop off the hate noises at We Definitely Don’t Genetically Engineer Sharktopuses Inc., while Doc Bob phones up… Jesus tap dancing monkey Christ, another new character! I’m done keeping track, I’m just going to call her Snezzle. Snezzle is a collegue of Doc Bob’s who knows stuff about prehistoric sharks. Looks like our gang of not-main characters is going to be plus one Snezzle.
Now we’re on a boat with yet two more new characters. At least these two have zero to do with anything else going on, so their not really muddling up an already muddled plot. They exist solely to be attack by Devil Fish. Their only notable aspect is that the husband is a Grandma.
Mr. Grandma is killed off-screen and the wife is similarly dispatched, although we do get to see some floppy tentacles smack the boat a few times. I mean, why would Devil Fish want to concentrate on something even slightly exciting when we can watch Snezzle give The Gang a history lesson on ancient sharks? There’s the stock debate about capturing or killing the creature. Snezzle and Doc Bob use my favorite 50’s B-movie line, “It’s important to science!”
We then find out that off-brand Golino was the one who gave Italian Michael C. Hall the key to Peter’s shop to destroy his techie thing, and that the two of them used to shack up together. Italian Michael C. Hall tells her she’ll keep doing what he says, but she gets the bright idea to telephone Sheriff. Now, she doesn’t go somewhere that she knows she’ll be alone. Nope, she just walks up to a bar phone and calls him, and Italian Michael C. Hall is right there waiting. Goodbye, off-brand Golino. We’ll always have The Indian Runner.
The Gang (of which Snezzle has now joined) sets sail to go find Devil Fish, but one of their sonar radar science doohickies is on the fritz, so Peter and Stella go off to check it out. It appears to have beenl sabotaged. Aw geez, and now their boat’s propeller is all tangled up and junk. Well, better go to shore and have a love scene while Doc Bob and Snezzle get attacked by Devil Fish. This is the best the movie has been so far, wtih Doc Bob getting yanked over board and Snezzle hacking away at some tentacles with a hatchet. But, the best parts of Devil Fish are like the best parts of a Whale Wars marathon. Peter and Stella come back to the boat and find Snezzle understandably freaked out. She barely misses axing Peter in the face, which would have been the most interesting thing to happen in this film. He definitely deserves it after dropping a ball directly into the camera.
Peter brings the new data to Dr. West and friends, and after running it through their super powerful 1984 computer, they are shocked when the choppy computer voice tells them that Devil Fish is only eight months old. Hmmm. I wonder if that’s because Davis cooked it up in the lab for some cheesy, unimaginative bad guy reasons. …Uh, spoiler alert again. Peter and Dr. West decide to manufacture a mating call to lure the Devil Fish so they can science it with science.
Meanwhile, Sheriff hooks up with the Coast Guard and sets up a bunch of buoys filled with bait and explosives. At the same time, what’s left of The Gang goes out to try their mating call thing. Too bad Italian Michael C. Hall has orders to deep six The Gang. As Peter and Stella go diving to do the mating call science stuff for science, Italian Michael C. Hall shows up and shoots Snezzle until she is dead from being shot by bullets. Two other dudes attack Peter underwater, and enact the classic dumb villain maneuver of accidentally killing your ally instead of your intended victim. Peter cuts the other guy’s air tube, forcing him to surface and hey, it’s Devil Fish who takes the guy out! Thanks, Devil Fish. You’re not so bad. I’m sure everyone’s going to come around to loving you now. Peter and Italian Michael C. Hall water-fight, Peter shoves Italian Michael C. Hall into Devil Fish’s tentacled embrace, Peter and Stella discover Snezzle’s corpse, and I weep at the time-stamp telling me I stll have twenty minutes of movie to survive.
Dr. West discovers that Devil Fish can reproduce itself with just its cells or something. Basically, if a piece of it is intact, it can regenerate. Sheriff realizes his boom boom buoys won’t help that situation, so he gets in a helicopter and blows them all up by shooting at them. Whatever. Dr. West finds out that Davis is the big bad, and after Davis’ “the reason I’m a bad guy” monologue, the Sheriff magically teleports himself and the rest of The Gang to We Definitely Don’t Genetically Engineer Sharktopuses Inc., and just in time to shoot Davis before he can shoot Dr. West. We are then gifted with one of the film’s only treats. I give you The Most Convincing Death in Cinematic History:
It’s all over after that, folks. Peter uses the mating call to guide Devil Fish into a specific area where the plan is to use flamethrowers to kill the monster. Flamethrowers. On an aquatic creature. I’m beyond caring, I just want this to end. A whole buttload of guys manifest to execute this backwards plan, and a few of them get munched. To be fair, this is actually a somewhat passable sequence. We see plenty of shots of the creature, and they actually dole out some bloody bits, including a half-assed decapitation. If there had been even two more scenes like this in the film, it would at least be punctuated with some fun. No, they saved the only enjoyable part for the end. Some gas is dumped into the water, the flamethrowers get to flamin’, and somehow this completely disintegrates Devil Fish. But just to get one last scene in, Peter is shown getting ready to take his vacation and opts to bring Stella with him. She asks, “Where are we going?’ His reply: “The mountains.” They start to laugh when the image freezes and credits roll.
I called up Lucifer after watching this, and he wanted to go on record saying that Devil Fish has no affiliation with him or his business practices. He said, “Not even I would make someone watch that movie.”
Best Meal: Whoever that guy is that gets his head chomped off near the very end. It’s pretty much the only kill even worth mentioning in this chloroform-soaked rag of a film.
How the Shark Gets Sushi-ed: Burned to death by a bunch of Italians pretending to be Floridians.
The Mindless Eating Machine: A big puppet that looks like a toothier version of the creature from The Brain slapped on top of an octopus head. There’s also a couple of shots of a real octopus and some other live sharks strewn about.
Shark Stupidity: Excluding the Devil Fish’s very existence, I’m starting to believe that “roaring” is going to be a common complaint listed in this category. This thing growls more than ten pumas stuck inside of an operational Gravitron.
Hilarity Factor: Below average. This is a slog of a movie, and besides the dubbing and a handful of goofy bits, there isn’t much to keep you giggling.
Sink or Swim?: No question that this is a Sinker. The titular beast is hardly even in the movie, and all of the other attempts at plot are either confusing, boring or both. The multitude of characters are one-dimensional enough to appear non-existent, the construction of the film is poor even for Italian schlock standards (this film had to have been edited by a narcoleptic), and the movie doesn’t even make up for it with some good kills or prominent effects work. The minuscule amount of unintentional humor isn’t nearly strong enough to recommend the movie on a so-bad-it’s-good level, so you’ll have to rely on Mike and the Bots to augment the film into something watchable. If nothing else, I hope that my intense dislike of Devil Fish will act as a handicap in Sharktopus‘ favor. If not, I’ll be calling for a moratorium on all sharktopus films. No one will listen, but I’ll still call for it.
Next Time: I get over my disappointment from discovering that Mako: The Jaws of Death is not a biopic about one of my favorite Japanese actors.
previous Fin Flicks