Thursday, September 24, 2020

CRUEL JAWS (1995) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)

CRUEL JAWS (1995) 

Label: Severin Films
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 95 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Bruno Mattei
Cast: David Luther, George Barnes Jr., Scott Silveria, Kirsten Urso, Richard Dew, Gregg Hood, Norma J. Nesheim

Stephen Spielberg's mega-blockbuster Jaws (1975) was not the first aquatic horror film by a longshot but it was the biggest and is still the best in my opinion. It massive success spawned a tidal wave of cheap imitators and knock-offs that continues to this day. There are so many cash-ins that have made a buck off of imitating Jaws, but when I think of the notorious Jaws knock-offs the first flick that comes to mind is Italian exploitation director Enzo Castellari's Great White (a.k.a. The Last Shark). This was a film that was so shameless in it's theft of Jaws ideas, plots and even actual footage that Universal stepped in with an injunction that resulted in it being pulled from the cinema and locked away in a vault for years, it was hard to find except through grey market avenues, though you can currently buy it on Amazon Video, but there's still no legit disc release that I am aware of. Another notorious slice of sharksploitation also comes from another Italian director, one who was no stranger to directing Hollywood blockbuster knock-offs, having already gifted us with the Aliens and Terminator schlock-reduxes  RoboWar and Shocking Dark.

Mattei's jawsploitation entry Cruel Jaws (1995) is every bit as much a knock-off of Jaws as Great White, so much so that it was even advertised in various territories as Jaws 5! You might be wondering to yourself, is it good? No, of course it's not good, it's so bad that it ends up coming all the way back around to become an exquisite chunk of stinky cheese, an oddly alluring bit of queso with a pungent aroma. Like most jawsploitation flicks it steals wholesale plot points of not only Jaws, but borrows elements of all of it's legitimate sequels, in addition to stitching in actual scenes from the aforementioned 
Great White and Joe D'Amato's shark-flick Deep Blood (1990). Mattei really takes cinema thievery to a whole new breathtaking level with this one, a gob-smacking pastiche of pilfered ideas and footage to create a whopper of a fish tale. It's almost shocking that the filmmaker was not sued and the film locked away in a vault somewhere at Universal, that damn thing even steals a bit of John Williams Star Wars score, and none to subtlely. 

The story is your basic Jaws knock-off 101, with a series of shark attacks threatening to close the Hampton Bay, Florida beaches during the profitable summer tourist, with Mayor Louis (George Barnes) unwilling to close the beaches or postpone the annual regatta race. We also have the proprietor of a trashy aquatic theme park named Dag (Richard Dew) who is about to lose the park to a shady real estate developer who is in cahoots with the crooked Mayor. The actor who played Dag was a Hulk Hogan impersonator in real-life,  and he certainly looks the part, if I had been a bit younger at the time I easily would have thought it was a schlubby-looking Hogan. With time running out Dag is staking the future of the park on winning the annual regatta to cash-in on the 10K prize money and save his shoestring aquatic park. Also playing a part in the scheme of things are a marine biologist named Bill (Bobby Good) and his girlfriend  Vanessa (Norma J. Nesheim) who are returning home to Hampton Bay for the summer, managing to get roped into hunting the shark along with Dag and his beach-hunk son Bobby (Scott Silveria).

Of course a generic film needs some generic baddies, and this flick has plenty of them, perhaps a bit too many in fact. We have a pair of mob henchman, and a trio of douche-nozzle beach-bullies lead the mayor's sun-bleached son Ronnie (Carter Collins), who has a vendetta against Bobby because he's dating Ronnie's younger sister Gloria (Natasha Etzler).  And just for kicks the shark it is revealed to be the product of a Navy experiment gone wrong, because why not, we need a super-smart killer shark, right? 

At ninety-five minutes the film is a bit long in the tooth for what it is but it's such a shark-shit insane bit of cinema that I never once checked out, I was too enthralled by the nutty stuff happening onscreen to ever get bored. With that said, the patchwork of pilfered shark shots make for an uneven and  poorly edited flick with only a tiny bit of gore.  The only true gore we get is shark-gnawed corpse found on the beach, and most of the shark attacks sequences entailed actors being pulled down into a pink cloud of ocean water or worse, a quickly edited barrage of inferior stock footage that draws attention to itself in the worst sort of way. There are a handful of better shots of the shark that look to a head prop, probably all they could afford, that look decent, as well as some silly underwater miniatures that brought to mind the Rankin/Bass looking shark sequence at the end of Jaws: The Revenge. If you have never slow-motion scrolled through the end of that film during the impaling of the shark you should stop what you're doing and go watch it! The new "dramatic" story stuff shot by Mattei in sunny Florida at least looks pretty decent, but the whole cast is uniformly awful, not helped by the Italian to English translated script which offers a metric shit-ton of awesomely bad dialogue with nuggets like the eye-rolling "we're gonna need a bigger helicopter" and "I want you to find the tallest skyscraper you can and throw yourself off, and then go fuck yourself!".

Cruel Jaws is a jaw-droppingly bad bit of jawsploitation but having just re-watched the entire Jaws franchise back in July I can say completely straight-faced that it is still 10x a better film than Jaws: The Revenge, and that I will re-watch this 50x before I ever give that fourth Jaws film a spin.  

Audio/Video: Cruel Jaws (1995) arrives on region A locked Blu-ray from Severin Films presented in 1080p HD and framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen. The newer stuff shot in Florida by Mattei looks quite good, there's not a ton of fine detail and the image is inherently soft at time, but it looks solid enough with well saturated color. The stock footage pilfered from other films looks significantly worse, marred by print damage and an abundance of grain, and the blacks are anemic at best. Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track with optional English subtitles.  

Extras kick-off with an alternate longer cut of the film that runs about ninety-six minutes, humorously advertised as the 'The Snyder Cut', which is a joke on Mattei using the nom de plume 'William Snyder' for this one, but it is actually the longer Japanese cut that comes from a completely different cut than the home video version. There's not a ton more gore but there are a handful of scenes not found in the original home video version, the quality is decent but below that of the main feature.

We also get  'The Great White Way' an appreciation of sharksploitation films with Prof. Rebekah McKendry of the Shock Waves Podcast, who touches on some of the classics like Great White, Tintorera, Piranha, Alligator, Devilfish, Orca and more contemporary stuff like Frankenfish, The Shallows, and 47 Meters Down. It's honestly a bit on the shallow side of things but it's a decent introduction to the sub-genre if you're unaware of most of these films. 

We also get the 12-minute 'These Things Got Made!' an interview with Actor Jay Colligan who plays one of the teen villains in the film. He talks about what a hoot it was making the film, having a great time in Florida at the the theme park where they shot it, the difficulty of taking direction from  Mattei who only spoke Italian and communicated through a translator, shooting the flare-gun scene and his hesitation to do it based on his wariness of the Italian crew's know-how, and how he never saw a shark real or mechanical during the a making of the film, plus pointing out what a scum-bag his dolphin-poisoning character was, and remembering how the set designer was spray painting a pair of shorts to match the stolen footage of a shark attack. The last of the extras is a fun 4-minute trailer for the film. 

The extras are a bit shallow for my tastes on this one, this is such a strange and shameless film that I kind of think Severin couldn't get too much into the making of it for fear of pissing off some corporates entity involved with the making of the films that this one rips off, like maybe it was best not to stir the pot too much. The single-disc release comes housed in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork, the artwork on the wrap and the disc are the same.  

Special Features:
- The Snyder Cut – Unreleased Japanese Extended Cut (96 min) 
- The Great White Way – A Study in Sharksploitation with Rebekah McKendry (21 min) 
- These Things Got Made! – Interview with Actor Jay Colligan (12 min) 
- Trailer (4 min) 

Cruel Jaws (1995) is not a good film in the traditional sense, it's actually quite a bad film, but it is a fantastic bit of jawsploitation, and if you're already a fan of Bruno Mattei's bat-shit insane brand of Italian knock-offs this is a must-own flick, and there's no better way to enjoy it than with Severin's uncut HD presentation.   

More screenshots from the Blu-ray: