Saturday, July 20, 2013

Shark Attack Summer: DEEP BLOOD (1990)

We all pick our poisons. Some folks can sit through the most bone-dry, thread-bare, no-fun Jess Franco flick with a stiff, uuuhhhh... upper lip. I can't. There comes a point after numerous films in a director's repertoire where you gotta fish or cut bait. In the case of Jess Franco, I decided that there was beer back at the house. Joe D'Amato on the other hand... for better or for worse, I am in it for the long haul. At the very least, on the rainiest of days, D'Amato will turn in a picture that has something entertaining going for it. I have seen most of his non-porn outings and many of his quality adult films (yeah, I said it), such as ROMEO AND JULIET (1996), which I consider to be something of a masterpiece of the genre, particularly in the original, two-hour long, uncut version.

Whether it's the epic of atmosphere and gore that is ANTHROPOPHAGUS (1980) or the rather sad, yet amusing FRANKENSTEIN 2000 (1991), there's always something that makes D'Amato's films worth watching. Then there is DEEP BLOOD. Brother, if you thought ATOR 2: THE INVINCIBLE ORION (1984) was a chore to sit through, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Opening with a bizarre sequence that seems almost appropriate for a rip-off of John Carpenter's THE FOG (1980), four fresh-faced boys are roasting weenies on the beach when they are approached by a guy who is less of an Indian than Tracy Walter in REPO MAN (1984). Wearing a multicolored headband and a striped blanket like all good Indians, he tells launches into a massive speech:
"This is a time of magic, written in the sky. You boys have been called to this place to fulfill a destiny. That sky is a haven for all our great warriors. According to our ancient custom, those warriors, at one time, took a blood oath to become one spirit and the warrior who did not live up to that oath would wander with the wind forever, searing for his brother. He who rides alone, dies alone." Well thank you Chief Killingbuzz.

Uhhh... kids? Time to leave the beach, now.

Instead of, like real children, throwing rocks at this loony old coot, the boys suddenly decide that it would be a great idea if they take their knives, slash their arms and become blood brothers! As if that weren't odd enough, the "Indian" gives the kids a wooden quiver, covered in a few illegible carvings that are a key to finding an evil sea creature that had once attacked his village.Oh boy! Kids being kids, they decide this is amazingly cool and bury the thing, along with their knives, under a few inches of sand on the beach. Why? So it will be there when they need it later in the movie, of course!

About ten years later a woman falls off of her inflatable chase-lounge into a cloud of red water while her rather unperturbed child and dog look on. The sheriff is not impressed and sends his deputy out to get the kid an ice-cream. Meanwhile the boys are back in town. All four have grown up to be preppies complete with polos, topsiders and emo dispositions. You know, good, clean-cut Europ - err, I mean American boys. American, that's it. We know this is America because everyone drives trucks or cheap sports cars with NY plates, the Sheriff is fat, sweaty and yells a lot, but means well and the marina is complete with a paddleboat flying the stars and bars! Oh if only a shark would attack them. Then we'd have a movie.

Shaaaaaaark!!! Err... I guess.

You'd think this is where the action would kick in, but you would be wrong. Now that the boys are home from college and military training, they need to be harassed by the Nick Cassavettes wannabe Jason, who you know is a badass because he drives around town really fast in a black '87 Mustang with two Gold's Gym rejects and a couple of girls who scream "kick his ass!" when the confrontation is clearly over. Of course this is the most excitement this movie has to offer for the first 23 minutes of the film, as the boys need to reconnect with their parents and girlfriends in some of the most gruelingly sappy, piano and strings laden drama you will ever lay eyes on. Seriously, was D'Amato trying to go toe to toe with Spielberg? This makes E.T. (1982) seem like frickin' BLADE RUNNER (1982). For instance, when Ben returns home from college (with his golf bag) he finds that his dad isn't doing well, at least that's what his mother's murine-soaked eyes say. Ben just wants to go fishing with his dad. Dad doesn't do any fishing any more. Not after... after the... accident. What accident? Who knows? That's not important! What's important is that Mom, barely able to hold back the tears, tells dad "Benny needs you" to which Dad slowly caves in and says "Maybe, I could try." Oh jeezus, make it stop! In a show of unmitigated sadism, it does not.

After more ABC After School Special level of saccharine all around, we finally get a little aquatic action. Miki (Frank Baroni), who comes from some sort of broken home, but thankfully never gets a backstory, and John (John K. Brune), who's backstory is basically his truck (American!) decide that some sort of fishing is in order. Although I am no angler myself, I am hard-pressed to understand what sort of fishing they are doing that requires you to snorkel around the area you are going to cast your line into. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say they were fishing for plot conveniences. Faster than you can say "sorry charlie" we get stock shark footage! Yes! Finally some... shark... action? Well, yeah, John thrashes around in the water while someone off-screen throws a red Rit dye tablet into the water while Miki simply stands on the dock looking like a someone should pull the hook out of his mouth. The shark? Oh, it's not "a" shark, it is an assortment of sharks from different bits of stock footage allegedly purchased from National Geographic. Maybe D'Amato was channeling his inner Bruno Mattei. Oh wait, Mattei never bothered paying for the footage he swiped. One of the best moments to come out of this bit is later in the film when Miki and pals are mourning John's passing in the local cemetery. After walking back from a grave Miki warbles "it's not fair... John doesn't even have a grave!" Huh? So assuming there are no parts left to bury, what were you doing in the cemetery? His equally bummed friend replies, "lots of people don't have graves." Whoa! He's right! I don't even have one!

Of course there is the usual searching party looking for the shark while the mayor flips out and answers a lot of phone calls. There's a guy in a Hawaiian shirt and a ballcap who I think is supposed to be the local aquatic life expert (he's American, he doesn't have to wear a lab-coat) who is examining a slide under a microscope and tells the sheriff, "this piece puzzles me. Seems to be unpredictable. A bad personality." What?! How did you get that from a swab sample? We also get a sequence in which the locals catch a rather small decomposing shark that is definitely not the shark we're looking for. While a crowd gathers around to watch the stock footage, Murray the Indian suddenly appears and tells Miki "don't believe everything you see!" Finally, some words of wisdom. I'm watching this movie and I don't freaking believe it!

Another horrifying attack!
Additional cliches clumsily included for your non-enjoyment is a scene with the local waitress flees her in-car fling with a married man to go take a swim in the ocean fully clothed (thanks for that, Joe). Of course this leads to a lot of flopping about in four feet of water while a handful of stock footage is thrown into the surf. I should point out, this isn't some sort of stock footage of sharks with big chunks of meat in their mouths, trailing blood through the sea or anything remotely exciting. This is stock footage of different sharks in tanks or from old documentary footage simply swimming or gnashing their pearly whites for some unknown reason. Probably because Marlin Perkins was poking them with a stick before sending Jim in the water.

Finally Miki invokes the blood oath and the remaining friends unbury the wooden quiver and their boyhood knives that have stayed, unmolested under a few inches of sand for over a decade. Must be some powerful Indian mojo at work here! Of course, like every goddamn scene in this goddamn film, it's played with goddamn weepy piano and strings for every goddamn ounce of sap that can be squeezed from the goddamn scene. They see John's knife and it makes them sad, so they carefully re-bury it. *sniffle, sniffle* Joe, for the love of christ, what the hell are you doing? So sappy is this movie that our hero Miki and our adversary Jason, don't sort shit out the old fashioned way (a bar brawl or pistols at twenty paces), but simply gaze into each other's eyes and shake hands. Ghaaaa! And that ain't the end of it, not by a long shot. Once they do manage to actually hunt down the shark, you can expect a lot of hugging, but very little hunting. This sequence does have the best line of the movie, though. The apparently Jewish Coast Guard flies over their boat and admonishes them via bullhorn for being out shark-hunting: "We know what you are doing. Get back to the harbor immediately. should be ashamed of yourself."

The last 20 minutes of the film contains some of the best padding that the movie has to offer. I say "best" because the previous hour contained so much touchy-feely emo-drama that it might even induce gagging in Celine Dion fans. Because of this, the relentlessly dreary padding that includes a few members of the cast scuba-diving in an attempt to find the shark. Yes, that's right. In addition to trawling with industrial-sized barrels of chum, they feel that the best thing to do is to get some eyes in the water! Personally, I'd get some polarized glasses, but hey, how many sharks have I killed? This loooooong sequence leads up to the one and only special effect in the movie and it clearly did not go as planned. Instead of exploding, the miniature shark merely jettisons its head like some sort of James Bond escape shuttle. Reshoot? Hell no! We need to shoot more hugging! On the IMDb someone added a bit of trivia stating that a mechanical shark head was made for this movie. If there was, it must have fallen off the back of a trailer before the movie ever started shooting, because there is no such thing to be found in the film. I am guessing that the contributor is getting DEEP BLOOD confused with the vastly superior Enzo G. Castellari masterwork THE LAST JAWS (1981). How you could confuse these two films is beyond me. That's like getting Shelly Duvall confused with Scarlett Johansson. Well, they are both women in the same line of work, could happen to anyone.

Word has it that the film's original director Raffaele Donato flaked early on and producer D'Amato took hold of the reigns. While it was a Filmirage production, this gruelingly saccharine, virtually exploitation and production value free film is screaming Italian TV movie. Joe D'Amato going out of his way to avoid nudity and gore? Perish the thought! Also, the film has been released on video and even DVD in the far-flung reaches of the former empire, but never widescreen. Not even one of those fuzzy boarder open matte jobs. Perhaps it was just simply shot for the video market, but even so it seems a little odd. Regardless, this turkey is so hard to sit through that I started thinking maybe I should watch more Franco films. Maybe, just maybe, there might be something to this whole cult of non-eventful filmmaking. Maybe I should dust off DEVIL HUNTER (1980) and give it yet another try... Naaaaaaaaahhhhh!

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