GreatWhiteOne of the most notorious JAWS rip-offs, an Italian made trash fest marked by uninspired filmmaking and production values to match.

This 1981 film attracted a fair amount of (undeserved) attention due to the fact that Universal successfully filed suit against its producers for ripping off JAWS. Thus THE LAST SHARK (a.k.a. L’ULTIMO SQUALO, WHITE DEATH, JAWS RETURNS, THE LAST JAWS, GREAT WHITE) was yanked from theater screens and remained M.I.A. in the U.S. for decades—although it was actually released as a sequel to JAWS in Spain and Japan.

For the record, director Enzo G. Castellari has made many good films, among them the kinetic DEATH WISH knock-off STREET LAW (1974), the eccentric spaghetti western KEOMA (1976) and the agreeably excessive DIRTY DOZEN riff THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (1978; the inspiration for the similarly titled Quentin Tarantino flick). Then there’s THE LAST SHARK, which is not among Castellari’s better work!

In a small resort community a wind-surfer is chomped by a massive great white shark. One of the surfer’s friends informs her dad Peter, a local writer, of the killing. Peter is especially nonplussed by this news because a windsurfing competition is set to be held in a few days.

The crusty old shark hunter Ron discovers a portion of the dead boy’s chomped surfboard, and together with Peter tries to convince the local authorities that a man-eating shark is on the loose. Furthering their suspicions is an unmanned boat that appears in the harbor with a guy’s severed hand in its hull.

The windsurfing festival goes ahead as planned, with an underwater net set up around the area of the competition. But the shark breaks through the netting and terrorizes the surfers; luckily Ron is around to rescue them with his boat!

The first of several boneheaded attempts at capturing the shark is made by Peter, who scuba dives underwater and attempts shoot the thing, but the shark outsmarts him by collapsing several rocks in an underground cave that effectively block off Peter. Back on land Peter learns that his daughter and two friends are headed out to sea in an effort at catching the shark themselves. Peter’s daughter winds up severely injured by the shark, but Peter turns up in a helicopter before it can finish her off.

The next attempt at capturing the shark is by a couple guys in a helicopter, who try to lure the critter out of the water by dangling a hunk of meat, only to have the shark pull the copter into the ocean.

The shark next attacks a deck, which it succeeds in unmooring, causing it and the people standing on it to float out to sea. Peter attempts to save them, only to wind up on the floating deck by himself—with the shark in the water.

THE LAST SHARK’S opening credits are fun in the way they bob and weave along with the ocean over which they appear. So is the climactic exploding shark effect, which outdoes the similar (and much bigger-budgeted) denouements of JAWS 2 and JAWS 3-D. Beyond those things, however, THE LAST SHARK is a bust.

It evinces the sort of cut-rate filmmaking we’ve come to expect from 1970s and 80s European exploitation cinema. This means a riot of zooms, much indifferent acting (in a cast that includes a slumming Vic Morrow), plenty of upfront sleaze (such as a leering slow motion shot of a young woman running along the beach in a skimpy bikini…about which I’m not complaining too hard), and of course much appallingly bad English dubbing.

A shot of a man on a boat being lifted out of the ocean by a shark would be impressive if the “man” in question weren’t such an obvious dummy, and the mechanical shark used in the film, which comes complete with a very Godzilla-like roar, isn’t much more convincing. There’s also the ridiculously disco-fied score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, and much poorly integrated documentary shark footage.

There’s surprisingly little in the way of gore. That’s certainly not a terrible thing, but some grue might at least have livened up a film that in its all-encompassing dreariness will make you appreciate just how good a movie JAWS truly was.

Vital Statistics

THE LAST SHARK (L’ULTIMO SQUALO, WHITE DEATH, JAWS RETURNS, THE LAST JAWS, GREAT WHITE)
Film Ventures International/Horizon Film

Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Producer: Maurizio Amati, Ugo Tucci
Screenplay: Vincenzo Mannino, Marc Princi
Cinematography: Alberto Spagnoli
Editing: Gianfranco Amicucci
Cast: James Franciscus, Vic Morrow, Micaela Pignatelli, Joshua Sinclair, Giancarlo Prete, Stafania Girolami Goodwin, Gian Marci Lari, Chuck Kaufman, Gail Moore, Joyce Lee