I like giving myself movie-related assignments. Was I ever the kid in class that loved homework? Hell no! But when the assignments cater to, and ultimately legitimize, my marathon movie-watching habits, I can easily abide them. I've already charged myself with attending every Terror Tuesday this year at the Alamo Drafthouse and I'm also wrapping up a year-long project wherein I watch one new movie every day so clearly I have a cinemaddiction and it's hard to schedule meetings for those support groups when all the members are at the movies.
So Jaws was a pretty good movie right? Man-versus-nature film that not only spring-boarded Spielberg's career but made people afraid to go near any large body of water for decades to come (I actually heard stories of completely rational people who were consequently afraid to get into a bathtub). Amy movie that takes a relatively simple idea and turns an enormous profit from it is bound to have wannabes, imitators, and unscrupulous impersonators. I had never contemplated the multitude of Jaws rip-offs that must exist on one home video format or another but their existence is in no way shocking. So, in the interest of science...ish, I have decided to dedicate myself to viewing every single knockoff and rip-off I can get my greedy hands on. I'm not necessarily launching a new column per se but rather highlighting a theme you can expect from me over the next few months.
Today's rip-off: Orca.
Orca takes place in a Canadian fishing town and center on the exploits of a fisherman/whale hunter/d-bag played by Richard Harris. That's right kiddies; Dumbledore is a shorn, drunken bastard in this! So old man Grizzleswig (not his character name, but I like it better) makes a habit out of killing orca whales and ends up "accidentally" killing a female who is pregnant. This doesn't sit too well with the male orca that spends the rest of the movie stalking Grizzleswig in an elaborate revenge plot. Once they realize that their town is being tormented because of the actions of one man, the local yokels demand Grizzleswig take to sea and face the beast one-on-one. Will he muster up the gumption? Will the whale nab his Ahab? Did that orca just blow up an entire freaking island?!
Orca, despite its illusions of star power and production value, is a terrible movie. Although directed by Michael Anderson (Logan's Run), I couldn't help but notice the amount of Italian names in the opening credits. If there one thing I have learned in watching knockoff cinema, nobody plagiarizes like the Italians. It tries to add a "he had it coming" angle to Jaws and changes little else. Richard Harris is basically an incredibly despicable version of Robert Shaw's Quint who is nowhere near as intriguing. He's such a royal ass to and then has the nerve to bitch and moan about why the whale won't leave him alone. The other frustrating element of Harris' performance is that he's permitted to wield his natural Irish accent which makes it impossible at times to understand word one that leaves his mouth. He's a bit of a mumbler. The Matt Hooper character is gender reversed as a female biologist who believes that whales are so smart that they think we are retarded. I am not writing that be incendiary, she actually states this out loud. Amazing!
The story is pretty silly from start to finish which could be forgiven with an ample supply of carnage. Unfortunately the kills in Orca are mostly watered down and tame. They are quick to cut-away not as a concession to the rating board but more as an acknowledgment of their meager budget and their inability to construct decent orca puppetry. I will say the one exception is the leg-removal scene. The whale smashes apart the supports holding up Grizzleswig's sea-side home and when the poor, previously nude girl slides closer to him, he bites off her leg like he's snapping into a trademarked beef jerky product! It is pretty awesome to watch even given its low-budget feel.
The film is pretty dry overall but is peppered with some incredibly bizarre moments that have definite replay value. The great thing about a rip-off is that while it fails miserably to mirror the greatness of the original film, it can sometimes massively overcompensate by throwing in as much crazy as the celluloid will hold. And if Orca's whale abortion isn't the craziest thing you've ever seen in a Jaws rip-off, then I beseech you to tell me which ones you are watching so I can track them down right now! When Capt. Grizzleswig takes the wounded female whale onto his ship and desperately tries to save her (odd being that he still ropes her in after he shoots her and then is surprised by her bleeding to death; idiot), it turns out she was pregnant. And we learn this as she squeezes out what resembles a moist, porcelain Butterball turkey that crashes onto the dock. It is one of the more insane things I had ever seen until, Grizzleswig breaks out a hose and just washes the whale fetus unceremoniously out to see like some sort of dog excrement. All the while, he is outwardly demonstrating remorse belied by his nonchalant actions.
Not quite as eye-searing a moment, but still hilariously implausible, is the scene in which the whale enacts fiery revenge on the town. Throughout the film, this orca has been swimming menacingly near the shores and boat docks waiting for its chance to strike. I say menacingly because it sounds better than the truth: stock footage of a happy whale, clearly in an aquarium, spliced with underwater photography and blandly ominous music. At one point, he slams himself into a gas pipe, breaking it, and releasing dangerous fumes into the air. He then rams into a support beam under the harbor master's shack to force an oil lantern to fall to the ground; igniting the gas. What follows is a series of disproportionately large explosions cropping up all over the island. This whale has just succeeded in blowing up an entire Flipper'n island! Never mind how preposterous this on an number of levels, the fact that they edit in footage of a whale happily jumping at a Sea World show makes it seem like the orca is jubilantly celebrating his bloody, infernal victory. Hooray!
Overall, not the worst Jaws rip-off I've yet seen but a weak film that offers little to the horror genre. It has its moments, but what horror film doesn't have at least a couple of those? Well, no, you're right. There are plenty of horror films with nothing to offer. In the vein of Jaws rip-offs, I would definitely have to say I prefer Blood Beach, which I reviewed for Terror Tapes. It plays on similar elements as Jaws, and even borrows and alters taglines from the sequels, but utilizes a clever conceptual change that I really enjoy. Anyone out there in Horror Land have any suggestions on what K-Mart brand Jaws film I should view next?