It’s hard to imagine a world before Jaws. Sure, there were shark films before it, but Jaws turned the great white shark into a mythical killing machine. After Jaws, movie-sharks got bigger and their final deaths more explosive. The cash-ins and sequels peaked in the 80s and slowed down in the 90s. They returned with a thundering whimper in the 2000s with the “popularity” of CGI-encrusted turds like Megashark vs. Giant Octopus (2009). Shark Kill is a very early Jaws cash-in, coming out only a year after Jaws. A lot of online reviews purport Shark Kill to be “the worst film ever”. I disagree – not only is this not the worst movie ever, I actually enjoyed Shark Kill a lot.


USA, 1976, William A. Graham

Rick Dayner (Phillip Clark) is a permanently on edge marine biologist working for a oil company. Visiting the company’s offshore rig, he spots the fin of a great white shark. He tells his boss that the divers working on the rig must be pulled out, but his fears are ignored. Of course, it’s not long before the divers are attacked – one is killed, the other loses a leg. The surviving victim’s young and rowdy brother, Cabo Mendoza (Richard Yniguez), wants to take out the shark and the $20,000 bounty put on its head. So does Dayner, who feels responsible for the attack. Dayner and Mendoza, ignoring the pleas from their girlfriends, split the cost of the boat hire and take to the waters to blow that shark the fuck up. Too bad the boat they’ve hired is a piece of crap without a working radio.

Director William A. Graham has a respectable body of work behind him. He worked solidly, mostly in television productions, from the mid-50s all the way up to 2002 where his credits end. Shark Kill was not the first ocean-themed television movie he had directed. In fact, his two credits prior to 1976 were Beyond the Bermuda Triangle (1975) and Trapped Beneath the Sea (1974). This ties in to the first surprise from Shark Kill – it is an adequately made film. I went into this expecting low budget shoddiness and, while it does have a TV movie charm, it has clearly been made with a professional crew and cast. Graham covers the action nicely and even throws in some impressive underwater photography. The cast is likeable with Richard Yniguez as the standout in his tough guy role. It helps that the actors have been given decent dialogue to work with. Structurally, the film is tight, the progression of the story feels natural while still throwing in a few surprises. Perhaps the only unintentionally funny aspect of the script is Shark Kill‘s slapdash and weirdly homoerotic ending (I’m not the only one who thought this), as the female characters disappear from the story entirely and giving us a welcomed giggle as the credits role.

Shark Kill is also quite effective in its chills. Despite only showing shark attacks through rapid editing, the film creates a lot of tension purely from the situations it places its characters in. While this is undoubtedly a Jaws cash-in, I’d struggle to call to a rip-off. Shark Kill has little in common with its predecessor beyond the presence of a great white. In many reviews, Shark Kill is likened to Open Water (2003) and that is certainly an appropriate comparison. The film’s final act features our two leads stranded in the ocean at night with the killer shark circling them. This sequence is tense with the mammoth shark occasionally attacking. I must also give kudos to the film’s score by George Romanis – another person with a healthy resume. Often the music from Romanis is nothing special, but the electronic punches he gives to the scenes featuring the shark are very effective.

It’s hard to give this film a shark rating. The shark scenes mostly work and the great white shots used are impressive and don’t appear to be your typical shark stock footage. However, there are very few scenes featuring the shark (there’s only one attack at the start of the film, not including the final showdown). The editing between shots of the shark and those being attacked is frantic and it doesn’t always gel. I wouldn’t quite call the editing jarring, but these moments do lose some impact. Perhaps it was a budgetary decision, but this is a film that takes it cue from the first half of Jaws – that to show less is more. And, for the most part, this works to Shark Kill‘s favour.

“Hidden gem” is a term overused and wrongly used when talking about forgotten low budget films; and yes, I’m also guilty of using it too much. But I think it is appropriate in the case of Shark Kill – at least if you dig your sharksploitation. Here is a film brutalised by most critics and viewers, and I’m not really sure why. Shark Kill is cheap and not on the epic scale of Jaws, but I found it to be extremely fun. Shark Kill‘s success mostly comes down to its unexpectedly decent script and characters, and its above average execution from a seasoned director. Check this one out if you can stomach the horrific DVD transfer (see stills for a reference).