It’s safe the say the Italians aren’t subtle in their nods to the Hollywood blockbusters they take “inspiration” from. Jaws in particular suffers some of the bluntest tributes, though not many Euro shark films can claim the dubious honour of being sued by Universal Studios and barred from a North American release. Cruel Jaws can. And who might the captain of this stinking stolen ship be? Why, the infamous Bruno Mattei, of course.
aka: Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws
Italy/USA, 1995, Bruno Mattei
To tell you the plot of Cruel Jaws is almost pointless if you’ve seen Jaws. But the twists on the original tale are rather hysterical, such as the inclusion of Dag, essentially the film’s Quint. Dag Snerensen (Richard Dew) bears a striking resemblance to Hulk Hogan. His name “Dag” also mustered a lot of confusion as I thought characters were referring to him as “Dad”. Anyway, Dag owns a shoddy version of Sea World (their attractions consist of two dolphins and a seal). He’s in trouble because he owes his bullying landlord, Samuel Lewis (George Barnes Jr.), “fifteen years rent”. This is a problem because Dag has a young daughter whose legs don’t work and who apparently has no reason to live other than swimming with dolphins.
But all this is completely fucking irrelevant. While this pathetic little soap opera is playing out, a giant tiger shark is chowing down on the locals! (The tiger shark, by the way, is not actually a tiger shark. Practically all the stock footage thrown on the screen features great white sharks.) Luckily, Billy (Gregg Hood), the film’s lame reincarnation of Richard Dreyfuss’s Hooper, happens to be back in town ready to help Sheriff Francis (David Luther) in his hunt for the shark. For a marine biologist, Billy really hates sharks referring to them as “sort of locomotive with a mouth full of butcher’s knives”.
Sheriff Francis and Billy try to get the beach shut down, but, with an attitude strangely reminiscent of the another shark-plagued town’s mayor, Mayor Godfrey (Kevin Dean) and aforementioned rich bully Sam scoff at the shark claims. It’s tourist season! There’s a big windsurfing event coming up! How could they possibly close the beaches?! It’s all very familiar and only moments featuring Dag, the Hogan lookalike, remind us we’re not watching Jaws… for example, this touching scene where Dag puts his daughter to sleep with an impressive use of hypnotism…
It’s hard to pick the worst actor from the cast. They’re all so phenomenally bad. The villainous George Barnes Jr. stumbles through his lines with wide-eyed determination. Richard Dew may look like Hulk Hogan, but he’s a much worse actor, and Hulk Hogan is a terrible actor. Gregg Hood and David Luther are atrocious heroes. Hood as Billy is particularly awful coming across like a socially inept lunatic. There’s a surreal moment where Dag rambles at Billy for ages about whales while Hood fiddles with a radar looking ready to explode.
Not that the actors have much to work with. The script, which unbelievably took three people to write (not including the false Peter Benchley credit), is a fabulous mess. The dialogue swings from ludicrous shark diatribes to incomprehensible screams and insults. (At one point, Billy screams “You fat FUCK!” in the villain’s face.) Subplots and characters are tossed around with little regard for logic. In a jaw-droppingly stupid party scene full of head-scratching lines (a girl says “I wanna dance!” while dancing), two (apparently) hot babes hook up with a couple of jocky antagonists. This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that only a few scenes earlier they were chanting “dickbrain, dickbrain, dickbrain” in their dumbfounded faces.
It’s difficult to rate the shark-qualities of Cruel Jaws. None of the shark footage in this film is original. Yup. Bruno Mattei doesn’t stop at merely lifting story elements from Jaws. Cruel Jaws has the audacity to steal footage from Jaws, its sequels and even other Italian shark efforts like Enzo G. Castellari’s awesome Great White (1981) and Joe D’Amato’s Deep Blood (1990). (Mattei even “borrows” the theme song from Star Wars, remixing it slightly and playing it over a few scenes and the end credits!) Mattei didn’t even bother building his own fake shark, which in my books is a crime against shark films.
In shark attacks scenes, the film cuts madly between so many different rubber sharks that it’s almost seizure inducing. Footage from Great White and Deep Blood is awkwardly wedged into scenes with no regard for continuity. The stock footage of sharks is completely random, darting between different sizes and even different species (none of which, as far as I could tell, was a tiger shark, as claimed by Billy). If you take out the stolen footage, you’re left with nothing. Mattei doesn’t even bother to throw any blood into the water for the few pathetic shark attack scenes he actually bothered to film.
I’ll be nice and give Bruno half a shark merely because the stolen footage is obviously great stuff in its original setting. And the insane pastiche of rubber sharks is kind of amazing.
I want to say Cruel Jaws is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, but I struggle to even call it a film. There’s no continuity between shots let alone scenes. Footage is cut together so chaotically it’s near impossible to tell what’s going on at times. Stolen explosions are cut into scenes for little reason other than to have an explosion. Robert Shaw is replaced with Hulk Hogan. And yes, someone infamously utters the line: “We[‘re gonna] need a bigger helicopter.”
But despite all that, and despite the fact that the scene above is mostly made up of poached footage from Great White, I also struggle to say Cruel Jaws is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen because I had such a ferociously good time with it. It’s the hardest I’ve laughed during a movie, comedy genre included, for some time. While it may be the laziest and shittiest work of his career, and it’s certainly the most shameless as he steals from both Universal and his Italian peers, Bruno Mattei (R.I.P.) made magic with Cruel Jaws. Stupid magic, but magic nonetheless.
Cruel Jaws has a handful of Euro DVD releases. I’m not really sure how “legit” any of them are, but they can be found on Amazon pretty easily. I can’t imagine it ever being granted a proper US release with the Universal lawsuit looming over it.