Lamberto Bava, 1984
Starring: Michael Sopkiw, Gianni Garko, William Berger, Dagmar Lassander
Yet another Italian Jaws rip off, Devil Fish aka Monster Shark aka Shark: Red on the Ocean aka Devouring Waves is not quite a movie about a killer shark. The titular fish is never really that visible - dark photography is typical of almost all Italian animals in the ocean attack films - but seems to be part shark and part octopus. A bunch of Italians pretending to be Floridians in a coastal town are plagued by a mysterious sea monster. The Devil Fish in question is actually the mutant hybrid of an octopus and some other kind of aquatic predator, supposedly prehistoric, engineered by the military. But it has escaped to feast on seaside tourists. A number of scientists, including Dr. Stella Dickens, a dolphin specialist, are trying to track down the monster and stop it before it kills again. They are also up against military scientists that are trying to keep it a secret.
As you can imagine, Devil Fish was panned by critics and is considered so bad that it was given a Mystery Science 3000 episode. A lot of the time I’m on the fence about MS3K, but this is absolutely the best way to watch Devil Fish. Though I’m generally a Lamberto Bava fan, I don’t know what he was thinking. He used a pseudonym, so maybe he was aware of how embarrassed it is. Sure, he made plenty of bad films, but he made a few good ones, such as Shock (1977, co-directed with his father, the late, great Mario Bava), Demons (1985) and Demons 2 (1986), Delirium (1987), and some flawed but interesting movies like A Blade in the Dark (1983) and Macabre (1980). There is no excuse for Devil Fish.
The film is just disastrous. There are too many plots, too many characters, and too many script writers. Despite contributions from Lamberto Bava, Luigi Cozzi, Sergio Martino and the great Dardano Sacchetti, nothing could be done to save Devil Fish. I think they tried to one up Jaws with a number of subplots, including a mad scientist and some non-shark related murderers, but the characters are absurd and the overall plot is completely nonsensical. Dr. Stella has some horrific costumes and dialogue, plus she spends a lot of time with dolphins. I firmly believe that whenever dolphins are introduced to a film, everything will go to shit as soon as possible. Sheriff Gordon has some key dialogue, such as “Thanks to your science, we’ve lost precious time!”
The directing is honestly pretty bad, which shouldn’t surprise me, but for some reason it does. Exploitation master Bruno Mattei was on the second unit camera and oddly didn’t make things as trashy as they could have been. The editing is possibly the worst thing about this movie. I hope in some film school somewhere, a professor is showing this to his class as an example of how to never edit a film. Because of the many subplots, this feels like several movies are going on at once, something the editing emphasizes.
There are so many ridiculous things that I can’t even describe them all. There is a lot of incomprehensible nonsense with computers that could only have come out of the ‘80s. The monster is only a baby, which is why it is imperative for them to stop it before it reaches maturity. Murderers board the boat at some point to whack one of the scientists. Bob, the marine biologist character best known for his incessant beer drinking (you could make a drinking game out of it), has the bright idea to subdue the enormous, rage-filled creature with an air rifle. You can imagine how that goes. And did I mention the research boat they are on is called the Seaquarium?
There is mild gore and a few light sex scenes, but nothing too exciting. The devil fish effects look ridiculous, almost as if Bava Jr. couldn’t figure out what he wanted and filmed a bunch of vaguely monstrous shapes in soft focus or poor lighting. The one thing I can say for Devil Fish is that there are a lot of flamethrowers. A lot. The conclusion is pretty incredible and I can’t explain why anything happens the way it does. It’s probably worth suffering through all of Devil Fish just to make it to the end.
Devil Fish is not available on region 1 DVD, but can be found online or through the MST3K collection, volume 19, from Shout Factory. I don’t know if I can solidly recommend this, but it is really entertaining if you’re in the correct mindset (that is to say, drunk).