René Cardona Jr., 1977
Starring: Hugo Stiglitz, Susan George, Andrés Garćia, Fiona Lewis
I really wanted Tinotera (Spanish for tiger shark) to be like Night of a Thousand Cats, but instead of a thousand cats, there would be one giant, killer shark. I don’t feel that this was an unreasonable expectation, as both films were directed by the almost indescribable René Cardona Jr. and star his occasional partner in crime, Hugo Stiglitz. However, I was way off the mark. This isn’t so much a film about a killer shark, as it is a film about a threesome that just happens to involve a killer shark. As with most movies directed by Cardona Jr., I could not have made this plot up or predicted where it would go.
Esteban (or Steven, depending which version you watch), a U.S.-Mexican businessman, is ordered on vacation after having a breakdown at work. He takes his yacht to a resort village and soon teams up with a sleazy local fisherman to learn a thing or two about shark hunting. He also begins an affair with an English woman on vacation, Patricia. They begin to fall for one another, but Esteban can’t decide if it’s love or just sexual attraction. Enraged, Patricia leaves him and spends a night with Miguel, a local womanizer and man about town. When Patricia goes missing - she is the first victim of the giant shark, though no one seems to notice or care - Esteban overcomes his resentment of Miguel and the two become friends. They begin a shark hunting business, where they gruesomely slaughter every kind of shark imaginable. Soon they start an intense threesome with Gabriella, another English vacationer. Their three-way honeymoon is cut tragically short when Miguel is eaten by the killer shark, Gabriella abandons Esteban because of her grief, and he is determined to get bloody revenge on the now rampaging shark.
Actually, to say this shark rampages is a bit of a stretch. The body count does pick up in the last 30 minutes of the film, but the shark is very slow moving and does a lot of creepy heavy breathing, even though I am well aware that you cannot make disturbingly loud mouth-breather noises underwater. And when I said that the body count picks up towards the end of the film, I really meant that this is the only time when humans die other than Patricia’s sudden and quickly forgotten death around the 20 minute mark. The biggest body count undeniably goes to a variety of shark species and marine life, which is justifiably going to upset a lot of viewers. Cannibal Holocaust has nothing on the amount of real, disturbing and gory animals death in Tintorera.
Similarly, few other animals attack films or ‘70s horror movies can compete with Tintorera in its sheer level of nakedness. Male nudity, female nudity, frontal, T&A everywhere, bush, etc. This was filmed in the '70s, people. When the characters bother to put any clothes on at all it is generally either a speedo or bikini bottoms, though Hugo Stiglitz does have some pretty outrageous outfits. In fact, if you watched this immediately after Night of a Thousand Cats, there are certainly similarities between characters. He’s the same slimy bastard, though we don’t witness him murdering anyone here (except sharks). He does spy on and successfully creep on a number of ladies, though sans the helicopter of Cats. Now he has a yacht and binoculars.
Though nothing in this film can compare to Cats, there are a few great moments of violence, particularly Miguel’s torrid end where he is ripped in two by the enraged asthmatic shark, who swims off obviously chowing down on Miguel’s head. Honestly, I think that shark was just getting revenge for the sheer number of his finned friends that Miguel and Esteban executed earlier in the film. This attack scene in particular might be worth watching the film for, but don’t hold me to that.
The movie is a total mess. I still can’t really wrap my brain around the fact that this is somehow both a Jaws rip-off and a film about a threesome. The character development is just silly and the acting is about what you would expect. The wonderfully sleazy, charismatically awful Hugo Stiglitz (Nightmare City) is the lead, but co-star Andrés García (The Bermuda Triangle and Day of the Assassin) nearly keeps up with him for some very tense and heartfelt scenes of near man love. Susan George (Straw Dogs, Die Screaming Marianne, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, and Venom) makes a welcome appearance as their enthusiastic third wheel. Fiona Lewis (The Fearless Vampire Killers, Dr. Phibes Rises Again) has a nice, if too short role as Patricia, going toe to toe with Hugo Stiglitz in the awful-dialogue-delivered-in-the-most-ridiculous-way department.
If you look it up online, a lot of sites and reviews will describe Tintorera as a softcore or exploitation film. Despite the constant nudity, that is not the case. Sex is implied - frequently - but there is nary a sex scene to be found in the entire film, despite the fact that the main plot point rotates around a threesome. There are a few chaste kisses and some ass grabbing, but that is absolutely it. There’s a weirdly fun, though very late ‘70s score from Basil Poledouris (Conan the Barbarian) that has a few cues of Austin Powers, making the lack of sex scenes even more frustrating, because I’m sure they would have been hilarious.
Despite my better judgement, I find myself really like Tintorera, partly because there is simply nothing else like it. Cinema fans are going to expect it to have that trashy, so-bad-its-good appeal. It does not have this. I’m afraid if I recommend it, people are going to find out my address over the internet and come to my house with torches and sharpened pitchforks. Watch it if you dare, if you love Cardona Jr., or if you have the same bizarre pattern of fixation and repulsion that I do with Hugo Stiglitz. It is available on DVD, though I’m not really sure why. Keep an eye out for which version you are going to watch. There are several. I watched the 85-minute version, but there is a semi-cut 89-minute version, an uncut 126-minute print, and a fully restored 134-minute release. I can guarantee that no one needs to see two full hours of Tintorera, let alone more.