Original title: Shark: Rosso nell’oceano
aka: Devilfish; Devil Fish; Monster Shark
Lamberto Bava‘s Devouring Waves, made a year before the first of his Demons films, and signed using the pseudonym John Old Jr, a tip of the hat to his father Mario who sometimes used the name John M. Old, was the twisted brainchild of no fewer than seven credited writers (Gianfranco Clerici, Frank Walker/Vincenzo Mannino, Hervé Piccini and the indefatigable Dardano Sacchetti writing the screenplay from a story by Lewis Coates/Luigi Cozzi and Martin Dolman/Sergio Martino with Bava himself chipping in ideas). You’ll wonder why it seems that at no point one of them turned to the others and questioned just how ludicrous their work really was.
Set and filmed in Florida, a popular shooting location for Italian filmmakers at the time, bathers and fishermen are being attacked by an unknown predator. Sheriff Gordon (Gianni Garko) is perplexed and two researchers at the nearby Seaquarium tourist attraction, marine biologist Bob Hogan (Dino Conti) and dolphin trainer Stella Dickens (Valentine Monnier) are puzzled by strange sonar readings suggesting that a huge and previously unidentified creature occasionally rising up from the murky depths. They team up with local diving equipment supplier Peter (Michael Sopkiw), his assistant/on-again, off-again lover Sandra (Iris Peynado) and oceanographer Dr Janet Bates (Darla N. Warner), a woman with huge spectacles and an even bigger mobile phone, to investigate and realise that they’ve got “a living fossil” on their hands, a growling, roaring shark monster with octopus-like tentacles. They also realise that it’s the product of a government weapons programme headed by Dr Davis Barker (Lawrence Morgant), his lover Sonja (Dagmar Lassander), and her husband Professor Donald West (William Berger). Research assistant Florinda (Cinzia de Ponti) threatens to blow the whistle and is murdered for her troubles by Miller (Paul Branco) and eventually they all manage to but these annoying diversions aside to actually start wondering what to do about the threat of the monster shark – which reproduces asexually and will span hundreds of identical creatures.
Despite – or perhaps because of – all those hands involved in the script, the resulting film is a mess. There are a lot of soap opera shenanigans involving extra-marital affairs between horny scientists, Peter ditching poor Sandra for Stella and blackmail plots which makes it sound far more interesting than it really is. It’s a third-rate Jaws (1975) rip-off – though Jaws 3-D (1983) might be the more immediate influence, especially given its Florida setting and the presence of an aquatic theme park.
There are incidental pleasures here and here, most of them unintentional – the killer muttering “croak, croak” as he strangles a victim before throwing her in the bath and electrocuting her by throwing a hairdryer into the water; the silly point of view shots from inside the shark’s mouth; the shark attack victim described as being in a coma when he very clearly isn’t; actors struggling gamely to hold tentacles against themselves as the monster strikes; the reliance on archaic computer technology that talks with a squeaky voice and ends up providing no meaningful data at all.
What should have been one of the film’s joys turns out to be another disappointment. Fabio Frizzi had written some marvellous scores, particularly for Lucio Fulci in films like Zombi 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters/Zombie (1979), Paura nella città dei morti viventi/City of the Living Dead/The Gates of Hell (1980) and …e tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà/The Beyond/7 Doors of Death (1981) but here he chose to hide behind the pseudonym Antony Barrymore and it’s not hard to see why – it is, by a very long way, one of his least impressive scores.
It’s chock full of familiar faces spouting the most awful dialogue (“You filthy rotten bloody shark, let me hear you!” and “The truth is, you’ve become old, West. Old for science… old for your wife!” are just two scintillating examples), among them Michael Sopkiw and Valentine Monnier, reunited after appearing in Sergio Martino’s 2019 – Dopo la caduta di New York/2019: After the Fall of New York (1983) and both nearing the ends of their short-lived careers; Italian western mainstay Gianni Garko; Austrian-born William Berger, log a regular in Italian exploitation cinema; Cinzia de Ponti, recently the ferry victim in Lucio Fulci’s Lo squartatore di New York/The New York Ripper (1982) (she stuck with Fulci for the peculiar Manhattan Baby (1982)); Dagmar Lassander was a familiar face from 70s polizieschi and gialli; and that’s the redoubtable Goffredo Unger as the fisherman who has his leg bitten off. If nothing else, there’s some fun to be had watching the parade of familiar faces struggling with a stupid story and all that appalling dialogue.
The real star of the film was supposed to be the monster of course, but it inevitably turns out to be utter rubbish. It’s mostly seen as a murky, indistinct shape drifting through the murky waters but when it flaps its tentacles above water or pops up to show off its huge set of fangs, it simply looks awful. The shark in Jaws was famously not all that great but Steven Spielberg knew how to use it to its best potential. Bava hasn’t got the faintest idea how to make it look good.
Devouring Waves is, by almost any metric, a terrible film and it’s so dull that it can’t even rise to the level of being accidentally entertaining. Seven people wrote this remember. Seven people, and not one of them was able to straighten out the painful plot machinations, come up with a line of dialogue that sounds even remotely like something a real person would say or even make a genetically engineered monster shark seem interesting. Years later, Syfy, in cahoots with Roger Corman, recycled their basic ideas for the dreadful Sharktopus (2010) which in turn gave rise to Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda (2014) and Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf (2015). In fairness to Lamberto Bava, Devouring Waves isn’t quite that bad, but “it’s not as bad as Sharktopus” is hardly the ringing endorsement of the film he might have wanted.