Director: Lucio Fulci
Writer: Elisa Briganti & Dardano Sacchetti
Starring: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlatos
Running Time: 91 Mins
Reviewed by Guy Adams
I’m a stepfather to two boys. I missed the cute baby and toddler years, coming in just in time to savour the teenage times. At that age you can’t really play the father card, you just have to find common ground and hope you can be each other’s family despite having no genetic material in common. What’s genetic material after all? Nothing you can’t steal with a quantity of tranquilisers, a gun and a hypodermic.
Joe, the eldest, developed a serious taste for horror films. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a firm favourite (an aside: There’s fifteen years between us. I came to that movie as a banned, illicit treat on a low-grade bootleg VHS. The viewing experience offered was… indistinct. It was like peering into a snowstorm, dimly aware that someone else in there had power tools and a lot of other folks were screaming about it. He watched it on a shiny DVD packed with commentaries and special features. The world turns…). What would any responsible stepfather do? He’d crack open the George Romero, obviously.
I remember we indulged in a pizza-fuelled marathon spanning from Night of the Living Dead through to the newly-released Land of the Dead. We saw more guts spilled that night than he’s ever experienced since, despite now being at University in Bournemouth.
Zombies were good. He liked zombies. So where do you go from there?
You bring on the Fulci. He’s not got Romero’s chops, of course. His films can’t really be viewed as social commentaries; they’re slightly pretty, often above average, exploitation fare. But there’s one thing he beats Romero on: number of scenes involving a zombie fighting a shark. And that’s a big plus.
Picture the scene: we’ve just watched Auretta Gay go scuba-diving wearing only a small scrap of wool, the sort of thing a mouse would floss with before smacking its lips in dissatisfaction and reaching for a toothpick. Suddenly, a shark appears. Peril! Then, as Gay tries to hide under a rocky outcrop, she collides with a zombie. UNDERWATER. After she struggles free, the zombie goes on to fight the shark, wrestling with it and appearing to take bites out of it.
I don’t care what any of you other stepfathers have done, showing the above to a fifteen-year-old Joe makes me twice as brilliant as any of you. I win. Forever.
Apparently the scene was achieved using a shark stuffed to the gills with horsemeat and tranquilisers. Like Python’s Mr Creosote it couldn’t manage another mouthful. Even if said mouthful was Really Bloody Asking For It by constantly grabbing its fins and chewing on its under-parts.
However Fulci did it, neither Joe nor I will ever care. Whatever else this film offered it would always be The One With the Bloody Shark.
Oh… and The Eyeball Bit of course. Which I have just seen in pristine HD, projected onto a screen two metres wide. Fulci just came back from the grave and punched me in the face the little bastard.
Because this is another movie that successive generations have come to differently. I first saw it, cut, on a shop-bought VHS from those somewhat unreliable buggers at VIPCO. The version I showed Joe was the, still slightly cut, Anchor Bay Region One DVD. I’ve just watched it again on a fully remastered, fully uncut, Blu-ray produced by those naughty muck-imps at Arrow Films. It’s on two discs, drowning in special features. Documentaries on: Italian zombie pictures, Ian McCulloch’s Italian movie career, special-effects fiend Gino De Rossi, composer Fabio Frizzi (a live Q & A) and screenwriter Darano Sacchetti. There are also a couple of audio commentaries, one from Elisa Briganti and Calum Waddell and another from Steven Thrower and Alan Jones, two men so immersed in Italian horror they likely smell of pasta, breasts and leather.
You have to love Arrow Films. Who else would lavish such attention on The One With the Bloody Shark In?
Is the film worth such treatment?
While certainly Fulci’s most famous film, and one that helped to bring the Italian movie industry back from the brink of collapse), it’s not his best. Which is not to say it’s not quite good. It has its fair share of effective set pieces, a simple but coherent plot (rare for Fulci) lifted by the presence of Richard Johnson, as so many Italian horror movies were. It’s also not just an exercise in gore (however much talk of its two most memorable moments may suggest otherwise) but manages to offer the odd moment of something more atmospheric and affecting as well. In short: it’s a perfectly competent, slightly grungy, zombie picture remembered for its occasional moments of wild audacity and if you’ve never seen it you should certainly do so.
If you have seen it before then you know if you like it. The question is: should you buy the damned thing again?
I think so.
The restoration job is lovely and the features are exhaustive. There’s more than enough extra material here to justify the RRP even if the flawless presentation of the main feature isn’t enough to convince you. Arrow’s disc can be considered definitive until some swine invents a new format and we all queue up to experience it again. Hopefully in Digital MindSlap™, squealing our aged lungs out as our viewing rooms fill with CGI water and we find ourselves in the middle of the shark fight sequence.