Hollywood History returns to Last Movie Outpost and this time we look at one of the most famous, or infamous, so-called “rip-off” movies of all time. The Last Shark (a.k.a.) Great White.
The Last Shark
Ahhhh, the Italians. There is not one movie ever made that some Italian, somewhere, didn’t look at and say “I think I could do that better, if only there was more blood!”. It’s how Dawn Of The Dead gets followed by Zombie Flesh Eaters.
Sometimes they get it right, and it becomes the kind of classic exploitation cinema that gets Shawn and Phil all worked up. Other times it goes wrong and veers into schlock. How does Great White / The Last Shark do? That is up to the viewer to decide. The story behind the movie is what we are interested in.
Jaws was still a box-office sensation, despite having been recently de-throned on top of the all-time list by Star Wars. Not only had there been a sequel by the end of the 1970s, but the homages and rip-offs were coming thick and fast.
Grizzly, Tentacles, Orca: The Killer Whale, and the daddy of them all, Pirahna. Universal had tried hard to protect their IP, and were limbering up to sue Piranha for copyright infringement. Steven Spielberg talked them down as he really enjoyed Pirahna and saw homages and rip-offs as a testament to the original.
The Italians must have thought this lack of legal action was a green light. It was open season on Jaws, and they had Ruggero Deodato (Django, Cannibal Holocaust) lined up to pay that particular kind of homage to Jaws that only an Italian rip-off could.
Deodato would eventually drop out, leaving the way clear for Enzo G. Castellari (Inglorious Bastards, Escape From The Bronx) to step in.
What he was working on for Italian production companies Uti Productions and Horizon Productions seems terribly familiar.
“In the seaside community of Port Harbor, a young man is killed by a giant great white shark. Horror author Peter Benton and professional shark hunter Ron Hamer realize the truth, but ambitious mayor William Wells refuses to accept that a shark threat exists, fearing that a cancelled wind-surfing regatta would derail his campaign to become state governor.”
It went beyond that. James Franciscus, fresh off another aquatic beastie movie, perennial Last Movie Outpost favorite Killer Fish, played the everyman forced to team up with grizzled sea-dog Vic Morrow. Morrow’s character understands the challenge they face. There was even a scene in which Morrow explains this at a meeting.
Overconfident town officials, the ominous warning from a bite radius. Sometimes the shark is signalled by the location of a floating barrel. Did we say barrel? We meant buoy. There are even Jaws 2… riffs… with a helicopter attack and scuba diver sequence.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
The Italian production house did what they do best, that is absolutely nothing to stop associations being made in marketing and promotional material. In Spain, Jaws was called Tiburon, and… well…
This was 1981. Jaws 3 was in pre-production at Universal with ideas being kicked around and writers tapped up. This was directly impacting their valuable franchise. When they turned their gaze to the Japanese market, things were even worse.
When US company Film Ventures, an independent film production and distribution company originally located in Atlanta, Georgia, with a notorious reputation within the industry for producing films that were highly derivative of many blockbusters of the era, bought the US rights then enough was enough for Universal.
The movie was supposed to premiere in the US on March 5th, 1982, and Universal applied for an injunction, but the request was denied in US District Court.
Film Ventures had spent over $4 million in advertising Great White, as it was to be known in the US, and it was doing good business. In just over a month it grossed a staggering $18 million. However now everyone could see it, and the nature of the rip-off was plain for all to see.
After just over a month of release, federal judge David V. Kenyon ruled the film was too similar to Jaws, and Great White was subsequently pulled from theaters mid-run.
This was a very bad outcome for Film Ventures, who were deep in a financial hole. Another major release of theirs, Mutant, would subsequently flop. Company boss Edward L. Montoro had a pending divorce settlement. Montoro took $1 million from Film Ventures and vanished. Montoro’s whereabouts remain unknown to this day, though it is believed he fled to Mexico.
Film Ventures International would go on to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
No Last Shark For You
The Last Shark a.k.a. Great White a.k.a. L’ultimo squalo a.k.a. Tiburon 3 a.k.a. Jaws Returns has remained a somewhat difficult movie to see over the years. Universal blocked numerous attempts to have the movie released more widely on home entertainment.
Eventually, on March 5th 2013, RetroVision Entertainment released the film on DVD for the very first time in the US. This was based on a restored print and included the short documentary Great White: The Legacy – 30 Years Later and rare theatrical trailers. The DVD was Region 0, limited to only 500 copies, and could only be purchased online.
A version of the movie with a RiffTrax commentary was made available on June 17, 2016.
To this day, Universal remains determined to keep it away from your eyeballs. In 2009, with Quentin Tarantino’s remake on the way, the New Beverley Cinema in Los Angeles scheduled a screening of Enzo Castellari’s original Inglorious Bastards.
As part of a double bill of his work, they wanted to screen The Last Shark for the first time since 1982. The organizers contacted Universal Studios for permission.
It was declined.
More recently Severin Films also reached out to Universal Studios, hoping to negotiate the rights to an R1 DVD release. This was also refused.
However, this is the Outpost, and we love our Outposters. The fine folk at The Daily Jaws have got us covered.
More History Of Hollywood?
Like our articles on the history of Hollywood? Last time around we delved into the famous 1980s Battle Of The Bonds.
Previously we have looked at how Trading Places gave us The Eddie Murphy Rule. We looked at the insanity of 1989 and The Summer Of The Bat, as Batmania swept the globe. Then we linked that to a follow–up piece looking at the sequel that went wrong – Batman Returns.
We took time to explain how Hollywood makes mugs of taxpayers like us through Hollywood Accounting.
We have written about the legal wranglings behind the scenes on Rocky IV, looked into the truth behind those terrible VFX in Jaws III, and covered the version of Jaws 2 we nearly got.
Before that, we have looked at such varied aspects of Hollywood as the hidden story behind George Lazenby’s decision to only play 007 once. We have looked at the history of stunts, of special effects, of the studio system, and explored Hollywood’s ties to the mob. We have also examined some of the spooky goings-on associated with Tinseltown and we told the story of one of the true giants of Hollywood. We delved into the backstory of one of the best-known names in the history of horror, Hammer. We took a walk through the history of one of cinema’s greatest art forms – the world of miniatures and model-making for movies.
We explored the history of the box that changed so many Outposters lives – the VCR. We even delved into the murky waters of movie money and the hidden world of Hollywood Accounting and we went deep into the genre with a history of disaster movies. Uncover the mystery and the horror surrounding a little known on-set incident during the making of Shark!
We have looked at the Hollywood History of superhero movies, we even looked at the story behind Cannon Films.
Do you have an interest in a period of Hollywood History that you want to share with our community of Outposters? If so, reach out to [email protected] and let us know.
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