There are no Makos in this movie. None. Why not just call it Jaws of Death? I mean, they went out of their way to put Mako in the title and then provided no Mako. They Mako teased me.
What the lunatic filmmakers who made this goofy little movie did provide is low budget, slightly sleazy sharksploitation with the mirage of it having a heart of gold. Released in 1976 and starring Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen, Starman, and most importantly, Grizzly, which is essentially Jaws in the woods), this weird flick tells the tale of a man gifted with extraordinary powers that protect him from, and let him control, sharks. Although this movie is Mako-less, we are treated to pretty amazing footage of real Tiger sharks and other species interacting with stuntmen in ways that made me clutch my pearls. Seriously, I have no idea how they safely filmed some of the scenes such as sharks biting a guy’s neck or chomping on a leg. These were real sharks and real people. If they used any rubber props, I surely did not see them. Some say Roar was the most dangerous movie ever made, but this one predates it by five years! However, Roar “prided” itself on the fact that no lions were harmed in the making of the film (just about 70 cast and crew members instead). Mako, on the other hand, seems to give zero fucks about either the crew or the sharks. We see some shark murders on screen, and folks, that ain’t cool.
Jaeckel plays Sonny Stein who, from the opening scene to the end, murders any fool that messes with his sharks. He collects scraps from local eateries to feed them and everyone in town thinks he is a harmless guy … but batshit nuts. A scientist named Whitney recruits him to bring in a pregnant Tiger shark named “Matilda” so he can study her giving birth. Oh yah, Sonny’s shark friends have names. Bizarre, yes, but also a great way to make them sympathetic to the viewer. Could you hate a shark called “Matilda” or “Sammy”? Of course not. Meanwhile, a local bar features a woman who swims in a water tank and gets ogled by all the creepy townsfolk. Whitney’s vile assistants, Pete (played by Goldfinger’s Harold “OddJob” Sakata) and Charlie, try to rape the “aquamaiden” lady, Karen, as she tries to get home. Sonny comes by and saves her. He takes her home to see his finny pets that he visits and feeds through a trapdoor in his house. He flashes back to the Philippines as he tells her the story of how he got his shark tooth medallion which bestows him his sharky powers. Long story short, his life was spared by sharks and a shaman gave him the medallion since that meant he was the chosen one or some shit. Back to the present moment, and he jumps in through the trapdoor and dances with a shark. This is supposed to impress Karen, and she seems a little turned on but also a little ready to call the paddy wagon.
Karen happens to be the bar owner Barney’s wife. Barney convinces Sonny to sell him “Sammy” the shark for Karen to swim with in her act. He’ll keep her safe by installing a flimsy see-through liner in the water. Sonny warns him that he better not harm his shark or else! Which of course, Barney does. Pete and Charlie have gone totally psycho and are indiscriminately shooting sharks in the head with bang sticks. Boy, Sonny sure has his hands full with all the revenge-murdering he needs to do! He tries to choke out Barney causing Karen to turn against him. He murders Charlie with a bang stick shot to the face, and hooks Pete through the mouth and drags him behind his own boat. He then goes over to Whitney’s lab to rescue “Matilda” and … she and her babies have been killed and dissected.
Look, I’m not advocating shark-related-murder-revenge but let’s just say, at this point in the movie, I totally understood it (and we all know I’d probably do it). Sonny serves Barney up as a hot dinner to one of his toothy friends. Keeping up his exhaustive dishing out of the comeuppance, Sonny cuts the rope to the tank liner and Karen gets eaten in front of a tavern full of folks. Now, they immediately put a bounty out on sharks and all this murdering has been for nothing! Sonny makes a run for it, with townies in hot pursuit. He gets shot, makes it back to his house, and proceeds to tell “Sammy” through the trap door that sharks must now kill as many humans as they can to protect themselves from inevitable annihilation. Cornered and bleeding, Sonny morphs into Marlon Brando, gives a lethargic and meaningless soliloquy, and hurls himself into the drink. Suicide by “Sammy”!
This movie is bananas. Although the premise of having a relationship with sharks is appealing, Jaeckel’s lifeless eyes … like a doll’s eyes? … and total lack of energy, turn the excitement volume all the way down to zero. It comes off as a hastily thrown together cash grab that gives no character development whatsoever. Man, it’s clear real sharks were killed making this film, and what an absolute waste of life. I suppose that was the mentality in 1976, right after Jaws, when the world succumbed to the iron fist of irrational fear. No excuse though. A movie about how we should save sharks was the cause of death of actual real sharks. I doubt that irony was lost, even on the post-Jaws audience whose swim trunks had gone unused for about a year.
Director: William Grefe
Where to watch: Tubi, Amazon Prime
A deep dive into the world of amazingly terrible and wonderful shark movies through the eyes of a degenerate marine biologist!