Aka - Monster Shark / Devilfish
The son of the great Mario Bava and the grandson of cameraman Eugenio Bava, the talented Lamberto Bava was a filmmaker who at one point in time looked set to follow in his father's footsteps by carving out a reputation as an exciting and visionary director of Italian horror pictures in his own right. Sadly however, things did not quite pan out that way and today Lamberto Bava ranks as arguably one of the great "nearly men" of Italian horror cinema.
Born in 1944 in Rome, Lamberto Bava, perhaps not surprisingly given his background, was bitten by the filmmaking bug at a comparatively young age, working as an assistant director or second unit director on the majority of his father Mario's much revered horror films throughout the late sixties and the seventies. According to some sources Lamberto Bava also worked as an uncredited assistant director on Ruggero Deodato's notorious Cannibal Holocaust (1980), prior to working in the same capacity on Dario Argento's early eighties picture's Inferno (1980) and Tenebrae (1982). This collaboration marked the beginning of a fairly productive working relationship between the younger Bava and Argento with many going so far as to label Lamberto Bava as Argento's protege.
However, Lamberto Bava's career as a director of horror picture's in his own right really got started in earnest in 1980 when he directed and co-wrote his first solo directorial feature Macabre (aka - Macabro). A suspenseful and at times broodingly atmospheric tale of perverse horror, Macabre was well received by most who saw it and today is regarded by many as something of a minor classic of Italian horror. Approximately three years later Bava would follow Macabre with A Blade In The Dark (1983), a grim thriller in the Italian giallo mould concerning a young film composer who arrives to work on a new score at an isolated countryside villa, only to be plagued by the murderous activities of a mysterious and brutal killer. A Blade In The Dark drew, and indeed continues to draw, fairly mixed reviews with many praising Bava's enthusiastic and at times brutally gory approach, whilst others voiced the opinion that A Blade In The Dark was too bloatedly derivative of Dario Argento's superior films of the same ilk.
Nevertheless, following this fairly distinguished and impressive start to his solo directorial career, Lamberto Bava would make a brief two film sojourn into the trashier realm of Italian genre cinema, quickly pumping out a duo of hasty, routine exploitation picture's. The first of these would be the Italian Rambo knock-off Blastfighter (1984), a predictable yet guiltily entertaining effort with starred American born Italian exploitation cinema action hero Michael Sopkiw and the irrepressible Luigi Montefiori (aka - George Eastman) of Anthropophagous fame. Bava would then quickly follow Blastfighter with the film set to come under my closer scrutiny here, the Italian Jaws imitation Shark: Rosso Nell'oceano, better known to trash cinema buffs here in the UK as Devouring Waves.
As any halfway knowledgeable fan will attest, the Italian horror and exploitation filmmaker's were long renowned for their tendency of churning out their own derivative, opportunistic imitation's of popular American horror picture's and Steven Spielberg's classic Jaws (1975) was no exception to the rule. Indeed, the unprecedented international success of Spielberg's film saw Spaghetti exploitation specialist's taking to the high seas to produce several thinly guised imitation's. First there was Ovidio G. Assontis of Beyond The Door fame who, armed with a cast of American stars including John Huston, Shelley Winters, Henry Fonda and Bo Hopkins, directed Tentacles (1977), an anaemic reprise of the Jaws theme with an unconvincing, distinctly rubbery giant octopus substituting for Spielberg's Great White Shark. Meanwhile Italian trash cinema journeyman Tonino Ricci churned out the truly bizarre yet oddly engaging genre hybrid Shark's Cave (aka - Cave Of The Sharks) (1978) which borrowed several motif's from Jaws and incorporated them into a totally out of leftfield concoction concerning sunken treasure and undersea supernatural force's starring Andres Garcia, Swedish starlet Janet Agren and a sunbaked Arthur Kennedy. However, the Italian shark cycle undoubtedly peaked early with director Enzo G. Castellari's uproariously trashy The Last Shark (aka - L'ultimo Squalo) (1980). Sometimes also known as The Last Jaws, Castellari's film was released theatrically in the United States by notorious shyster Edward L. Montoro's outfit Film Ventures International under the title Great White. However, The Last Shark was such a shameless imitation of Jaws that Universal Pictures infamously pursued a successful lawsuit which resulted in Castellari's film being quickly withdrawn from American theatrical distribution. With producer's and distributor's perhaps wary given the legal trouble which had beset The Last Shark, the Italian shark movie sub genre never really took off after that, but nevertheless it's flame still continued to flicker faintly as the next fifteen years saw the sporadic release of films such as Bava's Devouring Waves, Raffaele Donato and an (uncredited) Joe D'Amato's Deep Blood (aka - Sangue Negli Abissi) (1989) and Bruno Mattei's astonishingly shoddy and plagiaristic Cruel Jaws (1995).
Produced in 1984, Shark: Rosso Nell'oceano is known under a variety of different names, released on video here in Britain as Devouring Waves, whilst also being released in other countries under the alternative titles Devilfish, Monster Shark and even Jaws Attack 2. At any rate Devouring Waves was an Italian/French co-production shot on location in Florida. Working under the pseudonym John Old Jr (a moniker Bava had also adopted for his previous film Blastfighter), Devouring Waves would reunite Bava with his Blastfighter star Michael Sopkiw and, if nothing else, at least enjoyed widespread international distribution via home video, although it would later suffer the unfortunate indignity of being featured on the vindictive Mystery Science Theater 3000 television series. Following Devouring Waves Bava's career would arguably reach its zenith, at least in terms of international success, as he reunited with Dario Argento to direct Demons (1985). Heavily indebted to Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1982) and arguably little more than a gory Italian horror picture in Americanised clothing, Demons was nevertheless an entertaining, crowd pleasing effort which arguably stands as Italian horror cinema's last truly great international success story. Indeed, the popularity of Demons prompted Bava to quickly churn out its sequel Demons 2 (1986), which essentially just offered more of the same. However, following Demons and Demons 2 the Italian horror bubble had all but burst and this may partially explain why Lamberto Bava's initially promising career underwent a drastic downturn in fortune's. Indeed, Bava would spend the remainder of the eighties directing execrable latter day Italian horror picture's such as Graveyard Disturbance (1987) and The Ogre (1988), both of which were originally made for Italian television and as the nineties dawned his once promising career subsequently slid into comparative anonymity. As of a few years ago Bava remained active, but in recent years his career opportunities have been largely limited to directing more fantasy orientated fare for Italian television.
Anyway to get back on track, the plot of Devouring Waves begins with several mangled dead bodies being discovered off the Florida coastline. Although the evidence initially suggest's a shark to be responsible, when marine biologist's Dr. Stella Dickens and her colleague Dr. Bob Hogan begin to investigate the death's more thoroughly, they discover something more terrifying. Indeed, their discoveries suggest that there is something very nasty lurking in the coastal waters, a ferocious, monstrous hybrid of shark and octopus, thought to resemble a prehistoric species which originally lived millions of years previously.
When several of the people aware of this beasts existence are attacked by shady hired thug's it becomes increasingly clear that the creature is the result of covert biological tests and that it's creator's are desperate to keep it's presence a secret. Meanwhile the creature continue's to claim more and more victims, prompting the beleaguered marine biologist's to for an alliance with intrepid, macho electrician Pete, who may have discovered the only way of halting the seemingly unstoppable marine monster's reign of terror.
I do not feel it is really doing either Lamberto Bava or indeed this production itself a disservice to say that Devouring Waves essentially amounts to little more than another cut and dried addition to the cycle of sporadically produced Italian shark picture's which sought to steal the thunder of Steven Spielberg's Jaws and it's high profile sequel's . If you want to split hair's over the final details you could point out the fact that the ocean monster featured in Bava's picture is not actually a shark per se, but a ferocious, prehistoric, mutant hybrid of shark and octopus. However, this would really just be niggling over the finer details as this aside, Devouring Waves faithfully follows the familiar and by then derivative formula set by Spielberg's classic and followed by previous Italian imitation's such as Tentacles and The Last Shark in which an affluent and popular American tourist resort is beset by a series of fatal attack's on swimmer's perpetrated by a ravenous terror from the depths.
Over the years it has been speculated by several sources that Lamberto Bava worked on Devouring Waves as essentially little more than a director for hire. Indeed, the films script was penned by the trio of Gianfranco Clerici, Herve Piccini and the famed Dardano Sacchetti, working from a story concocted by the duo of Sergio Martini and Luigi Cozzi, and even Bava himself (although credited with penning some additional material) has allegedly gone on record stating that the finished product was really the vision of other people. Whether this is really the case, or whether Bava was simply trying to shrug off culpability for a poorly received picture remains very much open to debate, but either way it doesn't really alter the fact that Devouring Waves is an indisputably derivative film which has received meagre praise over the years in comparison to Bava's prior solo directorial outings Macabre, A Blade In The Dark and, to a lesser extent, Blastfighter.
For what it's worth Devouring Waves certainly opens up in a promisingly lurid fashion, beginning with a scene in which a helicopter rescue crew winch a male corpse out of the ocean which has had its legs crudely chewed off. Unfortunately Devouring Waves then proceed's to dash any viewer hopes raised by this modestly grisly curtain-raiser by promptly dovetailing into a largely slow and monotonous opening third. Indeed, Bava's film quickly gets itself bogged down in bland characterisation as we are introduced to a motley assortment of marine biologist's, electrician's and typically gruff cops, whilst Sacchetti and co's screenplay makes the imprudent decision to totally de emphasise the monster itself in favour of some disinteresting shenanigan's concerning a secretive conspiracy to cover up the existence of the monster at all costs. However, this otherwise superfluous subplot does at least result in an amusingly sleazy sequence in which a hired thug attacks an attractive female researcher who knows too much for comfort, systematically stripping her naked during a violent struggle before throttling her to death.
As the films macho monster-battling electrician lead Peter, top billed Michael Sopkiw is hardly dynamic, but n all fairness does at least possess a modestly engaging and charismatic screen presence. Born in Connecticut in 1954, Sopkiw got involved in the Italian film industry during the early eighties and briefly carved out a niche for himself as something of a Spaghetti action hero, starring in Sergio Martino's enjoyable post-apocalyptic action yarn 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983), Blastfighter and Devouring Waves for Lamberto Bava, then finally Michele Massimo Tarantini's trashy jungle cannibal picture Massacre In Dinosaur Valley (1985) before prematurely retiring from acting. For what it's worth Sopkiw certainly seems at home in Devouring Waves, portraying a stereotypically red-blooded, bed-hopping, blue collar male lead and Bava's film is certainly none the worse for his presence. By contrast however, the films female lead Valentine Monnier, who also starred alongside Sopkiw in 2019: After The Fall Of New York, whilst certainly a real looker is given little to do in her role as sultry marine biologist Dr. Stella Dickens other than flaunt her curves at Sopkiw and play with her dolphin's. On that note it is worth mentioning that the cutesy scene's of Monnier playing around with twin dolphin's Donald and Minnie, which are mercifully kept to a bare minimum, are an obvious nod in the direction of big budget dud sequel Jaws 3-D (1983), which was released the previous year and also featured as one of its central protagonist's, a blonde female marine biologist heavily preoccupied by her relationship with two trick performing dolphin's. Coincidence? I suspect not, and really it has to be said that when a film has to resort to ripping off idea's and motif's from a film as rubbish as Jaws 3-D, you just know you're in for an ordeal.
At any rate the remainder of the films cast, which includes Italian horror and exploitation veteran's Gianni Garko and William Berger, are largely nondescript for the most part. Spaghetti trash cinema buffs mat however be amused to note the presence of Czech actress Dagmar Lassander in a bit part as a hard-nosed seductress, whose presence really only has a tacked on significance to the films plot. Unfortunately by 1984 time had caught up with Lassander and here she looks puffy and barely recognisable as the beauty who had once lit up picture's such as Piero Schivazappa's The Frightened Woman (1968), Mario Bava's Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970) and Luciano Ercoli's giallo Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970) with her strikingly attractive presence. It is also perhaps worth noting that the fact Devouring Waves was shot in Florida by Italian personnel, with a mixed cast of Italian speaking, English speaking and Latin American actor's, apparently led to communication difficulties on set and as a result the cast were eventually instructed to act in their respective native tongue's with the finished results then being post-dubbed into English. If nothing else this would at least go some way towards explaining the films ropey, poorly synced dubbing and the stilted nature of most of its performance's.
Of course it would be nice to be able to say that Devouring Waves, having dispensed with most of its exposition during its slow and uneventful opening half hour, eventually hits its stride, but unfortunately that never really happens. Whilst Lamberto Bava's presence behind the camera ensures that Devouring Waves is seldom anything less than presentably shot and edited, his direction could only be described as competent yet decidedly uninspired as Devouring Waves trundles along at a dishearteningly pedestrian pace. While this does lend some credence to the rumours that Bava was bought in as little more than a director for hire, unfortunately it does not make Devouring Waves a particularly enjoyable film to sit through. Indeed, for the lions share of the films running length the monster itself barely registers a figurative blip on the radar as an inordinate amount of time is eaten up by deathly boring scene's of the films listless protagonist's standing around looking at computer monitor's or engaging in long-winded, woodenly delivered passages of cod-scientific discussion. Meanwhile it almost goes without saying that the aforementioned unnecessary, tacked on subplot concerning a half-baked conspiracy to cover up the creature's existence is about at exciting as watching paint dry.
To be fair, on the rare occasion's when the monster does surface Devouring Waves does at least liven up a little. Whilst clearly made of rubber, perhaps explaining why it is only shown for the most part via fleeting glimpses, the monster itself certainly possesses a certain low budget charm with its probing rubber tentacles and massively oversized teeth. Also, whilst Devouring Waves is comparatively mild in terms of its gore quota, Bava's film does at least possess a few moments liable to put a smile on the face of all but the most jaded of Euro-horror maven's as several of the films disposable player's get messily chomped on, the creature even bloodily decapitating one unfortunate victim with its formidable jaws. By and large however, these lively moments are really too few and far between, and the vast majority of viewers will no doubt have found their attention wavering long before the films trashily entertaining conclusion in which Sopkiw and the remainder of its cast arm themselves with flamethrower's then proceed to battle the tentacled beast to the death.
All in all Devouring Waves washes up on the shore as a rather soggy addition to the trickle of plagiaristic Italian lensed shark picture's which sought to usurp the success of Jaws and its sequel's. To be quite frank Devouring Waves is the kind of film that really suffers due to the fact that it relate's too much of its already familiar tale through endless scene's of boorish scientific type's, personality bereft white coat wearing lab technician's and blue collar police officer's standing around talking, and not enough through action scenes featuring the actual monster itself, which is of course what anyone actually paying to see such an obviously trashy and derivative picture such as this really wants to see. While Michael Sopkiw's enthusiastic lead performance and a few brief yet spirited monster sequence's at least ensure Bava's film is not a complete and total washout, on the whole Devouring Waves is pretty listless and forgettable even by the low standard's of the Italian cycle of Jaws rip-off's. For all of it's faults Castellari's The Last Shark was at least uproariously silly and shamelessly trashy enough to register on the "so bad it's good level", by contrast Devouring Waves never comes close to achieving even that much.
To date Devouring Waves has received a total of three DVD release's by my reckoning. Firstly there have been two separate German DVD release's under the title Monster Shark, the first an All Region's disc from Astro Records & Filmworks and the second a Region 2 release from Marketing Film. Meanwhile there is also a Japanese Region 2 release on the Mag.Net imprint. However, I am unsure how these release's measure up in terms of specification's and presentation quality so if anyone else can shed any light on this it would be greatly appreciated. Meanwhile those who do not fancy going to the trouble of tracking down a pricey Japanese or German import can always keep an eye out for a used copy of the old 18 certificated UK VHS release of Devouring Waves on the Medusa label, which as far as I can tell seems to be uncut and feature's a surprisingly presentable full screen presentation of the film itself to boot.