Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Barracuda (1978)

Written by: Wayne Crawford, Harry Kerwin
Directed by: Wayne Crawford, Harry Kerwin
Starring: Wayne Crawford, Jason Evers, Roberta Leighton

Some day, there won't be another Jaws ripoff. Of course, that will be the day our dying sun expands to the point where even the deepest underground bunkers aren't enough to protect Dick Cheney's robotic exoskeleton from being melted by heat and unadulterated solar radiation. Even then, a small reserve of Sy Fy Channel and Asylum executives in a special lead-lined bubble will be preparing the holo-cameras to start filming the human race's last Olen Ray descendant's current shark movie.

However, I'm willing to bet between now and that fateful day when the universe finds out what happens when a dying star touches the molten ball of hate-plasma at the core of Cheney's evil being, none of the Jaws ripoffs will be driven by the fact that the fish are angry because the government made them hypoglycemic!

When a pair of divers is torn to pieces by a school of barracuda, university biologist Mike Canfield and his students start taking water samples in the ocean near shore. Mike has been looking for an excuse to take the local chemical plant to task for unlicensed dumping, and the brutal dismemberment of a couple of divers seems like as good an excuse as any. Of course, Papa Jack, the plant's owner, is none too happy about this, and since he pretty much owns the town, it's a simple matter for him to have Mike thrown in the Mayberry-like jail on trumped up charges.

Sheriff Ben Williams doesn't like Jack much more than Mike does, but his hands are tied. While Mike is being held, Williams's daughter Liza brings his meals, and they strike up a relationship that's an almost refreshing reversal of what we're used to seeing in movies like this. I say almost refreshing because while Mike obviously is attracted to Liza, he refuses to sleep with her immediately when she throws herself at him, treating her with respect. Unfortunately, the filmmakers felt the need to compensate for Mike's restraint by having Liza throw herself at him to the point that it makes Dizzy's plays for Johnny's affections in Starship Troopers look like the actions of a mentally stable and well-balanced individual. Mike is still your typical 70's science-action hero, bursting at the seams with cockiness and disdain for anyone who isn't as awesome as he is (and, of course, no one is as awesome as he is). He just gives Liza an opportunity to show a little self-respect, which, this being a 70's science fiction/horror/action movie, she slam dunks into the shitter with even more vigor than usual to make up for the fact that the man attempted to treat her like a human being for a minute there.

Meanwhile, Mike is noticing that everyone around town is acting uncharacteristically aggressive and irritable. He confronts the town physician, Dr. Snow, about it, and something seems fishy (I've been doing this far too long for any of you to act surprised that I went there) about the man's story and behavior. Not to mention the men in dark suits working closely with Papa Jack lurking around town. Eventually it comes out that Dr. Snow is in on the conspiracy as well. The suits are government agents, working with Snow, whose published research on hypoglycemia has made them think a chemical agent that would make whole populations of enemy combatants hungry and irritable would be a very useful tool during wartime, and Jack's factory is a perfect manufacturing and distribution center to test the chemicals. So what if the waste products turn the surrounding ocean into a swimming pool of death, they're the government, and this is the 70's! So everyone gets their glucagon levels out of whack and neuroglycopenic insanity ensues.

This movie reminds me of nothing so much as an eco horror novel called The Lake, which I can't remember the author of, can't find my copy of, and can't find an image of the cover online. But trust me, they're similar. That book promised a giant, mutated fish chowing down on anyone from a small lakeside town foolish enough to enter the water, and instead had maybe two scenes with the fish and a bunch of corrupt corporate shenanigans making up the rest of the story. This movie's alternate title, The Lucifer Project, while more honest, wasn't going to put butts in seats in a post-Jaws world nearly so much as making people think it was primarily a killer fish movie, and so Barracuda it was. And that's really too bad, because despite the fact that all the evil government stuff is actually handled pretty well, with a nice grim ending that plays like The Crazies relocated to Amity, the few fish attack scenes are some top shelf stuff. Sure, maybe a couple of the rubber barracudas had started to deteriorate so much from the salt water that it would appear they were suffering from leprosy as well as hypoglycemia, but no punch was pulled that the budget had the ability to deliver, and we get plenty of roiling blood clouds and shredded body parts drifting slowly and lovingly past the camera to give the audience an eyeful.

Even though I went in expecting more killer fish, and the movie blows its best attack sequence immediately after the credits, there's enough good stuff here to outweigh the bad, which isn't all that bad anyway since it provides plenty of its own special brand of inadvertent entertainment.

No comments:

Post a Comment