At long last, The Last Shark surfaces on home video in special edition

by Mark Burger

In 1982, while Universal Studios was figuring out what to do with the Jaws franchise — having rejected the spoof concept Jaws 3, People 0 — Film Ventures International released Great White, an Italian film (originally titled The Last Shark) about a great white shark that terrorizes a coastal community.

Film Ventures, which scored big box-office with Beyond the Door (1975), an Italian Rosemary’s Baby/Exorcist rip-off, and a previous Jaws knock-off titled Grizzly (1976), promoted Great White more than any of its previous films — even tapping Percy Rodrigues, who narrated the Jaws trailers, to do likewise for Great White.

Great White/The Last Shark was directed by Enzo G. Castellari (of The Inglorious Bastards fame) and starred Americans James Franciscus as a novelist not unlike Jaws author Peter Benchley — the character’s name is Peter Benton — and Vic Morrow as Ron Hammer, a Scottish shark hunter not unlike Robert Shaw’s Quint in Jaws. The film combined real shark footage with special effects best described as laughable. The few critics who reviewed the film were unimpressed, although Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times claimed “…it delivers the requisite action and suspense.”

In any event, the public came — in droves. In the February/March 1994 issue of The Dark Side, a British magazine devoted to cult cinema, Castellari claimed to interviewer John Martin that “…on the first weekend alone, it took $2 million… after 15 days, at least $20 million, a crazy amount for any Italian, indeed any European film.”

Whatever the specific box-office figures, Universal took notice and then legal action, successfully slapping an injunction on Film Ventures and yanking the film from theaters.

“You can imagine how well these highpowered lawyers for Universal were able to fight against a small European production,” Castellari said. “But, fortunately, in the rest of the world, it was an unbelievable success. I think it was the best success of my career, internationally.”

The Last Shark quickly became a holy grail for cult-movie mavens — including this one. I’d seen the trailer and poster in 1982 and already knew and liked Franciscus and especially Morrow. My interest in Morrow would intensify with his untimely, tragic death while making Twight Zone: The Movie mere months after Great White’s abrupt departure from theaters. It wasn’t until the early ’90s that yours truly got his first taste of The Last Shark, in a bootleg VHS gifted by a friend named Dean. It’s safe to say that once you’ve seen it, it’s impossible to forget.

The same was true of Brannon Carty, a cinema enthusiast from Greensboro who admits that “Jaws changed my life.”

Last year, Carty founded RetroVision Entertainment, a distribution company headquartered in Greensboro. Dedicated to cult and exploitation cinema, RetroVision’s maiden release was the first official US home-video release of The Last Shark (see review on page 41). The company is marketing the limited-edition DVD through its website.

“Why this film?” Carty asks rhetorically.

“Because I love it.”

Make no mistake, he’s quite aware of its faults: Mismatched special effects, wooden performances, and “a horrible score,” composed by Morton Stevens for the US release — yet he enjoys it just as much, perhaps more, because of those glaring flaws.

For years, he collected Last Shark memorabilia (posters, press photos, various bootleg editions) and researched the film’s history extensively.

The Universal ban remained in place for almost 30 years, until Quentin Tarantino made Inglorious Basterds (2008), a remake of the Castellari film — for Universal Pictures. Thus was The Last Shark freed from legal limbo.

That was just the first step, as Carty negotiated with the Italian production company for the rights — Film Ventures having declared bankruptcy in the mid- ’80s — then painstakingly restored and remastered the film. The new DVD, which restores a few minutes trimmed by Film Ventures, eliminates all subtitles and boasts audio and video quality far superior to any previous release. “Now you can actually see what happens underwater,” Carty boasts with a smile.

What is particularly remarkable is that he wasn’t even born when Jaws came out, nor The Last Shark. Brannon Carty may be the only aspiring media mogul to have just gotten his learner’s permit. This ambitious entrepreneur is a junior at Northwest Guilford High School, an industry veteran at 17 years of age, and he’s got big plans for the future.

“We don’t only want to do shark movies,” says Carty. RetroVision released Todd E. Braley’s psychological thriller Liar last fall, and is currently working on a 45 th – anniversary edition of the 1969 spaghetti Western Django the Bastard (AKA The Stranger’s Gundown), as well as Castellari’s previous aquatic opus, The Shark Hunter (1979) starring Franco Nero, and a low-budget 1998 thriller originally titled Shark but released as, believe it or not, Great White. RetroVision, a four-man operation, is also looking to work with independent filmmakers from the region.

Carty has also written his first featurelength script and is in the preliminary stages of pre-production.

Guess what? It’s a shark movie. !