Welcome to Fishy Treasure Night. Originally it was going to be 70s Kidnap Night, but then Jim realised I had Antonio Maghereti's Killer Fish and Enzo Castellari's The Shark Hunter as another back-up Zombie Club option, got all excitable, and, well, I couldn't refuse.
It's a KILLER line-up tonight, even if I do say so myself. Lee Majors followed by Franco Nero...does it get much better? In reality, yes it does, but not here in the hallowed turf (or carpet) of Zombie Club. Let's get it on.
This evening's Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee, in association with the dropping of much beef.
Killer Fish (1979)
Plot Emerald thieves place stolen emeralds in a lake full of piranha.
Zomblee Lee Majors. James Franciscus. Karen Black. Stolen emeralds. Piranha. Antonio 'The Last Hunter' Maghereti. I can see you nodding you're head in agreement; credentials like these don't come along in one package very often, and it's every bit as fun as it sounds. After Lee Majors and his merry team of crooks rob priceless emeralds from a Brazilian mining facility, they proceed to drop the loot in a damn, which, unbeknown to them, is well stocked with loads of nasty little nibblers. Then it's off to a local resort, where string-puller James Franciscus joins the rest of the hoods for the old "how long do we leave it down there" scenario, and, predictably, a couple of the hired hands decide to get greedy. As you would expect in a movie called Killer Fish, any attempt at retrieving the loot from the damn isn't so straightforward, and we're treated to the first of tonight's piranha attacks.
While Killer Fish could easily be disregarded as a daft Italian rip-off by some, I personally found its charms irresistible. When it eventually kicks into gear (in the second half), the plot twists and turns with some swagger, resembling nuances of an Ernesto Gastaldo script, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's also rather silly. But that's to be embraced, in anything, right? What more do you want? We've got at least two helicopters (miniatures or not, they're still helicopters), one sea plane which crashes in a way we all agreed was "quite cool", and Lee Majors getting to turn on his roguish charm, successfully by "pulling the ladies with his eyebrows alone" (Jim).
A real highlight is what my colleagues here referred to as "the beef plan", where the piranhas were lured elsewhere in the dam by dropping a few Sunday roasts from the plane ("They're dropping the beef!" - Jim). It's a solid plan, and the decoy works, although Rawshark's advice to anyone unlucky enough to fall in the water after this point ("Wrap yourself in beef!") may not be the most practical.
"Hey, you're not really going to go into that water, are you?"
Jim Okay, well I don’t actually know who Ernesto Gastaldo is, but I’d put money on him not having any “drop the beef” plans in his movie. Up until then I was fine – Lee Majors, Karen Black, James Fransiscus in post-Beneath the Planet of the Apes but pre-L’Ultimo Squale mode, a diamond heist, jewel stash and a shit load of explosions, especially in the opening power plant raid that for some reason reminded us of the beginning of Zombie Creeping Flesh. But when they all managed to get stranded on that boat and Fransiscus exclaimed that he’d ’dropped the beef’, I almost completely lost it. That doesn’t happen you know, people don’t drop the beef in enough movies these days.
The build up was fine though. The robbers rob, stash the loot in the lake and agree to wait for 60 days to retrieve, except those two guys who are “flying off to Rio coz they can’t be bothered to hang around for 60 days” (Rawshark). But they didn’t fly to Rio; they instead went for the loot early and get eaten by Piranhas. Everyone else does a good job of waiting though; Lee Majors hides in showers, Fransiscus plays backgammon (“Oh, I like close ups of backgammon” – Rawshark) and Karen Black is still young enough to only have to worry about looking pretty. But soon enough everyone loses their patience and they all dart for the loot, which is when they realize that Fransiscus has infected the water with piranha. Clever.
“Has Lee Majors been at Zombie Club?” asked Zomblee, innocently, and the answer is no. I think that’ll change though as we love any actor that once ruled the world (only four years earlier The Six Million Dollar Man was one of the hottest TV shows ever) and then ends up doing mildly dodgy Italian pay cheque pictures, a bit like this one. And to think, his Missus of that time, one Farrah Fawcett-Majors, was riding high with The Cannonball Run around now. Hmmm.
Rawshark Yep, those Italians are at it again – just one year after the release of Piranha (itself a rip-off of Jaws), they lured both Lee Majors and Karen Black to spend a couple of weeks vacation in Brazil and shoot the low-rent Piranha-rip-off Killer Fish at the same time. Ignore the 3.2 out of 10 rating on IMDB, because with ”toothpick in the mouth Lee Majors” (Zomblee), some very impressively-rubbish scale model work and enjoyable nibbly fish deaths, Killer Fish never once ‘drops the beef’ and remains a Zombie Club hoot from start to finish.
A very sweaty Majors starts the film as he and his gang break into the local power plant (with a very cool control desk) and steal a lot of emeralds. They manage to evade the police and hook up with their Backgammon-playing mastermind Paul Diller (James Franciscus) where they all agree to let the heat die down and return to get the jewels in 60 days. Meanwhile a photographer and troupe of models turn up to take a series of glamour shots on jet skis (“I didn’t know they had jet skis in the 70s!” - Jim), which gives Majors his chance to show off his pulling powers (”Major’s on the move” - Jim) by falling into a swimming pool whilst wearing a jumper around his neck.
Cue a fair bit of double-crossing, Majors getting it on with the blonde model in a shower, and much dropping of beef before the dwindling survivors find themselves, post-thunderstorm, trapped on a sinking boat on the piranha and emerald infested lake. A raft is swiftly built, but poor old Fatty Ollie sinks it (”you can see the raft tilting!” - Jim), finally giving Majors the chance to play hero as he dives in to the lake to finish off evil mastermind Paul whilst inexplicably lasting much longer than most people amidst the razor-sharp Killer Fish. Oh, and there’s even a happy ending as the double-crossing Majors and Karen Black end up with half of the treasure each! True Zombie Club Gold – or should that be Zombie Club Emerald!
Director Antonio Maghereti
Cast Lee Majors
Runtime 90 mins
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The Shark Hunter (1979)
Plot Hairy shark hunter searches for loot under the sea.
Rawshark ”Hairy Nero on a beach” exclaimed Zomblee once we’d got over the dodgy tracking appearing on the dodgy VHS-transferred DVD – and let’s face it, you don’t get many better openings than that at Zombie Club. Yes, folks, along with the memory that once was video recorder tracking, The Shark Hunter opens with a long-haired, moustached Franco Nero (looking like a cross between Axl Rose and Freddie Mercury) fishing for sharks from a rock on a beach, and when he catches one that then gets away, well, he decides to go after it in a boat. Go Nero!
In Enzo Castellari’s first underwater cinematic adventure (he also went on to make L’Ultimo Squalo of course), Franco plays Mike di Donato, a man who used to work for ‘The Organisation’, but now spends his time living on the beach plotting an ingenious plan to retrieve a shed-load of money that lies inside a plane wreck at the bottom of the sea. One day, whilst at the bar letting his hat, sunglasses, hair and moustache do his acting for him, Nero saves a guy called Acapulco from being beaten up, so in turn Acapulco treats Nero to a spot of paragliding. Nero enjoys this so much he drops from the parasail mid-flight and kills a shark in the water (”Franco does a lot of swimming in this movie” - Jim) to double prove his rock-solid manliness!
Now good chums, Nero and Acapluco decide to work together to retrieve the sunken treasure with the help of an ”awesome 3D model” (Jim). Plane sailing, or so you’d think, but unfortunately Nero is not alone in his knowledge of the sunken money, and soon other members of ‘The Organisation’ show up (including Jim O’Donovan and his ‘wife’) along with the dastardly Senor Gomez - all of them keen to sabotage Nero’s well-laid plans…
And that essentially is the plot, which largely serves up lots of great underwater footage of sharks (there’s a particularly cool ravine with a strong current where the sharks go to rest), lots and lots of shots of Franco Nero swimming and a cool climactic harpoon shoot-out. Add to that a great land-sea-plane chasing a boat, the best underwater vacuum cleaner you’ve ever seen and a great money shower ending as the islanders become the true financial beneficiaries. Oh yes, this really is shark-tastic stuff!
“How would you like to check out the deep end of the pool with me”
Jim Wow, did his so-called wife turn up at the end of the movie? I don’t remember that at all, mind you that’s not saying much for the second movie at Zombie Club. It does make sense though, in this movie Franco plays one of those characters that looks longingly and determinedly into the middle distance in a continuous and serious ponder, the kind of look you can only achieve if you’ve lost something dear to you. Like a man who’d lost his wife and child while working for ‘The Organisation’. Or someone who’s been told to put on a big fake wig, get in the water and wrestle that shark if they want to get paid at the end of the week.
But what the hell, this is Enzo Casterelli’s Shark Hunter, not to be confused with Maghereti's awesome Last Hunter or D’Amato’s not so awesome Devil Hunter ("It'd be great if he bumped into Al Cliver right now." - Rawshark). And if watching Nero wrestle sharks is your thing, you’re in for a treat. He runs in to the water from the beach and wrestles sharks. He jumps off boats and wrestles sharks. Hell, he even drops from parasails and wrestles sharks. And all because, well, you know, he’s Franco Nero. With a big old blonde hippie wig.
Is he stopping the sharks from eating the treasure maybe? Or should he be worrying more about those guys from ‘The Organisation’? Or what about those guys that were beating up Acapulco, surely he should be worried about them? ("I've collectively named those guys thugs." - the ever helpful Zomblee). Or that guy spying on him from the bushes, if it wasn’t for that cigarette girl he’d never have spotted him, would he? ("Random cigarette girl goes up to some guy hiding in the bushes…" - Rawshark).
I don’t know I’m sure, second movie write ups always leave a little bit to be desired as our aging memories just sometimes can’t keep up. "I'd like to think of that as a safari evening suit." said Zomblee at some point, and I think he was referring to a guy called O’Donovan, who I think had a lot to do with the elaborate plan to get the money out of the water, which was so elaborate I didn’t even recognize it when the machine was unveiled. "It's the balloon sucking money thing, isn't it?" pointed out Rawshark, and it was. Brilliant, these Italians.
"That's to suck the money into this balloon."
Zomblee They are brilliant, Jim, you're right. That money-sucking apparatus at the end is, to use our oft-used phrase, 'worth the price of admission alone' Hell, even Franco Nero in that highly ridiculous wig is ("Does Franco Nero have that wig on for the whole movie?" - Jim). But Nero is usually great anyway, is he not? He's one of those actors who isn't afraid of getting stuck into the heavy graft of making a movie, no doubt leaving stunt men relaxing in the pool sipping martinis (is that what stuntmen drink? Sounds right to me), while he enthusiastically hurls himself at huge sharks from the heights of a parasail. You've got to hand it to him, even if there concerns over the size of that moustache ("That moustache is way too big to be diving with a mask") - Rawshark). I think they must have made a special diving mask for blokes with voluminous 'taches, Rawshark.
Nero's hairy bits aside, this is a cool little story with perhaps a few too many characters who arrive in Nero's Caribbean paradise, keen to get their dodgy mitts on the sunken loot he's been after all these years, while working as the titular shark hunter. Nero even unveils a 3D model of the area where the crashed plane sits on a shelf, explaining his well-planned scheme to his sprightly new mate Acapulco. The collective that I call the 'thugs' try to muscle in, but of course Nero is having none of it, because he's hard as nails. You can tell by the way he gets away with that method of discarding used chewing gum (by casually sticks it onto thugs' faces).
There's a great deal of pure entertainment here, with lively characters popping up everywhere, to annoy Nero before getting beaten up (or get gum stuck to their faces). There's comedy, romance, tragedy and fast-paced action rolled into one package, all superbly accompanied by music from the ever-reliable Oliver Onions (the de Angelis brothers). The underwater scenes are particularly special; I love it when Castellari gets to flex his talent for shooting this type of thing. It's a real shame this hasn't had an official DVD release because the photography deserves better than a shoddy VHS transfer. As does Nero's amazing wig.
”Hi there. My name is Joe. Joe Donovan. I’m looking for a shark hunter.”
Director Enzo Castellari
Cast Franco Nero
Runtime 92 mins
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Conclusion The Shark Hunter was so much better than I remember, but here, in the company of my pals at Zombie Club, it’s sometimes hard to keep tabs on quality or how we perceive it, after the drinking of much wine. All I know is that a good time was had by all; Franco Nero struck gum on thugs’ faces, Lee Majors charmed the ladies before collecting the pay cheque, some beef was dropped, and everyone went home happy. See you next time for some particularly dodgy cannibal movies, which cost £1 each.