Mako: The Jaws Of Death (1976)

“As long as I wear my medallion, I find friends everywhere amongst the sharks…”

 

[Also known as: The Jaws Of Death]

Director:  William Grefé

Starring:  Richard Jaeckel, Jenifer Bishop, Buffy Dee, Ben Kronen, Harold Sakata, John Davis Chandler, Milton Smith, Bob Gordon, Luke Halpin

Screenplay:  Robert Madaris, based upon a story by William Grefé

 

 

Synopsis:  In the Florida waters, a sport fisherman attempts to land a shark, but it breaks free. The disappointed tourist demands that the animal be killed anyway, but the boat’s captain lowers his rifle when he sees a diver in the water. Abusing the man angrily for swimming in a fishing zone, the captain nevertheless invites him on board. Just then, the mate realises that their client’s fishing line was cut. The diver picks up a short gaff… A brief, violent struggle later, and sharks are feeding on the three fishermen, as the diver swims away with more of the animals… Sonny Stein (Richard Jaeckel) walks into the bar run by ex-marine Butter (Milton Smith), where he occasionally works. Butter inquires after Sonny’s “family”, and observes with a chuckle that if people knew what Sonny did with the scraps that he collects at the bar as payment, they would run him out of town. Sonny drives his boat back to the channel island where he makes his home. Waiting for him he finds Pete (Harold Sakata) and Charlie (John Chandler), and the marine scientist who employs them, Dr Whitney (Bob Kronen). Whitney tries to pressure Sonny into assisting with his project to record the birth of wild sharks, remarking that no-one has even seen such a thing, let alone filmed it. Sonny replies tersely that he has. Whitney scoffs that it is only the observation of scientists that counts and, when Sonny continues reluctant, observes that unless sharks are better understood, the government may place a bounty upon them. This strikes home, and Sonny agrees to bring “Matilda” to Whitney on the following Saturday, insisting that he wants “all of them” home a week later. Whitney promises, and returns to Pete and Charlie. Hearing them ridicule Sonny. Whitney warns them not to let him hear, until they find out where he catches his sharks; after which they can have all the fun they want. Meanwhile, Sonny lifts a trapdoor in the floor of his house. Beneath, a shark circles in the water. Addressing the animal as “Sammy”, Sonny apologises for co-operating with Whitney, but says that with the threat of a bounty hanging over them, there was nothing else he could do. That night, Sonny drops in at a tavern called the Rustic Inn to watch the owner’s wife, Karen (Jenifer Bishop), performing an underwater ballet in a large tank. Barney (Buffy Dee), the owner, complains that after he spent all that money installing the tank, hardly anyone is paying attention, and that he’ll have to think of something else to get the crowds in. The sheriff then drops in, chatting to the bartender about a boat found adrift and deserted; the third such boat in the year. Sonny slips away… Outside, Sonny sees Karen being bothered by Pete and Charlie, who are drunk. She escapes in her car, but is later attacked by them again. A passing Sonny stops and drives the two men away. Karen thanks him, but becomes annoyed when he refuses to take her home immediately, insisting he has to go to his home first, to “take care of his friends”. Once there, however, Karen becomes intrigued by his relationship with his sharks. Sonny begins to tell her of a bizarre incident that happened many years previously in the Philippines, which led to his initiation into a local “shark clan”…

Comments:  To quote the man himself – although without using the same tone of voice that he does – Grefé, you son of a bitch.

I’ve rarely come across a film as philosophically divided against itself as Mako: The Jaws Of Death—which is not to say that William Grefé had a “philosophy”, or anything remotely approaching one, when he made this film. Though it is generally dismissed as “just another Jaws rip-off”, there is little resemblance between Spielberg’s studio blockbuster and Grefé’s low-budget independent effort. Rather, like Shark Kill before it, Mako: The Jaws Of Death is a film that probably wouldn’t have been made if the success of Jaws created a climate where a production like this was a viable proposition.

   

Grefé has always insisted that this film was scripted before Jaws was made, which may be true—because the film that Mako: The Jaws Of Death is really ripping off is Willard; as indeed did the director’s earlier Stanley, of which this is a virtual remake. All three films focus on a social misfit whose closest relationship is with a generally despised or feared animal, and who uses his “friends” to enact revenge on people who wrong them or himself.

From this outline it sounds – doesn’t it? – as if these films were made specifically to appeal to my warped sensibilities. Indeed, from that point of view Mako: The Jaws Of Death puts in a serious challenge for the title of Greatest Film Ever Made. I mean, look at this story outline; just look at it! – a film about a man not only devoted to sharks but possibly able to communicate with them!? – who gets adopted into a “Filipino shark clan”!? – who protects sharks by feeding anyone who mistreats sharks, to sharks!?

And that opening sequence! – the hooking of the shark aside. (It barely reacts, which is something I’ll deal with presently.) We get Sonny swimming up to the shark and releasing it, then showing himself above the water. The boat’s captain shouts abuse at him for swimming in, “The best sharking waters in Florida”, but then, assuming him to be yet another clueless tourist, invites him on board. Sonny climbs in and releases his weight belt, and as the camera pans down we see an enormous shark-tooth medallion around his neck.

When the mate figures out that the fisherman’s line was cut, Sonny reacts by picking up a gaff. The mate starts towards him, but Sonny knocks him down, swinging the gaff and catching the captain in the throat. He tosses the man overboard, and then raps on the side of the boat. A shark answers his signal and attacks the screaming captain. The mate comes for Sonny with a knife, but soon goes the way of his employer. The tourist, whimpering and wailing, backs away as Sonny closes in, then goes over the side the join the others. And as several sharks chow down, several others frolic around Sonny as he jumps back into the water and glides away over the reefs.

At this point, five and a half minutes into this film, I was as much in love as I’ve ever been in my life.

But—

For all that it positions itself as siding with its sharks, there are two points at which Mako: The Jaws Of Death (like Stanley) gives itself away. First, though Sonny Stein seems to be our protagonist, there isn’t much doubt that the film, like most of its other characters, thinks that he’s a madman; and second, while it overtly expresses regret for the mistreatment of sharks by human beings, it also goes out of its way to illustrate exactly what that mistreatment consists of.

Mako: The Jaws Of Death may not have been a real Jaws rip-off, but there isn’t much doubt who and what were the intended target of the film’s nose-thumbing tag-line: Filmed without the benefit of cages, mechanical sharks, or other protective devices. It would have been better for the sharks if it had been. The film’s opening crawl pays tribute to, “The members of the underwater crew who risked their lives”; no mention is made, of course, of the sharks that lost their lives.

One shark, a nurse, is explicitly killed on camera, and a scene of Sonny “playing” with one of his friends could only have been achieved with the animal either heavily drugged or even dead. The indifference of the shark in the opening scene to the hook in its mouth also suggests sedation; while in some scenes it is clear that certain sharks have had all their teeth pulled out. (It’s even obvious on the poster on the right up above.) I suppose those animals were the lucky ones: elsewhere, overtly dead sharks abound. It’s possible that some of this was faked, and heaven knows, I hope it was; but it’s difficult to believe that a film where the special effects budget seems to have been exhausted in buying tins of red paint to pour into the water whenever there is a “shark attack”, bothered to fake its dead sharks, rather than taking the cheaper and easier option of buying real ones…or of killing its own.


His name’s not Johnny and the sharks aren’t makos; but I guess they got the important bit right.

The best I can come up with is the thought that, as this film was made with the co-operation of the Miami Seaquarium and Shark-Quarium, they may have borrowed some preserved specimens to use as props; but given the way they are used, even this is hardly a mitigating circumstance.

It is in the attitude behind all this that we see the real relationship between Mako: The Jaws Of Death and Jaws itself. Not only were shark films a viable commercial property in 1976, but the anti-shark backlash had set in. American films did not, perhaps, embrace the situation as frankly as those from, in particular, Mexico and Italy, where a different set of sensibilities resulted in the animals being killed on film explicitly as entertainment; yet the hypocrisy of films like Mako: The Jaws Of Death, which do just as much damage while pretending to criticise those responsible for such acts, is in its way even more galling.

After all—whether it’s done with a casual shrug or with crocodile tears, the animals end up just as dead. And despite the various acts of cruelty paraded before the cameras here, and despite too the narrative framework of Sonny trying to protect his “friends”, there’s no real sense that the viewer is supposed to be upset within the context of the story, by the evident fact that sharks were killed to get this film made, or by their awareness of the world-wide real-life slaughter of sharks that was happening on an escalating basis. That Sonny Stein is just proves what everyone already knows: he’s crazy.

I tell you—I’ll be thinking twice before I jeer at the fibreglass shark in Jaws 3-D again; or even at the Swiss Army Shark. Nor, I suspect, will I be quite as harsh in the future as I have been in the past about the crappy CGI animals that populate most of our recent killer shark films. If nothing else, this film is a very stern lesson in recognising the lesser of various evils.

 
…drugs, pliers and bang-sticks aside, of course.

I went into Mako: The Jaws Of Death expecting some idiotic fun tempered by some moments of tastelessness. What I got instead was an exercise in misery broken up by, granted, the very idiocy I was hoping for, plus some (although not enough) compensating scenes of rotten human beings getting exactly what they deserve. I’ve dwelt upon this at length now, so I’ll try to give it a rest for the remainder of the review. Be advised, though: anything I say about Mako: The Jaws Of Death that sounds like approval comes accompanied by a substantial caveat.

So. Right. Where were we?

Sonny wanders into a tavern, where he occasionally works in return for scraps to feed to his sharks, and is greeted by the tavern’s owner, an ex-marine nicknamed “Butter”, who turns out to be the single decent human being to be found anywhere in this film.

Butter asks after Sonny’s “family”, and although he shakes his head over Sonny devoting himself to sharks and calls him crazy, he also decides that Sonny is, “The good sort of crazy”. He feeds Sonny and gives him a beer, waving away Sonny’s protests that he has no money – “Eat first, and then work” – and providing him a new supply of scraps.

Sonny takes his motorboat back to the island at the edge of the everglades where he makes his home, and there we meet three more of our human characters—using both the terms “human” and “character” rather loosely.

Waiting for Sonny is marine biologist Dr Whitney, who is trying to convince Sonny to transfer one of “his” sharks, a pregnant nurse shark, to a tank at the aquarium so that the birth can be filmed.


Appetiser…………Main course………..Dessert.

After failing to convince Sonny either to do it “for science”, or so that man can understand “a dangerous animal” and thus “protect himself”, Whitney shifts gears, warning Sonny that shark may be named a bounty fish, on the grounds that if “we can’t understand them”, they had better just be “cleaned out”. This leads to Sonny’s reluctant acquiescence, after he has made Whitney promise that he’ll have the whole shark family back after a week.

Here’s the problem. Okay, actually, there are two problems, although one of them is something that probably only bothers people like me. There is a tendency throughout this film to speak of “shark”, collectively, as if all species were essentially the same: “shark” is going to be declared a bounty fish. I guess that’s an accurate reflection of attitudes at the time, but it’s still annoying, particularly in the mouth of a marine biologist.

And it becomes even more annoying when that attitude is employed to the detriment of real sharks. Despite this film’s original title, I’m pretty sure there aren’t any makos in it (the print is very blurry and it’s hard to see details). I think there are a couple of tiger sharks, but by far the predominant species on display is the nurse shark. Unprovoked attacks by this species have been recorded, but very rarely; for the most part they are a docile, even-tempered, slow-moving animal, which is doubtless why they were cast. The sharks’ placid nature is fully exploited here, with the animals being handled and mishandled and even killed…and all the while being sold to the public as savage man-eaters.

More immediately, my problem with this section of the film is the light it throws on Sonny. As played by Ben Kronen in his first – and last – film appearance, Whitney is so slimy and unctuous, so patronising and condescending, so patently untrustworthy (Kronen’s exceedingly awkward and mannered “acting” actually helps here), that Sonny’s acceptance of his verbal promise makes him look like a moron.


“I hope I wasn’t out of line with that crack about how ‘The only good shark’s a dead shark—‘”

Mako: The Jaws Of Death never settles on a convincing presentation of Sonny. On one hand he is, put simply, a nut-job—this in spite of the justification for him offered by the film in the form of some truly despicable human beings. We, of course, see Sonny in action; and we later learn that he has been killing shark-harmers for over a year. Richard Jaeckel tries to convey, albeit very crudely, that Sonny suffers from some sort of dissociative disorder, by giving him blinking fits wherein he seems to be moving from one state of mind to another.

Yet Sonny is shown as quite capable of getting along with people; both Butter and then Bob, the bartender at the Rustic Inn, like him well enough to serve him free food and drinks. Karen trusts him enough to go alone to his isolated cabin and, though freaked out by the sharks, shows no apprehension regarding Sonny’s behaviour towards herself. Conversely, though he is certainly attracted to her – “The way you swim; the way you move” – and though he accepts the kiss with which she tries to reconcile him to the idea of “lending” one of his sharks, Sonny’s interactions with Karen never really give the impression of being sexually motivated on his part; Karen is flattering herself when she accuses him of using his shark to try and get into her pants. Rather, Sonny seems eager simply to convert one more human being to the idea that sharks aren’t so bad or so frightening; it just happens that the person in question is a woman in a spangled bikini.

In all this, they were, I think, trying to posit Sonny as some kind of innocent abroad. This at least is the suggestion of Richard Jaeckel’s performance, who in the scene with Butter plays Sonny so wide-eyed and smiley and aw-shucks, it’s hilarious.

But this is not simply a case of someone having lived amongst animals, and thus not understanding the deceitful ways of humans: Sonny has travelled and worked around the world; his adoption into the “shark clan” comes after he is almost killed by some local bandits. Yet he knows no better than to trust his sharks to someone like Whitney, and on a verbal agreement!?


Sammy the shark. Aren’t you TERRIFIED!!??

Ever heard of a contract, Sonny? Or of checking your facts? Why not make some inquiries as to whether or not Whitney’s mention of a bounty is an empty threat? And he does it again later on, handing over another shark to someone even less to be trusted.

But it doesn’t stop there. Sonny and Whitney already have a professional relationship which is sketched in the most ominous terms: Whitney tells Sonny he’ll need “four more white-tips”, and by the way he says it, and his use of the words specimens and delivery, it’s pretty clear those sharks, at least, won’t be coming back. What the hell is Sonny up to!? Why rescue one shark from the fishermen if he’s prepared to hand numerous sharks over to Whitney?

The climactic sequence of this film has – and I’m sure no-one will consider this a spoiler – Sonny being pushed over the edge by the treatment his sharks receive, and going on a murderous rampage. I’m in sympathy with him (of course); but the sad fact is that most of what happens to his sharks is, directly or indirectly, his own damn fault.

Thus, Mako: The Jaws Of Death. Nearly everyone in it is a liar or a crook, or just plain repulsive; while the person who is supposed to be the hero, or at least the anti-hero, is an idiot.

Sigh.

Outside Sonny’s island house, we are formally introduced to Pete and Charlie, who are Whitney’s—well, I’m sure he thinks of them as his “specimen collectors”, but I’m going to go with the more accurate description, “goons”. Whitney comes out to them and gloats about Sonny agreeing to deliver the pregnant shark, and the three of them jeer about Sonny calling the shark “Matilda”, and joke about him taking his “girlfriend” to meet his mother.


Sonny Stein: the world’s most huggable psychopath.

(What is it with characters played by Richard Jaeckel, that everyone has to bring his mother into it?).

“I wouldn’t be surprised if them baby sharks don’t all come out looking like him,” observes Charlie. Whitney finally quiets the other two, warning them not to let Sonny hear them ridiculing him until they, “Find out where he’s catching his sharks”.

At which point, my heart plummeted.

Back inside, Sonny lifts the trapdoor in the floor of his living-room and has a conversation with another nurse shark, Sammy (tacitly the father of Matilda’s babies, although of course sharks don’t bond), trying to justify handing Matilda over to Whitney.

It is never clear, by the way, whether the sharks are really supposed to understand Sonny; although it is clear that he thinks they do. I’ve never seen a commentary on this film that didn’t insist that he and the sharks are in telepathic contact, but there’s actually no in-film evidence of that. His rapping on the side of the boat as a signal in the opening sequence would suggest otherwise.

Sonny then departs on what he calls “his rounds”, wherein it turns out he scrounges food for his sharks from garbage bins. You know, I’m pretty sure the sharks could do better than that on their own.

Sonny takes a break by dropping into the Rustic Inn for a beer and to watch the floorshow, which has Karen cavorting underwater in a spangled, mermaidy bikini and far too much makeup. Most of the patrons aren’t that interested, with the exception of Sonny and an exceedingly drunken Pete and Charlie; and the bar’s owner, Barney, comments disgustedly that they’ll have to think of something to spice up Karen’s act.


Butter, a gentleman. With great taste in boat names.

At which point, my stomach joined my heart.

The sheriff comes in, and as he begins talking to the bartender about the boat found adrift and deserted, the third such in the year, Sonny slides unobtrusively away.

Outside, Sonny sees Pete and Charlie harassing Karen, who escapes them and drives off. They follow her. As he drives along the same road, Sonny sees both cars pulled over and Karen on the verge of being raped. He immediately goes to the rescue, furiously attacking both men.

(Watching Richard Jaeckel beat up Harold Sakata is one of this film’s unadulterated pleasures.)

Charlie recovers from his beating fast enough to break a bottle over Sonny’s shoulder, but runs away immediately afterwards. Karen’s car was wrecked by being forced off the road, so Sonny agrees to give her a lift, but insists that he has to go home first, before taking her home.

“I got better things to do with my time than wait on some garbage collector!” announces the ever-gracious Karen, as Sonny transfers his night’s haul to his boat; but then, of course, she climbs in and goes with him anyway. Once inside his house, she realises that he’s bleeding from the fight (we’ll have to take her word for it: did they forget to apply makeup here?) and insists on inspecting the, um, wound. This is just an excuse to get Richard Jaeckel’s shirt off, so that Sonny’s hideously over-sized shark-tooth medallion is exposed.

Flashback.


“Hello, I’m Dr Whitney. I’m a marine biologist and a Gemini.  I enjoy romantic movies, long walks in the rain, and performing unnecessary surgery.”

Sonny is working on a salvage operation in the Philippines when he and his men find gold bars as well as the expected copper and lead. News of this reaches bandits up in the hills, who raid the camp and kill most of the men. Sonny escapes, running through the jungle, until he finds himself trapped between the bandits and an inlet where sharks swim. Deciding that the latter are the lesser threat, he plunges into the water…and the bandits follow.

Amazingly, not only are the waters of that overgrown and weed-infested Filipino inlet sparkling clear and free of any plant life, but they turn out to be inhabited by the hitherto-unknown-to-science Filipino nurse shark. Fancy! The sharks take no notice of Sonny, but glide past him and kill the bandits. The mystified Sonny takes advantage of the situation by climbing out of the water and collapsing on the bank.

An elderly local sitting in front of a carved shark totem has been watching all this with great interest. Producing a medallion, he tells Sonny that the inlet is a sacred place where his people make sacrifice to their shark god; that Sonny has done what no other man has ever dared to do; that as a result of the sharks sparing him, he is now a member of the “shark clan”; and that from now on he will always find friends among sharks…as long as he wears his medallion.

Gee, I wonder if that will be important later on?

Back in the present, Karen is understandably sceptical, so Sonny drags her over to the trap-door to introduce his friends. Karen’s continuing repulsion leads to Sonny’s inevitable “they’re just misunderstood” speech, which in turns gives rise to one of my favourite pieces of human idiocy in the film:

Sonny:  “Sure, they’re predators; but so are we! We kill chickens, cattle—”
Karen:  “But not that way! Alive!”

 
Attention real-estate agents: this is the feature I want.

Oh, no, we wait until the animal is dead, and then we kill it! It’s more humane that way.

Sonny then starts getting undressed. Remarkably, all things considered, Karen immediately and correctly interprets this as Sonny about to go for a swim. Sonny frolics with one suspiciously limp shark, and another that can at least move under its own steam, before climbing out to explain, “They gave me my life, now they are my life.”

And then he finally gets around to taking Karen home.

And Karen’s husband, Barney— All this time he’s been frantic with worry, right?

Not exactly.

“What happened, you been raped or something?” he inquires in a tone best described as conversational. Karen tells him what happened, and that she wants Pete and Charlie arrested, and beaten up.

Karen:  “And if you can’t do that, sit on them!”
Barney:  “C’mon, they’re two of my best customers!”

Barney is suspicious at first that the claim of attempted rape is something Karen made up to cover for her own “screwing around”, but he changes his mind when he’s heard the whole story, on the grounds that she never could have made up something like that.

We are then treated, if that’s the right word, to the sight of the rather remarkable Mr Buffy Dee in his swimming trunks, as he glides into the water near their shorefront home like an aircraft carrier being launched.


“Oh, hai…!”

From the water, Barney talks to Karen about spicing up her act, but she, reading him correctly, refuses point blank to do it nude. She also declines to join him in the water, despite his insistence that the special netting he had put up means they’re quite safe from sharks.

Gee, I wonder if that will be important later on?

Then Barney gets his brainwave, rolling back into the house and announcing to Karen with a roar of laughter, “Wait till you hear this—it’ll kill ya!”

[*cough*]

Next thing we know, the great Defender Of Sharks has Sammy swimming around in Karen’s tank, in which a plastic barrier, invisible to the audience, has been installed. “I’m not sure about this,” comments Mr DOS, even though he has the personal assurance of a couple of fine upstanding citizens like Karen and Barney that nothing is going to happen to Sammy.

Mr DOS then declines any money: “I don’t sell my sharks.” No, you get them killed for nothing. Not to mention you transport them in containers so small, it’s a wonder they don’t suffocate on the way (although the nurse, having a gill pump, can be safely transported by such methods).

Karen promises Sonny that he can the see the shark any time he wants and that if Sammy isn’t happy, he can take him home again.

 
Don’t you miss the 70s?

I won’t shock you all by describing the noise that I made in response to this.

Mr DOS is then persuaded into signing a bill of sale, “To keep the insurance people happy.”  And not content even with that, Sonny goes straight from handing Sammy over to Barney to handing Matilda over to Whitney.

And then the carnage starts.

Not the human carnage; the distressing kind. Sonny walks down to a dock where yet another tourist is posing with yet another dead shark, a hammerhead. As he brags about landing it, Sonny furiously points out the spear wound in it, demanding to know where the man really got the animal. The intimidated faker blurts, “I bought it for twenty bucks, off a couple of guys who had a lot of ’em.”

Would you care to guess who those two guys turn out to be? Our old friends Pete and Charlie, of course, who after spending their nights attempting rape, spend their days butchering sharks; any sharks; all sharks; every shark they see.

And they’ve found Sonny’s secret reef, and from a boat festooned with dead sharks, are busy slaughtering the inhabitants of that reef, whooping and cheering as they wield rifles and spear-guns and bang-sticks. The on-camera killing of the nurse shark occurs here.

Charlie then climbs back on board and both he and Pete roar with laughter at the thought of Sonny returning to the reef to find all the sharks dead.


Barney was devastated by the story of his wife’s ordeal.

Unbeknownst to this pair of charmers, Sonny already has…

As Charlie is re-loading the bang-stick, he asks Pete to retrieve the dead nurse shark, as it’s too heavy for him. Pete obliges. And as Pete enters the water, Sonny leaves it—and the bang-stick gets put to a far more agreeable use.

Sonny then returns to the water, and there is (sigh) a lengthy scuba-diving sequence intended to suggest, I think, that Sonny is being led to Pete by another shark. We don’t see Pete’s immediate fate…but later, we do get an amusing answer to the question of what Pete’s boat is towing.

And it’s an accidental two-fer, as the boat, sent back in to shore running at full throttle, crashes into the dock, right where two scruffy geezers are discussing shark fishing, and bemoaning the fact that there just aren’t as many sharks around as there used to be. Gee, I wonder why?

At the Rustic Inn, Barney is introducing Karen’s “unusual and electrifying” new act; “electrifying” being the operative word, since Sammy’s side of the tank has been fitted with a device to bombard him with electrical impulses and “drive him crazy”.

Sonny is in the audience, grinning like an idiot – like an idiot? – until Barney starts tormenting the shark. Sonny realises what is happening, and a brief verbal ends with his hands around Barney’s throat. Karen has exited the tank, and now drags Sonny away. He howls, “He’s killing my shark!!” – only to be reminded about that pesky bill-of-sale. Duh.

Karen shoves Sonny outside where she addresses him as, “You big dummy!” – hard to argue, really. The bewildered Sonny unwisely starts a sentence with, “I only thought…”


Mako: The Jaws Of Death’s answer to Susan Backlinie.

“I know what you thought! What are you, sick? You are a sickie!” Karen throws at him, adding that she hasn’t sunk so low that a garbage-picker

Sonny leaves, but warns her that he’ll be back for the shark. “I can’t trust anyone,” he moans. “I’m never going to trust anyone again.”

Karen gets the last word though, braying at him as he drives off, “Big deal! Who cares? Get outta here, you—SHARK-LOVER!!”

Sonny drives to the aquarium, meaning to reclaim Matilda as the first step in the implementation of his new and entirely sensible policy of blanket mistrust. He is directed to the marine biologist’s office. Whitney stares at him in horror, stammering something about Sonny not being expected until Saturday, and all the while oozing his way across the room to close the door of the adjoining room. Sonny interprets this gesture correctly and forces his way inside the laboratory, where he finds…

…Matilda, lying dead, And beside her, in a pathetic heap, all of her pups, also dead.

And Sonny, with my entire sympathy and support, snaps.

Whitney takes to his heels, yelling for Pete and Charlie…who are nowhere to be found. Heh, heh, heh. He ends up next to an outdoor shark tank full of what we’ve already been told are particularly hungry sharks. This is where Sonny catches up with him…

Heh, heh, heh.


Charley dies of a brain injury? Is that even possible!?

Sonny’s next stop is Barney’s house, where Barney is just going for a dip behind that super-safe shark-netting of his.

Heh, heh, heh.

(Mind you, this is still more evidence of Sonny’s reckless disregard for his sharks’ health: if there isn’t a Surgeon General’s warning about high fat, alcohol and nicotine content tattooed on Barney’s butt, there ought to be.)

And then it’s off to the Rustic Inn, to sabotage a transparent plastic barrier.

Bob the bartender, hosting in Barney’s absence, gets up and does a pre-show comedy routine that has you praying that he does something to tick Sonny off; and we get our third rapid reference to a building hurricane outside (which breaks towards the end of the film, but makes no real difference to the action).

Then Karen climbs into the tank. She proves to be just as observant as she is honest and well-mannered, and therefore doesn’t notice the gaping hole in the barrier right by her ladder. The shark wastes no time latching onto her leg, and when the curtains are pulled back, the audience is greeted by the sight of Karen struggling in the animal’s jaws.

I’d very much like to say heh, heh, heh here, too, but the exquisite justice of this sequence is ruined by its behind-the-scenes explanation. To prepare for this scene, Grefé and his crew caught a shark and beached it, leaving it to die so that they could use it as a prop in this scene. While it was lying near the set, the crew pried open its jaws and pulled all its teeth out, this time in order to sell them for souvenirs. Came Jenifer Bishop’s big moment, the wranglers picked the shark up and tossed it into the tank. Even after all that time out of the water, even after the physical mistreatment, the shark immediately revived—and latched onto Ms Bishop’s leg. With its gums, which is all it had left.


“I’ll land your boy…and I’ll clean him for free!”

I don’t know what happened to the shark after that. I’m very sure I don’t want to know.

Sonny leaps up onto the bar, talking wildly and telling the mob not to panic—and not to crowd them, which is pretty weird seeing that most of the bar patrons are stampeding for the exit.

Meanwhile, two cops are fighting their way in, having decided that, “He’s the one we’re looking for!” – presumably for the killing of Whitney.

Sonny makes a break for it and escapes the bar, with the sheriff and his deputy, plus a few potential vigilantes, chasing after him. Sonny dives into the water, taking a bullet in the arm from the sheriff in the process. He nevertheless manages to circle around to the back of the boat into which his pursuers have piled, and pulls one of the vigilantes into the water. Shark chow.

However, Sonny’s left shoulder is incapacitated – the same shoulder in which he suffered his previous life-threatening injury, as it happens – so he can only make it to shore by getting a tow from a shark. The posse follows, and this time he takes a bullet in the leg.

Sonny nevertheless makes it home and staggers over to the trap-door, where he makes a rambling speech to Sammy. He reveals Matilda’s fate, so I hope Sammy can’t understand him; he also proposes a sharky jihad on all human beings, so that people will be too scared ever to enter the water again. Finally he tells Sammy to wait, because, “I’m coming with you…I’m coming home”.

Sonny’s pursuers begin sneaking into the house from various points, and then they rush him. One cop gets tossed through the shark-hole; another somehow gets overpowered and disarmed, despite Sonny’s two bullet wounds. How embarrassing!


If only the humans had been pulling our legs…

But as the camera pans up Sonny after this struggle, we see that he has – gasp! – lost his medallion.

Two vigilantes then break in, one of whom is Bob the bartender; but Sonny holds them off with his gun, moaning that he didn’t want to hurt anyone, didn’t want to kill anyone.

Oh. Right. Except for the people who killed sharks. He did want to hurt them.

Sonny fires his gun to frighten away the vigilantes, then throws himself into the shark-hole, sans medallion. The embarrassed but not-dead cop staggers to his feet in time to join the vigilantes in looking on in horror, as Sonny’s erstwhile friends latch onto him with great enthusiasm.

Vigilante #2 gets sick and runs outside, leaving Embarrassed Cop and Bob the bartender to shake their heads, and Bob to deliver Sonny’s epitaph:

“I guess he just cared too much.”

Or, if you prefer, Embarrassed Cop to do it:

Crazy…”


Well, there’s gratitude for you.

Footnote:  Though it afterwards lost its “Mako” in English-speaking territories (and rightly so), the film was produced and first released under the clumsier version of its title, so that’s what I’ve gone with.

Apologies for the crappy quality of the screenshots. There are now better (if not great) quality prints of this film available on DVD, but there was no way I was paying money for this thing again.

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6 Responses to Mako: The Jaws Of Death (1976)

  1. therevdd says:

    Much like the Grizzly review, I feel like this one hasn’t changed much, aside from a couple of screenshots I’m certain are new. Probably got in everything you wanted to the first time, I imagine (or maybe just didn’t want to revisit it). Thinking of the screenshots, did you end up re-watching this to get them (or for other reasons), or just fast-forward and grab? I realize it’s an odd question, but I made a pledge to myself about movies of this nature, should you ever go back and update their reviews, and I need to know if my time has come.

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    • lyzmadness says:

      The body of it is more or less the same. I revised the opening because some of what I said there previously I’ve now said in the context of Jaws, where it is more appropriate. This one is now specifically rather than generically angry. 🙂

      I didn’t watch it in full. I knew what I was looking for in tweaking the screenshots and just went after that, though it’s a film where it’s hard to avoid everything. (At least Wake In Fright keeps it confined to one section!)

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  2. Jim says:

    I was dragged to the drive-in theater with the family a couple of times, as a kid that could not sit still long enough to appreciate a full length movie. Mako has the distinction of being the second drive-in movie I ever watched that I actually paid attention. The first being the opening act of the twin feature – Godzilla vs. Megalon.

    I never paid attention at this time of my life to animal cruelty issues and do not remember anything about whether I regarded the shark treatment as real or faked. I would like to think my emotional IQ has grown since then, to the point that when I saw Blackfish I became extremely critical of SeaWorld and my co-workers had to put up with a phase of me talking about the current news stories. The visit to the Baltimore Inner Harbor Aquarium between those events helped a lot. Walking over a metal grating (and glass below that) with wondrous sea life swimming below. Including sharks. I’ve always wanted to return, but the place was so darn busy it has, at least as of about 10 years ago, a long wait in line to get in. But if the quality of the experience is still up to previous standards I highly recommend it.

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    • lyzmadness says:

      Yes, it’s something you grow into—or some of us do, anyway. 🙂

      It can be hard sometimes to know where the line lies between exploitation and conservation. I’m not familiar with the Baltimore so thank you for bringing that to my attention.

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  3. dawn says:

    As soon as I saw the tagline, “filmed without the benefit of cages, mechanical sharks, or other protective devices”, I knew Lyz would have something to say about that.
    Something along the lines of, “It’s the SHARKS who need protection, you idiots!”
    btw, Lyz, did you know the spell checker thinks your name is misspelt? Stupid spell checker.

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