“Which is the most dangerous?”
“Tintorera. Americans like you call it ‘tiger shark’…”
[Original title: ¡Tintorera!]
[aka Tintorera: Tiger Shark, Tintorera: Killer Shark, Tintorera: Bloody Waters]
Director: René Cardona Jr
Starring: Hugo Stiglitz, Andrés Garcia, Susan George, Fiona Lewis, Eleazar Garcia, Roberto Guzmán, Jennifer Ashley, Laura Lyons
Screenplay: René Cardona Jr, based upon the novel by Ramón Bravo
Synopsis: After collapsing, the result of too much work, too much coffee and too many cigarettes, Esteban (Hugo Stiglitz), a Mexican businessman, is ordered on vacation for a complete rest. He finally agrees to spend three months on the borrowed yacht of some friends. Meanwhile, at a resort in Cancun, professional gigolo Miguel (Andrés Garcia) zeroes in on his new target, Anita (Erika Carlsson), the young wife of a much older husband. Between having to scale walls to reach her room, a husband next door and bodyguards outside, it is no easy mission…but the rewards, financial and otherwise, are worth it. Also in Cancun, part-time shark fisherman Coronado (Eleazar Garcia) is called back to his real job, as a hand aboard a yacht owned by an American couple, so that he can prepare for the arrival of his employers’ guest. Esteban reaches Cancun via seaplane and, after telling Coronado brusquely that he wants to be left alone, sends him for supplies; mostly alcohol. While Coronado puts the items away and Esteban has a drink, the fisherman describes his other work and asks if he can borrow the outboard motor from the yacht’s runabout. In return, Esteban asks Coronado to take him to his fishing lines, and helps to haul in the overnight catch of shark. Then Esteban’s attention is caught by another local attraction: a newly-arrived tourist named Patricia (Fiona Lewis). He pursues her, inviting her for lobster and champagne upon the yacht. The two become lovers and spend some happy time together, but when Esteban is unable to express his feelings for her, Patricia walks out. On the beach the next day, Patricia meets Miguel. They flirt, catching the jealous notice of Esteban. He storms in, and the verbal conflict between himself and Miguel rapidly turns physical. Patricia’s sympathies are all with Miguel. Esteban returns to the yacht in a fury, berating himself for his stupidity, while Patricia spends more time with Miguel, pouring her troubles into his willing ear. They spend the night together. The next morning, as Miguel lies sleeping, Patricia slips out to go swimming, and is killed by enormous tiger shark… Finding Patricia gone, Miguel is puzzled, but as she mentioned having to leave Cancun soon, he concludes that she has simply gone home. Later that day, Esteban finds Miguel at a bar with two young Americans, Kelly (Laura Lyons) and Cynthia (Jennifer Ashley). He is confused by the behaviour of Miguel, who first threatens and teases him, then invites him to be friends. Miguel tells Esteban that Patricia has left—and also that she was in love with him. Miguel takes Esteban to a party; they end up going back to the yacht with Kelly and Cynthia, leaving their clothes on the beach and swimming there naked. As the two couples drink, dance and make love, nearby, a fin cuts the water…
Comments: It was foolish of me, I suppose, when I reviewed Mako: The Jaws Of Death, to assume that I had seen the worst that exploitation film had to offer in terms of real killing of the elasmobranchic kind. Perhaps it was more of a hope than an assumption. After all, if exposure to exploitation cinema teaches us anything, it is that no matter what you’ve seen, somewhere out there, there’s something bigger, darker, uglier, weirder, sicker, funnier. Not for nothing is the theme song of the germinal mondo film, Mondo Carne, entitled simply, “More”.
Even so, I was hardly prepared for the excesses of Tintorera, which devotes something like a quarter of its bizarrely inflated running-time to the basically unmotivated butchery, not just of sharks – although there’s plenty of that: tiger sharks, bull sharks, lemon sharks, reef sharks, hammerheads, they really don’t care – but of any marine creature at all unfortunate enough to cross the path of its two central characters (I refuse to call them “heroes”, or even “protagonists”).
It is an interesting moral question, that of which is the more reprehensible: Mako: The Jaws Of Death, which provides an in-story excuse for its shark killing and, in classic exploitation film fashion, simultaneously condemns and exploits; or Tintorera, which simply doesn’t bother. The rivalry between Esteban and Miguel, which finds expression in shark hunting among other things, does not remotely begin to justify the onscreen carnage, in which explicit animal slaughter is presented, quite unapologetically, as entertainment.
There’s a kind of sick irony, I suppose, in the fact that I’ve always gone so far out of my way to avoid Cannibal Holocaust and its ilk, precisely for this reason, only to stumble almost blindly into something just as bad. I know most people don’t get as emotional over the killing of cold-blooded animals as they do over warm-blooded; I know that they are more likely to regard sharks with fear and hatred than with affection or admiration; but even so, I would sincerely hope, purely based upon the magnitude of the carnage here, that no-one could sit through it unmoved.
As for the single most vomitous scene—well, gee, how could I possibly choose just one? Let’s see: there’s the perfectly inoffensive manta ray that gets a spear-gun to the back of the head at point-blank range; they let it live on the first pass, just to lull us into a false sense or security. And the young tiger shark caught in Coronado’s lines. It’s not dead when they get there, so they haul it to the surface and beat its head in on camera. And hey! – they enjoy that episode so much, they repeat it later in the film with a second shark! Or what about everyone’s favourite, the young turtle that has its throat partially cut before being dangled into the water by its hind legs, so that its bloody thrashings will attract sharks?
Great Britain: home of easily shocked people and lazy poster designers.
If you like death throes, then you’ve come to the right place. If you enjoy the sight of lifeblood pouring away, then this is the film for you. As far as this viewer was concerned, however, the “entertainment” didn’t have quite the desired effect. By the time of the manta ray’s killing, which happens fairly late in the proceedings, I was literally crying for mercy.
Perhaps the most unforgiveable aspect of all this killing is that it was carried out with the full co-operation of the author of the novel on which the screenplay was based, Mexican marine biologist Ramón Bravo. Bravo is most famous in shark circles for his discovery off the Yucatan Peninsula in 1969 of the so-called “sleeping sharks”, streamlined sharks – Caribbean reef sharks, as it turned out – that, in defiance of what was until that time accepted dogma, could lie motionless for hours on end on the floors of underwater caves. Reporting his startling find, Bravo was roundly ridiculed; it took him three years to get the funding to mount an expedition to prove his claims.
Apart from his research, Bravo was a documentarian; and he also hired himself out as an underwater cinematographer and as a shark wrangler to a number of film productions. And yes, I know, I know: the past is a foreign country. As far as that goes, a foreign country is a foreign country. Still, I find it incredible that a professional biologist, a colleague of Jacques Cousteau, would lend himself to the production of films like Tintorera, and René Cardona Jr’s later The Bermuda Triangle, and Enzo Castellari’s The Shark Hunter—and, by the way, to the staging of one of the most infamous scenes in horror movie history, the shark vs zombie fight in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. In fact, that’s probably Ramón Bravo under the make-up.
But this is not the most bizarre thing about Tintorera; not by a long shot. This is, in all sincerity, one of the most peculiar films I have ever seen, thanks to its meandering pace and its haphazard melding of irreconcilable story elements, and to the mid-film emergence of a subplot that even most exploitation films won’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
Priscilla’s fans queued around the block to see her in her breakthrough role of “Girl from bar #1”.
And this, finally, is what exasperated me most about Tintorera: much as I want to hate this film with an unqualified hate, I am forced to admit that in those merciful periods when random marine life isn’t being massacred right and left, it’s rather…well…interesting. Not good; not well-structured; not well-paced; not well-written, or directed, or acted; but…interesting.
Following its initial release in Mexico, Tintorera became known to the rest of the world in a severely truncated version; one that, curiously, was even shorter in the US than in Britain, where I would have expected the real animal cruelty to incite the most punitive response from authorities. Evidently the US distributors saw something in the film they found even more offensive than the Brits found the animal killing; and what that probably was we shall deal with shortly.
These cut versions, 85 or 89 minutes long, were the only ones commercially available until – heaven help us! – a restored print was released on DVD in 2006 as a 25th Anniversary Edition. It seems somehow oddly appropriate that this release not only miscalculated when the film’s 25th anniversary actually was, but failed to deliver the uncut print it promised. On first release, Tintorera was a mind-boggling 134 minutes long; Desert Media’s release runs 126 minutes…which, believe me, is more than sufficient. (I have my own ideas about what’s missing, to which I will return presently.) The film itself, and the subtitles, toggle back and forth between English and Spanish; likewise the characters’ names, switching between Esteban and Miguel, and Steve and Mike. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick with the former.
(Still more incredibly, a 30th anniversary DVD release of Tintorera followed; but though it boasts of offering the complete, restored film, online complaints indicate that it’s the same cut, P&S version as dealt with here: probably the same disc in new packaging. It seems likely that the uncut print no longer exists.)
I never would have guessed.
Whatever else Tintorera may be, the first thing it is, is an advertisement for Cancun. I can well imagine the kind of deals that René Cardona Jr and his producers struck with the owners of the resort at which much of this was filmed: the camera lingers repeatedly on the clear skies and deep blue seas of the area; on the tourist spots and natural beauties; on the beaches, and the beautiful people who recline upon them; upon the bars, and the parties, and the endless, endless promises of easy, no-strings-attached sex.
(Of course, the other thing that Tintorera says about Cancun is that it is the kind of place where a tourist can be taken by a shark and no-one will even notice.)
And it is the sex that not only catches the attention of the wandering camera, but the film itself; catches it and holds it. Not surprisingly then, amongst the first people with whom we make more than the most fleeting of acquaintances is Miguel, a professional gigolo of the most unabashed and cheerful kind. In one of the film’s funniest moments, Miguel will later tell Esteban that he works “where the money is” – Acapulco, Vallarta, Zihuatanejo; he has come to Cancun for a rest…and by “a rest” he means, trying to nail everything with two X-chromosomes between the ages of sixteen and sixty.
The interesting aspect of this is that, albeit in an ineffably sleazy way, Miguel doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. Everyone, male or female, is always pleased to see him; he runs up an impressive tab at the resort, makes no attempt to pay it, and gets away with it; he is hailed with kisses, hugs and handshakes wherever he goes. No resentful women track him down. He takes successful scores and the occasional rebuff with equal aplomb, and seems, rarely, actually to like women. Sure, he exploits them; but there’s no sense he also holds them in contempt. They get what they want, he gets what he wants. Everyone’s happy…except the occasional cuckolded husband; but in Cancun, no-one seems to worry very much about them.
Yeah, we got that part.
It is precisely Miguel’s social dexterity that melds him so well with Esteban, his opposite in every way. Moody and sullen, quick to take offence, Esteban is also quite socially dysfunctional, seeming always to operate from some kind of theoretical checklist, rather than by instinct or experience. He ends up in Cancun most reluctantly, ordered on a vacation after collapsing at work, a collapse brought on not just by overexertion, but his relentless consumption of coffee and cigarettes (according to his doctor, no less than seven cups of the former and three packs of the latter in one morning!).
Esteban is banished to the yacht of some friends, who are away, and at first declares his desire of “being alone”. However, Coronado’s description of his shark-hunting intrigues him, and he asks to be taken along when the fisherman checks his lines.
We’ve already had an intimation of the horrors to come, being shown a boat overflowing with dead sharks, which Coronado displays to the American tourists, assuring them that the most dangerous is, “Tintorera. Americans like you call it ‘tiger shark’.”
(And as he sets out for the yacht, Coronado mutters in Spanish, “Stupid Americans. They should speak in English.” I wonder what that line is in the Americanised version?)
Esteban does go out with Coronado, and the onscreen killing starts in earnest. Otherwise, his desire to be alone lasts just as long as it takes his binoculars pick up a new arrival at the resort, Patricia. Typically of Esteban, he completely overdoes his pursuit of her, ordering every drink on the menu to be delivered to the newcomer as she suns herself on the beach, and arranging a dinner of “lobster and French champagne” for her on the yacht—subsequently claiming to own the boat, clearly afraid that his personal attractions don’t match the ones he can provide.
Just another day at the office for Miguel.
Willing to enjoy a little luxury, Patricia allows herself to be seduced; but in time the fairly material relationship begins to turn into something else. However, also typically of Esteban, he manages to spoil things, stumbling through an expression of uncertain feeling until Patricia, who started out not wanting “complications”, is hurt and resentful and walks out.
Inevitably, when Esteban sees her next it is with Miguel, the two enjoying a flirtation on the beach. Esteban again does exactly what he shouldn’t, storming in, demanding Patricia’s attention, being as rude as humanly possible to Miguel, and finally – after throwing sand in his rival’s face – knocking him down. All this endears him to Patricia not one whit, and – as Miguel sends a triumphant look over the girl’s shoulder at him – Esteban stalks off, returning to the yacht and declaring his intention of leaving Cancun.
Patricia is exasperated, caught between not wanting a relationship at all and her feeling for Esteban, all of which she confesses to Miguel. Deciding, since she has to leave Cancun soon, to go with the “no complications” scenario, she sleeps with Miguel…except that, as Miguel later tells Esteban, “She did it with you”.
Interestingly, Miguel proves able to read men just as easily as women. He certainly reads Esteban at a glance, pushing his buttons effortlessly to bait him into the fight that costs him Patricia, and driving him into a frenzy by repeatedly calling him “old man”. Esteban is wary and hostile in the face of Miguel’s relentless teasing, but allows himself to be pulled into a kind of partnership with the gigolo, even though he knows that Miguel is using him as thoroughly as he ever used a woman. But the combination of Esteban’s money and yacht with Miguel’s sexual magnetism proves unbeatable; and the two start partying their way through the female population of Cancun.
Can you guess what decade this film was produced in?
And in this respect, Tintorera is seventies exploitation at its—well, not its finest, exactly; more like its most typical. Every woman is a sex-crazed airhead, every man is a sex-crazed stud; both are willing to cast off their clothes and get busy at the drop of a hat; at the drop of anyone’s hat.
(Apropos, note the ubiquitous presence of that classic seventies signifier, a bottle of J&B scotch.)
As illustration of this particular philosophy, the film follows, in fits and starts, the adventures of two hitch-hiking girls, Kelly and Cynthia, first seen catching a ride with the two drivers of a truck of oranges. One of the drivers, muttering disgustedly, ends up riding with the oranges, while the other, visions of American nooky dancing in his head, invites the girls into the cabin, causing Cynthia to spend most of the journey trying to persuade him to keep both hands on the wheel. Still living in hope, the main driver buys dinner for the two girls…only to have them shrug off his obvious desire for “payment” and insist upon riding with the oranges. This leads to the truck being pulled over at a quiet spot, the drivers intending to take by force what they feel should have been offered voluntarily; but this being an exploitation film of 1977, the attempted rape has barely begun before both girls are laughing uproariously and willingly casting aside their clothing.
It is with an account of this charming incident that Cynthia and Kelly entertain Esteban and Miguel as the men begin their new partnership; they, too, laugh uproariously. (“Next time,” Miguel advises, “try it in a banana truck!”) The evening – once Miguel has run an alarmed glance over the bill and tossed it to Esteban – ends with the four of them heading to the yacht. They contemplate the motor-boat, then decide to swim. Miguel and the girls tear their clothes off without hesitation. Esteban does hesitate – his obvious longing to be as uninhibited as his companions is a nice touch – but finally undresses and joins them. A night of dancing, drinking, sex and partner-swapping follows.
Attempted rape? Hi-larious!
Here we must stop and contemplate one of the most notable, and most interesting, things about this film: its attitude to nudity. It is a measure, I think, of how thoroughly conditioned we all are by the preferences and neuroses of Hollywood that so much of Tintorera seems so startling. The nudity is not only ubiquitous, it is universal: men and women shed their clothing with equal abandon; the camera, likewise, seems not to care what sex it catches in this state. (And because this is the seventies…oh, the blessed, blessed relief of natural bodies.)
There is no hint here of that leering yet strangely puritanical quality that taints the nudity and sex scenes in Hollywood-produced films; on the contrary, the camera seems indifferent about whether the characters are dressed or not—except for some dwelling on the gluteal area, and that’s just as likely to be male as female; more likely, in fact, inasmuch as if there’s a camera around anywhere, you can bet your life that Andrés Garcia will wiggle his butt into it.
On the other hand, the camera does not seek out breast shots, or groin shots, female or male; but neither does it go out of its way to avoid them. The only moment where it seems that it might be doing so – the only “Austin Powers moment”, if I can call it that – is when Miguel climbs up from the galley carrying a bottle of champagne in an ice-bucket at the critical juncture…and even so, later on the film allows us a glimpse of the complete Andrés Garcia, so perhaps the avoidance wasn’t intentional at all.
Compare this offhand attitude with that evinced by the commercial cinema we are all so familiar with: the female-on-top sex that shows everything they want to show of her while hiding all they want to hide of him; the sex scenes that end with the man wearing pants; the unrelenting breast shots – how often in these films is a woman treated as no more than a prop used to carry breasts around? – and the equally unrelenting avoidance of male nudity; and above all, the outrage, or worse, the embarrassingly childish shrieking and sniggering, that greets any non-avoidance.
Tintorera: produced under the Equality In Nudity Act of 1977 (subsection 16, paragraph 2).
I haven’t much interest in cinematic nudity, male or female. It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t go looking for it—except as a watcher of horror and exploitation movies. In that capacity I accept that I am, so to speak, certain to have nudity thrust upon me. That being the case, this is how I want that nudity: equal opportunity, non-surgically enhanced, and perfectly casual.
And having passed almost a page in a discussion of the nudity in Tintorera, I will now point out one of the oddest things about this film: there are no sex scenes in it. Oh, there’s discussion of sex, and plenty of lead-up; lots of naked pre- and post-coital lounging; but no actual action. And this, I’m willing to bet, is what we might have found in those missing eight minutes of footage. Possibly these scenes were regarded as too explicit, even in this day and age of unrated DVD releases…which would mean that someone looked at this film in its entirety and found the sight of simulated sex, or even unsimulated sex, between consenting adults more offensive than the pointless butchery of countless defenceless animals…and that’s just sad.
The morning after the romp on the yacht, Cynthia and Kelly depart, swimming back to shore stark naked and collecting their clothes from the beach (under the unwavering gaze of what I am pretty sure were real Cancun tourists). The girls return later, sunning themselves on the deck with Esteban while Miguel is, ahem, at work. The two invite Esteban to a party, but he declines, only to wake in the middle of the night to find the yacht invaded by a rowdy group of dancing, canoodling pot-smokers, all of them intending to stay the night. (“We had to offer something in exchange for the dope,” explains Kelly.) In the absence of Miguel, all of Esteban’s hang-ups reassert themselves, and he angrily orders everyone off the boat.
After this, we get another lengthy Cancun tourist advertisement, as Esteban and Miguel enjoy some boating and surf-skiing.
(I should probably also mention here the film’s score, which was by a very young Basil Poledouris, whose name is misspelled in the credits. It is not, I think it is fair to say, one of the composer’s more distinguished efforts.)
As the two men take a break from their romantic exertions, Miguel – sigh – offers to take Esteban scuba-diving…and I avert my eyes and reach for the fast-forward button. And a bucket.
Relaxing after their fun-filled day of emptying the seas around Cancun of everything that moves or breathes, Miguel and Esteban encounter English tourist Gabriella, and immediately start making bets as to which of them will get her into bed first. They impose themselves upon her and start flirting, which she allows; while Esteban tries to impress her by claiming that the two of them are “shark-hunters”, a gambit that – sigh – works.
(Oh, and by “hunting”, based upon what we’ve just seen, they mean, “We swim up to sleeping sharks as they rest motionless and possibly comatose on the bottom of the ocean and fire spears through them from a safe distance.” Real macho, guys.)
Gabriella brushes off the men’s efforts to make a night of it, but agrees to accompany them on a fishing trip the next day. As they leave, Miguel offers up a professional dissection of their new target: that she likes him more, but is intrigued by Esteban; and thus can’t decide which of them to sleep with. Miguel also suggests that maybe, just maybe, she suspects that the two of them might in fact be gay; at which they both have a good laugh…
The three set out the next day in the motor-boat. More bloody slaughter follows. The two men then climb back into the motor-boat, to be greeted by the watching Gabriella shrieking at them, “Are you crazy!? ARE YOU CRAZY!!??” – and for one blinding, blissful instant, I thought someone in this film was actually going to call these two maniacs out over their perverted need to kill; but no. Gabriella was merely protesting their putting themselves in danger, ha, ha, not the bloodbath that ensued.
It’s alive! KILL IT! KILLIT!!KILLIT!!KILLIT!!KILLIT!!KILLIT!!KILLIT!!KILLIT!!KILLLIT!!—
[Oh, and don’t worry: they will.]
Here Tintorera makes the first of its unexpectedly interesting moves: Gabriella solves her dilemma about which man to sleep with by sleeping with both of them; by drawing Miguel and Esteban into an exclusive threesome, and sharing her favours between them while they sleep with only her.
Both Gabriella and Miguel move onto the yacht to live with Esteban. They swim, they frolic, they get domestic (as Miguel sets the table, nude of course, Esteban cooks scrambled eggs—also nude, but at least he has the sense to put an apron on), they visit tourist spots – photographing every permutation of the relationship/s that you can come up with – and they take turns sleeping together. So well does this arrangement work that before long, Gabriella has bought and distributed three wedding-rings; and as the parties to this “marriage” put them on, she recites the rules under which it will be conducted: no jealousy; no other women; and no falling in love—or the triangle is dissolved.
They are, Gabriella insists, “The three musketeers: one for two and two for one!” Indeed, the whole thing is conducted so pleasantly, and so politely – “After you.” “No, no, I went first last night; after you.” – that you may well wonder why you never thought of such an arrangement: it looks like so much fun!
This is another area of movie conditioning. Shaped by the usual prejudices and preferences, 2F1M threesomes are reasonably commonplace, but a sexually active 2M1F – as opposed to just your typical love-triangle – is rare indeed. In fact, the only other lengthy cinematic examination of such a relationship I can think of offhand is Y Tu Mamá También. Something in the Mexican psyche, perhaps?
All things considered, I think I prefer this to Deluge.
Anyway, the situation is certainly unusual enough to be distracting, particularly since the dialogue makes it clear that, at least occasionally, the three of them are going to bed together (and I wonder if that’s why we’re missing that footage?). But the most interesting thing here, the really unexpected thing about Tintorera, is that all of this functions as one enormous bluff, to divert those not paying attention, or blinded by all the bare flesh, from what’s actually going on.
Because the plain fact is, this film has another agenda entirely, as becomes progressively clear from the morning after Miguel and Esteban’s on-yacht romp with Kelly and Cynthia, as Esteban lounges on the deck following the girls’ departure. From the moment that Miguel struts out wearing Esteban’s spare pair of budgie-smugglers, the relationship between the two men takes on an undercurrent that becomes stronger and clearer as the film progresses, until at last – and at the height of their mutual engagement with Gabriella – it is unmistakable.
In short, the reason that neither of them becomes jealous over sharing Gabriella is that Gabriella isn’t really the point. The endless competitiveness between the two, the rivalry over women, the bet-making, the one-upmanship— All of this is a sexual display, all right, but it isn’t the female of the species that they’re displaying for.
The two men are returning to the yacht after going into town for supplies when they begin to discuss their situation. Esteban worries that the three of them are going too far. Miguel dismisses this, arguing that there is no such thing, and suggests that Esteban is falling in love with Gabriella. Esteban denies this, confessing that far from being jealous, he likes watching Gabriella with Miguel.
At this, both men stop, Miguel in the motor-boat, Esteban on the dock, and give each other a lingering look that, were either of them of the opposite sex, would not be even remotely open to misinterpretation.
Not so much not daring to speak its name as not needing to.
And I come away fired with a burning ambition to get my hands on an English-language copy of the Ramón Bravo novel upon which this film was based (though alas, it seems that there is no such thing). I am dying to know how much of this was inherent in the original story; how much was René Cardona Jr’s idea; and how much was brought to the table by Andrés Garcia and Hugo Stiglitz. In any case, this subplot is so unexpected and in its way so courageous, that it ends up being a major reason why I can’t hate Tintorera nearly as much as I’d like to.
Now, I’ve babbled on for, what? – eight, eight and a half pages? – about animal killing and peculiar biologists and drinking and dancing and nudity and sex and threesomes and latent homosexual desire and scrambled eggs; and by now some of you are probably saying, hey, wait a minute, wasn’t this supposed to be a killer shark film? Isn’t that why we’re here?
Well, theoretically; but the fact of the matter is, putting an enormous, girl-chomping shark all over the advertising art for this film is about as accurate a reflection of its content as if you produced an adaptation of Anna Karenina and then put the guy who collects tickets at the railway station on the poster. (Also, that shark all over the advertising art? That’s a blue shark, not a tiger.) Truthfully, I don’t think anyone connected with Tintorera set out to make a killer shark film at all, not really; they made the film they wanted, an exploitationer full of sex and violence, then sold it as a shark film just because, in the immediate post-Jaws era, it was the easiest thing to do.
Anyway, the fact of the matter is, we’re now about three-quarters through the film, and we’ve barely glimpsed a shark; that is, a live shark; a shark that’s killing people, instead of the other way around. Sure, we lose Patricia to one about a quarter of the way along, but no-one misses a beat over that, certainly not the two men fighting over her. (You’d think the unpaid hotel bill would set off an alarm, but I guess they don’t sweat details like that in Cancun.)
Hey, shouldn’t that shark be busy savaging someone to death? Like THE GUY WITH THE CAMERA RIGHT IN FRONT OF IT?? Slacker.
But here, at long last, a tiger shark is finally going to show up and do something that will nudge this terminally unfocused examination of seventies sexual mores to something that at least vaguely resembles a conclusion.
Miguel, Esteban and Gabriella are yet again out on the motor-boat, prior to making a concerted effort to wipe out the few sorry remnants of Cancun’s marine life, when Miguel makes a speech that, no matter what variety of film-making we’re used to, starts the alarm bells ringing. Esteban asks what they should do if a tiger shark shows up. “Get out of the water!” Miguel responds promptly, laughing, but then adds that such animals keep on the move; they don’t hang around in one place…unless they’ve tasted human flesh.
More sanguinary misery follows, much, much more; and then – and believe me, by this time I was baying for blood myself – the tiger shark puts in an appearance. And Miguel, Mr Muy Macho, who to this point has killed an animal with every single spear-shot…misses…
And I suppose this is as good a time as any to pull back and consider the shark attack scenes in Tintorera, rare though they may be. There is a reasonable amount of footage of tiger sharks used throughout the film (all photographed by Ramón Bravo, with no harm to himself, nota bene), while the attack scenes come from the Blood Feast school of special effects: crude but effective. Essentially what they did is stuff some clothing with some meat to make a reasonable simulation of the human form and then give it to the sharks being filmed; the animals go through the correct feeding motions, shaking their heads and bodies and sending scraps flying and blood pouring into the water; all of which might be sufficiently horrifying for some viewers that they don’t notice a slight problem: namely, if the victims are naked or nearly so, where did all that clothing come from?
Has a scene like this ever ended well?
Certainly our first victim hasn’t a stitch on: Patricia emerges from Miguel’s bed buck naked, wanders down to the shore, and plunges in…to meet the fate of pretty much every movie skinny-dipper from 1975 onwards, whether it be delivered by shark, zombie or undead serial killer.
Less problematic is Miguel himself, who is indeed clad from head to foot in a diving-suit when he meets his manifest fate. Frankly, even if he wasn’t I wouldn’t have an issue with it, since Miguel’s death is one of two genuine dramatic highlights of this film for me, the other being a subsequent attack scene that I will deal with presently. Miguel’s death is, to say the least, spectacular. The meat-filled dummy standing in for him (a more than adequate replacement, if you’ll pardon my saying so) is first torn in two; the legs go drifting down to the floor of the bay—and again, I’m sure the average viewer is expected to be so grossed out by this that they don’t notice the meat-sacks tucked in amongst the fake intestines.
The shark then swims off with the rest of Miguel, shaking and chewing and spreading a blood cloud. We cut briefly away to Gabriella having hysterics as the stricken Esteban pulls her back into the motor-boat – yeah, not so funny when it’s the other way around, is it, guys? – and then we return to the shark…which is cruising along with Miguel’s head in its mouth.
And if that isn’t enough, a remora detaches itself from the shark and starts picking at the head!! The shark then drops the head, circling back to claim the legs instead and swimming slowly off with them; and Miguel’s head floats gently to the ocean floor…with that damned remora still picking at it.
And while I suppose this makes me just as cruel and sick as the people who made Tintorera, I have to confess that I find Miguel’s death absolutely fricking hilarious.
In my own defence, a big part of it is the context: what, after watching this SOB kill everything that comes near him for a hundred solid minutes, I’m not supposed to enjoy this scene!? Honestly, if you can sit through an uncut print of Tintorera up to this point without reacting to Miguel’s bloody dismemberment with a fist in the air and a triumphant shout of, “YES!!”, well, you’ve got no soul, that’s all.
Esteban and Gabriella retreat to the yacht, a sad, silent place now. Esteban is still dealing with the first wave of his horror and grief when he must take another blow: Gabriella, in the spirit of their agreement, concludes that she cannot go on with Esteban alone. As he watches her leave, the doubly-bereaved Esteban makes a resolution: he will hunt and kill the tiger shark himself.
While this is hardly unexpected, it is not the obviousness of this manoeuvre that is the issue, but rather what we’ve witnessed over the course of the film. So— Esteban is going to indulge his feelings of anger and his desire for vengeance by…doing what up until now he’s been doing for fun? You see the problem. Not a lot of dramatic impact there. It’s as if I indulged my feelings of anger and my desire for vengeance against Tintorera by….watching a crappy killer shark film.
Anyway, if you’ve guessed that an awful lot of other animals are going to die horribly before Esteban gets anywhere near the shark he’s hunting for, give yourself a gold star. I guess he isn’t so grief-stricken that a good bloodbath can’t cheer him up a bit.
And because this film hasn’t pissed me off nearly enough so far, it puts the cherry on the sundae by having a random fisherman killed by the shark—and cutting away without showing the attack. You call that fair!?
Tragically for Miguel, the shark misunderstood his suggestion of “a little head”.
And during the lonely nights, when he can’t be out hunting, Esteban passes the time in unenthusiastic hedonism. He meets up with another pair of tourist girls, billed only as Girl From Bar #1 and #2, the former of whom is played by a very young Priscilla Barnes (whose name is also misspelled in the credits). Esteban ends up partying with the very crowd he threw off the yacht earlier, amongst whom he finds Cynthia and Kelly; and indeed, by inviting them all back to the yacht. Naturally, they decide to swim out…
Here again I am forced into some reluctant admiration of Tintorera, because this sequence is, in all seriousness, one of the best-staged movie shark attacks that I’ve ever seen—and believe me, I’ve seen a few; although my admiration is tempered by the reflection that this sequence could really only have been shot safely using a shark either doped to unconsciousness or dead. Still, this episode achieves something that such scenes rarely do: it captures absolutely the bewilderment, the terror, the horrifying randomness of it all.
There is some excellent use of overhead and underwater photography here, giving the viewer a perspective that the characters don’t have. It is, for no reason in the world, Cynthia who loses the lottery. She is in Esteban’s arms, floating and being kissed, when the shark slides up and takes off her leg. The water explodes in a bloody cloud. There is screaming, hysteria. The others flail and blunder towards the shore; all but Esteban, who bravely attempts to rescue the unconscious Cynthia, catching hold of her and trying to carry her to safety—only to have the shark circle back and drag the rest of her from his arms.
And the other thing I admire about this scene? Almost everyone in it is nude; and in context that is so completely irrelevant, they might as well all be wearing suits and ties. Less erotic nudity you will never see. Nakedness ceases to be attractive or arousing here, and becomes instead a blunt reminder of our terrifying human vulnerability.
Whaddya know, I’ve run out of wisecracks.
At this stage the script deigns to reveal that Cynthia and Kelly were sisters. Their father flies down from the States to take his wreck of a surviving daughter home, and Esteban promises him faithfully that the shark will be killed. Coronado supplies Esteban with some heavier artillery, and he sets out on his fateful mission…
It is fitting, I suppose, that a film as unstructured and rambling as Tintorera should come to an ending equally indeterminate. The truly strange thing is, there are two endings in existence, both of which leave the viewer with something of a question-mark. Bizarrely, it is the truncated English-language of this film alone that seems to carry this film’s original ending; an ending that has been compared by some to the truly infamous conclusion of Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City, and not just because of the presence of Hugo Stiglitz.
On the other hand, this so-called restored print ends in what really can only be interpreted as a kind of murder-suicide: Esteban succeeds in killing the shark, but not, evidently, in saving himself. We are left to conclude that he didn’t much want to.
The film ends with the blood of yet another shark pouring away – if that is supposed to be the shark, well, it is very, very definitely not the “twenty-foot monster” we’ve been hearing about – and with Esteban’s torch drifting to the ocean floor. Esteban himself we do not see. The screen fades to red; and while a mournful love-song plays (“Together, Together…”), René Cardona Jr’s directorial credit overlays images of Esteban, Miguel and Gabriella, and more beauty-shots of Cancun…the latter of which, I’m afraid, I am by now quite incapable of interpreting otherwise than ironically…
Want a second opinion of (the Americanised) Tintorera? Visit 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting.
Don’t get your hopes up, there’s no helicopter destruction in this, either…