Night of the Sharks (1987)

Italian International Film (in collaboration with RAI Uno).  Director: Tonino Ricci.

Creature Feature Bleachers Award: Most Helpful Shark.

“Night of the Sharks,” a.k.a. “La Notte degli Squali,” is a difficult film to wrap your head around.  Most of the time I had no idea what was going on or how the characters were related to each other.  That being said, I didn’t completely hate the film.  Some sharksploitation movies leave me scratching my head as to what audience they were made to please.  “Night of the Sharks,” however, has a perfect little niche: playing in the background at a party or family gathering.  There’s no point in trying to follow along with the plot, but absentmindedly watching a few scenes probably won’t cause severe brain damage.  Depending on your family, however, you may wish to note that the film contains profanity (including the first line of dialogue) and a brief, out-of-place scene of topless women.  On the whole, “Night of the Sharks” is merely a so-so sharksploitation film— not incredibly awful, but not genuinely good.

I won’t waste your time trying to present the plot logically.  David Ziegler (Treat Williams) has a brother James (Carlo Mucari) who used to do wiretapping for bad guys.  When James decides to blackmail his former employers, they put a hit out on him.  Before being killed, James manages to send a CD full of evidence to David, who lives in Cancun, Mexico.  David and head bad guy Rosentski (John Steiner) then try to outwit each other, sort of.  Rosentski doesn’t want to kill David, and David doesn’t want to do anything, really.  Can he survive Rosentski’s scheming and the deadly shark that waits just off the shore?

The VHS Cover

“Night of the Sharks” has a rather misleading title, as the film is not especially concerned with either nighttime or sharks.  In fact, most of the movie– including the action sequences and shark attacks– takes place during the day, and while we see a few dead sharks throughout, there is only one killer shark to speak of.  I don’t know about you, but with a title like “Night of the Sharks,” I was expecting a nostalgia-inducing 80’s horror film about a night when monstrous sharks drag drunken teens out of a log cabin into the water, killing them one by one.  In that regard, the film sadly disappoints.  The titular phrase is used only once in the course of the movie, and refers to a local ceremony conducted in order to bring good fishing and prevent shark attacks.

In my opinion, the shark in “Night of the Sharks” should not be classified as a villain.  On the contrary, he is one of the most playful and helpful characters in the film.  Whereas most sharksploitation sharks menace beachgoers from the very beginning, this shark seems mainly concerned with having fun.  In one scene, he pulls on the anchor line of David’s unoccupied boat, prompting David to scramble off the beach and regain control of his runaway craft.  The filmmakers probably intended this interaction to seem antagonistic, but it comes off as a playful game of tug-of-war.

That little rascal!

The shark also provides David with useful help throughout the film.  When David needs a place to hide the CD of evidence, what does he do?  He wraps it in meat and stores it in the shark’s belly.  When David’s ex-wife shows up unexpectedly, angering his Mexican girlfriend, who comes to the rescue?  You guessed it, the shark helpfully eats her.  When an assassin chases David out onto the ocean, the shark once again springs to his aid, swallowing the bad guy in several gulps.  As if this weren’t enough, the shark later provides David with a crucial alibi.  I don’t understand why the advertising for this film depicts the shark as a villain, when he is obviously more of a sidekick.

The quality of acting in “Night of the Sharks” is simply putrid.  I want to say that Treat Williams does okay as David, but my perception of his acting skills is probably highly influenced by the lousiness of the other actors.  I’m not entirely convinced that the various bit players had ever seen a film before, let alone starred in one.  Christopher Connelly, who plays helpful monk Father Mattia, appears to have been suffering from a severe case of laryngitis during the filming, and is essentially incomprehensible.  The decision to cast John Steiner as the movie’s nefarious villain Rosentski seems to have hinged on his ability to grow really awesome facial hair.

They certainly didn’t pick him for his acting skills.

A note on the film’s origins.  Despite the Italian title and the preponderance of Italian names in the credits, this movie is in English.  Or, more accurately, “mumbled, barely comprehensible English.”  (Unfortunately, the DVD producers saw no need to remaster the sound or video, either).  If you are an astute observer, you will have noticed that RAI contributed money to this movie.  For those who are unfamiliar, RAI is the Italian government’s public broadcasting service.  What an excellent use of the Italian people’s money.

Perhaps the trailer will help you make sense of the plot.  But probably not.

“Night of the Sharks” is available on Amazon.

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