Discovery Channel. Director: Jack Sholder.
Creature Feature Bleachers Award: Most Olde Tymey.
“12 Days of Terror” takes the sharksploitation genre in a heretofore unexplored direction— historical docudrama. After viewing so many films that take place either in the present or the purported “present” of the 1970s, it’s refreshing to see a different setting for a change. Yes, we’re still stuck in America, but at least we have traveled back to 1916 to bear witness to a historical horror. And since “12 Days of Terror” interprets a true event from our nation’s past, you might actually learn something from watching it (but don’t hold your breath). Personally, I think the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 might have made for more interesting subject matter, but what do I know? “12 Days of Terror” isn’t the world’s best movie, but if you’ve ever wondered what “Jaws” might look like set in 1916, you should give it a try.
It’s a hot summer on the shores of New Jersey. Bathers frolic in the water in an attempt to escape the heat. After a lifeguard is mysteriously eaten, however, senior lifeguard Alex (Colin Egglesfield) begins to suspect a shark. The authorities refuse to believe him, claiming that such a thing is impossible, unheard of, and most importantly, bad for business. Alex eventually teams up with the crusty old Captain (John Rhys-Davies, the voice of Alladin’s father in “Aladdin and the King of Thieves”) to hunt the shark. It’s no spoiler to say that they find the shark they are looking for. But is it really the culprit responsible for all the death and destruction? To this day, no one knows for sure.
The title “12 Days of Terror” is really something of a misnomer. A more accurate title would have been “A Shark Attack Followed by Five Days of Calmness and Order, Then a Second Shark Attack Followed by Six Days of Relative Unease, Then Another Shark Attack and a Little Terror.” Seriously, though the shark attacks spanned 12 days, the public wasn’t exactly shrieking and screaming, as the title would have you believe. In fact, the film emphasizes the lack of panic following the first attack, making a big deal about the fact that no one believes Alex.
The historical setting thankfully shields us from the idiocies of modern beach slang and customs. Once you’ve seen “Jersey Shore Shark Attack” (yes, that Jersey Shore), you’ll appreciate this fact more than you already do. The film also lacks the generally ubiquitous array of bikinis and ultra-tight wetsuits. On the contrary, many of the beachgoers are dressed to the nines, while those swimming in the water wear spiffy striped bathing suits.
Furthermore, the film somehow avoids the goofy feeling that plagues most sharksploitation films. I don’t quite know how to describe this, except to say that I wasn’t thinking “This is stupid” throughout the whole film. Unfortunately, many standard sharksploitation film features do sneak in. As so many times before, we are presented with a dumb romance, illogical decision-making, and characters we don’t really care about. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the original Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916 inspired Peter Benchley to write the novel “Jaws,” which Spielberg then turned into the ultimate sharksploitation film. Though the events of “12 Days of Terror” predate “Jaws,” the film itself does not, so it all seems a bit familiar. And although there are some enjoyable retro moments that set “12 Days of Terror” apart, I found myself wanting the filmmakers to do just a little more with the historical setting.
The trailer has one of the world’s catchiest tag lines: “Based on the true story that inspired the movie that panicked the world.” Just rolls off the tongue:
You might also enjoy the German trailer:
“12 Days of Terror” is available on Amazon.