The JAWS Rip-offs: Barracuda - 1978
SPOILER ALERTS: This is a review of the 1978 B-movie and JAWS rip-off Barracuda. If you, for some reason, don't want spoilers about this then stop reading here.
Of course, with the success of JAWS (and it was a tremendous success), that meant a lot of other movies immediately tried to cash in on the idea of sea creatures attacking people. The rip-off movies came from all over the world. For example, from Italy, came the killer octopus movie Tentacles. From bad-movie auteur Dino De Laurentis came the killer whale movie Orca. Of course, compared to some, those were big-budget B movies (if that's possible). Where it really starts to get fun is with the smaller movies with smaller budgets.
One of my favorites in this second genre is Barracuda from 1978. I saw this movie late on a Saturday afternoon I believe watching the Svengoolie monster movie TV Show. Svengoolie is a Chicago TV treasure and still does his bad jokes and silly songs while showing really bad horror movies to this day.
I was obsessed with these sea creature movies and seeing this was about barracudas attacking people. I started watching. It was violent and bloody. There was a scene where a little girl picks up a diver's severed head. For a demented kid only interested in body counts with his horror, this was great.
What did not appreciate then, but do appreciate now, is that this movie actually was trying to do something more than just throwing swimmers at killer fish. There is a sort of message to this movie and the creator were attempting to do something. That's what made this movie stand apart from so many others. It is attempting to DO something with this story and there's a little more meat there. The problem is the movie makers had no money to hire real actors, create real special effects or enough script doctors to really polish up the story.
The story is basic. A small town right on the water is suddenly finding divers and swimmers attacked by schools of vicious barracuda fish. An evironmental expert comes to town to try to figure out why and he's convinced something bad is being pumped into the water. Basic JAWS stuff, but it's the "why" part that gets intriguing in this one.
In the real world, barracudas really are fantastic and deadly killers. They are SO fast some divers have said it is not uncommon to see a barracuda 100 feet away one second and seemingly right next to them the next. However, they are still relatively small and do not attack humans. If a diver is bitten by a barracuda, it is likely an accident while the fish was trying to snatch food out of the diver's hand, for example.
The funny thing about the movie is that the people who wrote it seem to know this, so they have to develop a reason why these fish are attacking. This where it gets interesting. In JAWS, you could just throw up the theory that sometimes lone great whites go rogue and that was enough. Now you have to have a reason.
Our fish expert analyzes the water and discovers that, sure enough, as he suspected, the water off the coast is being polluted. It's what the pollution is where things get interesting. It turns out there is a "mad scientist" who has been conducting experiments for the government using chemicals that lower a person's blood sugar. When a person's blood sugar goes down their aggression levels go up. The government wants to be able to control their soldier's aggression level and they are using this town for their experiments.
Throughout the movie you see townspeople screaming at each other and acting hostile toward one another. It seems just like a weird plot point in a movie about killer fish, but you soon realize the reason the fish are killing is because of this chemical.
Our fish expert finds dozens and dozens of dead fish and when he studies them realizes they have, basically, starved to death. The chemical to lower the townspeople's blood sugar using bottled water, is leeching into the ocean. Smaller fish are dying from it, but the larger, hardier, barracuda are basically starving to death and the lowered blood sugar is increasing their aggressiveness. Thus, they are acting out of the ordinary and attacking people.
The movie now switches from trying to rescue people from killer fish to the town sheriff and the fish expert taking on the mad scientist and stopping the experiments. In short, it turns from a JAWS rip-off to a conspiracy thriller.
Even the ending is a shocker here. Despite my glee in giving out spoilers, I won't ruin this one for you. It was a shocker to me as a kid and shocked me all over again when I recently re-watched this film.
Is Barracuda a good movie? No. Not really. The acting is amateurish. The special effects see to be a taxidermist's barracuda head thrust at the camera. The director is also the star and you could tell he thought he was a total stud and it just doesn't work.
However, for bad B-movie fans, this one at least tries to do something different and give a little more thought to the story. For that alone, it's worth seeking out and giving it a try. Be prepared to laugh at the way the lines are delivered (How long have you been drinking bottled water, BEN!?) and most of the acting, but at least appreciate the attempt to reach above its rather low station.
My latest novel is SPIDAR and its about a government experiment to use nature to create the ultimate
weapon. Then it gets loose and now the town of Whittier, Alaska, is in danger. SPIDAR is available in print, audiobook and Kindle editions. Click on the cover image to get your copy!