The 'Jaws' Rip-Offs: Orca, the Killer Whale! Review
Spoiler alert: Look, this movie came out in 1977 and if you are a horror fan or nature-goes-amok fan and haven't seen it go watch it. This is a review where I reveal all of the things in this movie. Do not read past this is you cannot handle such a thing.
You need to imagine what the movie Orca had on a young Bryan Alaspa. I was a young boy obsessed with whales and sharks. I read books endlessly about the and then would spend endless hours drawing them, watching documentaries and doing everything I could to study them. I was fascinated by them.
Jaws came out in '76 and before that it seemed everyone everywhere was reading the book. I have already told you how the movie affected me and how the images on the book cover and my eventual reading of that novel affected me. I am a writer now because of it. However, there were a lot of rip-off movies and I was just as obsessed with those, even though so many of them were really bad, just because they involved a sea creature eating people.
In 1977 the movie which was the ultimate combination of my two obsessions came out. A story about a species of whale (OK, really a species of porpoise), who sought revenge on a man and ate people. The poster was just tremendous. It showed a very large, gigantic, killer whale rising from the ocean, smashing a boat, with a man carrying a giant harpoon trying to kill the beast. I spent so much time staring at this poster. This movie was ORCA.
I begged my father to see this movie. Somehow, some way, my insistence got to him and when my uncle Mike visited from California, they both took me to the second-run movie theater not far from home to see this movie. As a six-year-old sitting in that theater, this was the most exciting and horrifying movie I had ever seen. You can probably see how I ended up being as crazy as I am today.
Orca is the story of a sad fisherman named Nolan (Richard Harris) who captures animals for aquariums around the world to make money. He lives in Canada, but wants to go back home to Ireland and hopes to pay off the mortgage on his boat. One day, out searching for a Great White, they instead come across a pod of orcas. He switches from the shark to the whale, knowing the price will be much greater and maybe he can pay off his debt.
However, he tries to harpoon the male orca (how is this "capturing?" No idea. Lots of things don't add up in this film), but ends up spearing the male's mate. He drags the female aboard where she promptly miscarries right there on deck. Nolan washes the fetus overboard. Then we get a shot of the males eye as he spots and marks Nolan.
You see, if you watch the trailer and as we later learn, the Orca or killer whale is the "only beast other than man who will seek revenge." I have a hard time believing this is true, but it sure makes good advertising for this flick.
Nolan heads back to the sea port, but the orca follows. The whale wants Nolan to come out and fight him, so he sinks all of the other fishing boats. The whale causes the schools of fish to flee the area, threatening the entire town. Then the whale knocks out the posts to Nolan's house (it extends out over the water) so the entire thing slants and one of Nolan's crew (Bo Derek) slides down and gets her leg bitten off by the whale. To add some added incentive, the whale blows up the refueling tanks and burns down most of the docks and the town.
Nolan heads out. He brings Charlotte Rampling along (she's like Hooper in Jaws here), an old Indian man, and two crew members. They head out among the ice bergs where the whale manages to slowly kill off the entire crew and sink the boat, forcing the scientist and Nolan onto an ice flow. Nolan ends up facing off alone, but the whale tilts the ice flow, then uses its tail to fling Nolan into an ice berg and kill him. His mission complete, over the end credits and the very sad song "My Love We Are One" the orca dives under the thick ice and it has been suspected is "committing suicide" since there is obviously no way for it to come to the surface through the ice to get air.
That's how this insanely depressing, sad, movie ends. The whale wins! Nolan is a scumbag. All the people in the film (save for Rampling) are scumbags.
The movie was made be renowned film producer Dino De Laurentiis who, just the year before, released his remake of King Kong starring Jeff Bridges and featuring the film debut of Jessica Lange. He was also well known for making some very crappy movies on the cheap. According to stories Dino De Laurentiis called one of his stable of directors and told him to find a fish tougher than a great white shark to make a movie about.
Whether or not Orcas are really the only other creature to seek revenge, especially if man harms its only mate, is probably not scientifically accurate.
The movie was not well received upon release. This is a bleak movie. Nolan is bleak. His job is bleak. The scene with the whale miscarrying on deck is heartbreaking. The whale sinking below the ice to die is sad.
Over the years, a kind of cult following has developed around this movie. It is another one that appears to try and develop a message. Man is the bad guy. The whales should be left alone. If you mess with nature, nature may strike back and humans deserve whatever they get.
Harris and Rampling do a pretty decent job. The animatronic whales look pretty decent, too. However the directing is grim and sad and the acting debut of Bo Derek here is certainly nothing to write home about.
Overall, the relatively low budget does this movie in, but of the rip-offs, this ranks among the better ones. If you can handle the relentless grimness and sadness, it's a pretty entertaining watch. You will probably also enjoy the music of legendary film score creator Ennio Morricone.
My latest novel is not about ORCAS, but about spiders. Spiders that are man made and now out of
control, threatening the small town of Whittier, Alaska. How will the residents survive and what will happen if these ultimate killing machines get out of Whittier and into the rest of the world? Get SPIDAR today at Amazon!