Monday, April 25, 2022

“I Wish We Could All Pick the Way We Die” - Deep Blood (1990) - Film #228

It would be hard, of course, for filmmakers to exceed the quality of Bruno Mattei's later-period shark masterpiece Cruel Jaws (1995), but one precursor, Rafael Donato and Joe D'Amato's Deep Blood (1990), should be considered in the running for the prize.

Some of your universe's famous critics would disagree, sadly. For example, reviewer dogcow writes hyperbolically, "This is the worst italian movie ever, quite possibly the worst movie of all time!" Reviewer  the_wolf_imdb writes longwindedly, "This movie is crappy beyond any limits. It's incredible - a very bad ripoff from Jaws and other (better) shark movies. A really bad one - everything is really pathetic." And reviewer teebear817 writes, "A convaluted storyline that was brutal to watch. It dragged on and on and on."

Read on for the truth about Deep Blood...

A group of young boys sits on a beach eating hot dogs (not a euphemism). An elderly man who can only be called google-eyed sits next to them in the sand. (The man wears a headband, indicating he is a Native American.) “Boys,” he says, “This is a time of magic written in the sky. You boys have been called to this place to fulfill a destiny. That sky is a haven for all our great warriors.” Then he adds, “He who rides alone dies alone.”

The boys cut their arms with a knife and perform some kind of unspecified blood oath. The old man gives the boys a carved box and tells them they can imprison an evil spirit named Wokan in the box because of the carvings. The four boys bury the box and some of their belongings about five inches under the sand a few feet away from the waves. “We will never break our pact,” one of them says.

Years later, the boys are reintroduced as college-age men. One is a golfer, and another is an airplane mechanic in the Navy assigned to a base that appears to be a tiny local airport in Florida.

Meanwhile, a mother and her little boy swim at the beach, unaware they are being stalked by the POV of something that grabs the mother and pulls her underwater in a cloud of orange-red (and shallow, not, at this point, deep) blood. The boy, now sitting on the beach, looks on with a small measure of concern on his face.

The film cuts to the local police station, where a humorous poster made with a line printer encourages people to “Re-Elect Chief William Cody: He’s Too Old to Get a Job.” The self-same Chief Cody (definitely not "Brody") scolds a young man (presumably one of the kids from the first sequence) for throwing a speargun at a convertible (a sequence, unfortunately, never shown in the film, though its aftermath—a five-second fight in a train station parking lot—is shown). The boy whose mother was killed comes into the station with an officer. 

After an interlude where the golfer, Benny, watches an Independence Day boat parade featuring several Confederate flags, Benny has lunch with his parents.

Before lunch, Benny’s father explains his own backstory: “Since Jimmy’s death, I just can’t go back out to sea again.” Nevertheless, he makes plans to go fishing with Benny.

Eventually, the boys from the opening meet at a motel bar with their girlfriends, where they are accosted by the troublemakers with the convertible, the leader of whom offends them by ordering two Coke Classics from the bar and leaving immediately. 

When Benny and his father go fishing, they talk about golf. “I like it,” Benny tells him. “It pays good.” Benny suddenly catches something on his line, but it turns out to be a fish’s head, prompting his father to cut bait, as it were, and get out of the ocean in a hurry. 

Meanwhile, two of the young men, John and Miki (pronounced the same as Mickey), go spear fishing off a dock to get ready for the night’s cookout. John swims out to deep water and peers down into the ocean to search for fish, ironically missing the massive shark swimming inches behind him.

John finds himself on the sharp end of the shark’s teeth while his friend stands on the dock, worried but quite calm. Miki runs to the police station, where Chief Cody refuses to believe him about the shark attack, for no apparent reason. Fortunately, Miki’s friend Alan is the mayor’s son, so he goes to Alan’s house. In a fascinating reversal of events from every other shark movie in existence, the mayor believes Miki about the shark even though the police chief did not.

Later, at the motel bar, the police chief (who is now called a sheriff, for unknown reasons) apologizes to the protagonists about not believing Miki about John’s death. 

The film then offers a chilling montage of police and other officials searching the water in their boats, a montage that is ingeniously scored with percussion that echoes the police helicopter’s rotors. In a scene prefiguring the classic sequence in Cruel Jaws (1995), two soldiers in a helicopter shoot the shark from the air. “That’s it,” the shooter says. “Radio the dock. Tell them to harpoon it. It’s their meat now.” Mission, as the saying goes, accomplished.

At the local cemetery, Miki complains, “It’s not fair. John doesn’t even have a grave.” (Consequently, it is unclear why he and his friends are at the cemetery.)

“There’s a lot of people that don’t have graves,” says his friend. “Mick, I wish we could all pick the way we die. Life just doesn’t work that way.”

Even though the shark has obviously been shot and killed, the police chief/sheriff consults with a local scientist about sharks. “As far back as the Indians,” the scientist says helpfully, “there have been stories of monsters eating whole villages. Folks have vanished without even a trace.”

In a ferociously original scene, the police pull the dead shark onto a dock while the townspeople look on. The scientist decides to take the shark to his lab. Miki is one of the crowd, and while he watches the google-eyed old man from the opening, who hasn’t aged a day, steps next to him to say, “Don’t believe everything you see.”

Though the man quickly disappears, this implies to Miki that the shark that was killed may not be the same shark that killed John.

Later, Miki’s father confronts him with backstory that comes as a complete surprise involving Miki’s mother’s drunken death. This scene is performed by actors who may not have much practice acting, but who have the raw intensity of two men standing in a room yelling at each other with a subtle trace of animosity tinged with  just a hint of trying to remember their lines. In any case, their confrontation dies down in seconds and they apologize to each other awkwardly from across the room.

At night, a random couple argues in a car parked by a beach. The woman, as women are wont to do, decides to take a swim alone in her clothes. When she is attacked by the shark, her partner looks on in horror, but then simply starts the car and drives away.

After Miki interrupts a press conference where the mayor celebrates the killing of the shark, Chief Cody arrests Miki and takes him to the station to hold him for disturbing the peace. In another humorous touch adorning the police station, a crate in a hallway is marked “ROBO COP,” for some unknown reason.

As Miki complains about a dangerous shark still roaming the waters, the chief asks with great frustration, “How many sharks can there be out there?”

At a party at the mayor’s house, Miki finally ties the present-day narrative back to the opening of the film. “Remember the blood oath we took years ago with the Indian? I saw that same Indian today on the docks.” He adds, “Remember the arrow box we buried along with our four knives? I think we should dig it up.”

“What for?” Alan asks. “You know, none of this makes sense.”

“I need to go after that shark. I owe it to John. We all do.”

“But how are we going to find it? Let alone kill it?”

“I have something in mind,” Miki says.

They all agree to go after the shark. Two of them dressed in tuxedoes, they go back to the beach they visited as children and dig up the box (fortunately, nothing has changed at the beach in the last decade; the box is still a few inches under the sand).  They return to Benny’s house, where his father agrees to help them go kill the shark after a minute or two of mild convincing.

They take a boat into the harbor and start spreading chum in the water. Benny’s father cuts off a big chunk of beef and hides some bright yellow TNT inside the meat while saying, “I remember we used to fish in the South Pacific. Sharks would eat our catch. What we did, we put those chunks of meat and we wrapped those sticks of dynamite around them. Yeah, blew them bastards right out of the water.”

After a few minutes, a shark eats the bait and Alan tries to trigger the TNT, but the shark has already bitten through the fuse. When this doesn’t work, talk turns, as it will, to Indian legends. Benny’s father says, “The Indians believed that the god of the sea sends a monster to wipe out the whole tribe.” He looks at the markings on the box they dug up from the beach. “Can’t make any sense of it,” he says.

When the propellor gets tangled in fishing line, Benny’s father, ignoring the fact that they just baited a shark and filled the water with bloody chum, jumps into the water to clear the propellor. Although a shark swims close by, Benny’s father climbs back onto the boat safely.

In an odd sequence, a Coast Guard helicopter buzzes the boat and someone intones through a speaker, “We know what you’re up to. Get back to the harbor immediately. You should be ashamed of yourself. Get back to the harbor immediately.” Then the helicopter flies away.

Apparently, the public shaming works, and the boys and Benny’s father sail back to the marina, followed by a completely different Coast Guard helicopter.

In a surprising turn of events, one of the punks from the convertible volunteers to help Miki and his friends by supplying them with many, many crates of dynamite.

Miki and his friends take the boat out again, this time without Benny’s father; they feel they must prove themselves without the older generation’s help. Also, Miki has somehow decoded the Indian box to find out where the shark (or perhaps the sea god) lives: it is near a shipwreck that also existed back in Indian times. The friends get into their scuba gear and rig dynamite sticks with flares to make sure they blow up. Then they dive to the shipwreck, a process that seems to take several hours, while Benny wraps more dynamite on the boat.

Eventually, the music turns sinister, though nothing in particular happens. The men continue rigging the shipwreck to explode while Benny wraps tape around sticks of dynamite.

In the end, Miki, Alan, and Benny are safe on the boat, but their hoodlum friend is trapped in the shipwreck with a shark circling. Heroically, Miki jumps into the water without scuba gear. He swims to the shipwreck and frees the hoodlum, but he stays in the wreck to lead the shark to its doom. After a few minutes, Miki swims to the surface. “Blast it!” he yells.

The others trigger the explosives and the shipwreck explodes. Also, in a remarkable underwater shot, half the shark explodes.

On the boat, the friends somehow understand they have killed the shark. They return home, to great adulation from their fathers and girlfriends. Even Chief Cody, who intended to arrest everyone, decides to leave the friends alone. 

If there is a flaw in Deep Blood, it must be said the blood is not very deep, and in fact there is not much blood at all. The deepest blood would be the blood of the shark that is blown up in the shipwreck. Otherwise, the blood in the film is very, very shallow.

But that is the only flaw. Otherwise, Deep Blood is another masterpiece of later-period Italian shark cinema.