Color, 1984, 93 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by Lamberto Bava
Starring Michael Sopkiw, Valentine Monnier, Gianni Garko, William Berger, Dagmar Lassander, Iris Peynado, Lawrence Morgant, Cinzia De Ponti
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Marketing-film (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1)
Decades before super-cheap filmmakers made a cottage industry out of mashing sharks up with everything from tornadoes to dinosaurs, director Lamberto Bava got there first with his ridiculous, lovably stupid sharktopus epic, Devilfish, released in Europe as Monster Shark. Penned by the very prolific Dardano Sacchetti and lifting elements from multiple Jaws films (yes, even Jaws 3-D), it was hardly the first Italian film to cash in on the shark craze (with the infamous Great White nearly deep sixing the trend entirely), but it just might be the most endearing one.
Off the coast of Florida, a rescue operation to retrieve a shattered boat turns out to be more grisly than anticipated when a body is pulled out of the waves -- with both its legs ripped clean off. Nearby, Seaquarium dolphin trainer and marine researcher Dr. Stella Dickens (Monnier) teams up with fellow scientist Peter (Sopkiw) to check out what seems to be a linked series of deaths in the area, while a military lab at the West Ocean Institute is doing some sneaky experiments with marine life tangled up with some sexual hanky panky involving project leader Professor West (Berger) and his unfaithful wife, Sonja (Lassander). Sabotage and murder are soon on the menu to keep the secret of what's terrorizing the waters, but that's just the beginning as it turns out that the monster responsible is a new kind of engineered creation that could pose a far more disastrous threat than anyone imagined. With the local sheriff (Garko, Sartana himself) trying to round up enough manpower to help out, Peter and Stella head out to the open seas for a battle that could claim their lives.
Devilfish arrived at the height of Italy's love affair with shooting in Florida, which also encompassed a string of '80s Terence Hill and Bud Spencer films and other oddities like 1989's Nightmare Beach. In this case the lensing around the Florida Keys (with interiors shot in Italy, of course) gives it a somewhat different flavor, with Bava once again adapting his style to the demands of the location and genre as with the same year's shot-in-Georgia Blastfighter (also starring Sopkiw). As with that film, the pounding score is provided by none other than the great Fabio Frizzi (credited as "Antony Barrymore" for some reason) and Bava adopts for the second and final time the name "John Old Jr.," a nod to the famous pseudonym for dad Mario Bava. However, Bava the second pretty much dispenses with the stabs at visual style from his two previous horror films, Macabre and A Blade in the Dark, instead going for an anonymous, brightly lit approach that would make it difficult to pinpoint who was behind the camera. Of course, he would reverse that with a vengeance just after this with his two Demons films, inducing severe whiplash in fans of Italian horror who were trying to figure him out.
Barely released in U.S. theaters in 1986, Devilfish found most of its audience on VHS, via Vidmark and then Starmaker in America. The film was also given a drubbing on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which wasn't one of the better episodes and ended up on DVD in 2010. However, it does feature a funny gag involving a surprise cameo by Sopkiw's nether regions. A very mediocre German DVD features a non-anamorphic transfer and looks pretty awful now, but thankfully in 2018, Code Red gave the film its best presentation to date with a Blu-ray featuring reversible cover options for the Devilfish and Monster Shark titles, available from Diabolik or the label's online store. Though this isn't the most vivid or sumptuous film around, the transfer looks great with the accurate 1.66:1 framing appearing correct and the blue ocean shots impressing quite a bit. The DTS-HD MA English track (the language in which the film was shot, though some actors were post dubbed) also sounds solid. The feature can be played with a brief video intro (1m54s) featuring Sopkiw and Code Red's Bill Olsen in his distinctive Banana Man guise chatting about some of the other actors in the film. Sopkiw and Olsen are also joined for an audio commentary with Damon Packard, which covers the basics of Sopkiw's background, his rapport with Bava and Monnier, and the challenges of battling a rubber monster. There are some very long silent gaps and a few gaffes that probably should have been cut (especially when everyone can't remember the Mario Bava film turned into an L.A. opera -- it was Hercules in the Haunted World), but it's great to have Sopkiw's thoughts on the film preserved for posterity. A dupey trailer under the Australian title Devouring Waves is included along with bonus trailers for After the Fall of New York, Blastfighter, Seven Bloodstained Orchids, and The Violent Professionals.
Reviewed on July 6, 2018.