The once-mighty Italian film industry was in a constant state of decline during the ’Eighties, what with home video steadily gaining popularity and big budget American films dominating the box office. Leave it to ever-lovable exploitationeer Aristide Massaccesi (best-known as Joe D’Amato, natch!), to take advantage of the opportunity to try catering to the demands of small screen audiences when he embarked on directing and producing a series of modest ‘Americanized’ movies through his prolific production company, Filmirage. Oftentimes referred to as the “Italian Roger Corman’, Massaccesi’s perseverance also provided continued employment for a number of experienced ‘old hands’, including Umberto Lenzi, Lucio Fulci and Claudio Fragasso, while a few up-and-coming directors also got a chance to helm their first films (e.g, Michele Soavi’s STAGE FRIGHT  being one such example) for said production house. Unfortunately, outside of the odd spirited effort, most of the Filmirage-produced output remains unbearably bland, and nowhere is this more apparent than with “Raf Donato” / Aristide Massaccesi’s awkwardly-titled DEEP BLOOD (1989), a truly dire, late-in-the-game JAWS (1975, D: Steven Spielberg) rip-off, which is easily one of THE worst titles in the entire Filmirage catalogue.And that’s really saying something!
Barring some minor (albeit head-scratching) variations, DEEP BLOOD is pretty much interchangeable with any other cheapjack imitation of Spielberg’s mega-blockbuster, but in an interesting – if exceedingly poorly-executed – sub-plot, the giant killer shark in DEEP BLOOD is depicted as a sort of Native-American god (hence the film’s original shooting title, “Wakan”, a loose interpretation of Wakan Tanka / “Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka”, which roughly translates to “Great Spirit” or “Great Mystery”) whose spirituality is, according to the film, irrevocably connected to us all; a unique perspective that was also explored far-more-thoughtfully in many an earlier ‘animal attack’ film, such as Michael Anderson’s ORCA (1977) and Arthur Hiller’s hauntingly unforgettable NIGHTWING (1979), whose killer bats may have been unleashed by an wrathful medicine man. Sadly, despite this potentially promising premise, Massaccesi struggles to do anything even remotely interesting with it.
In the film’s clunky opening, four young boys barbecuing sausages on the beach are approached by a creepy old fellow (Van Jensens), who, rather unconvincingly, turns out to be a tribal chief elder (“Boys, this is a time of magic written in the sky…”) who warns them of the (quote) “great beast Wakan”, an ancient sea God that protects the oceans. Given an arrow box (a sort of talisman covered with tribal carvings) as a (quote) “seal of their pact”, Miki, John, Allan and Ben promptly bury this box in the shallow beach sand, and as Carlo Maria Cordio’s wretched, unappealing music swells on the soundtrack, the four boys swear – over a blood oath, no less! – that they will never give up their pact. Reunited after what appears to be at least a decade, the four now-grown men, plan on spending their summer vacation together. But when John (John K. Brune) is killed by a giant shark, Miki (Frank Baroni) enlists the help of his friends Allan (Allen Cort) and Ben (Keith Kelsch) to destroy this giant beast…
As rudimentary as the plot may be, DEEP BLOOD is a hopelessly drawn-out mess whose least appealing aspect is its tendency to focus way too much time on needless and painfully mundane ‘drama’. Resembling some ABC AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL (1972 – 1997) without any of that show’s heart or energy, the trite sub-plots herein mostly revolve around Ben’s aspirations to become a pro golfer (“What’s your story about golf?”); Allan’s reticence about attending officer training school; and Miki’s hatred towards his overworked, absentee father, the latter of which is laughably brought to light in one of the film’s most memorably embarrassing dialogue exchanges (“I hate you, man! I hate you with all my heart and all my soul!”). Many of the film’s peripheral characters are also pale imitations of characters from Spielberg’s film, including Ben’s father (Charles Brill), the local fisherman, whose take on Robert Shaw’s character Quint from JAWS also harbours many personal demons (“Since Jimmy’s death. I can’t go back out to sea again!”), a barely-touched-upon and utterly confusing sub-plot, which remains one of the most pathetic takes on Shaw’s famous U.S.S. Indianapolis speech from any JAWS imitator.
Aside from the seemingly never-ending and overwrought narrative, the all-important shark attacks are equally pathetic, all of which lack absolutely any tension or energy whatsoever. This is further compounded by the use of mismatched stock footage of real sharks, underwater ‘inserts’ of people thrashing around in what is clearly a swimming pool, and some woefully unconvincing miniature work, which was also brazenly stolen from Enzo G. Castellari’s THE LAST SHARK (a.k.a. GREAT WHITE, 1981). Incidentally, many of these ‘borrowed’ scenes also later showed up in ‘William Snyder’ / Bruno Mattei’s CRUEL JAWS (1995), yet another appallingly bad JAWS mock-up / knockoff, which even had the audacity to steal footage from D’Amato’s meagre effort without the slightest hint of shame! (Such were the waning years of the formerly glorious Italian exploitation movie industry.)
Unsurprisingly never released onto either U.S. or Canadian home video, Massaccesi’s hastily-thrown-together flounder of a fish-flick nonetheless managed to surface on VHS videocassette in most of Europe (in Germany it was retitled SHAKKA), but the majority of English-speaking viewers likely came across this film via dubbed-down copies taken from Shochiku Home Video’s English-language Japanese VHS, which was simply titled SHARKS. Unbelievably, the film first surfaced on DVD in the Czech Republic through sell-thru video specialists Ritka Video, a release which boasted (quote) “Adventurous horror from the depths of the sea from the famous Joe D’Amata [sic]”, and in a rare occurrence, this disc featured both Czech and English language options. However, in 2014, as part of their short-lived ‘Collection inedite’, French boutique label CrocoFilms released a Limited Edition DVD, which, despite the disc’s packaging of ‘Francaise Uniquement’ / French Only, the film’s preferred English language version is also included. Presented in a 1.33:1 screen ratio, CrocoFilms’ disc looks and sounds just fine, and is a nice improvement over the many bootlegged copies that made the rounds for years.
Although principally tailored for French-speaking viewers, the DVD includes an on-camera interview (in French only) with Videotopsie’s David Didelot (39m13s), who enthusiastically discusses a number of ‘sharksploitation’ films, D’Amato’s career and the present title in particular, all the while showcasing a number of rare VHS releases of said films. Additional extraneous extras include Memory of the Dead (21m46s), an ambitious albeit amateurish zombie film; footage from Bloody Weekend (6m44s), a French horror convention, which also includes appearances from Caroline Munro and Luigi Cozzi; and Histoire de Requins (11m33s), a collection of cut-rate shark attack thrillers, including Virginia Stone’s EVIL IN THE DEEP (1974, [“See it BEFORE you go in the water!”]), Rene Cardona Jr.’s TINTORERA (1977), Harry Kerwin’s BARRACUDA (1978) and Enzo G. Castellari’s THE SHARK HUNTER (1979), all of which are far more enjoyable than Massaccesi’s lifeless, water-logged sinker.
According to an interview with Massaccesi in Paul J. Brown’s and Trevor Barley’s aka: Joe D’Amato – The Man and his Movies (1995, Midnight Media), Massaccesi states that “Raf Donati” is in fact a real person and they worked together on his 1975 film, THE RED COATS (1975). “I recruited him because I needed somebody who was able to speak good English. I directed the film and credited it to him because that year I had directed more movies as Joe D’Amato and I didn’t want to show that I made everything.”