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Wanna beat the heat? Sharksploitation recs for Shark Week and a walk down memory lane with American Pie.
Fin-Tastic Shark Week Recommendations
By Mark Hanson
After receiving a fancy widescreen VHS tape of Jaws for my tenth birthday and then bearing witness to the sudden chomping of Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea, I came to the conclusion that sharks were THE #1 badasses of the animal kingdom. As far as I’m concerned, sharks own the oceans… and the seas… and lakes… and reservoirs… and puddles… any body of water, really. As mere humans, we must respect that or face the bloody consequences.
This is what sharksploitation cinema teaches us. It is a subgenre with a robust history, with approximately 856,903 shark attack movies released since Spielberg opened the floodgates almost 50 years ago. If you’re a curious newcomer, it can be hard to know where to start once you get past the obvious choices. So, in anticipation of another edition of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week—a glorious time when a celebrity like Shaquille O’Neal can bravely attempt to conquer his fear of the titular creature while marine biologists stand by and snicker—let me humbly present seven personal favourites gleaned from a life spent wading through dangerous waters (and Tubi’s database).
Cruel Jaws (1995)
This is the Italian rip-off to end all Italian rip-offs, with director and copycat maestro Bruno Mattei shamelessly and copiously reusing clips from films like Jaws, Jaws 2, and Enzo G. Castellari’s The Last Shark (which had already been sued by Universal Pictures for being a Jaws rip-off). Released in some countries as Jaws 5, Cruel Jaws tells the oft-told story of a Florida beach community (populated by a supremely whiny Richard Dreyfuss substitute and a random Hulk Hogan lookalike, among others) terrorized by whatever shark is in whatever footage that Mattei has managed to scrounge up. It’s really more of an avant-garde collage experiment than anything else. When is Mattei, who also helmed classic Euroschlock plagiarism cases like Shocking Dark a.k.a. Terminator 2 and Strike Commando, going to get his honorary Oscar?
Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976)
The protagonist of this film is a Vietnam veteran named Sonny who is able to psychically communicate with the mako sharks who live in the swamp around his home. This results in a number of scenes where he engages in conversations with real sharks who just look confused, but they apparently inform him of their exploitation by the unscrupulous owners of a nearby aquarium. Sonny then goes on a rampage of revenge on their behalf, capturing the ne’er-do-wells and throwing them into the swamp.
As a younger man, I was so profoundly moved and fired up by the documentary Sharkwater that I briefly thought about leaving everything behind to join the ever-more urgent shark conservation movement. So I can relate to Sonny’s thought process here.
Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)
The first two movies in this series are certainly entertaining but the third entry is a gonzo classic. The film’s primary special effect technique is to use the exact same stock footage shot of a shark emerging out of the water with its mouth open and then superimposing screaming characters into said mouth as they meet their demise. It’s a striking visual, provoking a reaction akin to what it must have felt like to be part of the first audience for the Lumière Brothers Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat.
Shark Attack 3 is also exceedingly horny. At one point, after a long day of preparing to confront the encroaching threat, the protagonist turns to his love interest and sincerely delivers a line of dialogue which now lives in infamy on YouTube: “I’m really wired… what do you say I take you home and eat your pussy?” Cut to the two of them having sex in the shower.
Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012)
I’m not a huge fan of the ironic Syfy Channel brand of shark film, whether it’s Sharknado or SharkBearPig vs. MegaOctoGodzilla. This one gets a pass, though, for incorporating reality television, as characters with the names “The Complication”, “Nooki”, and “J-Moni” fend off a shark massacre in Seaside Heights. The filmmakers admirably commit to the bit and also bring in Paul Sorvino, Joey Fatone, and half the cast of The Sopranos to play supporting roles. Only one actual Jersey Shore cast member, Vinny, appears, smirking through his lines as a reporter for “News Jersey Live” before he’s eventually eaten by a shark straight out of a Windows 2000 screensaver.
Open Water (2003)
I should add one legitimately terrifying shark film to this list, lest you assume I solely watch garbage (although you would be correct). I used to have a recurring nightmare about being alone in the middle of the ocean and this film captures that fear in that hyper-realistic, no-you-are-REALLY-THERE aesthetic that I’m a sucker for.
This was one of those huge unheralded Sundance discoveries at the time but it seems to have been largely forgotten in the years since. This is despite the existence of two in-name-only sequels, the first of which doesn’t even contain sharks at all but instead follows a group of idiots who all jump off of their luxury yacht into the water without putting the ladder down and spend the rest of the movie bickering about how to climb back up. Still mildly entertaining in a Below Deck kind of way but it clearly tarnished the Open Water™ brand.
Shark in Venice (2008)
I like when sharks occupy spaces that they shouldn’t. Like the Venice Canals, which is where a famed archeologist/diver/professor, played by notable Man-of-God Stephen Baldwin, finds a whole slew of them while being forced by the mafia to retrieve the long-lost Medici family treasure hidden beneath the city (the plot is… convoluted). As the sharks proceed to jump out of the water and pick off innocent bystanders in broad daylight and in full view of many witnesses, the local authorities somehow have no idea why people are suddenly dying. Luckily, Baldwin is on the case like a regular Indiana Jones, doing battle with both sharks and mob goons while making sure to preserve the ancient and beautiful Venetian infrastructure (note: this movie was shot in Bulgaria).
From the Depths (2020)
The plot of this movie—a shark attack survivor is haunted in her home by a literal ghost shark—is obviously ridiculous. But this isn’t just another forgettable homemade effort, like Sharkula or Jurassic Shark, that appears on streaming services seemingly every week. Rather, From the Depths tells a surprisingly trenchant story of trauma and grief led by an arresting performance from lead actress Angelica Briones. I was truly unprepared for how much of an emotional wallop it would pack, especially in its gut-punch of an ending.
But if you’re worried that things get too serious, let me assure you that there are still plenty of charmingly cut-rate effects of the ghost shark floating through the hallways of the protagonist’s home or popping its head out of kitchen cabinets to say “boo”.
Mark Hanson is a film writer and curator from Toronto, Canada, and the product manager at Bay Street Video, one of North America’s last remaining video stores.
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Semi-Charmed Kinda Life: On American Pie
The Editors of In the Mood talk sex, humiliation, and nostalgia in the American Pie series.
Sennah: Happy summer, Gabrielle! So… when did you first see the American Pie movies?
Gabrielle: I saw the first one the year it came out, I was 9, and I must have been pretty sheltered because it didn’t make a lot of sense to me lol. But I knew it was significant. It was such a huge phenomenon that I’d hear a lot about it before seeing it. That summer I was at a camp at my aunt’s Buddhist retreat in Vermont and it did have American Pie vibes: we went to a swimming hole, got Ben & Jerrys… one of the girls I was with had an American flag string bikini which was the coolest thing I could imagine at the time. I think the film had special cache for my friends at home because not only were these characters older and hotter, but they seemed so quintessentially American; extra unattainable! Did you watch them when they came out? You must have been pretty young!
S: Wow what a picture-perfect American Pie day! Haha yeah I was only 7 when the first one came out! And I grew up having to follow the age cutoffs in MPAA ratings lol, so it doesn’t surprise me that I never ended up seeing these until later. I binge-watched them all in a week for the first time last year, during pandemic virtual movie nights with some friends. It was fascinating lol, I felt like an alien watching aliens, uncovering an ancient relic from the past.
G: It’s a total relic, but watching them back they felt kind of fresh. Maybe because we haven’t had a gleefully inappropriate mainstream movie in awhile. Movies now are so inoffensive, anxious to avoid controversy. I don’t think woke culture killed the teen sex comedy (I feel like Hollywood stopped making broad comedies a long time ago) but it seems almost inconceivable that we could get a major motion picture about a group of upper middle class white guys trying to get laid.
S: Totally, I can’t imagine anything like this flying today lol. So what are some stand-out scenes in the series for you?
G: I mostly remember like wall-to-wall music queues lol. I was at karaoke last week and everyone really went crazy when “First Date” and “My Own Worst Enemy” came on, so the feeling is still strong. That opening riff of “Fat Lip” lol… instant good mood.
S: Omg yes—great needle drops all around! For me a scene that jumps out right away is from American Pie 2, when Jim accidentally super glues his hand to his dick after mistaking the glue for lube, and is trying to escape the room he’s in. There’s a part where he’s desperately trying to open the doorknob by putting his whole mouth around the handle… it was like Saw but with sexual humiliation haha.
G: Exactly. There’s also the scene in the second one where these two topless girls say that they’ll kiss each other if the boys kiss each other first… they’re always being negged!
S: That scene felt surreal, like fan fic or something! It’s interesting how humiliation plays such a big role in these iconic 2000s American franchises like American Pie and Jackass (my fave haha). And they both play with the suspense/edging of humiliation—most of the bits are set up so that we know more than the characters do, so we have the upperhand or pleasure (if you could call it that lol) of anticipating their reaction, watching the trainwreck in slow motion.
G: Jackass Forever had such a moment this year, a lot of women came out of the woodwork as huge fans. It became the “pick-me” movie. I’m way too girly for Jackass, I wish I could get into them but I have a delicate constitution lol. I am in support of a resurgence of late ‘90s/ early aughts gross out culture, at least from afar.
S: Haha yes I’m living for this renaissance! And I feel like anything marketed as ~for the boys~ or any specific demographic will always invite that kind of delayed wave of (re)discovery or excitement for other people outside the original target audience. To bring this full circle, Seann William Scott has a cameo in Jackass 3D… let’s talk about Stifler lol. I found it funny how they really kept pushing him onto us more and more with each American Pie movie! By the end he felt more like a main character than Jim, even.
G: It’s funny how unimportant he is in the first movie, he’s not even a part of the gang; they really didn’t know what they had lol. I find him really compelling to watch. He’s got a bit of a Jim Carrey thing with his elastic facial expressions. It was amazing to see him in Southland Tales as this tragic, serious figure. He has a lot of presence there too.
S: Oooh yes I can see the Jim Carrey thing! Seann William Scott also reminds me of Jack Black, my friend and I wrote a joke screenplay in undergrad where we cast them as brothers trying to get laid lmao.
G: I’m not gonna defend how homophobic these films are but it’s very simply funny to me when Stifler calls people gay lol.
S: LOL I genuinely thought at one point that they were gonna reveal Stifler be a closeted self-hating gay guy after his gay bar dance-off in American Wedding. It’s the kind of thing where something so aggressively het can start seeming the opposite with some galaxy braining haha.
G: I don’t think any gay guy would want him for those dance moves lol.
S: Haha more humbling, humiliating moments! So, losing your virginity or whatever before finishing high school really wasn’t a big deal in my orbit lol—what about you? I always wondered if this would be different if my friends and I grew up watching more of these sex comedies. So much public anxiety around something so seemingly private!
G: I was eager to lose my virginity as a teen. Not just because I was particularly sexual (although that’s also true) but because it felt like a burden, something I wanted to set aside so I wouldn’t feel so vulnerable. I imagine teens have always being obsessed with having sex for the first time, but teen movies do make it seem like it’s the most important thing in the world.
S: Totally! And it makes sense that things like virginity, prom, and high school reunions would be so popular in these movies, since they’re all ripe situations for easy high stakes or timelocks, story-wise.
G: How did it feel watching American Reunion? That’s definitely closer to our current lives.
S: Absolutely. MILFs and grown-up babysitting kids trying to seduce us! Jkz lol. American Reunion was the least memorable one for me. The gang’s all back, all grown up, and we’re joining their walk down memory lane with throwbacks, remembering their wild teen days of the previous movies… but I wasn’t joining in on the nostalgia. Maybe because I watched these all in a week as an adult, and I don’t miss my teenage years at all lol, they were tamer than now! But maybe it’d be different if I grew up along with the movies, or had more fun as a teen. What do you think?
G: I definitely feel nostalgia for that era, even though my life is objectively better now and my life at the time looked nothing like the American Pie films. I was such an angsty, uncomfortable teen… when I watch these films, I wish I could have had more fun, been a little more carefree. The first two also seem kind of innocent to me now, they live in this place beyond political correctness, where the middle class and its comforts seem inviolable, and it’s always the week before summer break. In high school, I was so aware of myself as a woman in the world, how I might be mistreated, undervalued, vulnerable… I watch these girls and wish I had just worn a baby tee and had fun lol.
S: We haven’t talked about the American Pie gals yet—I was surprised at how stacked the cast was! Loved seeing Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne, and of course queen Jennifer Coolidge.
G: And Mena Suvari, what happened to her? I like Tara Reid and Natasha Lyonne’s friendship in the first film, but her character really falls off in the second film and she doesn’t appear at all in the other two. The first film seems the most invested in the female characters (which isn’t saying much lol), it’s the only one in which we see women having conversations with each other without men around. I came across this amazing promotional pic of four of the girls in the film standing together wearing American Flag bikinis and it struck me that none of the appear together on screen! I mean, it’s truly about the boys.
S: Let’s wrap up with a fuck, marry, kill: Jim, Stifler, Oz. I’d rather get rid of them all LOL but if I must… fuck Stifler, marry Oz, kill Jim!
G: Fuck Jim, kill Oz, marry Stifler lol. Although, I’d probably date Finch, which I guess makes me the MILF!
Gabrielle Marceau is a writer and editor-in-chief of In the Mood Magazine.
Sennah Yee is the author of How Do I Look? (Metatron Press) and My Day With Gong Gong (Annick Press).
Feeling Curious? Katy D’Avella recommends The Watermelon Woman.
Cheryl Dunye, 1996
There is no hell like sitting through a Camille Paglia interview. And writer-director Cheryl Dunye sure has. Her prodigious contribution to the queer film canon, The Watermelon Woman, questions how we tell stories—and who gets to tell them. Hint: it shouldn’t be Paglia, the social critic who Dunye sits down to discuss representation. The result: her takes are played for laughs and eyebrow-raises in equal measure.
The Watermelon Woman is deliciously meandering and brilliantly confrontational. Somewhere between documentary, autofiction, and rom-com, it follows Dunye’s quest to learn about the history of its titular character.
Watch for its steam-off-the-pavement grainy shots of ‘90s Philadelphia; its sun-bleached rooftop dance scenes; its array of extremely hot outfits of leather, denim, and silver; its iconic sex scene with Guinevere Turner, notorious ex-girlfriend of The L Word fame.
And since you’re feeling curious, watch The Watermelon Woman for its searing exploration of intersectionality and gatekeeping in queer communities. It certainly renders Paglia insignificant and packs a powerful punch.
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