Sharksploitation: Oh, the Cruel Jaws of Death

November 10, 2020 | By

Although Steven Spielberg established a specious, slim causal link between our misunderstanding of sharks and a rogue mega-footer dining on the other white meat in Jaws (1975), tales featuring killer sharks are hardly new – SMERSH slimeball Emilio Largo would feed delinquent lieutenants to the creatures in Thunderball (1965), and the underwater treasure hunting sub-genre used the big fishies as additional plot hurdles, especially when divers became trapped in shipwrecks (September Storm, Underwater!) – but sharksploitation makers often packaged their stalk n’ munch narratives within the thin container of an eco-thriller.



A case where it worked was William Grefé’s Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), because while humans do die badly, it’s due to the highly protective actions of a shark lover, played by Richard Jaeckel. Retro Media produced a decent special edition, and I’m looking forward to seeing the film in Arrow’s upcoming Blu-ray set He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection, which should be oodles of fun.


‘Hey Sean, is that a mega-shark on yonder bay?’


A case where an entry didn’t work as planned was Bruno Mattei’s first direct-to-video thriller Cruel Jaws, aka Jaws 5 (1995), a late-in-the-game sharksploitation entry aimed at TV screens. Fans of Troll 2 (1990) will love it, but those underwhelmed by the latter’s bizarre story, amateurish acting, sex with popping corn cobs, and general incoherence may be similarly nonplussed by Mattei’s shaping his rip-off around stock shark footage.

Severin’s Blu-ray is the label’s latest celebration of the master hack, and although it’s as ridiculous as Robowar (1988) and Strike Commando (1986) – his penultimate idiocies – with Cruel Jaws you can tell he was more concerned with filling a hole on a video rental shelf. Mattei’s first of 16 direct-to-video films is also illustrative of the kind of limitations imposed by the more regulated home video and cable TV industries on European filmmakers previously free to indulge in gory, titillating, and sometimes patently wrong content when the exploitation market was less fettered, and more robust.

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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