AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
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THE JAWS OF DEATH (1976)
“You give everything you got to those sharks of yours – and don’t deny it, because I know you do. Crazy man. You are crazy. But crazy in a good sort of way....”
Director: William Grefé
Starring: Richard Jaeckel, Jenifer Bishop, Buffy Dee, Ben Kronen, Harold Sakata, John Davis Chandler, Milton Smith, Bob Gordon
Screenplay: Robert Madaris, based on a story by William Grefé
A sport fisherman
attempts to land a shark, but it breaks free. The disappointed tourist
demands that the animal be killed anyway, but the boat’s captain lowers
his rifle when he sees a diver in the water. Abusing the man angrily for
swimming in a fishing zone, the captain nevertheless invites him on
board. Just then, the mate realises that their client’s fishing line was
cut. The diver picks up a short gaff.... A brief, violent struggle
later, and sharks are feeding on the three fishermen, as the diver swims
away with more of them.... Sonny Stein (Richard Jaeckel) walks into the
bar run by ex-marine Butter (Milton Smith), where he occasionally works.
Butter inquires after Sonny’s “family”, and observes with a chuckle that
if people knew what Sonny did with the scraps that he collects at the
bar as payment, they would run him out of town. Sonny drives his boat
back to the channel island where he makes his home. Waiting for him he
finds Pete (Harold Sakata) and Charlie (John Chandler), and the marine
scientist who employs them, Dr Whitney (Bob Kronen). Whitney tries to
pressure Sonny into assisting with his project to record the birth of
wild sharks, remarking that no-one has even seen such a thing, let alone
filmed it. Sonny replies tersely that
has. Whitney responds scoffingly that it is only the observation of
scientists that counts and, when Sonny continues reluctant, observes
that unless sharks are better understood, the government may place a
bounty upon them. This strikes home, and Sonny agrees to bring “Matilda”
to Whitney on the following Saturday, insisting that he wants “all of
them” home a week later. Whitney promises, and returns to Pete and
Charlie, who ridicule Sonny. Whitney warns them not to let Sonny hear
them, until after they find out where he catches his sharks; after which
they can have all the fun they want. Meanwhile, Sonny lifts a trapdoor
in the floor of his house. Beneath, a shark circles in the water.
Addressing him as “Sammy”, Sonny apologises for co-operating with
Whitney, but says that with the threat of a bounty hanging over them,
there was nothing else he could do. That night, Sonny drops in at a
tavern called the Rustic Inn to watch a show: the owner’s wife, Karen
(Jenifer Bishop), performing an underwater ballet in a large tank. The
owner himself, Barney (Buffy Dee), however, complains that after he
spent all that money installing the tank, no-one’s paying attention, and
that he’ll have to think of something else to get the crowds in. The
sheriff also drops in, chatting to the bartender about a boat found
adrift and deserted; the third such boat in the year. Sonny slips
away.... Outside, Sonny sees Karen being bothered by Pete and Charlie, who
are drunk. She drives away from them. Down the road, however, Sonny
comes upon the two men attacking her. He fights them both off. Karen
thanks him, but becomes annoyed when he refuses to drive her home,
insisting he has to go to
his home first,
to “take care of his friends”. Once there, however, Karen becomes
intrigued by his relationship with his sharks. Sonny begins to tell her
of a bizarre incident that happened many years previously in the
Comments: Wow. This was a tough one; infinitely tougher than I anticipated going in, even though the era of this film’s production suggested I might see a few things I didn’t care for. But I was hardly expecting such a bloodbath – particularly not in light of the various commentaries I’ve seen on this film, which almost without exception classify it simply as “fun”. (Or as the stupidest film ever made; but my point stands.)
To be clear, in theory, I agree with them. In theory – this is the greatest motion picture ever made. I mean look at this story outline; just look at it! – a film about a man not only devoted to sharks but possibly able to communicate with them!? – who gets adopted into a “Filipino shark clan”!? – who protects sharks by feeding anyone who mistreats sharks, to sharks!?
"I hope I wasn't out of line with that crack about 'The only good shark's a dead shark'---"
And that opening sequence! – hooking of the shark
aside. (It barely reacts, which is something I’ll deal with in a
minute.) We get Sonny swimming up to the shark and releasing it, then
showing himself above the water. The boat’s captain shouts abuse at him
for swimming in “the best sharking waters in
At this point, five and a half minutes into this film, I was as much in love as I’ve ever been in my life.
Appetiser. Main course. Dessert.
Yes, I’m sorry, here it comes; the diatribe.
I’ve rarely met a film as philosophically divided against itself as The Jaws Of Death. This is not to say that William Grefé had a “philosophy”, or anything remotely approaching one, when he made this film. The Jaws Of Death is generally classed as “just another Jaws rip-off”, something Grefé himself has always denied, insisting that this film was scripted before Jaws was shot. That’s probably the truth. The film that The Jaws Of Death is really ripping off is Willard (as did Grefé’s earlier Stanley, of which this is a virtual re-make): the social misfit whose closest relationship is with a generally despised animal, who uses his “friends” to enact revenge on people, and who meets a grim fate when he sells out his friends for members of his own species. No, there’s not much in common here with Jaws, beyond the very obvious. The real influence of Jaws, one imagines, is simply that it created a climate where someone was willing to produce and distribute this film.
But that climate extended beyond the boundaries of
the world of motion picture production. Few animals have suffered so
badly at the hands of man as sharks. They are killed for food, for
sport, for kicks, for fear, for medicine, for – God help us! –
aphrodisiacs. It was many years before
there were more than a few voices crying in the wilderness in outright
defence of these animals, before the effect of all this killing on
the oceanic ecosystem was seriously considered. The first legislation to
protect any species of shark was not enacted until 1984, when the grey
was declared protected by the
Consider this: there are over 450 species of shark in the world. Of those, only 12 species have ever been documented as attacking humans unprovoked; and only 4 are involved in such attacks with anything resembling statistical significance. The list of what is “more likely to happen to you” than a shark attack is long and ludicrous. It is traditional to use the expression more likely to be hit by lightning, but in fact that is a highly inappropriate comparison: many more people are killed by lightning strike each year than are even attacked by sharks. I’ve noticed recently a shift towards more likely to be killed by a falling coconut....and even there the odds are skewed in favour of the coconut, if “favour” is the right word. Personally, I like to quote the figures on fatal attacks by the domestic dog. It’s remarkable how rarely those rate a mention.
All of which is an exceedingly long-winded way of saying that when William Grefé made Jaws Of Death, there was no particular reason for him to go out of his way to avoid injuring and even killing sharks, even though the film he was making was, at least hypothetically, about how wrong and cruel such behaviour is.
The Jaws Of Death may not have been a real Jaws rip-off, but there isn’t much doubt who and what were the intended target of the film’s nose-thumbing tag-line: Filmed without the benefit of cages, mechanical sharks, or other protective devices. It would have been better for the sharks if it had been. The film’s opening crawl pays tribute to “the members of the underwater crew who risked their lives”; no mention is made, of course, of the sharks that lost their lives. One shark, a nurse, is explicitly killed on camera, and a scene of Sonny “playing” with one of his friends could only have been achieved with the animal either heavily drugged or dead. The indifference of the shark in the opening scene to the hook in its mouth also suggests that it was drugged. The rest of the film contains numerous scenes involving dead sharks. It’s possible that some of this was faked, and heaven knows, I hope it was; but it’s difficult to believe that a film where the special effects budget seems to have been exhausted buying tins of red paint to pour in the water whenever there is a “shark attack”, bothered to fake its dead sharks, rather than taking the cheaper and easier option of buying real ones....or of killing its own. The best I can come up with is the thought that, as this film was made with the co-operation of the Miami Seaquarium and Shark-Quarium, they may have borrowed some preserved specimens to use as props. It's still pretty revolting.
A live shark. Enjoy it while you can.
I tell you – I’ll be thinking twice before I jeer at the fibreglass shark in Jaws 3-D again; or even at the Swiss Army Shark. Nor, I suspect, will I be quite as harsh in the future as I have been in the past about the crappy CGI animals that populate most of our recent killer shark films. If nothing else, this film is a very stern lesson in recognising the lesser of various evils.
I went into Jaws Of Death expecting some idiotic fun tempered by some moments of tastelessness. What I got instead was an exercise in misery broken up by, granted, the very idiocy I was hoping for, plus some (although not enough) compensating scenes of rotten human beings getting exactly what they deserve. I’ve dwelt upon this at length now, so I’ll try to give it a rest for the remainder of the review; although there are some absolutely brutal scenes later on. Be advised, though: anything I say about Jaws Of Death that sounds like approval comes accompanied by a substantial caveat.
So. Right. Where were we?
Sonny wanders into a tavern, where he occasionally works in return for scraps to feed to his sharks, and is greeted by the tavern’s owner, an ex-marine nicknamed “Butter”, who turns out to be the single decent human being to be found anywhere in this film. So let us pause for a moment to pay him tribute:
Butter, a gentleman. With great taste in boat names.
Butter asks after Sonny’s “family”, and although he shakes his head over Sonny devoting himself to sharks and calls him crazy, he also decides that Sonny is “the good sort of crazy”. He feeds Sonny and gives him a beer, waving away Sonny’s protests that he has no money – “eat first, and then work” – and providing him a new supply of scraps. Sonny takes his motorboat back to the island at the edge of the everglades where he makes his home, and we meet three more of our human characters – using both the terms “human” and “character” loosely. Waiting for Sonny is marine biologist Dr Whitney, who is trying to convince Sonny to transfer one of “his” sharks, a pregnant nurse shark, to a tank at the aquarium so that the birth can be filmed. After failing to convince Sonny either to do it “for science”, or so that man can understand “a dangerous animal” and thus “protect himself”, Whitney shifts gears, warning Sonny that shark may be named a bounty fish, on the grounds that if we “can’t understand them”, they had better just be “cleaned out”. This leads to Sonny’s reluctant acquiescence, after he has made Whitney promise that he’ll have the whole shark family back after a week.
Here’s the problem. Okay, actually, there are two problems, although one of them is something that probably only bothers people like me. There is a tendency throughout this film to speak of “shark”, collectively, as if all species were essentially the same: “shark” is going to be declared a bounty fish. I guess that’s an accurate reflection of attitudes at the time, but it’s still annoying, particularly in the mouth of a marine biologist.
"Hello, I'm Dr Whitney. I'm a marine biologist and a Gemini. I enjoy romantic movies, long walks
in the rain, and performing unnecessary surgery."
And it becomes even more annoying when that attitude is employed to the detriment of real sharks. Despite this film’s alternative title, I’m pretty sure there aren’t any makos in it (the print is very blurry and it’s hard to see details). I think there are a couple of tiger sharks, but by far the predominant species on display is the nurse shark. Unprovoked attacks by this species have been recorded, but rarely; for the most part they are a docile and slow-moving animal, which is doubtless why they were cast. The sharks’ placid temperament is fully exploited here, the animals being handled and mishandled and even killed....and all the while being sold to the public as savage man-eaters.
More immediately, my problem with this section of the film is the light it throws on Sonny. As played by Ben Kronen in his first – and last – film appearance, Whitney is so slimy and unctuous, so patronising and condescending, so patently untrustworthy (Kronen’s exceedingly awkward and mannered “acting” actually helps here), that Sonny’s acceptance of his verbal promise makes him look like a moron. The Jaws Of Death never settles on a convincing presentation of Sonny. On one hand he is, put simply, a nut-job – not because he prefers sharks to people, although the film itself undoubtedly thinks so, no matter how despicable the examples of alleged humanity it serves up as alternative company. We, of course, see Sonny in action; and we later learn that he has been killing shark-harmers for over a year; while Richard Jaeckel tries to convey, albeit very crudely, that Sonny suffers from some sort of dissociative disorder, by giving him blinking fits wherein he seems to be moving from one state of mind to another.
Despite all this, Sonny is shown as quite capable of getting along with people; both Butter and then Bob, the bartender at the Rustic Inn, like him well enough to serve him free food and drinks. His relationship with Karen, although he accepts the kiss with which she tries to reconcile him to the idea of “lending” one of his sharks, never really gives the impression of being sexual on his part; Karen is certainly flattering herself when she accuses him of using his shark to try and get into her pants. Rather, Sonny seems eager simply to convert one more human being to the idea that sharks aren’t so bad or so frightening; it just happens that the person in question is a woman in a spangled bikini. In all this, they were, I think, trying to posit Sonny as some kind of innocent abroad. This at least is the suggestion of Richard Jaeckel’s performance, who in the scene with Butter plays Sonny so wide-eyed and smiley and aw-shucks, it’s hilarious.
Sonny Stein: the world's most huggable psychopath.
But this is not simply a case of someone having lived amongst animals, and thus not understanding the deceitful ways of humans: Sonny has travelled and worked around the world; his adoption into the “shark clan” comes after he is almost killed by some local bandits. Yet he knows no better than to trust his sharks to someone like Whitney, and on a verbal agreement!? Ever heard of a contract, Sonny? Or of checking your facts? – why not make some inquiries as to whether or not Whitney’s mention of a bounty is an empty threat? And he does it again later on, handing over another shark to someone even less to be trusted. But it doesn’t stop there. Sonny and Whitney already have a professional relationship which is sketched in the most ominous terms: Whitney tells Sonny he’ll need “four more white-tips”, and by the way he says it, and his use of the words specimens and delivery, it’s pretty clear those sharks, at least, won’t be coming back. What the hell is Sonny up to!? Why rescue one shark from the fishermen if he’s prepared to hand numerous sharks over to Whitney? The climactic sequence of The Jaws Of Death has – and I’m sure no-one will consider this a spoiler – Sonny being pushed over the edge by the treatment his sharks receive, and going on a murderous rampage. I’m in sympathy with him, all things considered (of course); but the sad fact is that most of what happens to his sharks is, directly or indirectly, his own damn fault.
Thus, The Jaws Of Death. Nearly everyone in it is a liar or a crook, or just plain repulsive; while the person who is supposed to be the hero, or at least the anti-hero, is an idiot.
Outside Sonny’s house, we are introduced to Pete and Charlie, who are Whitney’s--- Well, actually, I couldn’t tell you what professional capacity these two are employed in; I’m not even sure whether what we see them doing later is business or just pleasure; so I’m going to go with the all-purpose term “goons”. Whitney comes out and gloats about Sonny agreeing to deliver the pregnant shark, and the three of them jeer about Sonny calling the shark “Matilda”, and joke about him taking his “girlfriend” to meet his mother (what is it with characters played by Richard Jaeckel, that everyone has to bring his mother into it?). “I wouldn’t be surprised if them baby sharks don’t all come out looking like him,” observes Charlie. Whitney finally quiets the other two, warning them not to let Sonny hear them ridiculing him until they “find out where he’s catching his sharks”.
At which point, my heart plummeted.
Back inside, Sonny lifts the trapdoor in the floor of his living-room and has a conversation with another nurse shark, Sammy. (It is never clear, by the way, whether the sharks are really supposed to understand him. I’ve never seen a commentary on this film that didn’t insist that Sonny and the sharks are in telepathic contact, but there’s actually no evidence of that.) He then departs on what he calls “his rounds”, wherein it turns out he scrounges food for his sharks from garbage bins. You know, I’m pretty sure the sharks could do better than that on their own.
Attention real estate agents: this is the feature I want.
He takes a break by dropping into the Rustic Inn for a beer and to watch the floorshow, which has Karen cavorting underwater in a spangled, mermaidy bikini and far too much makeup. Most of the patrons aren’t that interested, with the exception of Sonny and an exceedingly drunken Pete and Charlie; and the bar’s owner, Barney, comments disgustedly that they’ll have to think of something to spice up Karen’s act.
At which point, my stomach joined my heart.
Karen finishes her act, and the sheriff comes in, talking to the bartender about the boat found adrift and deserted, the third such in the year. Sonny slides unobtrusively away, and outside sees Pete and Charlie harassing Karen, who drives off. They follow her. On the same road, Sonny sees both cars pulled over and Karen on the verge of being raped. He immediately goes to the rescue and succeeds in taking out both Pete and Charlie. (Watching Richard Jaeckel beat up Harold Sakata is one of this film’s unadulterated pleasures.) Charlie recovers from his beating fast enough to break a bottle over Sonny’s shoulder, but takes off immediately afterwards. Karen’s car is wrecked, so Sonny agrees to give her a lift, but insists that he has to go home before taking her home. “I got better things to do with my time than wait on some garbage collector!” announces the ever-gracious Karen, as Sonny transfers his night’s haul to his boat; but then, of course, she climbs in and goes with him. Inside, she finds that he’s bleeding from the fight (we’ll have to take her word for it: did they forget to apply makeup here?) and insists on inspecting the, um, wound. This is just an excuse to get Richard Jaeckel’s shirt off, so that Sonny’s hideously over-sized shark tooth medallion is exposed.
Don't you miss the seventies?
Sonny is working on a salvage operation in the
Amazingly, not only are the waters of that overgrown and weed-infested Filipino inlet sparkling clear and free of any plant life, but they turn out to be inhabited by the hitherto unknown to science Filipino nurse shark. Fancy! The sharks take no notice of Sonny, but glide past him and kill the bandits. The mystified Sonny takes advantage of the situation by climbing out of the water and collapsing on the bank....where he finds he is being observed.
An elderly local sitting in front of a carved shark totem has been watching all this with great interest, and now he produces a medallion. He tells Sonny that the inlet is a sacred place where his people make sacrifice to their shark god; that Sonny has done what no other man has ever dared to do; that as a result of the sharks sparing him, he is now a member of the “shark clan”; and that from now on he will always find friends among sharks....as long as he wears his medallion.
Gee, I wonder if that will be important later on?
Back in the present, Karen is understandably sceptical, so Sonny drags her over to the trap-door to introduce his friends. Karen’s continuing repulsion leads to Sonny’s inevitable “they’re just misunderstood” speech, which in turns gives rise to one of my favourite pieces of human idiocy in the film:
Sonny: “Sure, they’re predators; but so are we! We kill chickens, cattle---”
Karen: “But not that way! Alive!”
Oh, no, we wait until the animal is dead, and then we kill it! It’s more humane that way.
Sonny then starts getting undressed. Remarkably, all things considered, Karen immediately and correctly interprets this as Sonny about to go for a swim. Sonny frolics with one suspiciously limp shark, and one that can at least move under its own steam, before climbing out to explain, “They gave me my life, now they are my life.” And then he finally gets around to taking Karen home.
I repeat: don't you miss the seventies?
And Karen’s husband, Barney--- All this time he’s been frantic with worry, right?
“What happened, you been raped or something?” he inquires in a tone best described as conversational. Karen tells him what happened, and that she wants Pete and Charlie arrested, and beaten up.Karen: “And if you can’t do that, sit on them!”
Barney: “C’mon, they’re two of my best customers!”
Karen tells him the whole story, which he believes on the grounds that she could never have made up something like that. We are then treated, if that’s the right word, to the sight of the rather remarkable Mr Buffy Dee in his swimming trunks, as he glides into the water like an aircraft carrier being launched. He talks to Karen about spicing up her act, but she, reading him correctly, refuses point blank to do it nude. She also declines to join him in the water, despite his insistence that the special netting he had put up means they’re quite safe from sharks.
Gee, I wonder if that will be important later on?
Barney reacts to the horrifying news of his wife's near-rape.
Then Barney gets his brainwave, rolling back into the house and announcing to Karen with a roar of laughter, “Wait till you hear this – it’ll kill ya!”
Next thing we know, the great Defender Of Sharks has Sammy swimming around in Karen’s tank, which has had a plastic barrier, invisible to the audience, installed. “I’m not sure about this,” comments Mr DOS, even though he has the personal assurance of a couple of fine upstanding citizens like Karen and Barney that nothing is going to happen to Sammy. Mr DOS then declines any money: “I don’t sell my sharks.” No, you get them killed for nothing. Not to mention you transport them in containers so small, it’s a wonder they don’t suffocate on the way (although the nurse, having a gill pump, can be safely transported by such methods). Karen promises Sonny that he can the see the shark any time he wants and that if Sammy isn’t happy, he can take him home again.
I won’t shock you all by describing the noise that I made in response to this.
Mr DOS is then persuaded into signing a bill of sale, to “keep the insurance people happy.” And not content even with that, Sonny goes straight from handing Sammy over to Barney to handing Matilda over to Whitney.
And then the carnage starts.
Not the human carnage; the distressing kind. Sonny walks down to a dock where yet another tourist is posing with yet another dead shark, a hammerhead. As he brags about landing it, Sonny furiously points out the spear wound in it, demanding to know where the man really got the animal. The intimidated faker blurts, “I bought it for twenty bucks, off a couple of guys who had a lot of ’em.”
Would you care to guess who those two guys turn out to be? Our old friends Pete and Charlie, of course, who after spending their nights attempting rape, spend their days butchering sharks; any sharks; all sharks; every shark they see. And they’ve found Sonny’s secret reef, and from a boat festooned with dead sharks, are busy slaughtering the inhabitants of that reef, whooping and cheering as they wield rifles and spear-guns and bang-sticks. The on-camera killing of the nurse shark occurs here. Charlie climbs back on board and both he and Pete roar with laughter at the thought of Sonny returning to the reef to find all the sharks dead.
Charlie dies of a brain injury? Is that even possible!?
As it happens, Sonny is already finding one shark dead....
Charlie reloads the bang-stick, asking Pete to retrieve the dead nurse, as it’s too heavy for him. Pete obliges. And as Pete enters the water, Sonny leaves it. The bang-stick gets put to a more agreeable purpose. Sonny then returns to the water, and there is a lengthy scuba-diving sequence (yes, yes – I know) which is intended to suggest, I think, that Sonny is being led to Pete by another shark. We don’t see Pete’s immediate fate....but later, we do see the aftermath:
And it’s an accidental two-for-one, as the boat, sent back in running at full throttle, crashes into the dock, right where two old geezers are discussing shark fishing, and bemoaning the fact that there just aren’t as many sharks around as there used to be. Gee, I wonder why?
"I'll land your boy....and I'll clean him for free!"
At the Rustic Inn, Barney is introducing Karen’s “unusual and electrifying” new act – electrifying being the operative word, since Sammy’s side of the tank has been fitted with a device to bombard him with electrical impulses and “drive him crazy”. Sonny’s in the audience, grinning like an idiot – like an idiot? – until Barney starts tormenting the shark. Sonny twigs fast enough, and a brief verbal ends with his hands on Barney’s throat. Karen has exited the tank, and now drags Sonny away. He howls, “He’s killing my shark!!” – only to be reminded about that pesky bill-of-sale. Duh. Karen shoves Sonny outside where she addresses him as, “You big dummy!” – hard to argue, really. The bewildered Sonny unwisely starts a sentence with, “I only thought....” “I know what you thought! What are you, sick? You are a sickie!!” Karen throws at him, adding that she hasn’t sunk so low that a garbage-picker.... Sonny leaves, warning her that he’ll be back for the shark, and that, “I can’t trust anyone; I’m never going to trust anyone again.” Karen gets the last word though, braying at him as he drives off, “Big deal! Who cares? Get outta here, you – SHARK-LOVER!!”
Sonny drives to the aquarium, meaning to reclaim Matilda as the first step in the implementation of his new and entirely sensible policy of blanket mistrust. He is directed to the marine biologist's office. Whitney stares at him in horror, stammering something about Sonny not being expected until Saturday, and all the while oozing his way across the room to close the door of the adjoining laboratory. Sonny interprets this gesture correctly and forces his way inside the laboratory, where he finds....
....Matilda, lying dead, And beside her, in a pathetic heap, all of her pups, also dead.
And Sonny, with my entire sympathy and support, snaps. Whitney takes to his heels, yelling for Pete and Charlie. Heh, heh, heh. He ends up next to an outdoor shark tank full of what we’ve already been told are particularly hungry sharks. This is where Sonny catches up with him....
Heh, heh, heh.
The Jaws Of Death's answer to Susan Backlinie.
Sonny’s next stop is Barney’s house, where Barney is just going for a dip behind that super-safe shark-netting of his.
Heh, heh, heh.
(Mind you, this is still more evidence of Sonny's reckless disregard for his sharks' health: if there isn't a Surgeon General's warning about high fat, alcohol and nicotine content tattooed on Barney's butt, there ought to be.)
And then it’s off to the Rustic Inn, to sabotage a transparent plastic barrier. Bob the bartender, hosting in Barney’s absence, gets up and does a pre-show comedy routine that has you praying that he does something to tick Sonny off. We get our third rapid reference to a building hurricane outside (which breaks towards the end of the film, but makes no real difference to the action), and then Karen climbs into the tank. She proves to be just as observant as she is honest and well-mannered, and therefore doesn’t notice the gaping hole in the barrier right by her ladder. The shark wastes no time latching onto her leg, and when the curtains are pulled back, the audience is greeted by the sight of Karen struggling in the animal’s jaws.
Insert your own "just pulling your leg" joke here.
I’d very much like to say heh, heh, heh here, too, but the exquisite justice of this sequence is ruined by its behind-the-scenes explanation. Grefé and his crew caught a shark and beached it, leaving it to die so that they could use it as a prop in this scene. While it was lying near the set, the crew pried open its jaws and pulled all its teeth out, so that they could sell them for souvenirs. Came Jenifer Bishop’s big moment, the wranglers picked the shark up and tossed it into the tank. Even after all that time out of the water, the shark immediately revived – and latched onto Ms Bishop’s leg. With its gums, which is all it had left.
I don’t know what happened to the shark after that. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.
Sonny leaps up onto the bar, talking wildly and telling the mob not to panic – and not to crowd them, which is pretty weird seeing that most of the bar patrons are stampeding for the door. Meanwhile, two cops are fighting their way in through the crowd, having decided that, “He’s the one we’re looking for!” – presumably for the killing of Whitney. Sonny makes a break for it and escapes the bar, with the sheriff and his deputy, plus a few potential vigilantes, chasing after him. Sonny dives into the water and swims for it, taking a bullet in the arm from the sheriff. His pursuers pile into a boat. Sonny manages to circle around to the back of the boat and pulls one of the vigilantes into the water. Shark chow. His left shoulder incapacitated – the same shoulder he had his previous life-threatening injury in, as it happens – Sonny takes a tow from a shark and makes it to shore. The posse follows, and Sonny takes a bullet in the leg. He nevertheless makes it home, and staggers over to the trap-door, where he goes into a rambling speech to Sammy (revealing Matilda’s fate, so I hope Sammy can’t understand him), which includes a proposal of a sharky jihad on all human beings, so that people will be too scared ever to enter the water again; and finally tells him to wait, because, “I’m coming with you....I’m coming home”.
Sonny’s pursuers begin sneaking into the house from various points, and a cop gets tossed through the shark-hole. Another gets shot; and as the camera pans up Sonny after this struggle, we see that he has – gasp! – lost his medallion. Two vigilantes break in, one of whom is Bob the bartender; but Sonny holds them off with his gun, moaning that he didn’t want to hurt anyone, didn’t want to kill anyone.
Oh. Right. Except for the people who killed sharks. He did want to hurt them.
Sonny fires his gun to frighten away the vigilantes, then throws himself into the shark-hole, sans medallion. It then turns out that cop isn’t dead after all (?); and he staggers to his feet in time to join the vigilantes in looking on in horror, as Sonny’s erstwhile friends latch onto him with enthusiasm.
Well, there's gratitude for you!
Vigilante #2 gets sick and runs outside, leaving Not-Dead Cop and Bob the bartender to shake their heads, and Bob to deliver Sonny’s epitaph:
“I guess he just cared too much.”
Or, if you prefer, Not-Dead Cop to do it:
Well, his name's not Johnny, and they aren't makos, but I guess they got the important bit right.