Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Devil Fish (1984) – MST3K Review

In a plot that would be ripped off by countless made for SyFy Channel movies the screen explodes with Italians trying to be Floridians. It all starts with an old couple on a boat, as they are devoured by something with sharp teeth and tentacles. After the credits we meet Dr. Bob Hogan (Dino Conti) who drinks lots of beer and uses microphones to listen to fish. But he ends up hearing something very different from your typical clown fish. He gets so excited he spills his beer.

He compares notes with Dr. Stella Dickens (Valentine Monnier) who hangs out with dolphins all day. It turns out that just when he was recording his goofy sounds, the dolphins freaked out. Because we need more characters, Stella visit’s her old pal Peter (Michael Sopkiw) who is an expert at making electronic gizmos. With his help they hope to find this rare fish and maybe even catch it. Little do they know that this beast may be more than a simple living fossil, but an honest to goodness Devil Fish.

Movie Review:
Also called Monster Shark, this little movie is obviously inspired by Jaws. Granted there were a lot of flicks after 1975 that revolved around folks devoured by sea creatures. Heck Jaws had several sequels that followed it up to 1987 with Jaws the Revenge. Still this movie has more in common with Sharktopus than anything else.

The first thing you’ll notice is that everyone is vaguely European and most of the cast is dubbed. Next thing you’ll notice is that the film appears to be shot on location in Florida. This makes for a bizarre experience of watching a bunch of imported actors attempting to behave in a way that appears American. The result is that everyone drinks a lot of beer and looks vaguely windswept. Going by this film, my beer intake is bordering on un-American! Still not sure if the dubbing is better than everyone having bizarre accents like in Werewolf, but it makes it differently goofy.

Speaking of goofy, the devilfish itself is a pretty silly looking creature. Most of the time the camera doesn’t get too close, so you can’t see much more than a vague shape in the cloudy water. This could be used to a creepy advantage but director Lomberto Bava just can’t manage it. Instead, you end up squinting at the screen trying to make out just what he hell the devilfish is, a squid crossed with a piranha? Maybe a stingray and a crocodile? Possibly a guppy and an oarfish. When you do get an extreme close-up of the creature, it’s too close. You can see it obviously made of foam and rubber and wouldn’t do more and annoy your skin with its silly looking teeth.

But who cares about that! We want to know if the movie has enough carnage and gals in bikinis to make it worth our while, right? Well the carnage is on the light side. Some fishermen get chomped on, there’s the old couple at the beginning and even a couple of our heroes buy the farm. There is also a hulking murderer that is tied to a subplot who kills a few folks too, and while he’s as ugly as the devilfish, he’s not as interesting. Yes you do get some bikini action and a couple love scenes, but since this a television edit of the film, don’t get too excited.

Maybe we can also blame the television edit for the fact that the movie is hacked and slashed and stuck together in the most random of ways. I haven’t seen such a set of abrupt edits since the last time I watched Red Zone Cuba. While Devil Fish never gets as confusing as the Coleman Francis epic, it is still very jarring with its cuts. Maybe it was an effort to keep the story moving, or maybe it was just a lazy editor who knows.

The final result is a movie that filled to the brim with elements that make it a ton of fun. So grab a few American friends and lots of American beer, and sit on your American sofa and make sure your American dubbers are hanging out nearby so you can do your own American riffing (put an American flag somewhere nearby so everyone knows you’re in America).

Or just have Mike and the bots do the riffing for you. They’ve got plenty to work with.

Episode Review:  
There’s a lot of killer shark movies out there, even before SyFy Channel started making one a week. So it’s a bit surprising that Mystery Science Theater 3000 didn’t tackle on until its 9th season. Maybe they were too bloody or had too much nudity, or maybe they just didn’t find the right one. Well Devil Fish was a perfect fit.

Most killer shark movies are pretty much Jaws with more teens and more skin. But Devil Fish has a bit more going on, and it all adds up to a movie full of oddities. I mentioned Werewolf earlier and this movie has a lot in common with that one. It’s just a mess, but the perfect mess for riffing.

Most of the jokes are leveled at the fact that the cast is trying way too hard to be American when they are obviously not. But a lot of riffs also come in on the editing. One of my favorites comes from Tom who says after a series of quick nonsensical edits, “Its as if the editor is saying, you don’t need to concern yourself with any of this.”

Dr. Bob is relentless in his beer drinking and this offers up all kinds of alcohol related humor. His buddy Peter is supposed to be some kind of brilliant lothario, but looks more like a beach bum out for a good time. Mike and the bots make much of his reputation and how it applies to all electricians, but also witness the horror of a badly placed camera as Peter descends a ladder, and we get to see way to much of him. A handy MST3K logo protects us viewers from seeing little Peter, but the boys aren’t so lucky.

As for the gals in the movie, the main focus is on how disturbingly skinny Dr. Stella is. Seriously, she’s a bit on the scary side of skinny. She’s also almost attractive, but there is something just off about her. And it’s not just the dubbing. There are some great scenes with her and the dolphins at the beginning that provides plenty of riffing fodder as the dolphins mock her mercilessly (with some help from Mike and bots). My favorite character was the brainy Dr. Janet Bates (Darla Warner) who actually seems to be the smartest person on the boat. She actually does battle with the devilfish and survives! Too bad she is later killed off screen by the annoying ugly faced thug. She would have been a much more interesting character.

There are a few slow spots here and there riff wise. This is mostly when the subplot involving the government project and the ugly thug come up. When the devil fish is attacking boats the jokes come fast and furious, and with the abrupt editing you never know when a scene might end – makes things kind of exciting.

For host segments Pearl tries to turn Castle Forrester into a cruise ship. It’s as bizarre as it sounds. I did like Brain Guy attempting to be Isaac from the Love Boat, but mostly those scenes are kinda limp. On the Satellite most of the skits are inspired by the movie. At the first break, Mike and bots are not impressed by the dolphins in the movie and start dissing them – the result is a huge Dolphin starship arriving to take pot shots at our boys. They apologize. At the next break Mike and the bots are not impressed by electrician Peter. So they start dissing an electrician that Pearl sends up. Guess who ends up apologizing again.

The best segment occurs when Pearl reveals that her passengers on the cruise ship are confused by Mike and the bots. You see the passengers have been watching Devil Fish too and when Mike and the bots show up they just aren’t Italian enough. So Pearl puts on a filter to make the crew of the SOL more Italian. It goes horribly wrong and you have to see it to believe it.

This is a fun episode, not top tier material, but still a good summer viewing, maybe with a double feature of Jaws or one of its lesser sequels. The movie is goofy and the riffing is solid.

I give it four cans of AMERICAN beer out of five.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIX.

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