Sunday, July 25, 2010

She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)


When I opened the 100 Sci-Fi Classics and saw this title I thought, we've got some kind of island queen who has power over the sharks and she uses it to defend her village from pirates. Sounds like a fun film, right? I thought so. But when I saw that the director was Roger Corman, I knew he wouldn't have the budget for that type of movie. So I set my expectations a bit lower. You should too.


Jim (Don Durant) finds himself in a bit of trouble with Hawaiian law enforcement, so he and his brother Chris (Bill Cord) hop on their little boat and try to escape. A tempest destroys the boat and they are saved by the hula dancing/pearl diving woman of a small island. Queen Pua (Jeanne Gerson) wants them gone as quickly as possible. But Mahia (Lisa Montell) falls for Chris. Meanwhile Jim decides that he wants those pearls for himself. Things quickly devolve into kidnappings, sacrifices, sunken tiki idols and sharks. Will the brothers be able to escape the wrath of the "She Gods of Shark Reef"?

Good Points:

  • Really and truly filmed in Hawaii
  • A beach movie without any lame songs
  • None of the actors are really bad

Bad Points:

  • Moves really slowly at times
  • The shark scenes are kinda funny
  • None of the actors are good either


You know, for a Corman film this isn't too bad. Sure it moves slowly and has some serious budget limitations, but at the same time the script accounts for that. It's really the story of two brothers caught in a jam and having to figure a way out of it. Look at it as more of a thriller filmed in Hawaii on a shoestring budget and you might enjoy some of it. But don't let the title fool you into thinking there is anything fantastic going on.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 3

Sound: 2

Music: 2

Acting: 2

Script: 2

Direction: 2

Entertainment: 2


After watching a few Roger Corman films on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I know what to expect from him. He used his small budget as best he can. He'd stretch that dollar with long scenes of people walking, and talking and walking some more. He'd hold out shots a little longer than they needed to be, and sometimes include questionable edits. Its drive-in material. No one was expecting the teens in the audience to really be paying too much attention. For the record, Corman could make some fun and entertaining films, especially if his budget was a bit larger. But for something like this, you just gotta expect the usual suspects.

Take the acting for one thing. Actually no one in this movie is horrible. Corman will often cast based on looks and sex appeal as opposed to actual talent. Sometimes he got lucky, but most of the time you end up with some nice looking folks that are out acted by a wooden sets. In this case, everyone is just below average. Bill Cord makes Chris a likable guy if a bit on the bland side. Don Durant plays his brother Jim as a mercurial hot head. One minute he seems like he's got it together, the next he's thirsting to steal something or beat someone up. He provides some of the color to the film, so I can't fault him to much.

Lisa Montell as Mahia makes a very alluring island gal. She plays up the innocent angle a bit too much, but it works in context of the film. Jeanne Gerson as Queen Pua is more like the cantankerous old gramma who will not let her daughter date those boys! It's a funny performance. I' m not sure if she did it on purpose or not, but she's not commanding or threatening. She just seems cranky.

The script is an odd beast, starting off with Jim and very disturbing looking old man sneaking onto a peer and killing some guards. They seem to be looking for guns, but things go wrong when they are discovered. This starts the movie with a moody and dark sequence, making me wonder if this was going to turn into something more chilling or closer to a horror film. This sequence in style and tone is nothing like the rest of the movie. All it does is show us what kind of man Jim is, and that becomes apparent quickly enough.

The rest of the movie has Chris and Jim relating to each other and to the women of the island. The two brothers obviously have some issues with each other, but Chris seems to genuinely care for his brother. Jim seems a bit more sociopathic. The rest of the dialogue is your typical islander warning the outsiders kinda stuff, "You anger the shark gods!", "You bring bad fortune!", "Only a sacrifice can appease the Shark Gods!" "You leave now, you're not wanted here!". Queen Pua gets these gems and says them in her crankiest voice.

Part of the problem is that the Shark God is never really a threat, and neither is Queen Pua. The whole movie has a real laid back feel, and it just doesn't work to create any momentum. Most of this is probably the direction, but some work on the script should have been used to make a real threat for the brothers. Instead they just seem like they are hanging around the island because it’s populated with woman who hula dance regularly.

The sound is really off in this film, with the boom mic not nearly close enough in some scenes and other times being overpowered by the sounds of wind and surf on the island. Quite a few lines of dialogue are lost because of this. Then there's the music. It goes for authentic island feel, but it is placed at some very inopportune times, becoming distracting in many scenes.

The movie does have one thing in its favor, beautiful scenery. Filmed on the island of Kauai, the cliffs and mountains of the island are wonderful to behold. Even Corman was able to grab some breath taking vistas in this film. The beach looks wonderful and even the underwater moments are impressive. It's a real shame that the print is so faded, I can imagine that this movie looked great when it was first released in 1958. Some of the budget limitations appear during the shark attack scenes. Corman uses a mix of stock footage and what appears to be a dead or drugged shark for some close up scenes. The whole thing is actually pretty funny looking and takes away any threat there may have been.

As I mentioned, I was expecting this movie to be a lot worse, but it had its moments. Things move slowly in places, with dancing sequences and walking sequences padding out the film. On the other hand it moves a lot quicker than some of the more dreary of Corman's films. If you're looking for a good riffing movie with some friends, this fits the bill. But if you're looking for an entertaining island girl film - um, move along, nothing to see here.

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