• Kelly M. Hudson

The Jaws of Death!

Sonny Stein (Richard Jaeckel) had a queer occurrence happen to him when he was on an island a few years earlier in his life. Pursued by killers, he had to flee into shark-infest waters. The sharks ignored him as he swam by but attacked his assailants, killing them. He spilled onto an atoll where he encountered a mystic shaman who told him the sharks had chosen him. The shaman gave him a shark-tooth amulet and said as long as he wore this, he was a brother to the sharks. Sonny found he could telepathically communicate with the sharks and soon became friends with many who lived near his home in Florida. He became their protector and benefactor and many times, when people were out hunting sharks, Sonny would hunt the hunters. He gets crossed by an unscrupulous scientist into giving up one of his pregnant shark friends for study. Sonny finds the scientist has killed the shark and the babies, which sets him off on a homicidal rampage. Oh, and a shark he loaned to a local bar for entertainment purposes is getting tortured, too. Sonny finds out and goes after the owner. The law starts to close in. Can Sonny escape into the ocean with his finned friends, or will he be betrayed by the humans hunting him down?

Yeah, this is a weird one, but it’s played very straight, and thanks to the seriousness of the treatment and Jaeckel’s acting chops, it works. This one was definitely made to cash in on the success of Jaws, and I can see how it played hot and heavy on the drive-in circuit and grindhouses of the day. It’s actually a pretty damned good movie. A tragedy, we follow the life of Sonny, a simple man who wants to live in peace in his shack by the ocean and commune with his good friends, the sharks. But mankind is ever treacherous, and Sonny’s trust and good faith are betrayed over and over again, until he’s had enough. You really do come to care for Sonny, as nutty as it all is, and when he gets screwed over, you get angry, too. An odd film, Mako: The Jaws of Death has some cool death scenes and a couple of really nice shots (the fisherman with the hook through his head being towed by his boat is unforgettable) to help carry things along. Swift and to the point, this one gets right to it and doesn’t waste your time. Basically, it’s the same movie as director William Grefe’s earlier Stanley, only this time, with sharks. Also, kudos to the stunt team and those who really swam with the sharks. There’s not too many tricks here; those are real people in real water with real sharks.

A wild flick that could only come from the 70s, Mako: Jaws of Death is quite a ride. It has some great horror moments in it, some great acting from Jaeckel, and a story that, absurd on its face, actually elicits empathy for the main character. Mainstream enough to appeal to casual movie-goers and rough and tumble enough to draw in the exploitation crowd, this one surprised me a little, and I think it will you, too. Give it a shot.


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