It stars B-movie “that guy” James Franciscus and future Twilight Zone movie victim Vic Morrow in the Brody (except, an author instead of a police chief) and Quint roles, respectively, though the real star is the tremendously fake prop shark, which makes the shark that leaps out at you on the Universal Studios Jaws ride look like a life model decoy.
All the Jaws beats are there—a quaint seaside town that doesn’t want to admit it has a shark problem during high tourist season, despite the fact that something very large and toothy has started feasting on windsurfers, swimmers, and boaters—but they’re delivered without any suspense or narrative tension, or any characters you actually care about.
But Orca’s become a cult classic because of jaw-dropping moments like the sight of a whale fetus ejecting itself from its captured mother (aaah! ), and the many spokes in the grieving father whale’s wheel of revenge, which include starting fires, destroying boats and piers, and just straight-up eating people, not to mention the sassy victory flip it does each time it scores a point against humankind.
But Sonny is weirdly trusting of his fellow man for a guy who prefers his friends to have fins; not only does he allow a pregnant female to be taken by a sleazy aquarium for observation, he also helps a local bar snag a prop shark for its “aqua-maiden” show (think, uh, water ballet meets go-go dancer).
The monster shark, which is always filmed in conveniently cloudy water, is so terrible it’s almost adorable. But really… if a movie’s most-accessible format is as part of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, that should tell you all you need to know about its quality.
Orca, which is based on Arthur Herzog’s 1977 novel, rips off Jaws by way of Moby Dick, swapping in a killer whale instead of a shark and giving us Richard Harris in a saucy spin on the Quint role.
It helped launch both the summer blockbuster and Steven Spielberg’s career; it influenced how we perceive sharks in real life; and it spawned a tsunami of inferior (but often stupidly entertaining) movies about shark attacks.
The scariest thing about the shark in Jaws (other than its teeth) is that it doesn’t have a motive (other than hunger), a tension that’s completely lacking here thanks to Ellen’s Mako-esque shark ESP.