VCI Home Video // 1978 // 118 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // August 19th, 2005
If the storm doesn't kill you...the sharks will! Who will survive?
Dang it, I was hoping for Heather Thomas and a high-tech motorcycle!
A cyclone tears through the Caribbean. A fishing boat full of stock characters is trapped at sea. A tourist boat full of stock characters is trapped at sea. A passenger plane full of stock characters crashes into the sea. Unfortunately, the sharks don't show up until the very end.
Something is not quite right here. Given his reputation, you would not expect a film directed by Rene Cardona, Jr. to be so dang boring, but sitting through Cyclone is quite a chore. What happened to the man behind such schlock classics as Tintorera and The Treasure of the Amazon? Where is the rampant gore? Where is the gratuitous female nudity? Why aren't Bradford Dillman and Donald Pleasence on that plane?
Anyway, Cyclone starts off well enough. We meet a group of tourists on a glass bottom boat tour; this group includes a pregnant woman, a priest (played by Arthur Kennedy of Lawrence of Arabia fame), and a rich trophy wife (played by Carroll Baker of The Watcher in the Woods fame) who has brought along her dog. We are also introduced to the gruff captain and crew of a fishing vessel. A plane carrying a doctor, a professor, a troubled businessman (played by Lionel Stander of 1941 and Hart to Hart fame), and two members of the National Association of Harry Reems Look-alikes is flying over the calm ocean waters. Then reports of a massive cyclone start coming in; the boats are trapped at sea, the pilots are forced to ditch the plane in the drink. One of the plane's passengers is bleeding from his legs. His blood clouds the water. A tiger shark approaches the wreckage of the plane. The shark grabs the wounded man and pulls him under. Here comes the good stuff, right? That's what I was thinking, too. Wrong! This, unfortunately, is when the movie comes to a screeching halt.
The guys from the fishing boat find the survivors of the plane crash. The glass bottom boat shows up a few minutes later and everyone climbs aboard. An old drunk uses a Popeil Pocket Fisherman to catch some food. The water supply begins to dwindle. The survivors start to argue. The dog becomes food and bait. Someone dies. A chunk of his flesh becomes bait; the rest of his body is thrown into the water. I start thinking maybe more sharks will show up. Well, one shark shows up, but all it does is swim off with the drunk's Pocket Fisherman. Someone else dies. There's some talk of cannibalism. The survivors argue. The dead man becomes lunch. The pregnant woman gives birth to the hairiest newborn I have ever seen (the kid is furrier than Robin Williams). A makeshift sail is attached to the fishermen's dinghy; the captain heads for shore with the new mother. Someone else dies. The survivors argue. The corpse is chucked over the side. I began to snooze.
Here's the problem: the events described in the above paragraph eat up more than an hour of screen time. Cardona gives us half an hour of scenes of disaster (complete with storm footage lifted from old movies and television newscasts), follows it up with a boring, interminable stretch during which absolutely nothing good happens, then finally brings in a whole gaggle of sharks for the bloody finale. There are more shark attacks in the last five minutes than you'll find in the entirety of Jaws, but by then it's too little, too late. The movie's poster promises shark attacks. The movie's tagline promises shark attacks. I want to see some damn shark attacks! I wasn't expecting to see two sharks in the first forty-five minutes and then none for the next hour. That, to put it mildly, is a gyp.
Oh, one last thing before we hit the technical stuff. In addition to the swiped cyclone footage, a couple of this movie's lightning strikes look like they were lifted from Riff Markowitz's Canadian classic The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. I was hoping maybe Igor would come out and start dancing to some old Jefferson Airplane tune, which would have livened things up, but it didn't happen. (This aside really isn't important to this discussion, but I never in a million years thought I would be able to reference that show, so I just had to throw it in.)
Given what they had to work with, VCI did some fairly nice work on the audio/video end of this disc. There is a bit of stair-stepping, some moiré, and a few jagged edges in the letterboxed transfer (mislabeled as full frame on the packaging), but other than that it looks fine (especially the underwater footage, which looks downright great). The real flaws lie in the source elements, which were obviously faded and worn; there are also some serious scratches (think of the cover to Peter Gabriel's second album) and quite a bit of speckling. (You can also see the cigarette burns in the corner of the frame, so I assume an old release print was used.) The two-channel mono soundtrack sounds better than I was expecting, although it cracks in a few spots (generally during the cheesy synthesizer score) and the dialogue is a little too forward in the mix. Why is that? Well, much of the dialogue was dubbed -- quite poorly, I might add. Most of the cast spoke Spanish (you can see them struggling to enunciate), so what you get on the track is reminiscent of the hotel lobby scene from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure ("Paging Mr. Herman. Mr. Herman."), only here you get it for two hours. Extras include text bios for Carroll Baker, costar Andres Garcia, and director Cardona. You also get trailers for three other films directed by Cardona, including one for The Treasure of the Amazon, which, if anyone is interested, features several topless women.
You have to love VCI. They take really some obscure films, polish them up as much as they can, then release the discs at really great prices. That being said, it's too bad Cyclone could not be true to itself. Cut out half an hour, bring in some more sharks to chew everybody up, and we really could have had some sick, bloody fun here.
The charges against the fine folks at VCI are dropped; their work on the technical side of this release comes close to making this thing a silk purse. The late Rene Cardona, Jr., on the other hand, is guilty of the old bait and switch. Somebody dig him up so we can smack him around a little.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast and Crew Biographies