Barracuda/ Island Fury Double Feature (US - DVD R1)
Gabe is the only person he knows that goes to the Drive-In all by himself...
It’s time for another Dark Sky Drive-In Double Feature, complete with coming attractions and ads for junk food at the concession stand. The theme at the theater this time around is... the beach. So pull up and hook up the window speaker for another duo of grindhouse releases that weren’t quite special enough for solo releases.
The quaint seaside town of Palm Cove is home to upstanding citizens, good ol' fashioned southern hospitality, and a deadly rash of barracuda attacks. The town sheriff (William Kerwin, of Blood Feast fame) and a young marine biologist (Wayne Crawford) join forces to discover that the cause of the abnormal ‘cuda attacks, which appear to be the fault of a local chemical plant, but the depths of deception sink much deeper than expected.
There were two phases of underwater terror influx for the world exploitation market. The first round followed the wake (sea pun ahoy!) of the unprecedented popularity of Jaws, and the second wave (zing) came for no discernable reason around 1989 when Leviathan, Deep Star Six, and The Abyss were all released in a row. The subgenre failed a third resurfacing (on a roll) when Steven Sommers’ Deep Rising and Renny Harlan’s Deep Blue Sea failed to find big enough audiences. Barracuda is definitely a member of the first wave (used that one already), as it’s very obviously Jaws inspired.
Barracuda doesn’t miss a step in covering the ‘70s nature amok tropes. The opening scene serves the exact same purpose that the opening scene of Jaws serves. The main hero is an environmentally minded young scientist who’s generally treated like a loony tree-hugger by the small town law enforcement. The real bad guys are businessmen, not the amok running animals, and they eventually regret their evil ways (though it’s too late, of course). The barracudas are much more incidental characters than Bruce the Shark, and the effects of an evil corporate pollution are more important plot elements than any public ignorance of evil natural elements (“if you yell barracuda everyone says ‘huh’?”), but the Jaws rip-offedness is pretty hard to miss. Thankfully the final act takes the plot somewhere more Parallax View than Piranha (the alternate title is The Lucifer Project).
Considering the PG rating Barracuda is pretty gory, and though there’s no nudity to speak of the bikini draped T&A isn’t too bad. The drama, comedy, and acting are a little above the normal standards, but the scare scenes are lacking in punch. Most of the ‘cuda attacks are dim impersonations of Spielberg’s best work, and are usually more amusing than frightening. The decent performances go a long way in making the brief runtime move along painlessly, but generally flat compositions and a lack of suspense make for a generally mediocre experience.
While visiting a remote island with friends two young girls discover a clan of bloodthirsty cannibals who pick off the vacationers one by one. The girls manage to escape, but are kidnapped years later by wiseguys hell-bent on getting to the Spanish doubloons that are supposedly hidden on the island. Forced back to the island to find the treasure, the girls and their captors instead find nothing but trouble.
Island Fury is a strange film to stick on a double bill with Barracuda, and pretty much proves my theory that Dark Sky only releases these movies as double features because they don’t think there’ll be enough interest otherwise. Island Fury was made in the nearly post-drive-in year of 1983. It’s not necessarily made for video, but video sales were likely the main reason it received any financing in the first place (it wasn’t released until 1989). I suppose that the compare and contrast aspect of two such vastly different films is and interesting enough reason to watch them in a row, as they both very much represent the ‘for better or worse’ styles of their eras.
Like all good (bad) ‘80s zero budget thrillers, Island Fury (aka: Please Don’t Eat the Babies, a much better title) gets right to work making more or less zero narrative sense, and features acting so bad it’d shame an elementary child (yet it’s not even close to the worse acting I’ve ever seen). After a decent through-city foot chase the pace is dulled to a snail’s crawl. In the end this one amounts to yet another Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired mad family retread, with only a few weird sets and a needless flashback structure to tell it apart.
Barracuda has plenty of foot and head room, so I’m guessing it was reframed at the projectionist’s continence at the theatre to 1.66 or 1.85:1. Dark Sky could’ve probably cropped the 1.33:1 print and presented an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 version, but the effort put into these Drive-In Double features doesn’t seem too high considering the studio’s other releases. The print’s details and colours are decent considering, but the print damage is pretty severe. Artefacts and damages include dirt, heavy grain, a discoloured left edge of frame, inconsistent contrast levels, and a few track lines.
Island Fury, on the other hand, appears to have been made with a television screen in mind, so the 1.33:1 framing is appropriate and snug. Time has been kinder to this film. The colours are pretty rich, and almost disturbingly natural, and details are comparable to those of other period films as released by larger studios. There’s plenty of edge enhancement during the day lit scenes, there’s a general haze of noise and grain, and some surprisingly large print artefacts here and there, but this is an almost unfairly decent transfer overall.
Barracuda’s Dolby two channel mono track is expectedly flat, but pretty clean considering. Distortion is present in high registers, or when the track is generally flooded by a mix of music and sound effects, and the most obvious errors are in the increase of background noise when characters speak, meaning that the sound designers likely pushed the gate a little too far on the original track. The score is a little repetitive, but enjoyable, and surprisingly just barely reminiscent of John Williams’ Jaws score. I’d compare this music most to the stuff Fabio Fabrizzi did for Fulci in the era, just a little left flamboyant.
Island Fury is still presented in mono, but the soundtrack features a much broader dynamic range. The dialogue is often much higher on the track then the sound effects, and sometimes even the music, specifically when it’s obviously been dubbed ADR (which includes the vast majority of outdoor scenes). The sound effects are fuller and more aggressive than Barracuda’s, but often feature obvious clues to a library origin. The film’s music is exclusively synthesizer in origin, but the composer obviously has a better handle on musical theory than most bargain basement Mozarts.
Like the other Drive In Double Features the extras here concern trailers for other releases and old fashion ads for lobby snacks.
Barracuda is a stronger then expected film thanks to generally likabale characters and a decent third act twist, but Island Fury is generally disappointing potboiler with too little action or violence to maintain this particular attention span. Both films look and sound good, especially Island Fury, but I’m not sure about the framing on Barracuda The extras are minimal but fun, and even a lack of quality between the films shouldn’t put too much of a damper on a silly night of pretending to hang out at the ‘70s drive-in.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 30th September 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dan Curtis, Henri Charr
Cast: Wayne Crawford, Jason Evers, Roberta Leighton, Monet Elizabeth, Tanya Louise, Michael Wayne, Mike Jacobs
Genre: Adventure, Horror and Thriller
Length: 183 minutes
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