I mentioned these late-1970’s seafaring novels last week — they could be considered the “other” Peter Benchley classics. Neither “The Deep” nor “The Island” had nearly the broad-based cultural impact of “Jaws,” of course. But they were still pretty damned good.
I got my hands on the paperbacks in the 1980’s, after my Dad left them lying around the house. (It’s funny how much of my reading material I inherited from my father or older brother during my formative years. I wonder how many kids grew up like that and were thus influenced.) Both books leaned toward being horror-thrillers, as “Jaws” did.
I saw the the 1980 film adaptation of “The Island” on broadcast television when I was in early gradeschool, and it freaked me the hell out. It’s actually a pretty bizarre tale about a colony of throwbacks who murder modern boatgoers in the manner of 18th Century pirates. (Check out the trailer below.) It stars none other than Michael Caine, and also an Australian actress Angela Punch MacGregor. (If that isn’t a badass Australian name for a lady, I don’t know what is.)
I read the original book when I was older — in some ways, it was even freakier. There were some weird sexual undercurrents and potty humor that weren’t even necessary for the plot; Benchley was a little more out there than you might gather from the more traditional thriller that “Jaws” was.
“The Deep” was a scuba diving thriller; the book and the 1977 movie filled my adolescent head with ambitions of becoming a professional treasure-hunter. I remember devoting a lot of thought around age 13 or so to trying to figure out if that was a realistic career aspiration. (I supposed it all depended on what I found.) There is a moray eel in the movie, and it is unpleasant. It prompted me to adopt the neurotic habit of bringing a knife along on the summer snorkeling expeditions behind my friend Brian’s house.
Interestingly enough, Wikipedia informs me that Benchley returned to writing books in the late 1980’s; his last two novels in the early 1990’s sound pretty damn cool. They’re both seafaring monster stories — “The Beast” and “White Shark.” The latter even selects its victims from my native Long Island, New York. Maybe I’ll pick those up this summer.
Yes, “47 Meters Down” is silly in places, and I don’t think it will ever be held up as an example to students of good screenwriting. But I can’t slam any horror-thriller that scared and entertained me. And the sharks here (which were surprisingly well rendered by CGI) made me jump a few times. Furthermore, there are a couple of surprises late in the story, and I thought that one of them was wonderfully well executed.
This movie actually reminds me a little of last year’s “The Shallows.” Neither movie is 1975’s “Jaws,” but neither pretends to be. They’re both perfectly serviceable monster movies that present horror movie fans with a great way to kick off the summer.
I’d rate this film an 8 out of 10 for being a fun, if forgettable, shark flick.
This one’s taking us waaaaay back — does anyone here remember playing with this nifty “Jaws” game when they were a kid? This was released by Ideal in 1975, the same year as the movie.
The title shark’s jaw was spring-loaded to close upward, but it was held down by plastic pieces of ocean debris. Players would take turns removing the pieces from the mouth until it sprang upward.
I think I played the game with my older sisters in their room, maybe … two years after it was released, in 1977? The game had probably been a Christmas present for them. (Its plastic pieces were red, if I recall — not blue.) I was very a small child, and I was fascinated by it.
“The Shallows” (2016) is a pretty good beach-themed horror thriller — it’s just overrated. I’d give it an 8 out of 10, and I’d easily recommend it to somebody looking for a decent, conventional scary movie. But I don’t think it lives up to the hype.
The movie works. The scares are there and, for the most part, they are stylishly and artistically rendered. I jumped a couple of times. My friends keep comparing it with “Jaws” (1975) or “Deep Blue Sea” (1999), but it really has more in common with the “Open Water” films of the early 2000’s. It’s a competently made, slow-burn horror movie with a man-vs.-nature plot setup that could happen in real life.
But I doubt that “The Shallows” truly belongs on anyone’s must-see list, and I don’t plan on watching it twice. The story is a little thin. The movie feels padded with lengthy establishing shots and surfing sequences, and a belabored emotional backstory that feels tacked on. (I think this easily could have been an hour-long film.) The final action sequence is a little cartoonish, too. (C’mon.)
I’m also perplexed by critics’ praise for lead actress Blake Lively’s performance. To me, it seemed really poor. (The exception is her reaction shots — she shined when she was reacting to offscreen threats.)
Anyway, do check it out.
I lived in a time when “Star Wars”movies didn’t exist. Seriously, young people. The first “Star Wars” arrived in theaters in 1977, and I arrived in this world just a few years earlier. Furthermore, enjoying that first “Star Wars” movie was sort of a one-shot deal when I was a tot; unless your parents took you to the theater for additional viewings. (VHS tapes were a few years down the line.) And the sequels subsequently arrived two or three years apart.
What I am leading up to here is that there was an entirely different sci-fi movie universe already firmly entrenched in popular culture long before this world first glimpsed “a galaxy far, far away.” That universe was the one we saw in the “Planet of the Apes” films. There were five of them between 1968 and 1973. (Pierre Boulle’s original novel was published in 1963.) By the time I was a little boy, they were a fairly regular staple on broadcast television (y’know – signals sent to those huge, bulky boxes with movable antennae).
If you have any expertise in film history, or if you’re just an online flick nerd like me, then you know that George Lucas redefined the term “movie merchandising” with “Star Wars” toys, shortly after Steven Spielberg redefined the term “blockbuster” with 1975’s “Jaws.” Nevertheless, neither man invented those things. And the “Planet of the Apes” movie franchise is maybe the best proof of that.
The 1970’s were a weird time. (I was born then, for example.) If you google “1970’s Planet of the Apes merchandise,” you’ll see that the products it spawned were occasionally just weird. There were jigsaw puzzles that were sold in … cans, for example. I guess that’s understandable. There were a sheer plethora of cheaply made plastic or rubber piggy banks. (Do kids even have piggy banks these days?) There were action figures, but they were eight inches tall, and the playsets were made of … cardboard and vinyl, instead of plastic. And of course there were the predictable lunchboxes and ultra-cheap Halloween kiddie costumes.
All of this is a little strange, too, if you agree with me that “Planet of the Apes” was kinda not for young kids. Think about it. If you look past the high camp, the 70’s cheese, and your own nostalgia, it was dark stuff. It was a story whose premise was sentient man’s extinction. The first movie, early on, showed human beings getting the museum-display taxidermy treatment, after glimpses of genocide and slavery. The second movie, in 1970, has its story helpfully resolved by a nuclear bomb that freakin’ kills everybody. Today’s remakes (which I happen to like, by the way) didn’t go that far. Anyway, if you’re curious about movie toys being inappropriately being marketed to young children, go ahead and read up on the toys licensed for 1979’s really violent, really Freudian “Alien.” (Wow.) Cracked.com has a terrific article about it.
But anyway … this meandering blog post is actually about one product in particular, so I’ll go ahead and promptly name it here, in the sixth paragraph — the plastic “Dr. Zaius” piggy bank. It’s there, below, in the first photo. It was maybe a foot and a half tall, if memory serves, and it was somewhat crudely fashioned out of very thick plastic. I can find little information about it on the internet — beyond the fact that it is still purchased by collectors on sites like eBay and Etsy. It appears to be one of four such toys produced — the others were made for the characters of Cornelius, Zira, and General Ursus. (That’s Latin for “bear,” isn’t it? I only know because I once saw a cheap paperback horror novel about a monster bear with that title.) It also was manufactured in either the late 60’s or early 70’s.
Mine was unpainted — as were those in the other sparing images of this product I can find via Google image search. (The second image shows, however, that painted versions were apparently sold at one point.)
Mine was also kind of defective in a big way — it had a slot at the top where coins were deposited, but there was no opening at the bottom to withdraw them when needed. So a forward-thinking child could save his money, only to be confounded by the evil Dr. Zaius when his savings were needed. (It worked like banks during the Great Depression, in other words.)
I rectified this when I was … a very frustrated eight-year-old, I think, on a summer morning when I really wanted change from that bank. I took a large kitchen knife to that thick plastic on the bottom and just sort of murdered a jagged, elliptical hole into it to get my quarters. I don’t remember how I got a hold of such a huge knife, as I had pretty attentive parents. Neither do I remember why I needed the money so badly. Was it the ice cream man? A yard sale? “Sgt. Rock” comic books? Cocaine again? (This was about 1980, after all.)
Anyway, I also remember other strange “Planet of the Apes” merchandise being around when I was a very little boy. That horse you see was a toy my older brother had. (And when he was absent, I raided his stuff in much the same manner that the Viet Cong raided American patrols — employing stealth to avoid retaliation by a larger, stronger force.) The horse was made by Mego to accompany the 8-inch tall movie action figures (which were really more like “dolls” than the Star Wars figures that would hit the scene later). The handheld device and wire you see represents cutting-edge toy technology for the 70’s. You flicked a switch to activate the horse. It didn’t exactly gallop; instead it sort of shuffled and buzzed forward on its stiff legs like a particularly unfortunate animal with both arthritis and epilepsy.
My sister told me that I had a “Planet of the Apes” playhouse that I refused to leave when I was very young. I absolutely can’t remember that. Is it the product in the fourth photo? I hope not, because that is one cheap-ass product, not worth $14.99 in today’s dollars. It also is just basically a plain cardboard box with an undecorated interior, which would mean that, as a child, I had the same mentality as a housecat.
Finally, pictured below is a novelization of one of the movie’s sequels, “Escape From the Planet of the Apes” (1971). I think I saw this among the disheveled paperback library that always occupied the back seat and back floor of my Dad’s car. I saw Boulle’s source novel in that back seat once, with a weird minimalist art cover. My Dad explained that it was “very different from the movie.” Or I might have seen it on the floor of the closet I shared with my brother. (That closet functioned according to trickle-down economics — the really cool stuff occasionally fell from his top shelf to the floor where I could grab it.)
I might still have that Dr. Zaius bank in the shed or in storage. I should grab it and determine its value. (Christ, I’m paying a lot of money for that storage unit.) It would be nuts if that hole I cut made it less valuable as a collector’s item.