Tuesday, December 11, 2012

“Shark god angry long time now.”

1958’s She Gods of Shark Reef is a painful cheapie from Roger Corman. Two brothers, the blonde Chris “Christy” Johnston (Bill Cord) and dark haired Jim “Lee” Johnston (Don Durant) are sailing in the pacific and get blown off-course and hit a reef and they get rescued by some ladies in floral print swimsuits and catamarans. They are told about the large number of sharks around this reef, hence “Shark Reef.” The brothers (they had a third guy with them who had no lines but he swam out of the movie within the first five minutes and is presumed drowned) discover that they’re on an island owned by “The Island Company” and is populated solely by women, and is managed by the stern matron Pua (Jeanne Gerson) and IMDB tells me she’s a queen. Or something. The women collect pearls for the Company.

Anyway, Pua doesn’t like these two men hanging around an island populated entirely by naïve, pretty young women. Christy’s a decent fellow with an interest in marine specimens. Lee’s a jerk with an interest in crime. It was his vaguely filmed criminal antics at the beginning of the film that caused them to take a boat and sail away from the law. Pua dislikes everything, and Lee gets paranoid about her signaling/semaphoring/radioing the US Navy to pick the men up. The guys also change into floral-print mini-skirts, which is understandable for an island of women, but it doesn’t make it any easier to look at.

Here’s what happens. Chris flirts/falls in love with Mahia (Lisa Montell), the girl who fished them out of the water. Lee plots to escape/steal the pearls, and Pua disapproves of EVERYTHING. Pua thinks that when Mahia saved the guys, that made the gods even angrier than before, and sees it as a perfectly good excuse to sacrifice Mahia to the Shark God Tangaroa. There’s some hula dancing along the way too.

Not one of Roger Corman’s better works. I presume the bulk of the film’s budget was spent on shooting on location in Hawaii and was shot in something like two weeks. The film is in color, but the print I saw is terrible. The soundtrack by Ronald Stein is mostly disembodied ambient drumbeats with a few anemic touches of score thrown in. 

What’s worse is the screenplay by Robert Hill and Victor Stoloff. The whole setup makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. I mean, I don’t have an MBA, but from a business standpoint, the Island Company is making a lot of questionable decisions. Okay, we’re told they take good care of the workers in exchange for the pearls. Fine. I guess. I suppose someone tried to teach them English along the way but stopped. Script make natives talk incomplete English. Mean they not civilized like smart westerners. 

Fine. Whatever. I’m not even going to go into the whole impracticality of sustaining a permanent population of only one gender over several generations because that’s just a riff on the ancient Amazonian fetish. But not only are these island women pagans, they worship a god that demands the blood sacrifice of virgins. Who are also employees of the company. And there’s only about 30 of them. Over the course of the movie, Pua has several girls bound and thrown into the water to appease the Shark God. Only Mahia is rescued and the other two are chum. 

I’m curious, does the Island Company sign off on this? Human sacrifices don’t seem conducive to company morale (none of the girls are thrilled at the prospect of becoming sacrifices) and also you’d think they’d have to replace said lost workers. How is this a profitable business practice for the Island Company to turn a blind eye toward. Unless Pua writes it off as a “workplace accident,” in which case she comes off as even more unlikable than before (no mean feat) since she’s effectively running the island as a franchisee/dictator (with a hint of cargo cult). I just don’t see how this is a valid business plan. Oh, and Lee steals a bunch of pearls in the escape attempt and said pearls are lost on Shark Reef in the climactic struggle, so there goes a big chunk of the shipment the Island Company will be coming to pick up in a few days. I imagine some executive somewhere is going to get fired when the report comes back. 

The reason I dwell on this is because there is absolutely nothing else to discuss about the movie. It is badly acted, vaguely shot, atrociously written, and uncomfortably boring to sit through. The characters are so detestable I was rooting for the escape boat to capsize on the reef and for Tangaroa’s (who is an actual Sea God in Maori mythology. But not a She God) sharks to just devour everyone. A better print might have helped the experience since Hawaii is noted for its scenery after all. 

I do not recommend it, but the movie exists for free on Youtube. You're better off just enjoying the way better movie poster and the surprisingly good-quality trailer over on Trailers From Hell. The embed isn't working, so just follow the link above. 

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