CAPSULE: DEEP BLOOD (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Raffaele Donato,

FEATURING:  Frank Baroni, Cort McCown, Keith Kelsch

PLOT:  A shark hunt progresses after a native blood pact drives a group of privileged boys to avenge the death of their friend.

Still from Deep Blood (1990)

COMMENTS:  Summer 2021 is fading away, and it’s wise to see as many shark movies as possible. Of those, the fuzzy and buzzing 80’s Italian shark film Deep Blood isn’t the worst selection—but it comes close.  Many claim it’s worse than Jaws 4, and judging from its warbled and faded approach to both narrative structure and aesthetics in general, that’s a reasonable assessment. The shark attack scenes lack excitement, women and minorities are marginalized, and the main characters appear bored. Thankfully, the bulk of the movie is made up of narcotizing scuba scenes where little happens besides the inadvertent conjuring of serene oceanic bliss, making it a minor hit for weirdos with an interest in the peculiar and ironic entertainment of dated oceanographic sequences.

Donato and D’Amato succeed in creating a shark drama complete with boats, copters, and underwater scenes, but it’s frazzled by incompetency in the form of loopy synth pads and awkward, boring camera angles. It also hits sour notes with the seeping indolence of the era’s culture—things get kind of racist and sexist.  The only native character (credited as “Indian”) is used as a MacGuffin, and the ladies’ only function is to cheerlead, so distaste and disinterest with Deep Blood grows fast while the boys mope around the cabana, attended to by servants. While the questionable culture of a bunch of yuppie shark hunters is detestable, the characters’ mission to avenge the death of a friend with whom they made a blood pact with gives the narrative some validity. This central concept is enough to propel Deep Blood forward, highlighted by the curious rewards of sleepy scuba scenes.

Stock deep sea footage cuts to polluted swarms of kelp faded in haze, with tranquil swimmers slowly flipping fins, and not much occurring other than a handful of chord changes. The calm Zen quality of these quiet underwater shots is the true charm of Deep Blood. With grey and blue aquatic smears, the undersea content has a distinct 80’s ocean feel that brings to mind better films like Dead Calm. But the nagging synths and wooden acting draw negative attention to Deep Blood‘s lack of charisma. Luckily, there’s a pair of shabby kill scenes to laugh at.

It’s tough to tell (or even care) who is getting killed by the shark during the attack scenes because all characters look and act the same. Protagonists Ben, Miki and Allan all appear to be overzealous wimps when using explosives to kill the shark instead of good old hooks and lines. After all, as Grody in Jaws, Roy Scheider only resorted to pyrotechnics after his bones were rattled by seeing his captain get eaten alive by a prehistoric killing machine. In Deep Blood, the crew has a full arsenal of support together with their mansions, servants, striped pastel shirts, and yachts armed with explosives. And even with the motivating power of some very flirty Italian ladies, they barely get the job done.

Deep Blood boasts cheeky and misguided shark content along with sucky characters. The kill scenes are as exciting as a mail room staff party. What redeems it is the peaceful feeling of floating underwater while a droning score highlights the glowing VHS ambience. Like the moody aesthetics of early PC educational software, Deep Blood offers nodding maritime pleasures with a total lack of self-awareness. You can always watch Jaws afterwards to cleanse your palate.

A flawed but festive watch, Deep Blood is currently available on Youtube for free, and also on DVD and Blu-Ray from Severin films.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I feel pretty confident in assuming it’s the only movie where a Native American randomly binds together a group of friends for a blood oath that ends with them confronting a killer shark. Throw in the other stuff you expect from Italian horror—gonzo dialogue, baffling character interactions, low-rent effects work, ill-fitting music—and it all comes together to form a singularly strange experience.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (Blu-ray)

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