While I love what we'll call "good" films, I also love the low-budget knock-offs that come out to capitalize on the success of those cinematic gems. There is a certain charm to watching a bargain-basement rip-off of a film like Alien perpetrated by filmmakers that don't have the money and/or talent to make big (or even moderate)-budget Hollywood fare. But, darn it -- they have that can-do spirit and the desire to squeeze nickels and dimes out of someone else's work. "Let's make a movie just like that popular movie and reap some of the profits!" A few of my favorites...
The Last Shark (aka Great White, El Ultimo Squalo [Amazon VOD]): This movie, without a doubt, is my favorite movie on this week's list. What we have here is a giant shark that is terrorizing a small island community, killing swimmers and killing the locals' businesses as well. So, the townsfolk enlist the help of a surly old fisherman and a scientist that specializes in sharks to get rid of this menace. Sounds a little like Jaws, right? Well, Universal Pictures sure thought so and they had The Last Shark banned from American movie theaters within a week of it opening. They also had it banned from being released on DVD here in the states. I thought I would never be able to legally see this sunken treasure, but Amazon VOD to the rescue. Now, for $1.99, you too can: watch Vic Morrow pretend to act as he lays down a bizarre Scottish brogue for no particular reason. (Sold yet?) See an incredibly unrealistic shark take out nearly an entire windsurfing team in a scene that will leave you rolling. Thrill at... nothing really. I mean, the movie really is not good, but that isn't the point.
Tintorera (Netflix Streaming): Here's the second Jaws impersonator on the list, but this shark film entertains on so many levels that have nothing to do with terrifying sharks. This gem comes from the directing powerhouse René Cardona Jr. Tintorera, which means Tiger Shark in Spanish, is the story of Steven, a brash young man who travels to Cancun for some fun in the sun on a friend's yacht but ends up getting himself into the shark-hunting business with a swarthy gigolo named Miguel. These two "ladies men" may be shark hunters on the sea, but they are a pair of land sharks when they hit the beaches, picking up chicks left and right. Actually, this movie is much more about threesomes and aquatic love play than it is about hunting sharks. But, Mr. Cardona Jr. does give us some obligatory shark action between boob shots, and while said action is clumsily handled, at least you can barely see the rope pulling the already dead shark through the water.
1990: The Bronx Warriors (Amazon Prime): Did you like The Road Warrior? Were you completely taken with Escape From New York? Have you longed for a sequel to The Warriors? Well, today is your lucky day, because in the early 80s filmmaker Enzo G. Castellari had the brilliant idea of mashing all these movies together into one. The resulting mess is now streaming for your viewing (dis)pleasure. 1990: The Bronx Warriors has two things going for it: 1) Vic Morrow again takes a paycheck and almost brings this movie up to "good" standards, playing a hired assassin who loves to refer to himself in the third person, and 2) The awesome Fred "the Hammer" Williamson as Ogre, the toughest gang leader in the Bronx. What Bronx doesn't have going for it is a plot that goes from point A to B to C. Instead, the movie wanders aimlessly from fight scene to motorcycle scene to tap-dancing gang-leader scene, etc. It also lacks a lead performer whose acting chops reach further than looking dumfounded most of the time. There's a general haze of awfulness that floats over the whole film (okay, I suppose that's the 'charm' of this one), which may make it tough for fans of movies with "good" stories, acting, production values and so on.
Message From Space (Netflix Streaming, Amazon Prime): I've seen quite a few Star Wars knock-offs in my time, but none comes close to being as entertaining as Kinji Fukasaku's Message From Space. I can barely follow what's happening in this Japanese sci-fi potboiler, but it never stops me from admiring the obvious talent that went into making it. This is actually a very decent movie, helmed by a top-notch director (Fukasaku went on to make the brutal but amazing Battle Royale). Again we have Vic Morrow, this time doing his best hybrid of Han Solo and Ben Kenobi as he tries to save the galaxy from a crazy Darth Vader-type villain. He's joined in his quest by a couple of hotshot young pilots and a kooky robot. Message plays like a cinematic LSD hit, as characters take a break from the action to go chasing "space fireflies" and investigating spaceships that look like old-timey Spanish galleons.
Creature (Netflix Streaming): Okay, here's our Alien knock-off, and while it isn't a terribly original movie (and doesn't have Vic Morrow in it) it does have a few things going for it. In this picture, the guy who played Ferris Bueller's dad leads a group of space explorers to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, to research a possible "big find" there. Well, they find something all right, an Alien-esque creature that threatens both the lives of the entire crew and the IQ of the viewers. Of all the Alien rip-offs, this one is my favorite, partly because it had Ferris Beuller's dad in, but mainly because the rest of the cast of this film is generally very good -- most of the lead actors (that are still alive) are still actively working today, which is always a good sign when your watching a B-movie from 1985.