Dir. Stephen Scarlata (2023)
A documentary that takes a deep dive into the wild world of sharksploitation cinema.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
So, real talk: sharks are scary. I don't actually consider myself afraid of sharks, but I'll be damned if some of the movies that scared me the most (and continue to) feature those many-toothed ocean hunters (see my review of The Reef). Shudder's new documentary Sharksploitation examines the history of sharks in popular culture and film, from the early black and white movies to Jaws and beyond. Director Stephen Scarlata (Jodorowsky's Dune) delves deep into the genre, delivering a fantastic exploration of one of the most prolific genres in horror through the lens of conservationists, oceanographers, and horror historians.
One of the things I loved about the documentary was that it delved into the Jaws phenomena, discussing other movies made around the time that were basically ripoffs of Spielberg's masterpiece despite not featuring sharks at all. Joe Dante's Piranha and William Girdler's Grizzly, and Lewis Teague's Alligator. That's not to say, of course, that sharks are not the feature here. There are thousands (literally) of shark movies out there, from the direct sequels to Spielberg's film to Jersey Shore Shark Attack. There's Sharktopus, Avalanche Sharks, Ghost Sharks, Zombie Sharks... there's even a movie where sharks are brought on land in a tornado (you might've heard of that one). Sharksploitation focuses on all of these movies and more, giving its audience a great and comprehensive overview of the genre.
By going back and forth between the post-Jaws copycats and the Syfy-era bonkers shark movies, Sharksploitation manages to cover a ton of ground for its length. With interviews from genre greats like Joe Dante, Roger Corman, and Adam Rifkin, the documentary takes this ridiculous genre completely seriously, and as well they should. Regardless of how bad these movies actually get, they're almost universally entertaining and incredibly popular. Who among us hasn't watched a shark movie that puts sharks in places sharks don't normally go? Why be afraid of the ocean when you can be afraid of, I dunno, buckets of water at a bikini car wash (Ghost Shark).
Shark movies are batshit crazy largely because they're so much more limited than other genres. Sharks live in the sea, perhaps occasionally making their way to an inland body of water if it's somehow connected to the ocean. Sharksploitation examines filmmakers' efforts to take the shark out of its natural habitat in whatever way they can, creating a genre with often-terrible but always entertaining insanity. It also added about three dozen movies to my watch list. You can't ask for a whole lot more from a documentary than that.
Who this movie is for: Horror documentary fans, Shark movie aficionados,
Bottom line: Shark movie fans rejoice: Shudder now has a documentary about one of the craziest genres in all of film. If you're a fan of horror in general or shark movies in particular, this one is a must watch. I've seen dozens of shark movies over the years, but there are many more that I'm going to have to watch (and review) now. Give this one a look,