Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Much promised, but nothing delivered

She-Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
Starring: Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell, and Jeanne Gerson
Director: Roger Corman
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Two brothers (Cord and Durant), one wanted for murder, are shipwrecked on an island inhabited only by women who collect and guard pearls for an international jewelry company. However, the women are also involved with a cult devoted to a shark god who hungers for sacrificial virgins.

"She-Gods of Shark Reef" is one of the most disappointing movies I've ever seen. The first 15 or so minutes provide an abundance of promising set-ups, any one of which could have given rise to a decent horror movies and any combination of which could have been the foundation for a great horror movie.

First, we have our heroes completely cut off from the surrounding world. Add to that the fact that the island they are stuck on is completely owned by "The Company", and that only "The Company provides transportation on and off the island. The there's Pua (Gerson), the creepy woman in charge of the pearl divers, someone who is obviously hiding secrets and whose primary motivation seems to be protecting the interest of "The Company" above all else, as well as hiding whatever secrets there may be on the island. And, finally, there's the fact that the women are a bunch of superstitious cultists who believe their well-being is tied to a mysterious shark god that prowls the waters beyond the pearl beds they dive at. Oh, and then there's the added bonus that shark-infested waters are scary all by themselves.

But what does director Roger Corman and screenwriters Robert Hill and Victor Stoloff do with all this potential? Absolutely nothing, other than giving the "good brother" the opportunity to rescue a girl (Montell) from being a virgin sacrifice as part of a romantic plot in the film. The mysterious Company never comes into play, the creepy Pua turns out to be more of a nag than a serious threat to anyone, and the shark god angle is total dud. Heck, even the shark-infested waters aren't used to their potential, as characters blithely swim back and forth between the island the reef of the title.

This film wastes all its potential, features a cast who might be okay if they had a decent script and perhaps stronger direction but who mostly seem lost here, and spends five or so minutes of its brief 63-minute running time on showing the island girls doing Hawaiian dances. (Not sure why the dance segment is there. Perhaps it's intended as a tourism PSA as an additional thank you to the government of Hawaii, which is acknowledged and thanked for assistance at the beginning of the beginning of the film, or maybe just a misfired attempt to inject some exoticness into the beautiful but somewhat bland setting of the film.)

The only reason I'm not giving this film a 0-star rating is because it remains interesting for most of its running time. Even that misplaced Hawaiian dance routine isn't exactly boring, It could be it held my attention because I kept hoping some of its potential would pay off, but for all of its flaws and ultimately being a disappointment, but it kept me engaged.

But it is a crime against lovers of cheesy movies that a great title like "She-Gods of Shark Reef" was wasted on such a crappy movie. The crime becomes even greater when one considers the original poster used to promote the film:

Oh, if only the movie itself to have lived up to the coolness the marketing material promised!

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