Barracuda (1978) [REVIEW] | Burn it to the wick

Most movies about killers animals from the 70s can be “blamed” on Jaws success, this one is a “double whammy” because it can be also linked to one of Jaws’ most notorious rip-off, Piranha from 1978, which – as mentioned before – it’s almost a parody as well, and was directed by Joe Dante. As Piranha did quite well that year, America General Pictures approached him to direct Barracuda (also sold under the title of The Lucifer Project) as well, but clearly it didn’t happen, so directing duties went to Harry Kerwin and Wayne Crayford, both already pulling double duty as actor and co-writer. Gotta pump em out fast, so fast this came out 2/3 months after Piranha.

And while there are plenty of Jaws rip-offs made in that decade, the comparison between the two films in question is fairly obvious, not just because they came out the same year, but because they both have the same theme of secret government experiments that end up mutating marine fauna, in this case more declined into an enviromentalism issue, but also a fairly direct critique of the military, as in they didn’t breed combat-ready mutant cyborg barracuda, but the government basically used a small town as guinea pigs for conditioning experiment to make everyone more aggressive and violent, and more easier to whip up in a frenzy or recruit for war.

Btw, thankfully i already owned this one on DVD, because the italian version up on Amazon Prime Video is a crappy, low-effort VHS rip, i get it, grainy video, 1970’s movie, but come on, even my copy is a bit better looking in this regard.

While the cover and the premise evoke exploitation killer animal movies, it bears most of the clichès (down to the marine biologist and sheriff in the cast), Barracuda isn’t much about the barracuda killing people (nor the band Heart), and while it has some funny b-movie scene like the sheriff just opening the cell door and letting his daughter serve the arrested marine biologist food like it’s a diner…. that tone doesn’t last, and the movie basically becomes a thriller about government conspiracies and secret experiments, with men in black going around with silencers shooting people that know too much, culminating in a very bleak and grim exploitation ending.

This isn’t Piranha II where thankfully the “govnment” doesn’t care too much about random people getting to know about sunken ship with batches of mutant flying piranha eggs, and it makes for a slightly different movie than one would expect from Barracuda, where the killer barracudas are actually more of a happenstance and not the main focus of the experiments, even if they do kill people via the power of choppy editing, you’re not gonna see much of either fish or blood, we got even less budget than usual.

There is a dog called Vic (yeah), ironically one of the few character to survive the goverment killers and the killer barracudas, maybe because they can tell something is up by listening to the kinda odd, kinda cool, but mostly ridiculous soundtrack, at times that feels it’s trying too hard, at times not hard enough. The dog still manages to be the smartest one, since we have characters that the script now depicts as geniuses, then as morons. Look, if even the sheriff’s daughter, not exactly a chemist or scientist, is able to connect the frigging obvious dots of the doctor’s suspicious pushiness to NOT blame the chemical factory in town… my man, you’re quite the dumb marine biologist.

But then again, the same could said for the sheriff, his “comic relief fatso” second-in-command, and more characters aside from the obvious ones put there because it’s a b-movie in a small town who dubs itself “lobster city”. On the upside, they’re mostly played to be kinda likeable, but acting isn’t great, editing is choppy (especially at the beginning, where the plot seems to interrupt the underwater scuba scenes, not the other way around), and the narrative isn’t exactly fast moving.

It’s far less forgettable than you would think, maybe with a better script it could even have been decent… but this isn’t the case, so it’s just kinda mediocre, overall, not totally bad since it still manages to have some legs despite not having much of the killer fish action it promises and you expect from a Jaws’ rip-off called “Barracuda”.

At least they didn’t kill any real animal in it?

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