Barracuda (1978)


 "You Can Almost Hear The Screams! as the water below becomes a CHURNING DEATHBED of FLASHING TEARING TEETH!"

   A surprise of a movie from way back when: a time of bell-bottom jeans, afros, and funk sharing a deadly little secret. There was a lot more thought put into this story then I at first glance would have thought (I kind of figured I was getting into a generic sea critter turned monster flick), and it would no doubt  still be right at home on a giant wooden drive-in backdrop. I'm going to need and use some spoiler blocks through this to not spoil the fun little twists in the film though, so just be prepared to actually have  to read parts of this if you want the free spoiled-version of the opinion.

   Mike Canfield  (Wayne Crawford) is a typical caring college student, out to try and save the world in whichever way he can - in this case by taking some water samples from a town's chemical plant's discharge piping feeding into the ocean. The owner of the plant does not take kindly to this, and Mike finds himself having a little bit of a vacation in jail overnight. Things start heating up during his stay as people start disappearing while out in the waters, and right before Mike can leave it escalates to a whole new level when a diver's now un-attached head washes up on shore. This is of little concern to Mike at the time, however, as he's getting shipped out of town proceeding his court appearance.

   With Mike gone, Sheriff Ben Williams (William Kerwin) finds his life getting even more troublesome, with more attacks happening, as well as a large amount of twisted up and eaten up fish washing up on shore. It's at this point, worried about his little town, that the sheriff decides to call Mike back to town and further investigate possible connections to the chemical plant and figure out if it could be causing the super aggressive fish launching these attacks.

Plot Spoiler :
Upon getting another sample from the ocean, Mike finds himself face to face with (and narrowly escaping) these killer barracuda for which the movie is named. Casting a line over, they decide to bring back a few of these fish for study with the water samples as well. It's at this point that we really have enforced the "Corporate Evil" theme, knowing without a doubt that (even if the movie hasn't told us yet) the chemical plant is to blame for this disaster befalling the town. The truth is about to be discovered thanks to usage of the town's doctor's lab, and we can just feel that justice is about to be doled out, but wait, theres more!

Suddenly, a cover up is called in to a man who appears to be a hitman. As Mike goes to return to the lab after taking a break, our hitman goes and deals with a pesky reporter (and all those who happen to be witness to his work in such a short time). Mike finds suspicious findings in the lab upon his return, and ends up going through the good doctor's desk to discover that the entire thing has been a plan called "Project Lucifer" using the townspeople as guinea pigs (and the fish a mere accidental side product). As the plot takes its final thickening pass, we find out that it isn't just the doctor, but in fact our own government that is the culprit!

"...shows its age a bit in a few different places."

    Overall, the movie certainly shows its age a bit in a few different places. The practical effects look a bit dated (sometimes the barracudas look a bit laughable), and even with the violence of people getting attacked by fish or occasionally shot, it's still managed a rating far below much of modern cinema presentations (blood rarely exists outside of attacks from the barracudas). Audio suffers from time to time as well, as is most noticeable in the later scenes with the Doctor in them, where it almost sounds as if Mike and the Doctor were recorded on two separate microphones at two separate times. The lines themselves are always audible, however, even if the quality of the recording sometimes becomes suspect. Music also does a good job of staying in the background and enhancing the current mood, particularly in the final stretch when some heroically themed funk music starts playing as our heroes drive off to finish the plot.

   There is a surprisingly adequate number of underwater scenes in this as well (much more, in fact, then a lot of recent shark movies), and although the surface-based town scenes may not leave much to look at, the underwater scenes do a great job of adding a little extra imagination and splendor to a film that could otherwise be rather bland. Actors did relatively well jobs across the board, even in the aforementioned underwater scenes when they couldn't use words to help distinguish mood or feel. It would be wrong of me, however, to not mention the "classic" girl scream happening two or three times across the movie ("Oh, whats that? AGHHHHH!") which is never really something I would call great acting (it's always done so over the top it's hard to take it seriously).

   In the end, what it came down to is the movie manage to successfully deliver to me more  than what I expected out of it, and that's something a lot of movies won't do. You go into a movie like Jaws  for example, and you get exactly what's on the box: a monster shark attacking people and make you never want to go swimming again, so this can be a good thing (if you like getting some surprises) and also a negative thing (if you really wanted a movie that was one-hundred percent about barracudas). I enjoyed it, I see no reason why others really wouldn't (unless they couldn't handle some dated audio or effects work), but that's really up to them to decide. It feels as though it has at least some budget to it, but also feels as though it would be right at home with those of us who love B-movies as well.

 Barracuda on IMDB

Drive in Double Feature: Barracuda/Island Fury
Starring Island Fury, Barracuda