Before watching even one second of Tintorera: Killer Shark (1977), I could have guessed that a two-hour and six-minute running time was going to be too long. Considering the “killer shark” story plays like merely a subplot, I’m also guessing that, in the wake of Jaws, it was added to a film already in production. The good news is, other than the bare-bones concept of the subplot, I do not consider Tintorera to be a Jaws rip-ff.
Still, even with what I’m assuming are additional scenes, there’s a whole section that could have been removed. Patricia (Fiona Lewis) arrives at a Mexican beach resort and falls in love with Steven (Hugo Stiglitz), who’s supposed to be resting and recovering on a yacht just off the coast. When he can’t tell her that he reciprocates the feelings, she runs into the arms of Miguel (Andres Garcia), the local gigolo.
Patricia becomes the first victim of the tiger shark, but it’s never discovered what happened to her. Both Steven and Miguel barely acknowledge her absence, probably assuming she abruptly left due to romantic complications. (Who wants those on a vacation?) The two men do, however, bond following their rivalry over Patricia and become best of friends. (If your head goes there, perhaps more.)
The bulk of the movie tells the story of the three-way relationship that forms between Steven, Miguel and another female tourist, Gabriella (Susan George.) We witness scene after scene of the three of them frolicking on the boat and the beach, in the ruins, and on and under the water. It predates Summer Lovers by five years and I’m not being funny; this is a legitimate drama about a… thruple?
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I kind of enjoyed this story. It doesn’t hurt that Garcia is drop-dead gorgeous. If he wears a shirt at all, it may as well be tattered cloth hanging from his broad shoulders. He’s the highlight of Tintorera. Stiglitz pales in comparison because he seems to have only one expression: dark brooding. But, I suppose it's a matter of taste.
Late in the movie, there’s more shark action; but, no matter how many characters die, and what kind of hunt (minimal) they conduct for it, there’s always time for a drink and a meal on the beach in the evening when new female tourists ask if they can join Steven at his table. The most attention given to a victim, a survivor, is one we hardly know… but a lot of it is given to Kelly (Jennifer Ashley), when her father (Carlos East) flies down to take her home.
The shark footage is not bad. The author of the novel on which the movie is based, Ramon Bravo, is credited for “submarine photography.” Underwater scenes are consistent; avoiding the look of sharks being edited into other footage. The attacks are somewhat impressive, as well. They seem realistic and are terrifying in their simplicity, especially when the Tintorera literally grabs a part-eaten woman from Steven’s arms as he tries to carry her ashore.
Tintorera is directed by Rene Cardona Jr., son of Rene Cardona, who made several Santo films, The Batwoman (1968), and the notorious Christmas “classic,” Santa Claus (1959.) The two worked together on another film I kind of liked, Night of the Bloody Apes (1969.) In my opinion, none of Junior’s films are destined for cult status like his father’s; however, he you may argue with me since he also gave the world Beaks: the Movie (1987.)
Written by Rene Cardona Jr. & Ramon Bravo
From the novel Tintorera by Ramon Bravo
Directed by Rene Cardona Jr.
Starring Susan George, Hugo Stiglitz, Andres Garcia, Fiona Lewis
RT 126 min.
Released April 4, 1977 (Mexico), June 7, 1978 (USA)
Home Video Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
Rating 4 possessed children (out of 10)