Tuesday, August 13, 2019
MST3K Watch: Killer Fish (1979)
Format: Netflix MST3K - The Gauntlet
Sometimes movie stars just want to take a vacation and maybe shoot a movie while they're there. You see it all the time in these peculiar movies that don't look very good but star people who actually cost some money - and the movie is in, say, Hawaii. They're called "postcard movies", and the deal is usually that the star maybe asks for less because they're being put up in a really nice hotel in Maui for two months to make some romcom or whatever. Their family comes out and they go boogie-boarding on their days off.
I kind of suspect something similar was afoot in 1979 when Killer Fish went into production. The movie doesn't have the world's biggest stars, but in '79 Lee Majors was a pretty big deal and Karen Black was still bankable. I imagine selling the movie as "come down to Rio de Janeiro for a couple months" was a pretty good deal. I'd also mention, this movie was part of the short-lived Fawcett-Majors Productions, a go at producing from when Lee Majors and Farah Fawcett were Hollywood's foremost couple. And, no, you've never heard of this movie or the other films that they produced.
But Fawcett-Majors wasn't all that involved It looks like some Italian money, some French money and some Brazilian dough really financed the picture, and it has all the late-70's production value you'd expect from a movie intended for inexpensive European theatrical release. And a director who has a list as long as your arm of B and C list films, some of which you may have seen fading on the shelf at your local video store circa 1988.
Oddly, I think there probably was a pretty good "heist gone bad" movie somewhere in Killer Fish at some point. Before they finished the script, rented a camera or did anything resembling production - a germ of an idea that might have worked was concocted - and then someone decided that was too simple and not enough. While I like a heist movie, reading enough Parker novels got me keen to the idea of how things go south *after* the heist as a bunch of crooks are a pretty unpredictable lot, and so ditching a case of jewels into the water to retrieve later makes a lot of sense. The crooks can go at each other as they wait for the heat to clear. Add in an unforeseen pool of piranha, and, boy howdy, that's drama!
But... someone asked their 8-12 year old how to spice up the movie, and so we have a tornado! (?) , a shipwreck (it's a disaster film!), and tens of thousands of piranha introduced into a carefully balanced ecosystem. Because criminal mastermind James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) thought *that* was the best way to keep any of the crew from making off with the rocks.
The movie also stars Karen Black, who was in a wide range of movies from the 1960's to around 2010, but who was at her peak around this time - so, yeah, I was a little surprised to see her. It also features Margeaux Hemingway - an actress and model who passed in the mid-90's.
You may also recognize Roy Brocksmith, who was just a "that guy!" in movies from the 1970's through the 90's. Marisa Berenson looked super familiar, but I don't know why, aside from seeing Cabaret a few times. And, for anyone who watched TV during a certain era, Gary Collins will absolutely ring a bell as a "ohhhh yeah! That guy!" face.
And, of course, Lee Majors who is always Lee Majors, and we love him for it. But he has a weird dearth of dialog in this movie.
Look, this movie is MST3K stuff, so 'nuff said about the quality of the production. I recommend the episode whole-heartedly, so seek it out. It was one of my favorites of this season. And, of course, it's a movie about animals eating people, so you have to give it some extra points. Not to mention the song the MST3K crew performs about 1/3rd of the way into the movie. It's... really something.
*Watching Franciscus in this film is a reminder that some guys just can't catch a break, and even as the dashing villain of the piece, he's still playing second fiddle to the Six Million Dollar Man in a movie about angry small fish, and he dies in a rubber-raft mishap. So next time you're having cocktails, pour one out for Franciscus, who shoulda been huge. But somehow just never seemed to work it out.