Tintorera (1977) Tintorera / Tintorera: Tiger Shark / Tintorera: The Silent Death / Tintorera: Bloody Waters (1977) **

     This somewhat forlorn Mexican film needs to think a little harder about what it wants to be when it grows up. Judging from the packaging-- and from the title, for that matter-- you would probably expect this to be a tasteless Jaws rip-off, and at a certain level, you’d be right. But Tintorera spends most of its running time being a softcore porno! Now mind you, I have nothing against such genre-mixing in principle, but the disparate elements need to be combined much more thoughtfully and skillfully than they are in this movie for the trick to work. Watching Tintorera, I can easily envision the director periodically looking at whatever it is that directors use to keep track of how much film has thus far been shot, and exclaiming, “Oh shit! It’s time to throw in a shark attack!” Indeed, so poorly integrated are the killer shark and porno aspects of the film that I’m tempted to look for signs that the movie’s creators had the sort of sudden change of heart regarding the direction of the project that so often struck Al Adamson half-way through the production of his movies.

     Tintorera tries to establish its Jaws rip-off credentials immediately by beginning with a point-of-view shot that prowls through the waters of a coral reef as though it were looking for something to eat. Then we cut to a dockside scene in which a Mexican fisherman named Colorado (Eleazar Barcia) regales a group of American tourists with stories of the local shark population. In a piece of foreshadowing about as subtle as a B-29 with a belly full of firebombs, Colorado tells his listeners that the only species of shark in the area that he’s really afraid of is the tintorera-- the tiger shark. Colorado then turns his attention to the all-important work of opening-scene exposition, telling a friend of his that an American is flying in that day to use “the boat.” It is never made clear exactly what the story with the boat is-- who owns it, how it came to be where it is, what the nature of Colorado’s ties to it are-- but it’s going to end up being the setting for most of the film. The American who has come to use it (who will later claim it belongs to him, but I think he just says that to impress the chick he’s trying to screw in that scene) is a man by the name of Steve (Hugo Stiglitz, from City of the Walking Dead/Nightmare City/Incubo sulla Citta Contaminata), and the moment he arrives, he begins working on making it the swingingest bachelor pad in the area.

     Steve’s first conquest is an English girl named Patricia (Fiona Lewis, from The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck and Strange Invaders). He meets her at a party in a disco on the beach, and the two rapidly set about amusing themselves in all of the usual softcore porno ways. But eventually, things go slightly sour; Steve tells Patricia that he thinks he might be falling in love with her, and when she rightly pressures him for a more concrete statement of his feelings than that, he proves unable to oblige her, and she goes sulking off down the dunes. In the very next scene, Patricia has taken up with a local stud named Miguel (Andres Garcia of House of Evil), much to the chagrin of Steve, who feels compelled to reassert his manhood by punching the gigolo out. Unfortunately for Steve, Patricia is even less impressed by his unbecoming display of machismo than she was by his lukewarm declaration of affection, and she attaches herself even more firmly to Miguel.

     But hey, who gives a fuck, because Patricia is not long for this movie. One night, after putting Miguel to sleep with her vigorous sexuality, the English girl sneaks out of his cottage on the beach to go skinny dipping. Tell me something-- when was the last time you saw even a part-time horror movie in which a nude swim by moonlight did not lead to immediate and grisly death? Alright then, we can see what’s going to become of Patricia. What follows is pretty much a shot-for-shot reprise of the prologue to Jaws, with one minor exception-- I don’t remember Stephen Spielberg’s camera being nearly so enamored of the designated victim’s naked ass. Not that I’m complaining.

     And now for some more porn. The mysterious disappearance of Patricia has the curious effect of cementing a bond of friendship between Steve and Miguel (both men think the girl just ran off on them that night and headed back to England), and before long, Miguel has forged the pair into an unstoppable gigolo tag-team. With Miguel’s Latino suavidad and Steve’s boat, the two men are able to achieve the remarkable feat of preventing even a single article of clothing from appearing in Tintorera for something like a complete reel. Then Miguel hits upon an idea that will ratchet up their chick-magnet power even further. Miguel will teach Steve to hunt sharks!

     “Now hold on a minute, El Santo,” you say, “I thought that was going to be Colorado’s job.” Yeah, well so did I, but the filmmakers seem to have forgotten for the moment that he’s even in this movie, and so the task falls to Miguel instead. Steve learns fast, and only a couple of scenes elapse before he and Miguel are able to deploy with considerable success this technique for bowling the women over with their sheer, oily-chested masculinity. In particular, their target is another English woman, this one named Gabriela (Susan George, who went on to appear in Venom). In a startling reversal of the usual softcore porno tropes, Gabriela manages to impose a regime of exclusive polyandry on Steve and Miguel! Another one of those ostensibly romantic montages that litter the world of softcore sex films like so many discarded condoms follows, which leads in its turn to yet more fucking. Hey, that’s fine by me, but I could have sworn this was a movie about a shark...

     And it seems that our buddies the filmmakers have begun thinking along those lines themselves, because in the very next scene, for no apparent reason, Steve and Miguel get into a heavy-shit conversation about the future. Miguel says he doesn’t worry about the future, that he lives only for today; in fact, “If I were to die tomorrow, I’d want you to throw a big party.” Now you know as well as I do that when a character in one of these movies starts talking about what they’d like to happen if they died tomorrow, that means they’re fucking well going to die tomorrow! So guess what Steve and Miguel have scheduled for the following afternoon. That’s right-- a big day of shark-hunting. They bring Gabriela out on the boat with them (all the better to bowl her over with their sheer, oily-chested masculinity), and on the way, Miguel starts talking about tintoreras, and about how if you encounter one, you have only one shot at it with your spear gun, because their only lethally vulnerable spot is a small indentation on the forehead and if you miss it, the shark will eat you for lunch long before you have a chance to reload. Naturally, only moments elapse before Miguel finds himself face to face with just such a shark, and he of course misses the mark when he lets fly with his spear gun. Finally we’re getting somewhere.

     Or so you might think. Actually, it turns out the folks in charge of this thing still have a bit more porn up their sleeves. Gabriela and Steve are both despondent over Miguel’s death, and Gabriela comes to the conclusion that, because her relationship was with Steve and Miguel, it will be impossible for her to continue seeing Steve-- almost as though doing so would be to betray Miguel’s memory. So Gabriela packs her bags and heads back home, leaving Steve alone on his boat, and Steve does the only sensible thing, and starts looking for more girls to bone in her stead. He ends up hooking up with the two girls from that minutes-on-end-without-a-garment sequence I mentioned earlier, and invites them-- along with everyone else he can find-- to come out to a party on the boat. The boat is in its usual position, anchored about 50 yards out from the beach, and one of the girls has the brilliant idea that, rather than make half a dozen trips back and forth in Steve’s rubber motorboat, the prospective partygoers should simply take off their clothes and swim to the boat. Now, it’s dark out when the girl makes this suggestion, which would seem to suggest that a shark attack is being set up, despite the great number of people present. (These movies usually prefer to pick off their characters one at a time, you know.) And sure enough, that’s exactly what’s going on. The shark cruises in, sizing up the various swimmers, and finally decides to take out one of the girls from Steve’s first night out with Miguel. (This scene works better than you might expect, and it has at least one first-rate visual-- look closely at the overhead shot in which the shark closes in on the girl, and you’ll see it run off with its victim’s leg.) Panic ensues when the crowd as a whole notices the rapidly spreading cloud of blood in the water, and everyone dashes ashore to escape from the tintorera.

     And this time, we really are getting somewhere. Out of nowhere, Colorado resurfaces to supply Steve with a veritable arsenal of high-powered spear guns. Steve, you see, has decided to take it upon himself to do what the entire waterman population of a Mexican seaside resort have thus far failed to do-- kill the shark. As underwater fight scenes go, Steve’s showdown with the tintorera is actually pretty good, aided considerably (as are all the shark scenes in this movie) by the fact that a real, live tiger shark serves as the man’s foe. This is one of the relatively few instances in which the cheap way to do something in a movie happens also to be the most convincing way. Steve wins the duel of course, though it seems the shark was able to take a piece of him with it, as we next see him awakening in a hospital bed. Finally, just to make sure we get the point that Tintorera really isn’t about killer sharks, the credits roll over an encore of the polyandrous romantic montage from shortly before Miguel’s death.

     The big problem with Tintorera is that it plays like two completely different movies edited clumsily together, rather than as a single, unified film that attempts to operate on two different levels at once. There is the nucleus of a pretty decent Jaws knock-off here, along with most of the raw material for an innovative and sociologically daring softcore porno. But at no point does it seem that more than the most cursory effort has been expended to weave the two elements together into a viable, coherent whole. Combine that with the dissonance between the movie the filmmakers seem to have thought they made and the one that they actually did make, and you get a good 90 minutes’ worth of missed opportunities.



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