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¡Tintorera! – notes

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NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.

‘These stones have been defying the fury of the elements for centuries.’ ‘I wish human relationships were strong like that but you know they usually end up destroying themselves.’

One of the tsunami of Jaws imitations which flooded the international market in the wake of the 1975 megablockbuster, this 1977 Mexican epic is una pellicula de René Cardona Jr.  The script is based on a novel (I’d hazard a guess semi-autobiographical) by Ramón Bravo, who also supervised the underwater photography.  In its mercilessly extended international cut (127m), ¡Tintorera! is a bizarre, excruciating mix of mondo, exploitation and something approaching pretentious art movie.

Esteban aka Steve (Hugo Stiglitz, with a weird red beard), a playboy recovering from a nervous breakdown (ie: he looks dead glum), lives on a yacht off a coastal resort and has a romantic adventure with tourist Patricia (Fiona Lewis, robbed of her distinctive voice in the dubbing).  She admits she’s falling in love but doesn’t want to be emotionally involved and dumps him for Miguel aka Mikey (Andrés Garcia), a grinning handsome diving tutor-cum-gigolo hunk.  Patricia gets up early one morning and takes a dip in the ocean which ends with her getting eating by a passing tintorera shark.  No one notices, and she’s never even mentioned again.  After the bruising experience of being dumped – yes, we spend more time worrying about the minor neuroses of Hugo Stiglitz than caring Fiona Lewis got killed and eaten! – Steve and Mikey make up their squabble, and become a tag-team in bedding hippie chick sisters Kelly (Jennifer Ashley) and Cynthia (Laura Lyons).  These girls were introduced earlier in a slap-and-tickle comedy rape scene involving middle-aged truck drivers, where the girls really do lie back and enjoy it at just about the point everyone in the audience concludes Cardona is as big a dick as his lead characters.  Now blood brothers, the guys also hunt sharks together – cuing a lot of real-life shark snuff footage, with the repeated image of thick red blood flowing out of gills – and enter into a menage a trois with Gabriella (top-billed Susan George, unflatteringly shot), who shows up an hour in and goes through a long montage of three-way fun every place but the bedroom (or bedcabin) accompanied by a hideous horrible song (‘We’ll Be Together Until Goodbye’).

This idyll ends when Miguel is eaten by that tintorera, who evidently holds a grudge – in a gruesome bit, a real shark swims about with Miguel’s fake head in its mouth, and pilot fish nibble at the ragged flesh.  Gabriella, upset, just goes home (also never to be mentioned again), and a numbed Steve throws himself back into hedonism, getting together again with the hippie sisters.  The last straw comes during a midnight swim in the shallows (horrid electro thrumm underwater music accompanies the fish) when the shark eats Cynthia.  Steve’s final liebestod is with the shark (!) – he sets out to hunt it down in revenge for its eating his best pal.  It’s ambiguous, but the hero seems to die killing it – his underwater light settles on the bottom in a cloud of blood in the final image.  Cardona has a weird conviction that these beach bums’ lifestyle is interesting – maybe he’d seen that excellent Sam Elliott movie Lifeguard? – but the lead guys are pretty much assholes and the bikini girls seem like idiots for putting up with them.  Presumably, the weird gay vibe between the often naked leading Stiglitz and Garcia – hunk Mikey displaces Esteban’s regular camp sidekick/servant Colonado (Roberto Guzman) on his yacht – is intentional, though the women all do casual nudity too.  With moose-jawed Miguel Angel Fuentes (Pumaman) as a bodyguard.

Kim Newman

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