The Film: Tintorera – also known as Tintorera: Killer Shark (1977)
The Principles: Susan George, Hugo Stiglitz, Fiona Lewis and Andrés García. Written & Directed by René Cardona Jr.
The Premise: Steven (Hugo Stiglitz), a well-to-do businessman, has anchored his fancy yacht in the waters of a Mexican beach resort to do some diving, some chilling, and some humping of some tourist skanks. After Steven finds himself inadvertently sharing a British tourist (Fiona Lewis) with Miguel (Andrés García), a studly womanizer who works at the resort, the two men become unlikely friends. They then willingly share Gabriella (Susan George), another British tourist, and live an idyllic threeway life of awesome sex aboard Steven’s yacht. But there is trouble in this sexy paradise. A giant tiger shark with a penchant for sluts rolls into town and starts munching people up. So Steven and Miguel decide they must kill the beast so they can return to their debauchery in peace.
Is It Good: As it is advertised? No. Not at all. The sensational tagline of the poster, and that image of a monster shark – bursting from the water’s surface with a sexy babe in its jaws – gives a wildly incorrect picture of Tintorera‘s tone and actual goals. While, reasonably speaking, any post-1975 beach-set horror movie about a killer animal – especially a killer shark – is going to be something of a Jaws knock-off, Tintorera does not follow any of the typical Jaws beats. There are no authority figures mucking up our hero’s mission because they’re worried about “tourist season.” But more than that, Tintorera‘s whole approach is off-base from that of a ‘killer animal’ movie. Up until the very end, the titular tiger shark (“tintorera,” we’re told, is Spanish for tiger shark) is rarely on our heroes’ minds — they’re not even aware it is killing humans until the mid-point of the film. Steven and Miguel are mostly concerned with boinking chicks and hanging out and chatting. Tintorera has the seamy tone of a 70’s European sex-drama, with some shark attacks sprinkled in for punctuation. Only once we reach the climax does the film take on a ‘killer animal’ horror vibe. But this is exactly what makes the film interesting. To me at least. The girls who visit this beach are free love fabrications, quick to get naked and even quicker to engage in Penthouse forum scenarios. Yet this isn’t a tits’a’poppin’ sex romp with bubbly coeds. Tintorera so desperately wants to be sexy and provocative in a mature way. And at times it almost gets there. But star Hugo Stiglitz is aggressively unsexy. He looks like a blond Daniel Stern, minus any of Stern’s amiable charm. Stiglitz’s Steven is an unlikable sleaze with anger issues, and I found it fascinating that I couldn’t tell exactly how the film wanted me to view him. Is he sleazy? Is he sexy? I’m not sure. I wonder if director René Cardona Jr. was sure.
The other curio appeal of the film is its shameless assault on sea life. Produced in Mexico, this production clearly did not earn the Human Society’s “no animals were harmed during the making of this movie” stamp of approval. If you’re squeamish about seeing real animals killed in a movie, then stay far, far away from Tintorera. It is like Faces of Death (the non-fake parts). It almost seems like Cardona shot this movie to exercise his hatred of the living creatures of the ocean. So many real sharks are killed in the film (among other things), that shooting the film could have been its own set-up for a horror movie – about ruthless filmmakers making a shark movie who get their comeuppance when the sea life starts fighting back. You start to feel bad for the sharks. But as reprehensible as it is, it only ads to the overall sleaze factor — it is like sea critter snuff porn. The use of real sharks proves oddly effective as a short-cut around having good special FX. There are no cheesy rubber sharks here, so some of the attack scenes are bizarrely effective.
Tintorera is the best kind of failure, because you sense that Cardona perfectly achieved exactly what he set out to do. It was just a strange goal to shoot for when making a movie about a killer shark.
Is It Worth A Look: For shark cinema fans it is a must. And those who get a kick out of politically incorrect filmmaking will likely also find the film’s shamelessness appealing (though hopefully also off-putting).
Random Anecdote: Quentin Tarantino paid a tribute to actor Hugo Stiglitz in his typical way by naming a character “Hugo Stiglitz” (played by actor Til Schweiger) in Inglourious Basterds.
Cinematic Soulmates: Jaws. The Deep. Y Tu Mamá También. Faces of Death.