Blu-ray Release: April 27, 2021
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Master 2.0 mono
Run Time: 94:23
Director: Joe D’Amato
A killer shark possessed by an evil Native American spirit attacks a small beachside community and it’s up to four now-grown childhood friends to stop its reign of terror.
For an introduction to Joe D’Amato and his horror movies, see the following:
The typically prompt Italian exploitation industry was not on the ball when it came to producing low-budget rip-offs of Steven Spielberg’s worldwide mega-blockbuster Jaws (1975). Perhaps this was due to the famously difficult logistics of shooting on the water, which didn’t lend itself to the cheap & fast method of Italian filmmaking or perhaps Jaws hadn’t caught on in the region as quickly as it had elsewhere. Whatever the reason, the Italians made up for lost time following two Enzo G. Castellari entries in the killer shark pantheon: The Shark Hunter (Italian: Il cacciatore di squali, 1979) and The Last Shark (Italian: L'ultimo squalo, 1981), the latter of which was a shameless pilfering of Speilberg’s classic. Other squalo hits included Lamberto Bava’s Devilfish (Italian: Shark: Rosso nell'oceano, 1984), Tonino Ricci’s The Night of the Sharks (Italian: La notte degli squali, 1988), Bruno Mattei’s Cruel Jaws (1995), and sleaze king Joe D’Amato’s Deep Blood (Italian: Sangue negli abissi, 1990).
D’Amato, real name Aristide Massaccesi, was one of the major driving forces behind Italian exploitation and horror from the mid ’80s through the early ‘90s, as producer, cinematographer, and director. Due to a litany of causes, the bottom had begun falling out of the industry following a handful of ultra-gory grindhouse and home video hits released at the beginning of the ‘80s, including Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (Italian: ...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà; aka: Seven Doors of Death, 1981), Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and D’Amato’s own Anthropophagous (aka: Anthropophagous: The Beast and The Grim Reaper, 1980). With the notable exception of Dario Argento’s output (both as director and producer), the scope and scale of Italian horror shrunk, leaving aging auteurs like Fulci and Deodato to struggle with even smaller budgets and distribution possibilities. But the new state of the industry actually served workaday filmmakers, like D’Amato, who never saw himself as an artiste. While the majority of D’Amato’s post-1985 movies are justifiably dismissed as cynical, artless cash-grabs, he did manage to help his cohorts stay afloat, producing films for Michele Soavi (Stage Fright [aka: Deliria, StageFright, Aquarius, Bloody Bird,1987]), Umberto Lenzi (Ghosthouse [Italian: La Casa 3, 1988]), and Fulci (Door to Silence [Italian: Le porte del silenzio, 1991]).
According to an interview conducted for Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta’s Spaghetti Nightmares: Italian Fantasy-Horrors As Seen Through The Eyes Of Their Protagonists (1996, Fantasma Books), Deep Blood began life as one of these favors. Credited director Raffaele Donato had worked as an English language dialect coach on some of D’Amato’s films and asked his friend if he could produce and photograph his directorial debut. Unfortunately, after shooting a single scene, Donato reportedly quit, leaving D’Amato to take over. Instead of directing under a pseudonym as he often did, D’Amato opted to simply name Donato director on the official paperwork. Writing credit is given to “George Nelson Ott,” which is almost certainly a pseudonym and probably George Eastman (real name Luigi Montefiori) or D’Amato himself.
The story is a typical Jaws analog, sometimes beat-for-beat, with slight variations on the larger themes and characters. Sheriff Brody, Quint, and Hooper are replaced by college boys returning to their quiet hometown, burdened by tragic backstories and a childhood pact straight out of a Stephen King book. The shark is also a vaguely supernatural force, similar to King’s Cujo, and there is some very King-like, vaguely offensive Native American mysticism behind it. While scenes of family strife drag, not unlike an after school special, it’s still somewhat impressive to see a late stage Jaws cash-in acknowledging that Spielberg’s film is as much a character study and small community drama as it is a horror film. The drama also affords us the charm of watching respectable actors fumbling through some awkward, chuckle-worthy dialogue and high-key histrionics. To D’Amato and “Ott’s” credit, Deep Blood is well disguised as an American-made product. Even a trained Italian horror viewer such as myself could’ve been fooled, had D’Amato not been outed by the Blu-ray’s marketing.
As a horror movie, Deep Blood rarely follows through on the promise of its title. The shark attacks are mostly slow-motion swimming, screaming, and churning water, sometimes with blood, but often the violence is only implied. This might be a surprise to fans that know D’Amato mostly for gore-fests, like Anthropophagus and Beyond the Darkness (Italian: Buio Omega; aka: Buried Alive, 1979), but horror wasn’t necessarily his forte – he was more comfortable shooting porn of the soft and hardcore varieties. Sadly, he really seems to have been aiming for an MPAA PG, because there isn’t any nudity, either. His skill as a cinematographer is an asset where underwater and landscape photography is concerned, while helping to build atmosphere in place of suspense and violence. Deep Blood was produced on the cheap using a mix of original photography and clips legitimately purchased from the National Geographic Society (in comparison, Mattei’s Cruel Jaws famously stole footage from Deep Blood, Jaws, the Jaws sequels, and The Last Shark, all without permission, and, as a result, is unreleasable on Blu-ray/DVD to this day). D’Amato does a respectable job of matching the hue/tones of the original footage to the stock footage (the grain is always the giveaway), but has less luck matching the various underwater locations, which included lakes, an aquarium, and even a pool. The biggest such flub occurs early one, when a little boy embarks on a seaside swim and the blue tiles of the pool can be seen in the shot.
It doesn’t seem like Deep Blood was ever officially released on VHS in North America and the only DVD release I can find specs for is a 2014 disc from French company Crocofilms (it was apparently limited to 300 copies, but is still available for €10 on Amazon), though wikipedia claims there is a 2009 Czech disc from Řitka Video. According to the back of the box, Severin’s 1080p Blu-ray debut was produced using a new 2K scan of the original negative. The company has opted to present the film in 1.33:1, as well, which makes sense, since it was almost certainly shot with pre-16x9 home video, not theatrical release, in mind. Given the lack of previous availability and history of Italian-born scans being a bit on the noisy side, I’m happy to report that this is a very strong transfer that is limited mostly by D’Amato’s soft and naturally-lit outdoor photography. There is a twinge of digital noise, but, for the most part, grain appears natural and there isn’t much posterization. Underwater photography fares the best, given its vivid blue quality and murky layers of detail, but you’ll also find the most film damage here, because the stock/reused footage wasn’t in the best shape when it was spliced into the movie. Black levels are rich, despite the purposefully blown-out look of daytime shots.
Deep Blood comes fitted with two DTS-HD Master Audio mono tracks, one English and the other Italian. Here’s the part of every Italian Blu-ray review where I remind readers that these films were often shot without sound and multilingual casts, so all tracks are technically dubbed tracks. The English track has all the advantages in this case, from the fact that the cast appears to have been speaking English on-set (they might have actually recorded synced sound!) to the slightly more intensive/immersive effects editing, and more even blending between effects, dialogue, and Carlo Maria Cordio’s electronic music. In contrast, the Italian dub is flat, quieter, and more distorted.
The only extra is a trailer
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.