Inasmuch as I love films made in the commercial wake of Jaws (1975), Sangue negli abissi (1989) is an incredible piece of tedious cinema. It's cinema done paint-by-numbers style--a little drama here, a little action there, and a big dorsal fin sticking out of the water, here. Sangue negli abissi has no energy in its pacing nor in its impetus. Sangue is a Joe D'Amato production, and the former statement is perhaps the most offensive aspect of it. Sangue is almost wholesome--a film about fraternal loyalty in the face of adversity. Huh?Four young boys are on the beach in Florida, enjoying the sun setting. A Native American approaches the young four and warns them of a monster, steeped in legend from when he was a boy. The monster resides in the water, and if ever the day the monster returns, the four boys make a blood pact to unite and fight it. Cut to present day, and the four are recent high-school graduates--one is the mayor's son, prepped for a military career; one has a father who was once a fisherman but is now scared of the water; one has lost his mother and is living a slightly wayward life with a distant father; and the final young man is happy-go-lucky with conspicuously a lack of a back story comparable to the other three. They all have names, yet I do not remember them. Not to be disrespectful towards this production, but I believe their names are not important. The happy-go-lucky of the four gets attacked and killed by a shark while his slightly-wayward buddy looks on. Cue the small seaside town shenanigans: enter sheriff, enter collateral drama, and enter plan to stop the shark. Let's get some of these characters into the water. Transition is the primary flaw of Sangue negli abissi. The script of the film is too short and too complicated, so ordinary scenes which would be cut out for pacing are included to its detriment. Sangue needed to decide which film it wanted to be--small-town drama or adventure. Unlike Jaws, the script (and the budget) of Sangue pulls in opposite directions--the drama hurts the adventure and vice versa. Surprisingly, scenes like the sheriff visiting the shark expert get little serious treatment in the narrative, but scenes like one of the young men having a heart-to-heart with his returning-home girlfriend get included. I don't even understand why the girlfriend is in the film. She's included as if Sangue needed someone to worry about the main characters. Someone needed to be at the foot of the pier when the young men returned from the shark hunt ready to say "I'm glad to you're safe."
All the locations appear genuine. Joe D'Amato says Sangue negli abissi was filmed "[i]n Florida mostly, though we did do a small part along the Mississippi River, which proved very awkward because the water there is very dark and murky. The actual underwater scenes, though, were shot in various places: at Venotene, in a Roman swimming-pool and in a New Orleans aquarium." (Spaghetti Nightmares, edited by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta, Fantasma Books, Key West, Florida, 1996, p. 79). Sangue appears recorded with direct sound with little clean-up in post-production, as voice echoes in big rooms are heard, for example. During a night beach scene, however, where the local bartender decides to take a swim into the ocean for a slo-mo shark attack scene, her voice audio seems inserted to cover for the loud sounds of the wind and crashing waves. In addition to the genuine locations, all the actors appear to be its residents. That is to say, Joe D'Amato and company showed up to shoot Sangue and asked people, "May we shoot a film in this home? And would you be willing to act in a scene here? We're making a Jaws-like film."
Raf Donato is the credited director. Joe D'Amato explains: "Raf worked with me in Giubbe rosse as dialogue coach, taking care of the actors' English diction. He's Italian-American and lives in New York. He works for Martin Scorsese as diction secretary. ¶ When I met up with him again after ten years, he revealed to me that he wanted to start up as a director, and so I went along with the idea. However, after shooting the scene where the kids gather to seal their blood pact, he realized that he didn't feel up to directing the film through to the end, and since I was on the set anyway as producer and director of photography, he agreed that I should take over." (Spaghetti Nightmares, pp.78 -79) Take over he did, and Joe D'Amato went into professional mode keeping Sangue clean with classic shots, such as close-ups, mediums, and wides. D'Amato shoots Sangue in a wholly uninteresting style, save the underwater scenes; yet he takes a flawed script and wrangles a coherent narrative. It's a palatable package in an established commercial market for buyers and distributors. "It was very successful abroad," says D'Amato, "it even sold well in Japan." (Spaghetti Nightmares, p. 79)
The best scene of Sangue negli abissi comes in the third act at an underwater wreckage, where the young men engage in the laborious, ridiculous, and complex task of killing the shark by detonating the wreckage (and hoping to kill the shark with the blast). The scenes of the wreckage are brilliant and made me wish the whole film was set down there. The dark shadows and corners of the wreckage are merely a plot device for Sangue, but the mystery that D'Amato creates with his visuals are enough to see this talented director working on something not worthy of his time. Sangue negli abissi is the very definition of tedium and is recommend for those who enjoy tedium. I presume, perhaps unwisely, that there are few who enjoy such. With a "mechanical shark's head and the rest we used [from] stock footage shots that we bought from National Geographic," (Spaghetti Nightmares, p. 79) Joe D'Amato pulls another cinematic prank at the expense of all. Including the shark. Rock on.