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William Grefé
Richard Jaeckel, Jenifer Bishop, Buffy Dee
Robert Madaris

Sonny Stein uses a mystical connection to protect Mako sharks.
Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 86 min.
Price: $99.95
Release Date: 11/24/2020
Available as Part of “He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection”

• Audio Commentary With Director William Grefé
• Introduction from Director William Grefé
• “Behind the Movie” Featurette
• “The Aquamaid Speaks!” Featurette
• “Sharks, Stalkers and Sasquatch” Audio Interview
• Super-8 Digest Version
• Trailer & Promo Gallery
• Still Galleries


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Mako: Jaws of Death [Blu-Ray] (1976)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 29, 2020)

After Jaws became a massive hit in the summer of 1975, imitators seemed inevitable. Some other film buff can figure out the first knockoff to hit the screens, but 1976’s Mako: Jaws of Death feels like a candidate.

US soldier Sonny Stein (Richard Jaeckel) survives the Vietnam War due to the advantageous intervention of a Mako shark. Sonny later pursues work as a marine salvager off the Philippines, and he meets a local shaman.

This mystic gives Sonny a medallion that allows him to enjoy a supernatural connection to sharks. After he returns to the States, Sonny attempts to defend his aquatic pals from unscrupulous parties.

I may judge Mako too harshly when I deem it a Jaws ripoff, as director William Grefé asserts that he came up with the story before the Spielberg classic reached theaters. Grefé acknowledges that the 1975 hit got him the financing to make this flick.

So we’ll cut Grefé a break and remove the accusations of cinematic theft. Original Mako may be, but good it is not.

And by “not good”, I mean ”ludicrously awful”. If anything positive emerges from this wreck, I can’t find it.

Okay, I can admit we get some appealing underwater photography. With no budget for a fake amphibian, Grefé relied on real sharks, and these elements give us a decent look at the creatures.

Other that that, though, I can find no redeeming qualities here. Mako becomes a convoluted, amateurish mess.

Granted, some of this stems from the movie’s obvious lack of funds. While Jaws may have gotten Grefé financing, I don’t imagine he raised a whole lot of cash, as the cheapness of the production appears clear.

Or perhaps most of the dollars went for Jaeckel. While never a star, he enjoyed a positive reputation and even got Oscar-nominated a few years earlier for 1971’s Sometimes a Great Notion.

One won’t sense Jaeckel’s abilities here, as he “acts down” to the awful material. Jaeckel seems so disinterested in the part that one could easily mistake him for a total novice, one with precious little skill.

No one else picks up the slack, and the inane “plot” doesn’t help. Oddly, Grefé refuses to divulge Sonny’s backstory until more than one-third of the way into the movie, and not much about the tale makes a lot of sense.

Perhaps related to the aforementioned low budget, Mako doesn’t even give us shark action much of the time. Instead, we find ourselves stuck with the lousy characters and plodding narrative.

I don’t expect much from cheap “B”-movies like Mako, but this film can’t even live up to the most modest aspirations. Cheesy, dumb and downright dull, the flick does nothing right.

Trivia: though it features mammals, 1976’s Grizzly offered a clear Jaws ripoff, one with a story that emulated the Spielberg film’s narrative. Coincidentally, it also starred Jaeckel.

The Disc Grades: Picture D/ Audio D+/ Bonus B-

Mako: Jaws of Death appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. As expected, this low-budget, 45-year-old movie came with a mix of problems.

Sharpness was mediocre at best and usually worse. The movie displayed acceptable delineation at its peak, but most of the film seemed really soft and fuzzy.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I witnessed no edge haloes, but print flaws became a major concern. Throughout the movie, these presented specks, scratches, lines and other marks. Some scenes worked better than others, but the defects created a lot of distractions along the way.

Colors were bland. Even with potentially dynamic locations, the hues seemed pale and faded, which left them as unsatisfying.

Blacks came across as a bit inky, and low-light shots tended to be moderately thick. They weren’t overly dark, but they suffered from some muddy qualities. This became a borderline unwatchable presentation.

Don’t expect a whole lot from the film’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack either, as it offered a flawed presentation. Speech remained intelligible but showed a mix of concerns, as lines tended to be edgy and reedy.

Effects seemed rough and harsh, whereas music was shrill and without much range. A fair amount of background noise also interfered, with plenty of pops. Even given the movie’s age and low-budget origins, this became a weak soundtrack.

A mix of extras accompany the movie, and we get an audio commentary from director William Grefé. He brings a running, screen-specific look at the project’s roots and path to the screen, story and characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, the use of real sharks, and other domains.

At his best, Grefé brings a decent array of insights, as he gets into various aspects of the production moderately well. However, he can ramble and go off-topic a bit, so expect a good but inconsistent track.

Grefé makes at least one major mistake in the commentary. He claims that actor Richard Jaeckel died within five years of the Mako shoot, but Jaeckel actually lived until 1997, more than two decades after this movie’s creation.

We can view the movie with or without a four-minute, six-second Introduction from Grefé. He provides basics about the production and makes this a decent overview, even if it often proves redundant after the commentary.

Behind the Movie runs seven minutes, 27 seconds and presents a video essay from film historian Michael Gingold. He discusses the use of wild creatures in movies and “man vs. animal” flicks.

Gingold covers a variety of critters, but he emphasizes sharks. Gingold offers a decent rudimentary history but not one that digs too deeply into the topic.

Next comes The Aquamaid Speaks!, a nine-minute, 49-second phone interview with actor Jenifer Bishop. Conducted by film historian Ed Tucker, she tells us about her career, with the expected emphasis on Mako.

Don’t expect many insights here. While Bishop manifests a few decent notes, she doesn’t seem to remember the shoot all that well, so this becomes a pedestrian interview.

Sharks, Stalkers and Sasquatch spans 10 minutes, 28 seconds and features another Tucker-conducted phone interview. Tucker chats with screenwriter Robert Morgan.

Here we learn about his time in movies and what he did for Mako. He delivers a few useful notes, and we even get some interesting behind the scenes footage from a different film, one in which poor Harold Sakata almost died on the set!

The disc also provides a Super-8 Digest Version of Mako. In those pre-VHS days, studios would release snippets of feature films onto Super-8 – I owned one for Star Wars, which made me the envy of all my fifth grade classmates, thank you very much.

The Mako “digest” runs 15 minutes, six seconds. It’s not in good shape but it’s a fun historical artifact.

Publicity elements follow. In addition to the movie’s trailer, an original promo that lasts 10 minutes, 24 seconds. A collection of movie clips with narration, it’s unclear where this created-for-TV reel ran. Other than as an archival relic, it doesn’t seem interesting.

A CBS Promo goes for a mere 33 seconds. It simply brings an ad for the TV broadcast of Mako.

More compelling, a Behind the Scenes News Segment lasts two minutes, nine seconds. Made for a local news broadcast, it offers some shots from the set and brief comments from Grefé and actor Richard Jaeckel. While not informative, it’s worth a look for the candid material.

Finally, a Still Gallery delivers 49 images. It mixes shots from the set and publicity elements to turn into a nice collection.

Even by the intensely low standards of Jaws knockoffs, Mako: Jaws of Death stinks. Barely coherent and downright dull, the movie exhibits no positive qualities. The Blu-ray brings problematic picture and audio along with a decent allotment of bonus materials. This winds up as a genuinely terrible movie.

Note that this version of Mako appears as part of an eight-film package called “He Came From the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection”.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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