One of the best of the many “Jaws” ripoffs of the late 70s, “Tintorera” features great underwater photography and uninhibited sexuality.
Shark movies are always difficult to make. No matter what the plot decides to do, the film will always be compared to Jaws. The Steven Spielberg classic left such a mark that, to this day, it is usually found at the top of various all-time great lists.
This was less of a problem in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There were simply too many movies that blatantly tried to rip off Jaws.
Naturally, there were movies about killer sharks, but there were also ones about piranhas, bears, and alligators. It was unnecessary to stand out too much since the point was to stay as close to the successful formula as possible.
An amazing result of the original summer blockbuster is 1977’s Tintorera (aka Tintorera: Killer Shark).
The plot is about a U.S.-born Mexican businessman named Steven (Hugo Stiglitz). He soon finds himself living his best life aboard a yacht. This includes a whirlwind romance, a responsibility-free throuple, and wild clothing-option parties where the booze flows free.
Few films celebrate hedonism more.
If a scene does not have nudity, then it has someone drinking an alcoholic beverage. And if neither of those is found, then the characters are talking about getting naked or having a drink.
There are several parties in Tintorera, each making the sex comedies of the 80s look tame.
The craziest is held in honor of someone who has just been brutally killed by the titular shark.
It starts at a restaurant, heads to a beach where the revelers proceed to drink from a conch shell, and ends with some skinny dipping in the ocean before the big bad comes and chomps down on another victim. It was such a big event that Priscilla Barnes of Three’s Company fame was in attendance.
Tintorera may be the most sex-positive sharksploitation flick out there.
The amount of nudity and casual sex may be out of the ordinary for a shark movie, but it is on brand for the time period. The amount of speedo screen time is impressive.
But it is its take on its three-person relationship that is most noteworthy.
Steven, Miguel (Andres Garcia), and Gabriella (Susan George, Straw Dogs) enter into a three-way relationship with very clear rules. It is all about fun, and there can be no jealousy or love. As soon as it becomes anything more, it is all over.
Surprisingly, the arrangement works well, with the three having a great time sightseeing and having sex. Things only come to an end when Miguel is killed by the shark, which causes Gabriella to leave since she and Steven will not be able to stop thinking about their time with him.
This leads to another interesting aspect of Tintorera.
While it never specifically addresses homosexuality, a big part of the movie is the growing relationship between its male leads.
What starts as a rivalry — sort of — turns into a cautious friendship that soon has them in a threeway. The scene that speaks volumes about them is a musical montage of them taking pictures of local landmarks. They look to be genuinely in love.
What truly differentiates the film from Jaws are the many underwater scenes.
The shark is not as terrifying as it should be — especially since it sounds like a creep perving out during a prank call.
The footage itself looks amazing; live sharks are used and gives Tintorera an almost documentary feel.
Does it make it any less of a rip-off? Not at all. But it is another reason that it stands head and shoulders above all other Jaws knockoffs.
In Mexico, to catch major audiences and avoid censorship, two versions were released. An uncut version for mature audiences and a version without sexual scenes for younger audiences. There seem to be two endings, even for the original 126-minute version. In one version, Steven wakes up after killing the shark in a hospital sans an arm. Another version is vaguer about what happens to him.
A mix of Spanish and English is spoken in the original version. The US version is newly dubbed entirely in English.
The USA original release was heavily edited from the original 126-minute version, which eliminates most of the opening sub-plots, including Steven in a hospital bed in Houston after falling ill at work and his doctor advising a vacation, and Miguel first meeting and romancing Anita and the introduction of Kelly and Cynthia hitching a ride to Cancun in an orange truck and being attacked by the two occupants.