A killer whale and a monstrous crocodile walk into a bar…
Australia’s Umbrella Entertainment continues to be a dream for genre fans down under and worldwide thanks to Blu-ray releases of long sought-after titles including the underrated Stephen King gem Silver Bullet and the ridiculously stylish killer boar film Razorback. Recent months have seen the label return to the creature feature well with a pair of decades-old animal attack flicks.
Keep reading for a look at new Blu-ray releases of Orca and Dark Age.
Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) hunts and captures seal life for the highest bidder, but when his latest target (a Great White shark) is knocked out of the picture by a killer whale he decides to take it instead. He pulls a pregnant female aboard which gives premature birth onto the deck, and while the new mother dies and he hoses the little whale-let into the ocean something watches from the sea — the male Orca, clearly angry, sad, and pushed towards revenge. Revenge! The creature picks coastal targets close to Nolan including some researchers (Robert Carradine, Bo Derek in her feature debut) until finally forcing the great white hunter himself back onto the open ocean. Only one of them will live to swim another day.
In a world filled with Jaws knock-offs from Piranha to Razorback, this cash grab from Dino De Laurentiis is one of the most entertaining and oddly affecting of the bunch. It’s silly at times and ridiculous at others, but it balances the goofiness with killer set pieces, a nature-positive narrative, and Richard Harris at his most Richard Harris-y.
Harris’ Nolan is the main protagonist, but he’s far more of a Quint than a Brody as he becomes obsessed with the killer whale — they’re actually part of the dolphin family as opposed to actual whales — and heads out to sea on a doomed mission. He’s wise and/or selfish enough to hold out for a while on that count, but after the Orca destroys his coastal home and burns down half the seaside village he realizes there’s no other choice. Yes, you read that right. The big dolphin sets fire to an entire town. It’s glorious and ludicrous and amazing.
The production design is solid throughout with large stages, natural locales, miniatures, and perfectly adequate practical whale effects. The whole is elevated further with another expectedly strong score by Ennio Morricone too which pairs well with both the adventure and the emotion. The latter is surprisingly effective between the baby Orca, the parents’ screams, and the quiet nature of the final face-off between man and beast. Of course, it also features a whale taunting a man by breaking Bo Derek’s leg, waiting while it’s put into a cast, and then biting it off like a hard candy with a chewy center.
Umbrella’s new Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic, and it’s well worth picking up for the film alone. That’s a good thing as the extras are slight.
- Commentary with film historian Lee Gambin
- Moby Dick ala De Laurentiis: Martha De Laurentiis Remembers Orca [4:56] – The famed producer’s widow recalls his work on the film.
Buy Orca on Blu-ray from Amazon.
Dark Age (1987)
A giant crocodile is making itself known in Australia’s northern region, and no one can quite agree on how to handle it. Community officials want it killed, wildlife management ranger Steve Harris (John Jarratt, Wolf Creek) wants it captured and relocated, and the local Aboriginal leaders want it revered as a mystical creature. Steve and the locals (Burnam Burnam, David Gulpilil) win out, and along with their friend Cathy (Nikki Coghill) they set out to capture and move the over-sized reptile to a remote sanctuary. Things don’t quite go according to plan.
There’s an entire sub-genre of creature features involving over-sized crocodiles and alligators with titles as varied as Crocodile (2000) and Alligator (1980), and while they reached their peak in 2007 (Black Water, Primeval, Rogue) there’s always an underappreciated gem waiting to be rediscovered. Arch Nicholson‘s late 80s entry is well worth revisiting as it manages more than a few thrills while also being something of an atypical entry in the giant animal category.
The film delivers some fun carnage including a terrific sequence that sees a little boy get eaten by the croc — you’ll feel bad about it even as you’re smiling — and we’re given the expected story beats along the way. The croc is a threat, and ill-advised people rally to kill it, but the movie goes off the usual script by presenting the tale with an ecological and spiritual bent. The film shows a reverence towards its Aboriginal characters and their culture of respecting nature, but it never holds any of it above the story being told. It’s not quite a horror movie but still a creature feature, and Nicholson crafts plenty of fun thrills making for an entertaining and deadly adventure that also serves to educate.
Umbrella Entertainment bring the film to Blu-ray for the first time, and the new HD presentation offers a solid upgrade from the DVD. There’s been no restoration work done, but it looks good even with the expected scuff marks and grain. The extra features offer some fantastic details on the production and meanings and are well worth checking out after watching the feature.
- Commentary with John Jarrat & Antony Ginnane
- Uncut Not Quite Hollywood Interviews with John Jarrat & Antony Ginnane [16:53] – These are the complete interviews excerpted for the stellar doc on Ozploitation films.
- A Bicentenary with Bite: Revisiting Dark Age Panel Discussion [24:15] – A trio of critics discuss the film offering some interesting observations along the way.
- Living with Crocodiles [48:58] – Grahame Webb, author of the source novel Numunwari, is the focus of this archival featurette exploring efforts to support Australia’s saltwater crocodile population.
Buy Dark Age on Blu-ray from Amazon.