Orca: The Bizarre Jaws Clone

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Too Dumb to be Forgotten

Those who think Sharknado is the epicenter of sea monster mayhem really should turn back the clock to the drive-in days.

There is such a thing in the history of the cinema as a Two Star Classic. Most films are rated on a scale of one star to five stars. Two stars refers to a film that is neither good nor bad. It is fair. In short, the film is just sort of there. Some people may like it, some may hate it. No one really sees it as a great work. Yet, it becomes a classic because the film keeps finding a new audience.

The 1977 film ORCA is a perfect example of this. We can all thank the need to fill timeslots of 500+ cable channels running 24 hours a day for the chance to catch this film at 3 A.M. any given day of the week.

The Angry, Intelligent Killer Whale Gets a Movie


ORCA is not a truly awful film. Oh, it is absurd to a ludicrous degree in terms of its plot and script. The budget of the film is rather large thanks to it being a studio backed release. The big budget somewhat fools audiences into thinking they are seeing a decent film.

ORCA is pretty dumb. Really, there is no other way to describe it. However, it cashed in on the success of JAWS. Audiences wanted to see more JAWS style action....even if it was only to be found in a bad film. This is what led to a host of JAWS rip offs along with all those terrible JAWS sequels.

Onto a look at ORCA.....

The Cult of Orca


ORCA (Also known as ORCA: THE KILLER WHALE) has gained minor cult status over the years. It was a marginal hit when first released and was Dino De Laurentiis follow up to his 1976 remake of King Kong.

ORCA tells the tale of a killer whale that witnesses the death of its mate and miscarriage of its unborn offspring due to the negligence of a fishing crew captain played by Richard Harris. The crew had been trying to capture a Great White Shark for an aquarium but attacked a school of killer whales. The highly intelligent Orca remembers those that were on board the ship and seeks bloody revenge on them.

Yes, this is a ludicrous and nonsensical film. The Killer Whale is an intelligent aqua mammal. It is not, however, a trained bounty hunter that can perform surveillance work on land while hiding underwater. The silliness of the plot serves a basic purpose. It gets all those killer whale attack scenes in motion which is what drive-in movie fans want when they head to the theaters.

Again, It would not be inaccurate to state that Orca was rushed into theaters to cash in on the success of JAWS (1975). De Laurentiis was nervous about the box office returns for the $25 million King Kong remake and was somewhat desperate for a hit. Using a killer whale in place of a shark followed a tried by other films had tried around the same time. Other films that tried the same approach would be the brilliant horror-comedy PIRANHA and the long forgotten BARRACUDA. The sleazy film GREAT WHITE was a foreign outing Universal actually successfully sued to prevent its release in the USA. MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH was another drive-in success story in the 1970s and played heavily on TV in the 1980s and now has joined the ranks of forgotten B-movies.

ORCA was a major studio release and it was savaged by critics when released. The criticism centered on the plot and the fact it is an obvious copy of Jaws. The producers and stars would claim that the intention was never to copy Jaws, but the opening sequence where Orca kills a Great White Shark has long since been mentioned by fans of the film as being a direct note that ORCA is stronger and more powerful than JAWS. Eventually, the makers of the film would admit they rushed it into development after JAWS was a hit.

A Mild Box Office Success


Certain resources claim the film was a flop at the box office. This is inaccurate as the $6 earned nearly $15 million in the US alone. Those that remember the original release of the film remember it had a decent advertising campaign but never connected with audiences in first run theaters. In grindhouses, second run theaters and the drive-in circuit, it did well. It would also be a major event movie when it debuted on network television in an era when cable television penetration was limited. The film maintains a cult following and a loyal fan base to this day.

Its on DVD if you want to kill a rainy Sunday afternoon.

And believe it or not, there were plans in 1979 for King Kong vs. Orca but the sequel was never made.


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Comments 2 comments

Moral Man 9 months ago

Orca the Killer Whale is filled with realistic special effects. Its too real. Its a very sad, depressing movie and theres a gross, repulsive scene where the mortally wounded pregnant female Orca drops her fetus. I was not ready for such a gruesome scene. Caution is advised for any viewers who suffer from squeamishness.

Male Orcas can reach up to 31 feet long and weigh up to 18,000 pounds, or 9 tons. Females are smaller. It is actually considered to be more a Dolphin rather than a Whale. Obviously very intelligent and preys on anything from fish, squids, seals, and groups of Orcas attack larger Baleen Whales.

Producer Dino de Laurentiis saw the original Jaws and wanted to make his own movie about an even more powerful animal, and thus, Orca the Killer Whale was born. Early on in the movie, an Orca kills a Great White Shark. Here's one question I have. Nolan, played by Richard Harris, is supposed to bring back a live Great White Shark to an aquarium. When the Killer Whale appears and kills the shark, Nolan changes his mind and decides to catch the Orca and bring it to the aquarium. Now if his goal was to capture the animal alive and unharmed, WHY then is he harpooning the animal? It doesnt make sense. Harpooning means to injure and kill. Aquariums dont want a dead animal. So Nolan stupidly harpoons the female Orca and all hell breaks loose. The male Orca watches on, enraged. The male Orca now develops a hate toward humanity and especially for Nolan for killing his pregnant mate and unborn baby.

The male Orca destroys houses on the shore and causes havoc. Its also revealed that Nolan's wife and unborn baby were killed years ago by a drunk driver, so Nolan can empathize with the Whale. Actress Charlotte Rampling accompanies Nolan as he sails into the Arctic, being led by the Whale for a fight to the death. The Orca snatches a few sailors from the boat, and near the end, it finally confronts Nolan one on one. Standing on an iceberg with his harpoon, Nolan is hesitant to fire the harpoon. It seems he has a guilty conscience for what he did and allows the whale to kill him. The Orca tips over the iceberg Nolan is standing on and dumps Nolan in the water where he can be dealt with. The Orca uses its tail to throw Nolan onto an iceberg. Nolan then slips back in the water, dead. The Orca lets Charlotte Rampling off the hook, who stands by and watches helplessly. Its speculated that the Orca dives beneath the ice to drown to his death. With its mission of revenge complete and with its mate and unborn baby dead, it commits suicide as there is nothing left to live for. Just as humans can go off the deep end and go insane, so can some animals, the movie seems to be saying. I cried when watching this movie.

Orcas rarely attack people in the wild. Maybe some Eskimos are eaten by them and with no eyewitnesses and no one to record the incidents. It also seems that Orcas in the Antarctic waters are more likely to attack people, probably mistaking humans for their normal prey, which are seals.

Orcas are one of the most awesome, powerful animals in the world.


Moral Man 9 months ago

I want to make a few corrections about this movie. When Richard Harris as Nolan attempts to capture the male Orca to tranquilize it and send it to an aquarium, the attempted capture goes horribly wrong. The harpoon grazes the male Orca's fin and goes and hits the pregnant female Orca nearby. Nolan wasnt trying to kill the animals, although this is what sadly transpired. It was really an unintentional accident why the animal was killed. Why use a harpoon to try to tranquilize the animals? Why cant they use a more humane method than a harpoon? Harpooning is just cruel and stupid. Anyway the misfired harpoon hits the pregnant female and she aborts the fetus in a very gross, repulsive scene. She also rams herself into the boat's propeller. Theres an awful lot of gore and blood. How could this possibly be a PG rated movie? It should have been R rated.

The angry, grief stricken, revengeful male Orca leads Nolan's boat into the Arctic. At one point, Nolan hurls a harpoon and strikes the animal. The animal is very clever and cunning and circles beneath the ice to get to Nolan. Charlotte Rampling throws a rifle to Nolan and tells him to shoot the whale. Nolan holds the gun but is unable to shoot. The Orca is able to get his revenge. The Orca seems to be saying to Nolan, "You killed my mate and my baby. Now prepare to die." Do Orcas really behave like this? Do they really try to get revenge?

Over the years Orcas have injured and killed their trainers in aquariums. They are likely unhappy with being confined in captivity and being forced to do silly tricks. Obviously they need alot more space than what their aquariums can give them.

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