Orca: The Bizarre Jaws Clone
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 and grindhouse days of the 1970s.
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 refer to a movie 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 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 massive thanks to it being a studio-backed release. The big-budget somewhat fools audiences into thinking they see a decent film.
ORCA is pretty dumb. 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's 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 fundamental 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 worked 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 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 fans of the film have long since mentioned the opening sequence where Orca kills a Great White Shark 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 significant 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.
It's 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.