Schlock Value: Bloodtide (1982)
Imagine you’re James Earl Jones in the early ‘80s. After years of doing mostly crap, Star Wars has made you a household name, your career is starting to gain some momentum, and you’re just looking to keep busy before Return of the Jedi goes into production when your agent hands you a script for a little monster movie called Bloodtide. It’s going to be directed by some guy you’ve never heard of (Richard Jefferies, who would go on to write 1995’s Man of the House and 2003’s Cold Creek Manor), but you'll get to work with José Ferrer (The Caine Mutiny, Lawrence of Arabia) and Martin Kove (Death Race 2000, The Karate Kid). Plus, you’ll get to spend a few weeks on a Greek island with a few beautiful women, recite some Shakespeare, and make a few bucks. These are literally the only reasons I can imagine James Earl Jones agreed to be in this heaping pile of dogshit.
On the surface, it looks like a fun little piece of exploitation trash. The poster is absolutely gorgeous, featuring Miss USA Deborah Shelton with her head peeking out from an inky black pool of water, tribal paint smeared across her forehead, beneath the title, BLOODTIDE, smeared in blood red letters, and the fabulous tag line: “It feeds on human flesh!” The film itself features some archaeological adventure, a heavy dose of Greek culty nonsense involving an ancient sea monster, and a hint of nunsploitaion. And it stars James Earl Jones! Who wouldn't want to see this movie?!
The film opens thousands of years ago, as a young virgin is sacrificed to a mythical sea beast in a grotto beneath some Greek island. We don’t see the monster, though. It’s too early for that. Fast forward to present day where newlyweds Neil and Sherry Grice (Kove and Mary Louise Weller) are honeymooning while also searching for Neil’s missing archaeologist sister, Madeline (Shelton). The locals, including the mayor (Ferrer), all deny that she was ever on the island. Though the mayor is hospitable, it's clear that he wants the Grices to leave. On their way back to their boat, Neil and Sherry spot a woman in a shack on a nearby hillside.
When they head up there to check it out, they discover it is indeed Madeline. It turns out she’s been living with a treasure hunter/amatuer archaologist/Shakespeare aficionado named Frye (James Earl Jones) and his beach bunny girlfriend, Barbara. Physically, Madeline is totally fine, but mentally, she seems a bit...off. Neil and Sherry learn that during the two years she has been on the island, she has been spending her time at a local convent under the supervision of Sister Anna, studying their customs and researching an ancient icon painted on their wall. Her research has revealed that there are several images beneath the one on the surface, and as she has uncovered each layer, it has driven her closer and closer to the brink of madness.
Meanwhile, Frye has discovered some old, valuable coins (the sort placed on the eyes of the dead so they can cross the river Styx), and believes there are more to be found in the grotto beneath the island. Using plastic explosives, he blows a big hole in the cavern, sending shock waves across the island and subsequently releasing the mythical sea monster. The next day, as our heroes relax on the beach, the creature lurks beneath the ocean’s surface (in which the film shamelessly rips of Jaws’ underwater POV camera work). It's not long before a few people get swallowed up by the beast, including a local woman and Frye’s lady friend.
Sullen and depressed, Frye heads out in his boat to drink the pain away when he notices a mother and her children playing a little too close to the edge of the water. When a child slips and falls in, his mother and Frye leap in to get him. This is when we get a real good look at the monster, as it drags the women beneath the surface. Simply put, it's the least terrifying thing imaginable, even with a mouth full of torn flesh and blood. Frye manages to make it safely back into his boat, but from this point on, he’s on a mission of vengeance.
As Madeline continues to study the icon in the convent, she finally reaches the original image beneath all the layers of paint, revealing the terrifying sea beast with an enormous phallus about to take a young virgin girl. At this point, she goes off the deep end, believing it is her destiny to be the next in a long line of virgins to be sacrificed to this thing. Although who could believe Deborah Shelton is a virgin is beyond me. Cue the sea monster, as it bursts into the convent, the only place on the island guaranteed to have virgins to placate its carnal desires. After killing a handful of nuns, it dives back into the sea. At this point, Madeline preps herself for sacrifice, and heads down into the grotto to meet her maker. With Frye also heading down there, planning to blow the monster to hell, it's up to Neil and Sherry to save Madeline before it's too late.
When you distill it down to its basic plot points, Bloodtide really does have a lot of good stuff in it and seems like a fun monster flick. Unfortunately, it gets so bogged down with unnecessary minutiae that it struggles to make those elements captivating or interesting in any way whatsoever. Considering the movie is about a sea monster hunting people off the coast of an island, the film spends an incredible amount of time on the family drama between Neil and Madeline to the point where you may forget there's a monster out there somewhere. I mean, there are full sequences that only exist to give James Earl Jones some screen time so he can chew the scenery and recite Othello (which is incredibly fun, but wholly irrelevant in this circumstance). I can only assume this is because of budget restrictions, but if Jaws taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need to show the monster to keep a movie engaging. Even at an hour and a half, it feels like a slog. The actors, to their credit, do the best they can with the material they were given to work with. José Ferrer, who could have done this in his sleep, is appropriately eerie, Martin Kove is perfectly fine as a sort of dashing hero, and Deborah Shelton is convincing as the progressively crazy Madeline. Richard Jefferies’ direction is fine (albeit a bit uninspired), but it's just not enough to save his boring ass script or the stupid, cheap-looking monster suit.
I really wish I could recommend Bloodtide. But for all it's good ideas, it’s just not worth it. James Earl Jones’ over-the-top performance is the one selling point, and if that appeals to you, I say go for it. For everyone else, maybe you can use it as a sleep aid. A horrible VHS Transfer of Blood Tide can be found in Mill Creek Entertainment’s 50 Sci-Fi Classics box set or you can stream it on YouTube for free.