Orca (1977)
Orca (1977)

Genre: Adventure and Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: July 22nd, 1977 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Michael Anderson Actors: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine, Peter Hooten




reat White shark hunters Nolan (Richard Harris), Novak (Keenan Wynn), Paul (Peter Hooten), and Annie (Bo Derek), aboard the ship Bumpo, have their latest quarry foiled by diver (and university teacher) Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling) and her boating partner Kenneth (Robert Carradine). Just as her careless navigator is nearly snatched up by the Great White, a pair of killer whales comes to the rescue, tearing the larger fish to pieces. This fascinates Captain Nolan, who grows determined to catch a killer whale to sell to an aquarium. But his intentions infuriate Rachel, who reveres the black-and-white creatures and can’t stand to see them in captivity.

It’s immediately apparent that the editing of “Orca” is shoddy at best. Narration by Bedford is completely unnecessary and ill-fitting, while the setup and details of the killer whales and their hunters are rushed. Motives are simplistic and unrealistic, and the characters have little time for genuine interactions. So, when Nolan harpoons a female orca, there’s hardly any time for concern – or discerning between the crew – when the mate plots his revenge.

Harris tries desperately to appear as tough and salty as Robert Shaw did in “Jaws,” while most of the killer whale effects are laughable rather than scary. A suicidal mother orca, a rubbery orca fetus (which is actually quite disturbing), and an enraged father orca who sheds a tear for his butchered partner inspire chuckles more frequently than awe. It’s difficult to view these singular creatures as terrifying, though at least they have a rather unsettling scream in this film. And Rachel insists that they are, without challenge, the most powerful animals in the world – and ones that have a distinct fondness for vengeance.

The storyline is so goofy that by the time Jacob Umilak (Will Sampson) shows up to explain the otherworldly intelligence of the grudging creature, and a creepy union boss warns of the superstitions that plague the local fishermen, the film has lost all credibility as a horror picture – and even as a mere monetary exploitation of the blockbuster that started it all. “Orca” beat the official sequel to “Jaws” to the box office, but its swift production, which betrays the reason for its existence, can’t capitalize on the timing. The resulting product lacks any sincerity, and the entertainment value is excruciatingly low.

“He wants to fight you on the sea.” The orca is apparently so smart that Nolan devises a plan involving looking the creature in the eye, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. “I understand what that whale is feeling,” insists the baby whale murderer, as he relates his own tale of losing a wife and child to a drunk driver. Later, Annie gets the uneasy feeling that she’s being watched by the whale – despite being inside a house. Although it seems impossible, the film grows exponentially stupider with every passing minute.

Unbelievably, the climax features a shootout with the monster on an iceberg (which is actually the only amusing sequence, thanks to its comical absurdity more than its creativity). But perhaps the most notable element of “Orca” is the score by Ennio Morricone, which hints at his Spaghetti Western oeuvre, particularly as footage of swimming and breaching whales fills the gaps in action. Sadly, it’s not enough to redeem the unending faults of this colossally moronic endeavor.

– Mike Massie

  • 1/10