Rich with emotion conveyed by the lead cast, and a stirring score by film’s all-time greatest composer, Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), Orca sets its sail not only to horrify audiences, but to undertow the viewer with a sense of love, loss, and yes, bloody revenge.
The film begins with a great white shark hunt along the coast of Newfoundland, lead by Irish-Canadian Captain Nolan (in an outstanding performance by Richard Harris).
When an unknown underwater assailant obliterates the mean mackerel, whale expert Dr. Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling) unscientifically states “there’s only one creature in the world that could do that – a killer whale.”
Nolan then turns his sights on bringing home the wild orca, instead of a great fish tale, but when he accidentally captures a pregnant female, who happens to abort her unborn calf aboard his ship (in probably one of the most gruesome scenes comprised of rubber latex and blood-curdling sound effects), the captain himself aborts the mission and sets his sails for home, unknowing that the once soon-to-be father bull is planning his revenge.
The film escalates into an epic revenge tale, where viewers are subject to feel compassion for the antagonist bull, while also siding with Captain Nolan.
As the titular blackfish constantly picks off residents of the coastal town, it’s up to Nolan to reluctantly voyage his vessel into the desolate deep, until they both reach a front to finish the confrontation.
Upon its release, Orca was labeled a blatant rip-off of Jaws, yet, it’s difficult to see any similarities, except for the conflict of man against nature (Jaws 2 even took a nip at the film, when a killer whale corpse washes ashore, and Chief Brody is told that “there are far greater predators in the deep.”).
One should also note that Orca is an adaptation of an Arthur Herzog novel, with a nod to the ending of Mary Wollstonecraft-Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Whether Orca is a rip-off of Jaws or not, it’s still a fun watch for the natural horror sub-genre fan, and it is by far a superior revenge story than Jaws IV: The Revenge.
– Matthew McPhee