It's another beautiful day in the Caribbean. Pleasure cruises, planes coming and going to the island paradise, and a small, glass-bottomed boat taking tourists on a scenic tour of the local scenery. Then the cyclone hits.
The glass-bottomed boat takes a beating and is left stranded many miles off course without land in sight. A plane that was diverted from the airport due to the cyclone is caught in the ensuing storm and crashes into the sea, killing almost everyone on board except for a rag tag group of survivors. As this is happening a fishing boat is swamped by the turbulent ocean and the small crew is forced to abandon ship in what must be the worst looking life boat in history.
It doesn't take long before the three separate storylines converge as the fishermen save the plane crash victims from a vicious man-eating shark. Then it's the glass-bottom boat's turn to rescue them. Now, they are all together and forced to withstand the elements while battling thirst and hunger as they stay adrift on the merciless ocean for days.
Rene Cardona Jr.'s Cyclone is another addition to the disaster film genre of the seventies, but, where most filmmakers would have been happy with any one of the elements in this film, Cardona blends them into a fascinating hodge podge. We get the killer storm, the watery plane crash (done to classic perfection in Airport '77), the boat adrift on the sea and killer sharks. Spielberg made a career of killer sharks. Cardona just throws them in for good measure. And he uses real sharks to give it that authentic look.
And the cast he manages to get together (regardless of the fact that it was the seventies and every B list actor in the world could get a part in one of these things)! We get Arthur Kennedy (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue), Carol Baker (Giant), Lionel Stander (probably best well know as Max in the Hart To Hart TV series) and Olga Karlatos (Zombi 2). What was she doing in there?? For those of you who are among the uninformed, Olga Karlatos is the woman who takes the huge, nasty splinter in the eye in Zombi 2. This time around she's just very pregnant and extremely whiny.
And did I say whiny? That award would have to go to Miss Carroll Baker. In her day this platinum blonde was being groomed as the next Marilyn Monroe and she was incredible to look at. A few years later and some retarded business decisions and she was in exploitative fare like this and looking extremely worse for wear. She is just haggard and pasty and whiny and… well, you get the idea.
The film does an excellent job of portraying people in a hopeless situation and the lengths that they will go to to survive. It's the introduction of the fishermen that lends a little more realism to the proceedings. When Carroll Baker's yappy dog is thrown overboard, a big burly fisherman leaps over the side to rescue it. A warm touching moment? Not in a Cardona flick. He saved the dog so they could eat it and what follows is a pretty graphic scene of puppy mutilation.
And you know that since, two years earlier, Cardona's father Rene Cardona Sr. directed the wildly successful Survive! that it wouldn't take long before the ugly taboo of cannibalism rears its nasty head. Two corpses later and the passengers of the Moby Dick (yes, they named the boat Moby Dick — I thought it was funny, too) have a heaping supply of people jerky curing on the top of the boat.
Sure, the film has some shortcomings. When the two-prop plane that crashes into the ocean becomes a plane with jet engines instead, I thought that was laugh out loud humorous. And yes, when Olga's character has a baby on the ship and they pass the little one around for everyone to see, I was nervous that the fisherman was either going to eat it or use it for bait, but that turned out to be the one truly touching moment in the film. The baby's incessant wailing got on my nerves more than anything else in the film, including Carroll Baker's whining. There are some excellent shots of the baby that has been replaced with a very fake-looking doll that make for some laughs.
In the end, Cyclone is nothing more than what it's supposed to be — cinematic entertainment. Cardona knew what would plunk the butts down in the seats and went at it with both barrels. This is the man who gave us Treasure of the Amazon and Guyana, Crime of the Century. We all have a little of the 'slow down and look at the car wreck' mentality. Rene Cardona Jr. was just smart enough to bring a camera along to film the wreck for us. And the ending of this film, while trying not to give too much away, is so jaw dropping, out of left field horrific that I couldn't believe that they were actually going to end it that way.
The Synapse release of the film is gorgeous. The image is sharp and the colors are rich and vibrant and it's in an anamorphic 1.78:1 ratio. It's the uncut version of the film with a running time of just over 1 hour 58 minutes. The only real bonus is the alternate opening for the original U.S. release when it was called Terror Storm and the directing credit went to Olivia Gonzalez. There are the usual trailers for other Synapse releases and an excellent essay about Cardona by writer David Hayes.
If you're a Cardona fan then this is essential for your collection. If you like disaster films, you could do worse than watching Cyclone, and for the rest of you out there, watch it anyway. What's the worst that could happen?