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Exclusive poster/comments: “BLACK PEARL” documentary dives into a cinematic (giant) fish story

Thursday, March 9, 2023 | Exclusives, News


It’s the latest project from a filmmaker focusing on long-lost and uncompleted movies.

Director/producer John Campopiano (PENNYWISE: THE STORY OF “IT”) got in touch with the scoop and the poster for his latest project, “THE BLACK PEARL”: IN SEARCH OF A FORGOTTEN FILM. “It’s a project I’ve been developing on and off since 2021,” he tells us, “though my interest in this forgotten ’70s movie began earlier, and initially culminated in a 2018 article in Diabolique magazine about my quest to find a copy.”

THE BLACK PEARL tells the story of a young man named Ramon (Mario Custodio) who lives in a Mexican fishing village and seeks to one day inherit his father’s pearl-diving business. When he descends into a forbidden underwater cave and retrieves the legendary “black pearl” of the title, Ramon arouses the wrath of its guardian, an enormous manta ray known as “Manta Diablo.” The combination coming-of-age saga and monster movie marked the first feature screen credit for scripter Victor Miller (FRIDAY THE 13TH), and “was the creation of filmmaker and music documentarian Saul Swimmer,” Campopiano says. “It hit theaters briefly from 1977 through 1978, and it later played on HBO, which is where I think the majority of people who’ve seen the film initially caught it. But in the decades that followed, the film seemed to drop off the map, despite some physical releases outside the U.S.

“In an era when JAWS knockoffs and copycats abounded,” he continues, “THE BLACK PEARL did something a bit different, in part because it was based on the YA thriller book of the same name, written by Newbery Medal-winning author Scott O’Dell. Despite the differences in tone and approach from JAWS, no doubt the people behind THE BLACK PEARL sought to tap into the global success of Spielberg’s shark movie when promoting theirs. Nearly 50 years later, what we’re mostly left with are some stills from THE BLACK PEARL and loads of Internet comments from people who aren’t quite sure if they actually saw this movie or if it was all a dream. With my new documentary project, I’m seeking to clear some of that up and tell the story of this forgotten monster movie.”

The doc will incorporate interviews with crewmembers from the BLACK PEARL production, relatives of the filmmakers and cast and assorted movie historians and critics. It follows in the tradition of Campopiano’s short SNAPPER, about an uncompleted giant-turtle movie (see our last story on that one here), as part of the filmmaker’s concentration on the obscure side of genre history. “As a documentary filmmaker, I’ve shifted my focus almost solely to discovering and learning about films that were either never made, started but not completed or completed but are now considered lost. There’s so much to glean from the incredibly difficult and expensive process of making a film. The blood, sweat, tears–and money!–that people put into trying to bring their visions to the screen warrants thoughtful and detailed analysis. A piece of work that has helped drive my curiosity about this oft-overlooked part of the film world is Dave Alexander’s 2021 book UNTOLD HORROR, which does a brilliant job of distilling why these films and filmmakers deserve our attention. We can learn so much about not just the moviemaking process, but the creative will and passion those creators possess.”

In fact, Campopiano and his team are currently wrapping up work on a similar project, the self-explanatory SASQUA: THE LOST BIGFOOT FILM OF MASSACHUSETTS, which begins postproduction in April. “The BLACK PEARL doc and the completion of SASQUA are being made possible by Joe and Libby Chapman of Chapman Productions,” Campopiano says. “They’ve become wonderful partners and are supporting my quest to tell these stories about unmade, lost and forgotten films. There’s another short documentary in the works that I’m envisioning as a companion piece to SNAPPER, but we’ll save that news for another day!”

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).