Why the horror of "Jaws" still works on me (part one)
SPOILER ALERTS: Hey, I am gonna talk about both the movie and novel Jaws here. If, for some reason, you have not read or seen this classic horror tale, stop now...go watch or read or both! Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you???
People often ask me why I got into horror in the first place. What was it that first got me to like the darker side of things? Was it Halloween or Alien or Psycho? All of those things, of course, have had some influence on me, but the one that really got me going was a little novel and movie about a shark eating a bunch of people (and one dog) in a New England island town. It was a sensation when it came out in the mid-70s and I was obsessed with sharks.
I can still remember seeing the cover of the paperback edition which sat on our coffee table around the house before the movie came out. The sinister, many-toothed beast lurking beneath the waves and the innocent girl swimming blissfully unaware that she was about to be devoured just above it. I was fascinated. Yeah, I'll admit, I rooted for the shark.
Now, the movie came out in 1975 and I was born in 1971, so you can do the math here about how young I was when the movie hit theaters. I begged my parents to see it, but they were sane enough to realize that a four-year-old should probably not see a movie that starts with a girl taking off her clothes to go skinny dipping in the ocean who is then violently devoured by a shark.
Still, I asked about it. I read books about sharks. There were stories on TV about sharks and shark attacks and I devoured them. I was friends with older kids who were allowed to see the movie and had no compunctions about telling what happened in great detail.
I think I finally got to see the movie when my dad got his hands on a Betamax bootleg version of the movie for our VCR (yeah, I'm old. This was a thing back then) in about 1979. It was as horrible and terrifying and glorious as I thought it would be. I jumped and yelled and clapped and it was great. Then I read the novel and knew that if there was a way to make a living out of writing stories like this - I was gonna have to do that, too.
Now, I have seen the movie Jaws so many times I cannot even tell you how many. It is probably my number one favorite movie and we live in a world where people love to tear down the things other people love. So, these days, I hear a lot about how there are so many flaws in the film.
Author Peter Benchley based his novel on stories of a great white shark attacking people near New Jersey in the early 1900s. These days, it is thought maybe it was not just one shark and probably not a great white in all cases. We know a lot more about sharks now and the things presented as fact in the novel are now known not to be true. Sharks soon became the vicious villains of the sea and author Benchley spent much of his later career fighting for shark conservation and saying he regretted the things he put into that novel that made killing sharks something people seem willing to do without thinking about it.
Despite the fact that a great white shark would not likely behave the way it does in either the novel or the movie, I still love it. Both movie and novel still work for me. Of course, this many viewings later, I can also appreciate the flaws and the actual film making that went into the movie to make it as effective as it is.
I am going to spend a few blogs dissecting both the book and the movie. I will discuss what is in each and point out the differences between the two. I will be revealing plot spoilers, so if you have not read the book or seen the movie you should not read these. I will look at what made this movie work so well for me, and still works, even though I know better about a lot of what's presented.
I hope you'll be back next week for part two...
Animals attack in my latest novel - S.P.I.D.A.R. - available in Kindle, paperback and audiobook now.
The town of Whittier, Alaska, is at risk of total destruction because of tiny visitors from across the sound. Tiny visitors created by men to be the ultimate assassination tool. They invade. They control. They destroy.