Hard to believe that we’ve just celebrated the 35th anniversary of “Jaws”, one of my all-time favorite horror movies. Yes, horror movie. I don’t want to enter into the debate that “Jaws” was more of a suspense/adventure picture but, to me, it was full of classic horror ingredients: spooky atmosphere, engaging characters and a villain who was dark and extraordinarily dangerous.
I can only compare it to my favorite horror film of all time “Psycho”. So my question is why did both films succeed so well in scaring the bleeping pants off us?
Easy answer. Both films deal with primal fear; In “Psycho”, the fear of a deranged killer arbitrarily knifing an unsuspecting victim. In “Jaws”, the fear of being ripped to shreds and eaten alive by an undersea monster. Moreover, both films share the element of water – an unconscious source of pleasure and comfort. In “Psycho” we have the infamous shower scene and the horrific swamp behind the Bates Motel. In “Jaws”, the vast ocean.
Looking back, I would suggest that “Jaws” worked because it was “Psycho” for the next generation. In both pictures it wasn’t a matter of evil characters getting what they deserved – it was more being in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time.
Even the music represents kindred spirits – all strings – alerting the audience that something truly awful was about to happen.
I’ll leave the comparison between Hitchcock and Spielberg to film historians. Though their styles were distinctively different, both are equally effective in delivering true chills. In “Psycho” the horror (by design) is mostly filled in by our imagination. In “Jaws” we can credit faulty mechanics that results in Spielberg giving us only fleeting glimpses of the menacing shark.
So which picture has the most terrifying monster? I’ll stick with Norman Bates. Why? It wasn’t his fault; his mother made him do it.
Both “Jaws” and “Psycho” deserve a well-earned place in the horror film hall of fame and we salute them both for their accomplishment in movie history. Simply put, I love them both.