JAWS — Taking a Bite Out of History

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.

Robert Shaw becomes fish food -- painfully, no doubt

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.

Both films created instant hysteria witnessed by long lines and the uttering of loud gasps from thousands of young audience members.  And both films brought in huge box office earnings.

 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.


3 thoughts on “JAWS — Taking a Bite Out of History

  1. Both movies are classic and I love Hitchcock, but I think Jaws was arguably a more original concept and better story. A giant fish terrorizing a small town… sounds like a stupid plot, but the way it was executed was genius and the characters in the movie are more complex especially when they are interacting with each other. Who can forget Quint’s monologue of the USS Indianapolis and the”Cold doll eyes”. I still get freaked out whenever I get into the ocean. Good tie in with the water concept— water makes us feel vulnerable and out of our element. In the shower you’re naked and slipping around with soap in your eyes and in the ocean you’re floating above god knows what type of strange creatures with your legs dangling into the abyss like bait worms. Great post!

  2. Just wanted to elaborate on the water idea as a sort of conduit for spirit and also a link to our own subconscious. More often than not, the spirit manifestations of folklore occur near natural water sources or bogs. Dr. Emoto of ‘What the Bleep’ & ‘Hidden Messages of Water’ has made a name for himself studying spiritual effects on water, both positive and negative. It actually changes the crystal structure of the water and he believes can contain disembodied spirits. Jung associated water with the subconscious and birth and many believe it a portal both at birth and death. – I have experienced many intuitions while in the shower or bath, thinking that maybe it can open that portal too.

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