Bigger Boats and Broken Sharks: ‘Jaws’ (1975) My Favorite Horror Movie

If I were to close my eyes, I could tell you exactly where I was and who I was with when I first watched Jaws (1975 – read our retro review here). I was five years old, so 20 years ago. Yikes. I was in my grandparents’ basement, and the three of us watched it together. I remember liking it so much that I had my grandfather put it on again. After we watched it and before I left their house, my grandmother let me keep the DVD. I still have it, and surprisingly, it still works. But that’s a moment I’ll never forget: where I was when I saw the movie that would change my entire life.

Whenever I tell someone Jaws is a horror movie, they usually look at me like I have three heads. I understand why people don’t think it’s a horror movie, but it is. It’s essentially a slasher in the ocean. If you watch closely, you’ll realize that it’s one of the most brilliant horror movies ever. Shark attacks happen all the time, so it touches upon people’s fears. Also, what you don’t see is a lot scarier than what you do see. That’s Jaws.

Every time I look at the Jaws poster in my room, I find myself staring at it for a few minutes. The shark is painted beautifully, and to me, it’s mesmerizing. I think the poster helped catapult the film into the horror genre; what’s scarier than the ocean? Or the unknown? Jaws was able to answer that question in a little over two hours. And the poster is just the tease.

My favorite thing about Jaws is its simplicity. If it weren’t for the three actors, Robert Shaw (The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three 1974), Richard Dreyfus (American Graffiti 1973) and Roy Scheider (The French Connection 1971), it would easily be a B-movie. Jaws doesn’t pull any punches. It’s an unassuming film, from the plot to the music. What Steven Spielberg did was take a simple plot and turn into a blockbuster. The director was able to work with a broken mechanical shark, and use it to his advantage. He sets the audience up several times to see the shark, but it never happens. The best example is when the two fishermen are throwing the roast in the water to catch the shark. The horrifying part is when the shark turns around to swim after Charlie. That scene is perfect, from the suspense to John Williams’ amazing score. They don’t make horror like that anymore.

The music, one of the most recognizable film scores ever, fits the film so flawlessly. The funny thing is that when John Williams played the music for Spielberg, the director laughed at it. It wasn’t until they put the score over the film that the director to realized how smart it is.

The making of the film was tedious because the shark would often break down. There were several script rewrites, and Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw didn’t like each other. However, the shark breaking ended up working well for Spielberg in some ways. Seeing glimpses of the creature was just as scary to him as seeing it head on. The film was actually supposed to come out in December of 1974; however, it was delayed due to the script not being ready. So, Universal slated it to come out in May of ’75, and again it was delayed until June of the same year.

Some people might not know that the second half of the movie on the Orca was filmed 12 miles away from shore. Spielberg wanted the audience to feel as secluded as the actors, which is why you don’t see any other boats or land masses in the background. He would have the crew wait for hours just so the tide could push them away from any signs of civilization.

The unfortunate part of Jaws is that it paints sharks in a bad light. It’s understandable, but I can tell you that the film made me fall in love with sharks. One day, I hope to join organizations that help preserve sharks.

In my opinion, Jaws is the perfect horror flick. It scares without showing too much. A movie that still makes people afraid to go to the beach is worthy to be in the horror genre. The acting alone makes it incredible; the chemistry the actors had together is unrivaled.

Jaws was my introduction to the genre and it sparked my creative juices. Quite frankly, I don’t where I’d be without it. It’s my favorite movie of all time, and continues to impact me 20 years later. Spielberg became my favorite director, and his work inspires me today. Jaws is my fountain of youth—a fountain full of sharks—but I digress. Watch Jaws this summer, which marks the 45th anniversary of the film’s release; just make sure you have a bigger boat.

Read another PopHorror writer’s thoughts on Jaws here.

About Anthony Baamonde

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