Amity Island Welcomes You…

Happy 4th of July folks!

Today means many things to many people. To some it’s a patriotic, nation wide birthday party; to others it’s an excuse to get drunk at a distant cousin’s barbecue, and to still others it’s just an extremely welcome four-day weekend.

To me it’s something different.

I mean it’s all of the above as well but July 4th for me has a special added significance.

For those of you who are unfamiliar (what rock have you been living under?) the events of JAWS take place largely over the July 4th weekend celebration on Amity Island, a small summer town’ in New England.  Thereby making July 4th the unofficial ‘everybody on the goddamn planet should watch JAWS today’…day.

Italy's doing it...you want to be cool don't you?

Now, some of you may be thinking, “But Fright Dyke, what’s the big effing deal about a dated creature feature? The shark doesn’t even look real”, if you’re thinking that…I don’t think this relationship is going to work out. This is an absolute deal breaker if you’re thinking that we can seriously, for real, never ever be friends. Seriously that’s like telling a Trekkie that Star Trek is just a dated sci-fi show with bad special effects and terrible acting. (*Author’s note: Don’t EVER actually tell a Trekkie that, they’ll cut you…or you know try to Vulcan neck pinch you till they have an asthma attack and pass out.)

Also: they will not be Heidi Klum

Because JAWS is my favorite movie ever made, it was the first genre feature I was allowed to watch, it kindled a lifelong OBSESSION with sharks, it STILL scares me and it’s also, seriously one of the best made films of all time.

Yeah...this is now my dream vacation, thanks a lot Spielberg

I’m not going to give this one the normal review rundown, it just feels too impersonal. That, and this is by no means the last post dedicated to this film sooooo…we’re going to go with the flow on this thing.

A good example of when NOT to go with the flow

When I say that JAWS is my favorite film I feel the need to clarify that this was not a decision I made lightly. About four years ago someone asked me what my favorite movie was, and it took me about ten minutes to come up with an answer. I’ve seen a SHIT TON of movies and liked a good percentage of them. Of those there was a handful I watched more than once a year: Friday the 13th, Halloween, Saw, Evil Dead, Jurassic Park and of course JAWS.

Don't look at me like that...I love you too...I just wish you were more like your brother Bruce...

Now clearly my answer was one of these six, so after some careful deliberation I realized something: I have watched JAWS about four times a year, every year, since I was five (give or take, I’m sure there were a couple in there where I watched it more than four times).

...carry the 1 and...wait 'y' isn't a number...goddamn you not-number math!...

That’s EIGHTY times people. I know it’s not a benchmark number but come on I defy you to name a movie you’ve watched more than eighty times. (*Author’s Note: those of you with small children who watch the same thing over and over again…that doesn’t count)

Clearly we had a winner.

Don't look at me like that...I swear it was close...it really was...

Now obviously I’m sick in the head; but hear me out, I remember the first time I saw this movie, I went to the video store with my dad on a Friday night and wandered into the Action section while he was helping one of my brothers pick out a cartoon.

I knew I wasn’t allowed to get anything from the grown up section but I always liked looking at the covers. (Army of Darkness was one of my favorites to find…this should have been a clue)

My enjoyment of this portion of the movie should have been a clue too...you know for what

And then I saw it. That HUGE red lettering, the silhouette of poor Chrissie Watkins taking her last swim, and the fucking devil himself with gills racing towards her like a freight train! (With the wrong teeth: for those of you nerdy enough to care the shark pictured on the cover has the long, dagger like teeth of the Mako shark, even though the shark in the film is a Great White. The designer thought they looked more dangerous.)

Yeah, apparently this wasn't frightening enough...

I absolutely had to see it.

Two minutes later I was BEGGING my father to PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE let me watch it and after a few minutes of the most earnest pleading to ever escape my lips, he relented with the caveat that if I got scared I wasn’t to come running to him. (My father insists to this day he never rented it for me, that it came on the television when he wasn’t home and he found me watching it… this is as good as an admission of guilt.) I promised I wouldn’t.

I love movies because they can take you somewhere, and the first time I heard the theme, I was gone. Even now whenever I pop the DVD in I’m totally engrossed, nothing can distract me. I’m re-watching what has been called one of the most frightening opening sequences in the history of film and I feel like I’m five again and it’s the very first time. Even though I’ve watched every behind the scenes documentary and I know exactly how they did it, and that Chrissie Watkins is really a stuntwoman named Susan Backlinie, and that she’s fine (apart from a tragically sparse career after JAWS) I am absolutely convinced every time that she’s being eaten alive by something she didn’t even know was there until it had her; and I’m petrified. (Needless to say I broke my promise to my father minutes after the film’s conclusion) That feeling doesn’t subside until the end credits roll, and I’ve watched Alex Kintner, the man in the pond (I’d know his name if he had one) and Captain Quint meet the same fate. (Also off screen: Ben Gardner and Pippet the black lab)

Professor Wall Cat says this is why he won't play fetch

That’s six victims, which is a pretty darn low number by horror standards. But the key to JAWS is anticipation, like any good horror film the scare comes from knowing what’s coming when the characters don’t, and even when it’s a near miss (Charlie the holiday roast guy, Hooper in the shark cage, Michael Brody in the pond) your heart’s beating a mile a minute and you’re praying for some hilarious technical gaffe to send the fourth wall crashing down.

Of course occasionally fourth wall breakage is INTENTIONALLY funny

The problem with JAWS is that there were a million technical gaffes and they all made the movie MORE FRIGHTENING. Steven Spielberg has expressed on a number of occasions (and I happen to agree with him) that if any of the four mechanical sharks they had brought to shoot had worked; this movie would have sucked and I wouldn’t have any idea what ‘ampullae of lorenzini’ meant. (*Author’s note: ‘ampullae of lorenzini’ are the nerve channels along the sides of a shark that detect electromagnetic fields to find prey…yes that’s real and no I didn’t have to Google it…even the spelling…seriously I didn’t, sometimes horror fans know big words.)

And you thought he just had bad pores...

Take for instance the theme. Now John Williams is amazing clearly but let’s just take in for a moment that the music in this instance isn’t just music: it’s a goddamn character. Music is extremely important in films (lack thereof can be just as effective given the right set up) and this movie took it to a whole new level. Even the poor, pathetic sots who have never seen JAWS know where that music came from, and if you show them some god-awful Wayans brothers’ parody that uses it, they know what’s coming. If the music hadn’t had to stand in for Bruce it might have been ‘just another crappy theme by that guy’.

Yeah...that guy

The barrels too, oh my god the barrels. I want one, seriously. The yellow floatation barrels that Quint uses to try to bring Bruce to the surface are GENIUS filmmaking on Spielberg’s part. We need to know where the shark is without actually seeing it, and the barrels end up being frightening by the time the third one is strung on because you only have a vague notion of what’s moving beneath them.

Bruce being sneaky...

Now as much as credit needs to be given for the improvisory Bruce stand ins, we do need to take a moment to talk about our star. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that you don’t see the shark until the big hunt scene at the end. (Ahem: “You heard him ‘Slow ahead’, I can go slow ahead, why don’t you come down here and shovel some of this shi-“ …and Roy Scheider just crapped himself)

This is the face of a man about to crap himself...

NOT TRUE.

I remember it vividly because the first time I saw it I had nightmares for a week. You actually see the shark rather clearly under the water in the pond attack scene. Mostly the mouth. Again it’s ANTICIPATION that makes you want to scream as you see it gliding towards the man in the red boat. And while the attack itself is gory and visceral and extremely satisfying, the image of the shark closing in is what sticks.

Sometimes it's better if you don't see it coming

Now I’m not going to argue that the shark looks realistic in later shots, (except of course for the underwater photography of actual sharks that’s spliced into the hunt sequences) but it gets the job done and this thing was made in 1975, besides picture this thing with CGI, it’s Shark Attack 3: Megalodon and no one wants to see that…no one. If anyone ever even suggests remaking this with CGI…I will know…and I will get on a plane…and me and them are going to reenact a scene from The Godfather, he’s Luca Brasi I’m Sollozzo…capisce?

Or SHE'S Appolonia and I'm Fabrizio...wouldn't want to be sexist

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this film is next to perfect. And while I can promise you I’m not done talking about it (a little remora just told me Shark Week is just 27 days away) I think this was a good introduction as to why you will never, ever get me to shut up about it…and why I can’t go swimming after July 4th.

Or boating....I don't have to go boating either

Your reverent Screamstress,

~Fright Dyke

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