Jaws: 44 Years Later, My Fear and Fascination Are as Strong as EverJune 25, 2019
I love my Dad. He’s been a great role model, father, and friend.
However, he also has entered that ‘here’s how cool I am’ Dad territory by introducing me to things like The Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. This pushed me to investigate science fiction and horror, diving into books and TV, discovering everything from Godzilla to Frankenstein and opening up a whole new world to me that I absolutely loved.
Somewhere along the line, my father came to his own personal realization that I was ready for something bigger, something bolder. When I was about eleven years old, he took me to the drive-in to see Jaws, and my world was never the same again.
Of course, I was not ready. Not many people were ready for what they were seeing on screen. The irrational fear of what could lie beneath the water overtook me and I was a bundle of nerves. I’m not talking about the lake or the pool. No, I mean the bathtub and hell, I even looked sideways at some semi-deep puddles after a big rainstorm. All the monsters and mayhem I had witnessed up until this point didn’t come close to preparing me for the horror and fear that overcame me watching Jaws.
Personal childhood trauma aside, Jaws was also a revelation to me. I pushed past my fears and delved deeper into the horror genre, tackling everything I could read and watch, trying to see if something could match the terror I felt watching Jaws. Inevitably there were things I found that frightened me as much, if not more, giving my brain new things to mull over as I slept and overanalyze during my waking moments.
Jaws was a summer blockbuster, maybe the first summer blockbuster ever, and it was a monster/horror movie to boot. It changed the movie world in terms of big business during the summer and what we thought of as a summer movie as well. People wanted to pay money to be scared…heck, they paid to see it over and over again. With a ‘monster’ lurking just below the surface and a trio of heroes we loved to cheer for, Steven Spielberg created a movie that still stands up today.
Besides my love for all things horror, it also piqued my interest in sharks, something I still have to this day. I did speeches in school about them, written projects on them, spent hours in the library pulling out those index cards (yes, I’m THAT old) and reading everything I could about them. Fascinating creatures, they are not just hunters but survivors, living in the oceans for hundreds of millions of years and surviving many big extinction events. Let’s just hope they can survive the biggest enemy yet, that being the human race.
The knowledge that sharks this big can actually be alive and living in the oceans we frolic in during our week-long vacations, you know, the ones we take to escape stress, is one of the biggest reasons why Jaws was so frightening to so many people. The malfunctioning shark forced Spielberg to show it less, which ironically only heightened everyone’s fear of the great monster living beneath the waves, with the menacing dorsal fin showing as it sped towards its victims. (when it wasn’t attacking from below)
I think I am a great example of the kind of impact Jaws had on people. It frightened the hell out of me, irrational fear to be sure, and to be fair that kind of fear created a bad image for sharks as a species. People began to think they were nothing but mindless killers and that humans were easy prey when they went in the water. However, people also became curious about sharks, began to investigate them more closely, and coming to realize how important they are to the life cycle in the oceans. My personal research led me to my lifelong interest in sharks and if it wasn’t for Jaws that might never have happened.
Jaws will always be an important moment in my movie-going life, one that sparked an interest in both the horror genre and the real-life world of sharks.
Happy anniversary, Jaws. Here’s to celebrating 44 more.