My First Horror Movie: Jaws
Director by Steven Spielberg
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
June 20, 1975
There are a lot of horror movies that have scared me. Poltergeist kept me from eating chicken legs for most of my life and maggots still bring back memories. Aliens convinced me that one of those creatures lived at the bottom of the stairs at my parents house and made going to the bathroom in the middle of the night very difficult. Those kids in Pet Sematary, The Grudge, and The Ring are freaky, and Event Horizon? Liberate me.
These movies have all successfully kept me up at night more than once, but the horror movie that has truly stayed with me is Jaws. Not only has it instilled me with a healthy fear of sharks, it also has made me endlessly fascinated by them and a staunch defender of their right to rule the oceans with an iron, um, fin.
My fascination means I’m all over Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. I will specifically watch horrible B-movies about sharks like Two-Headed Shark Attack, Sharknado (of course!), Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, Avalanche Shark, Ghost Shark, and I will forever love Samuel L. Jackson’s epic pre-death speech in Deep Blue Sea. My mom didn’t get most of my hobbies and passions, but, as with Gone with the Wind, she could support this one, which resulted in a Reader’s Digest gift of Sharks: Silent Hunters Of The Deep. I’ve read that book from cover to cover many times, though I always have to brace myself for the chapter dedicated to shark attacks.
I saw it when I was about eight, maybe ten years old. I don’t remember exactly what it felt like to watch the movie right then and there, but I am certain that every time that music played and the shark fin appeared, my heart would race that much faster. Those were my formative young years and, while I claimed that—pfft—I wasn’t scared, my sister was quick to point out that she knew I’d spent the night awake in our shared room after watching it. I wasn’t alone in my fear. A film Steven Spielberg thought would end his career ended up causing widespread panic to go along with its box office success. Any body of water became suspect. My rational mind could get me into my aunt’s pool, but lakes and oceans where I can’t see my own legs beneath me? Well I’m just a meal waiting to happen. And then there was that nightmare where my parents took me to a drug store with black and white tiled floors and red walls and an aquarium at the back—as is common with drug stores. There was a great white shark resting quietly in one of the tanks, until, predictably, the glass shattered and I was swept out into the ocean.
Curse my vivid dreaming state.
Fortunately, my fear of sharks, though ever present, has never truly prevented me from enjoying waters that might be inhabited by these incredible aquatic beasts, which is why I can cross this off my bucket list:
Watching Jaws now, of course I know Bruce the shark isn’t real. I can see the mechanical movements of mouth and the wooden acting of the extras, but forty years later, the film—like so many others from my youth—still holds up and still holds power. I still jump when Brody is surprised in the middle of his chumming session. I still get tense when Hooper has to flee the shark cage. I get pissed off when stations edit out Quint’s dramatic death. And I will never not cock my imaginary rifle, shut one eye, and utter the immortal words: