Today is Halloween and rather than review the 1978 “Halloween” movie like I’m sure everyone else is doing, I decided to give my review for what I consider to be my personal favorite horror movie of all time, and that would be this classic 1975 film by Steven Spielberg.
“Jaws” is based off of a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley in which a man-eating great white shark goes on a killing spree, eating several people off of the coast Amity Island. The local police chief, Martin Brody, decides to go after the shark with the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper, and professional shark hunter, Quint, with actors Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw playing these respective roles.
At the time of this movie’s release, it became iconic for a large number of reasons. It was a box-office success that played its part in creating the big budget blockbuster, it made an entire generation of people afraid to go to the beach, and most importantly, it utilized film-making techniques that weren’t standard in this time period, especially for what seemed like a cheap monster movie. This movie had plenty of moments that are now cliched such as the skinny dipping blonde who dies first and a few jump scares here and there, but these were big things for cinema in the day, thanks in part to how Spielberg and crew were able to craft a well made film.
The horror aspect of this movie is definitely a highlight for the entire movie. I’ve heard many people try (and fail) to argue that this movie isn’t a horror movie, but that’s just nonsense in my opinion. This is one of the staples for horror cinema and it’s actually due to simple stuff such as the decision to now show the shark for the whole first of the film. You just see small glimpses accompanied by its victims and that’s perfect for a shark attack movie. As in real life, you’re not very likely to see a shark swimming in the depths of the ocean beneath you, so it makes sense for Spielberg to signify the shark’s arrival by merely showing POV shots from the shark’s perspective as it lurks in the water, silently stalking the people up above who are having a good time at the beach. The best type of horror is the kind that psychologically has an effect on you and considering the fact that this movie scared virtually everyone out of going to the beach, I say this movie did it’s job perfectly.
This movie also does something that most horror movies don’t ever do and that would be establishing an emotional connection between the characters and the audience. Characters like Brody and Hooper feel like real people that we like and relate to in some way and that in turn creates more drama and more stakes for the story. Character moments in this movie that really stand out are scenes such as Quint’s chilling story of how he survived the USS Indianapolis tragedy, or the scene when Brody and his son are imitating one another at the dinner table in a playful father-son manner. Small scenes like these make all the difference when it comes to crafting legitimately interesting and likable characters and once again, “Jaws” pulls this off flawlessly.
The score by John Williams is easily one of the most iconic scores of all time, though that’s a pretty easy statement to make considering how incredible Williams is in his own right but nevertheless, Williams’ score is a huge reason why this movie is as suspenseful as it is. You just hear the deep notes and you instantly know that the shark is present. You don’t need to see a fin or a character to yell “OMG, there’s a shark!”, you just need the POV shots accompanied by the score and you get the sense of looming danger.
As far as the look of the shark and how it holds up, that’s more of a mixed bag. From what I see whenever I watch this movie, there are times when the robotic shark actually doesn’t look bad at all, but then there are times when it’s obviously just a robot with it’s mouth hanging open. Some shots of the shark (“Bruce” as it was called on the set) haven’t aged well and I’m sure plenty of people who watch this movie for the first time will scoff at some scenes, but I still prefer the practical robot over any CGI shark that have been produced in more recent shark attack movies.
All of that said, “Jaws” is the perfect horror movie in my opinion. Rather than have the killer be some unstoppable guy in a mask, it was a much more realistic take with the monster being a fearsome force of nature that can take you out in front of everyone in an environment that’s meant to be fun and cheerful. Spielberg directed this movie to perfection, the score is still brilliant, and the crafting of stuff like characters, scares, and an omnipresent feeling of danger makes this the quintessential horror movie that one can watch on Halloween as well as anytime of the year considering that it’s a great film, period.