When I first wrote this list for my personal Facebook page last year, one of the hardest films for me to cut from the list was Jaws. It has always been, in my opinion, one of the scariest movies ever made, and has always (well, always once I lost my early fear of it) been one of my favorite movies of all time. However, back when I was first making this list, it just didn't seem traditionally "horror" enough to earn its spot on this list, and I lamentably had to kick it off. One year of hindsight later has helped me realize two things: 1) That this movie is still scary as hell and could be called horror with only the slightest amount of stretching and 2) This is my list and I can do whatever the hell I want. So, here it is, in the # 4 spot on my list of favorite horror movies of all time (and a strong contender for my favorite movie of all time), Jaws.
It's summer on scenic Amity Island, and with the 4th of July ahead the townsfolk should be focusing on just how crazy their profits are going to be this year. However, a man-eating Great White Shark has been feeding in the waters off Amity, killing bathers and fishermen alike. Though the mayor wants to keep a lid on this, these shark attacks soon get out of control and gain national attention. This forces an unlikely trio of men together to hunt down the shark; police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and veteran shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw). Trapped on a boat together these men have to survive not only the shark, but each other, as their hunting expedition transforms into a life or death struggle against one of nature's greatest predators.
Considering this movie's troubled production, it's a miracle it ever got made at all. Temperamental mechanical sharks and the problems usually associated with filming on the water ballooned the film's cost and filming schedule. There were multiple near revolts behind the scenes, which for a first time big-picture director Stephen Spielberg might have led to the end of an illustrious career before it had ever really started. However, in the end the Jaws team prevailed and pieced together what may very well be one of the few perfect movies out there (for more details on this production, check out the documentary The Shark is Still Working on the Jaws Blu-Ray release.)
You couldn't ask for a better trio of actors than Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw in these three lead roles. They are each announced as experts in their own particular fields, but are soon proven to be fish out of water (pun thoroughly intended) when facing this massive, killer shark. Praise is always heaped upon Shaw for his portrayal of Quint, and rightly so, as he brings a dark, grizzled energy to the movie, especially during his sublimely creepy monologue about the fate of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. However, great as his performance is, the other two are more than capable of matching him. Nobody can play the weary, slightly annoyed but ultimately capable cop like Scheider, and for my money nobody can play the cocky jackass quite like 70's era Richard Dreyfuss.
While the men in front of the camera make the movie, the behind the scenes work makes this truly special. Spielberg shows an eye for the dramatic that masks the fact that he was still fairly inexperienced when this job was dropped in his lap. Editor Verna Fields ramped up the tension insanely with her expert scene compositions and clever editing tricks that quite deservedly gained her an Oscar for this movie. When the mechanical shark repeatedly broke down, she managed to use what little footage they did have and made what could have otherwise been a basic monster movie into something truly special, where we barely see the titular villain until the film's final act. Composer John Williams created one of the truly iconic movie themes that remains utterly terrifying to this day (despite being kind of goofy in its own right), and easily ranks in the top pantheon of horror soundtracks (somewhere up there with Psycho and Halloween). And let us not forget the shark effects. While it kept breaking down (with one of them still sunk off the shore of Martha's Vineyard somewhere), the mechanical shark effects are still effective and creepy as hell to this day. While they may not realistically portray a Great White Shark, they are still unbelievably cool and creepy to this day.
There may come a time where I will have to write a more dedicated article on Jaws, but until then... Farewell and adieu...
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-- Matt Carter
(We know there's a lot of Matt Carter's online you could spend your time with, so thanks for hanging around this one!)