- Apex Publications Acquires Shock Totem Book Line
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 6
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 5
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 4
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 3
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 2
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 1
- Splatterpunk #7
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Tag Archives: Jaws
by Bracken MacLeod
I was five the year Jaws came out, and like all little kids who don’t know how to swim, I had a pretty genetic fear of drowning. That got turned all the way up that summer when (long story, better told elsewhere) I was deliberately thrown into a lake and almost drowned. As you might imagine, that trauma left me with a life-long hang-up about water. I don’t like being on it in a boat, I sure as hell don’t like being in it (I shower), and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go all the way under it. So, later in life when Jaws came out on home video, you can understand, I never had the desire to see it.
It wasn’t the shark; it was the water.
I like sharks. I like them better than people a lot of the time. I think about them the way Ash thinks about the xenomorph in Alien: I admire their purity. They’re “unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” Of course, unlike the alien, they’re fucking real!
Eventually, I rented Jaws, but it took me a couple of tries to get through the whole thing. It’s the first ten minutes that’s the big hurdle. Let me explain. We open on a bunch of kids sitting around a fire on the beach looking like an ad for Swedish tourism. Chrissy gets up and leads drunken, horny Tom on a chase through the dunes, stripping off her clothes and diving in the ocean as he passes out, unable to even get his shirt over his head. “I’m not drunk! Slow down! Wait I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m definitely coming!” She swims out in the dark, and we get that first two-note music cue. You know the one. Duun-un. And then the shark’s POV rising underneath her as she’s treading water, naked and vulnerable, presumably wondering what happened to horny Tom.
Now, the next few moments are terrifying. She is jerked down, once, twice, and then whipped violently around, thrashing in the water—not all that realistically for a shark attack, one suspects, but still, it’s good and scary. The beast drags her over to a buoy and it seems for a moment she might be able to climb up and out to safety, but NOPE! The shark (a.k.a. “Bruce”—named after Spielberg’s lawyer) pulls her away for a few short screams of “NO!” and down she goes under the water. And this is the very point at which my worst fears are most on outward display for anyone who’s paying attention.
Only seconds ago, Chrissy was a living human out for some fun. Then her life telescopes down into its last moments, the entirety of her future… in the water. And then, there’s the shot of Tom passed out in the quiet surf, followed by the lingering view of the open ocean and the softly dinging buoy. A quiet scene of peace following terror.
And that’s the point at which my anxiety goes off the fuckin’ charts. Not the first bites, not the thrashing, or the screaming. The silence where we all know that there’s a human being in the water who wants to live, who wants to breathe and be back on land, and instead all we see and hear is the water and the bell.
There’s something primal in that opening. And it’s not the shark. It’s the water. The source of all life on Earth is bigger than us, and we are not at home in it. The shark is. And it cares not at all for us.
The beginning of Jaws is pure existential terror, and it scares the shit out of me.
I still can’t swim.
Bracken MacLeod has worked as a martial arts teacher, a university philosophy instructor, for a children’s non-profit, and as a criminal and civil trial attorney. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies including Shotgun Honey, Sex and Murder Magazine, LampLight, Dread: A Head Full of Bad Dreams, Femme Fatale: Erotic Tales of Dangerous Women, Beat to a Pulp, Splatterpunk, and Shock Totem Magazine.
He is the author of Mountain Home, White Knight, and his newest novel, Stranded, from TOR Books is available for pre-order.
by David James Keaton
When I was in first grade, I could never get a handle on Show & Tell. Every time it was my turn, I brought in a parade of nonsense that put the other kids right to sleep. Everybody else came in with stuff that had us scrambling all over each other to get a better look, and you’d think with 90% of Show & Tells just being a presentation of a kid’s favorite toy, I could have cracked this code. But I was so eager to blow them away, that I kept veering off course by bringing in, say, magnifying glasses and no sun in the room to actually burn anything, or the 12-inch single of Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” that I slapped down on Mrs. Circle’s mesmerizing turntable with the flashing diamond lightshow. Yes, her name was really Mrs. Circle and she had a cool record player, which seems unlikely but probably just a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. But this song was probably my worst Show & Tell ever, as I watched everyone’s eye glaze over but did learn a lesson as valuable as anything I retained from first grade—which is never put on music and stare intently into a blank face and wait for a reaction. Music is mostly for solitude, particularly when you hear it for the first time, and a dark room like a movie theater is probably best. This is something I’ve carried with me, which became amplified by a thousand when I witnessed karaoke. So if you’re singing an amazing Meat Loaf song at the bar, and I get up and leave? Don’t take it personal. We must have made eye contact, and I just had no idea what you wanted from me.
But one day, I solved the riddle and cracked the Show & Tell code once and for all by bringing in a toy for this movie I hadn’t even seen yet. See, the toy was ages 6 and up, where the movie was, what, 13 and up? It would probably be rated PG-13 today, like all of Spielberg’s movies (I mean, he’s the dude who invented that rating with Temple of Doom, right?) But this toy? Holy crap it was incredible. It was a big plastic shark with a rubber-band mouth, and you stuck a variety of plastic trinkets on the tongue and then plucked them off one by one with a wicked-looking gaff. And once the bottom jaw wasn’t heavy enough to hold the tension… SNAP! The mouth banged shut, little plastic junk flying everywhere, kids screaming, the works. And it snapped extra hard if you life-hacked that shit like we all did and put three rubber bands on the mouth instead of one. It wasn’t dangerous or anything. It had teeth, sure, but you wouldn’t lose a leg like that poor lifeguard in the movie (the scene that almost got it an R-rating actually), but don’t worry about him either, he’ll be okay. I know it seemed like he died but if you look close, he was barefoot in the boat, but then when his severed leg floated down to the bottom… the foot was wearing a tennis shoe. That’s why this lifeguard is the badass of all time. He took a moment to put on his goddamn shoes while a shark was chomping and blowing bubbles with him like Big League Chew.
Anyway, my shark was a bit hit. We didn’t even have to play the game. I just put it together, fin-by-fin, locked and loaded the rubber-band jaw, then piled up the tongue with the junk. And these trinkets you had to fish out of its face were fascinating, by the way. Sort of like Monopoly, which could have been way better of you spent the game putting sharks on all your properties instead of houses. Near as I can remember, there was a work boot, an anchor, a wagon wheel (?), a fish skeleton, no human body parts but this big ol’ bone that might have been from a person, and a walkie-talkie, which conjured up all sorts of Jonah-in-the-whale type fantasies (“Breaker 1-9, I’m still getting digested, over…”), and also made sense considering Spielberg’s later fascination with this technology. Remember the scandal when he replaced every gun in E.T. with a walkie-talkie? This was supposed to make the movie a bit more benign and kid-friendly, but instead it convinced us kids our walkie-talkies might be lethal.
No license plate came with the toy though, which seems like a real missed opportunity. So I just plucked out this junk for my first-grade class, eyes wide and intent like a mad scientist, or at least a mildly-disturbed dentist, and the room held their breath. And when the jaws snapped shut, I knew it was coming. It wasn’t hard to figure out exactly how much junk a three-rubber-band-tight jaw could lose before it sprung, so I barely flinched at all. The kids lost it though, squealing and rolling out of the way. And maybe I wasn’t a hero for a day, but a hero for 15 minutes, and that was good enough.
I didn’t see Jaws until about a year later when it was on “cable.” I have the scare quotes around cable because my uncle was stealing Showtime with a pirate box (only the biggest suckers paid for cable in the ‘70s). It’s not so crazy for kids to have toys years before they can see the movies that inspire them. And if you think it’s weird that they made toys “ages 6 and up” for a bona fide horror movie, remember this was the ‘70s, where kids were playing with Giger’s Alien in their sandbox or watching Blade Runner on their View-Master. No, seriously, they had Blade Runner on the View-Master! Or maybe it was The Black Hole, I can’t remember. Equally scary though.
But when I watched Jaws that day with my uncle Pat, I didn’t freak out. I was 7 years old or so, and my uncle and my parents marveled at how calm I was through the whole thing. This might have been my first case of “hype,” with my relatives needling me so much about being scared that I had to prove them wrong, because while I was watching it, I kept thinking “This ain’t so bad…” Either that or there was just no way I was going to show weakness. I’d already shown enough weakness earlier in the day when I ran full speed into their sliding glass door, bloodying my nose all over it. It wasn’t the first time I’d done this, which was why my aunt and uncle had put butterfly stickers on the thing so I wouldn’t make this mistake again. But they keep the door too damn clean. If I had a house made of sliding-glass doors, I’d be dead.
So when we were watching the movie, I was doing fine, cheering with everyone when Brody blew it up with that perfect shot, and that was that. Then people wandered off and I kept watching Showtime on my own.
And that’s when the cartoon came on.
I still have no idea what this cartoon was, and I’ve been unable to track it down, even in the Golden Age of internets. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who saw it, so it really did happen. But my dad doesn’t really remember it like I do. Showtime was weird back then, too. No hosts, no original programming that I remember, with just these short, animated clips to fill time between movies. They were usually darkly humorous flicks, like something they’d play at a drive-in. Showtime is where most of us first saw Godzilla Vs. Bambi, for example. So this cartoon was supposed to be funny, too. It depicted an entomologist running around in a field with a butterfly net, catching butterflies. Then suddenly this even-bigger net swoops down and snatches him up instead. Camera pulls back, and it’s a huge butterfly carrying the squirming man in his net, flying back to a big cave. In the cave, the butterfly yanks the man out, gives him a cursory glance, then smack! Sticks him up on a wall with a giant pin. The camera pulls back again to show the wall is covered with men, all impaled on pins, heads lolling, and the butterfly sitting at a desk, drumming its fingers all bored.
It’s an old turning-the-tables gag I’ve seen a hundred times since, but holy balls did it freak me out. It sent me off, running through the house screaming, and everyone was left scratching their heads, “What’s wrong with Crash?” I listened to them diagnose my meltdown, and they decided that it was Jaws after all, combined with running face-first into the sliding door, that was causing this. Those were the real culprits, not a cartoon. And I was angry at the time, confused no one else was disturbed by the butterfly, but looking back, their assessment makes more sense. The cartoon was a fable, and it had a certain logic to it. Thinking about it now, Jaws was my sliding-glass door to the nose that day. Okay, the butterfly cartoon was freaky, but that’s a simple revenge tale. Sure, Jaws might be construed as a revenge tale, too (Jaws: The Revenge, anyone?), particularly today when sharks are undergoing a mass extinction and the Earth loses three sharks every second, but Jaws was weirder than all that, more alien. The water was outer space, the wrong place to be. And in the movie, any shot of some desperate swimming trying to get to the surface, but being pulled down at the very last second? That’s what got me. Isn’t this essentially what happens when a sliding glass door appears from nowhere? The idea that you’re underwater, that you’re in the fish tank with those alien life forms, only there’s six sealed sides to this tank and no exit, and the promise of sunlight from the surface will be stolen at any moment. That’s true terror. But if anybody can track down the butterfly cartoon, let me know. So I can destroy the negative.
But there’s a reason there’s a Shark Week and not a Butterfly Week on the Discovery channel. Shark Week is only slightly more ridiculous these days, as it’s mercifully pulled back from baiting the conspiracy theorist with fake Mermen and Megalodon documentaries. For a minute there, it was like they didn’t trust people to think sharks were big enough, that they didn’t need three heads or to be surfing tornados. A shark doesn’t need to be the size of an aircraft carrier to terrify. They’ve always been just the right size, meaning bigger than us. Remember the movie Mighty Joe Young? I don’t know about you, but there was something freakier about a King Kong that was somewhere in-between monster-sized and gorilla-sized, like that scary porridge that’s just right. And even a man-sized butterfly on a rampage still lives up here. With us. Not down under those sliding-glass doors, ready to rob you of any hope of escape or last gasps. Or even last thoughts.
Okay, last thoughts. When I used to work at a bookstore back in Toledo, my boss at the time told us how she’d spent summers in Arizona back in the ’70s doing volunteer work on a Navajo reservation, and one day she thought it would be great to organize a field trip to see Jaws. She said that most of them hadn’t seen many, or any, movies at all, so she hoped there would be some big impact, maybe like the Maori tribe in The Piano who stormed the stage while watching the locals put on an adaptation of Bluebeard, or the apocryphal tales of crowds panicking and running from a projected locomotive during the Lumière brothers screening of their first film, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station. Instead, she said, they watched the movie without comment, and when it was over, she eagerly went to them to debrief them about the experience. She was much more excited than they were, however, and one Navajo man’s response seemed to be indicative of the general consensus. He just said, “Big fish” and shrugged, which is a good way to remind us what was really important here, all desperate sliding-glass-door symbolism aside. That fucking fish was big enough.
David James Keaton’s work has appeared in over 50 publications. His first collection, FISH BITES COP! Stories to Bash Authorities (Comet Press), was named the 2013 Short Story Collection of the Year by This Is Horror and was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award. His second collection of short fiction, Stealing Propeller Hats from the Dead (PMMP), received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly, who said, “Decay, both existential and physical, has never looked so good.” He lives and teaches in California, where the roads are made of sand fleas and avocados.
by Larissa Glasser
It’s been just over forty years since Spielberg’s adaptation of Jaws (1975) introduced the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), a new monster, to the popular imagination. But this “monster” was not just the product of some fevered imagination, it was a part of the natural world that actually predates our own species by millions of years. What made the film work as a sharp thriller was partly due to the technical difficulties the director had with the mechanical shark “Bruce,” and many of the fright-cues took place by suggestion (due also in part to the John Williams score). It bears repeating–horror should include what we cannot see, at least until it’s too late to escape.
I grew up on Nantucket. The Atlantic Ocean raised me. I stared at that Leviathan for hours, imagining remote, forbidden continents and the hidden forces of the deep. Around the time Jaws hit the screens, I was hearing The Beatles for the first time on my brother’s 8-track at the beach, wondering as a child and not quite sure what to make of life’s unknowns. My brain was very ripe for both the fear and awe thatJaws would inspire.
What made this monster work so well? Well, consider the ocean, the habitat of the shark. Humanity merely uses the ocean. We encroach upon that habitat for commerce, travel, recreation, dumping our trash and toxic waste. In Jaws,this gigantic, sparky fish decides to encroach in turn, mining our coastal shallows for some chow. Jaws served up a not-so-gentle reminder that when it comes to humans battling an unrelenting force of nature, we know who comes out on top. It’s good to be reminded that our dominion is tenuous, at best.
Plenty of ink (and blood) has been spilled on how Jaws shook up the Hollywood-studio model and essentially invented the summer blockbuster, so let’s focus instead that famous scene on board The Orca–The USS Indianapolis.
At this point in the film, tensions between Brody, Hooper, and Quint have eased enough for them to compare scars, drink, and share stories. When Quint gives the solemn account of his survival after the sinking of The Indianapolis, floating defenselessly in the shark-infested Pacific Ocean, the story shifts gears to a deep universal resonance that grips our attention and doesn’t let go. Quint has faced this enemy before, with more intimacy than anyone else present. The experience taught Quint more about sharks in a week than most would care to know in a lifetime. His account also lends historical context and immediacy to the already taut narrative. Quint begins his story in a clinical, almost detached manner as any survivor of trauma might, and then he dives deeper with helpful details about how people might cope with that situation: the forming of tight groups, the fighting back, the screaming. But after all is said and done, nature and its hunger almost always win the fight.
I also like how this scene reflects the intimacy of predator and prey. The eyes of the shark seem lifeless (although their senses are sharp as their teeth), he “don’t seem to be living ‘till he bites you.” Quint also admits he was most frightened as he was about to be rescued from the waters.
Perhaps best of all, Quint’s account of his survival at sea emphasizes the very real threat of the monster he and his fellow hunters face, and how ill-equipped they are to conquer it. They need more than a bigger boat. They need a bomb.
Larissa Glasser is a librarian and SF writer from Boston. She has previously published nonfiction and reviews in Harvard Review, The Boston Phoenix, and Maelstrom. She co-founded the Witching Metal band Hekseri and is a Member at Large of Broad Universe. She’s on Twitter @larissaeglasser.
by Aaron Dries
The pitching office is like a mausoleum, a place where living things came to die, to be preserved in embalming fluid and good intentions. Two executives sit at a desk in front of the young director, a jug of water on the polished mahogany between them. The director doesn’t dare drink it for fear it will make him appear weak, even though he’s thirsty. The water mocks him.
He knows this is a test.
“Thanks for joining us, ______,” says the woman. “We’re excited about bringing Jaws back to the big screen. We loved your last film and think you’re a perfect fit for the remake.”
“Are you a fan of the original material?” asks the man.
“The book, you mean?”
The man smiles. His eyes are like coffee stains on a starched shirt. “Jaws was a book? I meant the film.” This is a man who does not sleep. He is caffeine incarnate.
“I love all of Spielberg’s stuff. Especially Jaws. It’s a masterpiece.”
The woman leans forward. “Great to hear. We want to capture lightning in a bottle again. Help us make this happen, ______. Give us your ideas. Pitch us.”
Here we go, he thinks. “Well. It boils down to this. I think that if something’s not broken we shouldn’t rush out to fix it—”
MAN: “Loves it. Loves it!”
“We should stick as close to the original as possible.”
MAN: “Great! I knew bringing this kid in was a good idea. I’m a genius!”
“Great. Well, we open on a beach in Amity—”
WOMAN: “Ah, let me stop you there. Amity, yeah, it’s nice and all, but what if the setting was somewhere a bit more upmarket. The Hamptons, maybe.”
WOMAN: “Glamour. I think Jaws needs glamour.”
MAN: “Definitely. The original has this unappealing grit to it. It really feels like it’s set in a small beach town. Who likes sand, really?”
He squirms in his seat, leather squeaking. It sounds like a fart. He hopes they didn’t hear it, yet suspects they did. Keep going! “So the film opens with a shark attack on this beach…in the Hamptons.”
MAN: “Loves it! Open with a bang. The original lacked that punch.”
“But the first film did open with a shark attack.”
WOMAN: “Really, I don’t remember that… Anyhow, keep going.”
“Well, the attack is brutal and shocking. But we don’t see the shark yet.”
MAN: “Ugh, let me stop you there. We don’t need the artsy-fartsy subtle approach. We want that shark front and center. I want it leaping right up out of that water.”
“You don’t think that to build suspense and anticipation it might help to hold off on the reveal for a bit?”
WOMAN: “We’d like to move the story along. Up the pace. Keep it going, ______.”
“So maybe we do see the shark. That could work. But I think we need to go animatronic on this. Old school, nuts and bolts, the most impressive and realistic movie magic machine in cinema history.”
WOMAN: “What do you mean? For the shark?”
MAN: “No. Can’t have that. Audiences don’t want machines. They’ll think it looks fake. We need CGI. We’ve got the team behind Jurassic World ready to go.”
“But it’s the tangibility of the shark in the original film that makes an impression. CGI doesn’t look real, not even good CGI. If anything, it’s getting worse.”
WOMAN: “Hey, look. We’re an open-minded department. We can compromise on some things, just not on this. Keep going with your pitch, though. You’re doing great!”
He bites his tongue and continues. “After this opening scene we shift to Brody, the town sheriff, and his family—”
MAN: “I’ll stop you there. We don’t want Brody to be sheriff anymore. And we don’t want him to be a family man, either. That old house in the original? Bah. It could be Anywhere, USA. For the new film, we thought he might be the owner of the local Hilton. Jaws needs glamour, remember! We don’t want this to be Universal—it needs to be somewhere.”
“But at its core, the story is about a man going up against a town that doesn’t believe him. It’s David and Goliath. And he has to be a father. Remember that scene in the original where Brody has all this responsibility resting on his shoulders and he’s sitting at the kitchen table with his boy, pulling faces at one another as his wife watches from the doorway. It’s moving. It’s a perfect scene. It’s so perfect it’s almost unfair to the rest of cinema.”
MAN: “Agh, let’s cut it and move on. Nobody wants character development anymore. We’ll drop it in somewhere, sure. Moving on! We want some teenagers in this picture. Let’s get to the teenagers.”
WOMAN: “Great idea! A group of Hampton teens. Excellent potential for product placement there. Oh, they can all be going sailing and the shark attacks! The CGI shark.”
MAN: “Loves it, loves it!”
“So essentially you want to remake Jaws 2?”
WOMAN: “I think that’s easier to market in today’s cinematic climate. Sequels sell. We’ve also got a cross-deal with Marvel in place. Great, huh? How do you feel about the inclusion of a superhero?”
MAN: “Not like Spiderman or The Hulk or anything. That’d just be ridiculous, right? Ha-ha! No, I mean someone normal looking, right?”
WOMAN: “Exactly! Bruce Wayne, maybe.”
MAN: “Loves it.”
WOMAN: “Bruce is taking a crime-fighting sabbatical and goes sailing with these kids. And he’s the one who eventually saves the day!”
“So it’s Batman Vs. Superman, but with a CGI shark. In the Hamptons. With kids.”
MAN: “Great idea! I love this guy. We knew you were perfect for this.”
WOMAN: “The shark chews its way though the kids until there’s just Bruce left. And then—oh, yes!—he remembers that in the hull of the boat, which is sinking, he’s got his costume!”
MAN: “Loves it, loves it!”
WOMAN: “He puts it on and jumps right in the water and attacks the shark.”
MAN: “Batman punches it to death. Bam! Kapow! Gold, kid. Gold!”
The boat isn’t the only thing that’s sinking in this scenario. It’s the young director’s passion, too. A passion that was sparked when he was a little boy sitting on the sofa with his mother as she showed him Jaws for the first time on their old television set, the one with the crooked wire bunny ears. The magic of cinema seen through a scrim of static. His eyes were wide with fear throughout, his childish thirst for adventure building from scene to scene. And then, by the end, he was standing on that couch, cheering when the shark exploded, spraying the ocean in torrents of guts and blood, swearing to his mother that yes, yes—I DID see the dead dog falling out of the sky!
This was a long time ago.
The man that child grew into reaches forward and drinks from the jug of water on the table. With this act, the conversation ends, and the faces of the executives turn towards him, cold and stern, as though carved from the same granite as the room in which they sit.
MAN: “What’s the matter, kid?”
WOMAN (gasping): “Are you okay?”
He puts down the glass. The water has no taste. “I don’t think I can do this.”
WOMAN: “What do you mean? This is the opportunity of a lifetime. We’re going to change the cinematic landscape with this.”
“Change it for better or worse?”
MAN: “Why you ungrateful—”
WOMAN: “Maybe this was a mistake.”
“I’m sorry to have wasted your time. I should leave.”
MAN: “You smug, Gen Y, know-it-all! Look at you. You look like someone just took a dump in your Cheerios. This is the last time we invite someone like you in to pitch.”
WOMAN: “Not a ‘maybe’ mistake. A ‘definite’ mistake.”
MAN: “Look at you sitting there, all blank-faced. Where’s the gratitude? Get out of here, kid. You’re making me sick. Ungrateful!”
WOMAN: “You’ll have to pay for that water, just so you know. It’s not for drinking.”
MAN: “Where’s the gratitude?”
WOMAN: “That’ll be $47.50.”
The young director wants to get up and leave this room forever, but he can’t. He’s spent. Stunned and shocked by the shark bite in the lilo of his universe.
MAN: “For heaven’s sake, kid. Do something. Say something. Smile, you son-of-a-bitch.”
But the young director does not smile. He does not show off his teeth.
He has ground them down to nothing.
Avid traveler, former pizza boy, retail clerk, kitchen hand, aged care worker, video director and artist Aaron Dries was born and raised in New South Wales, Australia. When asked why he writes horror, his standard reply is that when it comes to scaring people, writing pays slightly better than jumping out from behind doors. He is the author of the award-winning House of Sighs, and his subsequent novels, The Fallen Boys and A Place for Sinners are just as—if not more—twisted than his debut.
by Nick Cato
In June, 1975, my grandfather took me (who at the time was seven years old and in the first grade), my brother (who was two years younger and hence not yet in school), and my cousin (who was two years older) to see Jaws. Gramps was a fisherman and used to pick us up early every Sunday morning to go see what was biting. We always had a great time, and for a few months before the film’s release we had asked him if he would take us to see it. In the glorious 70s, without an Internet to ruin things, gramps picked us up one Saturday morning for a 1:00 PM screening. He picked us up at 10:30, but any good fisherman knows to get places early.
The two hour wait in front of the theater would’ve been boring, but my late gramps was a funny guy. He cracked jokes the whole time and eventually had a small audience as the line grew. I believe the film had been out three weeks by then, and we took our seats not knowing what to expect. I vaguely remember reviews from TV saying the film was causing people to stay out of the water, and as far as my parents were concerned, we were going to a movie with our fisherman grandfather to see a movie about a big fish.
Besides the initial sort-of shock this first grader had of seeing a naked woman run down the beach, it was quickly forgotten when an unseen creature gobbled her up within the film’s opening minutes. I had seen Night of the Living Dead on late night TV about a year before this, but Jaws was the very first time I saw a genuinely scary film in a theater. And by the time Hooper went scuba diving and found that decapitated head in the sunken boat, we were all glued to the screen, and the sight of that decapitated head caused my five year-old brother to hop onto my grandfather’s lap, where he remained for the rest of the film.
While, as kids, we loved seeing the shark attack sequences and were traumatized by them for years, it was the amazing performances by the main cast that made the film work so damn well. To this day, whenever I see Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, or Richard Dreyfuss in another film, I simply can’t accept them outside of their Jaws characters (although I kind-of came close to liking Dreyfuss’ role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) almost as much). But he’ll always be the wise-cracking Hooper to me when push comes to shove. I actually went to see Blue Thunder in 1983, but seeing Scheider flying around in a helicopter without blowing a shark to pieces left me feeling cheated. Same for the several older films I afterwards saw with Robert Shaw. I still think they should’ve had him somehow kill a shark in Battle of the Bulge. Okay, that was ten years before Jaws, but work with me here…
I tend to think that my love for gory films came from this screening of Jaws at such an early age. Two sequences in particular (a shot of a man’s leg sinking to the ocean floor, and Quint’s nasty demise as shark chow during the film’s epic finale) really did something to my psyche. As I had been doing for about a year after my late night viewing of Night of the Living Dead, where I obsessively thought about the film, drew pictures of it, and desired nothing more in life than getting to see it again, so I did the same thing with Jaws. It consumed me. I couldn’t get those creepy images out of my mind no matter how hard I tried. And when I finally got to see the film two or three years later on my aunt’s Betamax (anyone remember those?), I enjoyed it as much as my initial screening.
I was fortunate enough to have my own Quint: my grandfather. No, he wasn’t a shark hunter and as far as I know didn’t survive a military sunken ship shark attack, but he was a life-long fisherman who took me, my brother, and my cousin to see one of the greatest films of the 70s, if not of all time. Seeing the film with him made it more special, especially when I caught him nodding in agreement every time Quint spoke about fishing or what they had to do to catch this shark. It almost made the whole experience “3-D.”
Jaws scared the crap out of everyone back then, regardless of age. But seeing it with my gramps made it a little less scary for this (then) first grader, and he made an unforgettable film even more memorable. I watch the film at least once a year to this day and can’t help thinking about him whenever Quint comes on the screen.
And I still find Quint’s demise incredibly hard to watch…
Nick Cato is the author of one novel, five novellas, and a forthcoming book on grindhouse cinema.
by Stephen Graham Jones
What the fifties gave the horror movie was a crop of radiation-grown monsters come to punish us for our sins. Pretty much, they were our sins, given monstrous form. They were there to teach us a lesson, just, all they that had to do that with were claws and teeth, wings and fire. These monsters were impossible, unlikely creatures simply because exaggeration was the only thing that could shake the self-satisfied fifties from its smug recliner, scare it out onto its well-kept lawns.
But by Jaws 1975 (a year before for the Peter Benchley novel), heedless scientific progress wasn’t the cautionary tale we needed to be taught anymore. Was it?
Well. It might very well have been radiation from the Venus Probe that got corpses climbing from their graves in Night of the Living Dead just a few years before. And in 1974, the acoustic properties of cutting-edge “scientific” farming equipment had done the same in The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. And? Is it really any coincidence that the USS Indianapolis Quint’s the survivor of, it had been delivering Little Boy, the first atomic bomb humans had ever used on humans?
Think about it. Quint says there might have been a thousand sharks there for that feeding frenzy. A thousand sharks getting the taste for human blood. A thousand sharks cutting through the waters a ship had just gone down in. A ship that had secretly been carrying the world’s atomic bomb. Now, imagine if you will that, in 1945, we might not have completely known about radiation shielding. Imagine a loose rivet if you will, one that leaks radiation into the belly of the Indianapolis.
Now picture that irradiated portion of the hull sharing its pulsing green glow with one or two of those sharks come in to feed on the lower halves of all these sailors—that is, sharks getting a distinct taste for human flesh—and add that with what Brody researches up, about how we don’t even really know how long sharks live. Which is to say, we don’t even know if they die at all.
Then take into account that this particular shark that’s come to Amity Island for the Fourth of July (that is, when America celebrates in gruesome fashion, with mock-bombs in the air . . .), it isn’t really acting very sharky at all, is it? Granted, the initial kill we see—the drunk night-swimmer out by the buoy—that’s just a shark being a shark. Also, the shark coming up for the kid on the raft: that raft could have been a seal from the shark’s angle, right? By the time the shark knew any different, it was too late.
But we, and Amity Island, soon come to figure out that this shark isn’t any normal shark. No, this is a monster shark. This is a shark behaving in a fashion not at all in keeping with its kind.
First it sneaks into the ‘pond’—the estuary that’s supposed to be safe. Particularly, it sneaks there when there’s such better feeding out on the proper beach. And, once there in the pond, the only thing stopping it from getting to the police chief’s son is one unlucky guy in a rowboat, who quickly gets chewed through. That the son is the target is pretty obvious, from what I guess we’d have to call the point-of-view of the giant dorsal fin, as the shark pulls its first swim-by, its mouth momentarily too full for a second chomp. And, granted, there’s a way to read the story that this shark going for Brody’s son, that’s just to focus the story down to the people who matter—it’s dramatic economy. But another way to look at it is that this shark, it knows who it needs to take out, up on the land: the main authority figure. The one who wants to close the beaches.
As far as the beaches and their closing go, this shark, it’s right in line with the mayor. Which is to say, it’s aligned against Brody. And, like the mayor, it’s working events and situations in order to neutralize Brody—just, unlike the mayor, this shark has row after row of teeth, and no voting body to answer to.
This shark, it’s thinking. It’s got strategy. It can imagine a goal ahead of itself in time, and then work methodically towards that goal—unlike any of its shark brethren, all locked in the perpetual moment, as it were, operating on mere stimulus-response.
Monsters aren’t stimulus-response. Justice is so more complicated than that.
Next? Off-screen, this massive thinking shark, it takes out one of the boatful of hunters out chumming the waters—kind of a little dumbshow, illustrating again how unsharky this shark is behaving: instead of running from danger, it eliminates that danger. Understand that, in the open sea, when mating or territory or the current meal isn’t at stake, a regular shark has no reason to stick around when things get hot. No reason to go after a boatful of hunters. Unless that boatful of hunters has, say, insulted it.
Meaning? This is a shark that might have feelings.
Very unsharky. Matt Hooper should have said something about this. Or, he does, to Quint, with “You ever have one do this before?” which is followed up nearly immediately by Brody asking Hooper, “Have you ever had a great white—” but Hooper, frustrated, cuts him off with a flat, hard “No!”
No, this is not how typical sharks act.
This shark, it’s special. “Mr. White,” Quint calls it, even, lending his opposition a proper name, not just a species.
It’s getting personal, yes. Which we see when the shark, insulted by not one, not two, but three barrels being harpooned to it, proceeds to resist its own survival instinct and turn the predators into the prey. And not just in a single attack, either, but through a steadily mounting warfare of terror, as if—get this—as if maybe this shark, it’s aware that these people on the boat have interiors as well. Thoughts and feelings that can be manipulated to the shark’s advantage.
For the whole movie, this shark has been swimming closer and closer to a different identity, a different status. When it focuses all its attention on the Orca, essentially Ahab’ing Quint, it becomes a legitimate monster—a creature of monstrous proportions, acting outside its typical behavior patterns. More or less, it’s doing stuff for what we would call ‘human’ reasons, not shark reasons.
So, to wrap up already: how to make this monster?
Irradiate a long-lived shark in 1945, give it a taste for human flesh, plant a seed of human awareness in it, and then set it on a decades-long quest to finish the feeding frenzy that got cut short by rescue in 1945.
Yes, Quint is on a revenge-arc. Most definitely. He hates all sharks.
This shark, though, it just wants to finish its meal.
Can you see this shark as Quint’s pulled from the water, into his lifeboat? Can you see those doll eyes taking a snapshot or two? This is when the shark’s a “mere” three meters, say. But, thanks to the radiation, it’s already growing at an accelerated rate. Over the next thirty years, it’ll be eight times as big.
To understand this, look at Quint’s story from another angle. The Final Destination angle: sailor escapes what should have been his death, and then, a neat three decades later, that death swims up to his boat, bites him in half.
Kind of fits, yes?
And, the shark itself, it has a story as well. A typical shark, it pretty much needs two basic things: water and food. So, this shark, when it goes atypical and foregoes food in favor of revenge, it’s very much asking for justice to pay it a visit as well (for stepping outside its prescribed boundaries), and it’s only fitting that the thing that finally explodes its head, it’s the opposite of the water it so desperately needs: air (-tank).
And, note that for this read of Jaws to actually apply in a way that makes sense, it’s not at all necessary for Quint to ‘recognize’ this shark at the last moment—a tell-tale scar, say, or a missing eye, a notched dorsal fin. Really, Quint’s estimation of all sharks as pretty much just “sharks he hasn’t got around to killing yet,” that almost requires that he not distinguish one shark from the next. His own need for revenge has made him blind, has denied him the ability to discern one shark from the next. Could he, then he might elect not to smash the radio, thus severing all ties with the land and ensuring his own doom.
However, that this might be his particular monster come to chomp him, that gives the story a certain elegance, doesn’t it? It’s closing a circle that opened in 1945.
No, it’s no accident that the Hiroshima bomb the Indianapolis was smuggling across the Pacific was “Little Boy,” and that the first time we actually see actual blood in the water in this story, it’s from a “little boy.”
Neither is it any accident the “monster” in Jaws, it’s only name—aside from the Latinate—is “Mr. White”—which is a color America never actually calls itself, expect in contradistinction, when referring to all the “other” people of the world by colors.
“Mr. White” indeed.
But that comes back to bite us, doesn’t it?
That comes back to bite us in half.
Jaws is finally, and fundamentally, a story about heedless scientific progress. Specifically, it’s a story about using that “progress” against others. Jaws is a warning of what happens when we do. A bomb was dropped thirty years before the movie came out, but we’re all still living in the fallout, even now.
America, it drags an ugly, ugly past behind it.
We’re going to need a bigger boat.
Stephen Graham Jones
14 May 2016
Stephen Graham Jones is the author of sixteen novels, six story collections, more than 250 stories, and has some comic books in the works. His current book is the werewolf novel Mongrels (William Morrow). Stephen’s been the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Fiction, the Texas Institute of Letters Jesse Jones Award for Fiction, the Independent Publishers Awards for Multicultural Fiction, three This is Horror awards, and he’s made Bloody Disgusting’s Top Ten Novels of the Year. Stephen teaches in the MFA programs at University of Colorado at Boulder and University of California Riverside-Palm Desert. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, two children, and too many old trucks.
by Rose Blackthorn
I’m not sure how old I was the first time I saw Jaws. It came out in 1975, so I would’ve been a bit young to see it in the theater, but I’m pretty sure I saw it in the theater. My mom was always willing to give me the benefit of the doubt when it came to the scary stuff—after all, she started me on Stephen King while I was still in elementary school. Anyway, I do know this much: I have never gone swimming in the ocean, even when I’ve had the opportunity, and it’s all due to this film. (I’m not a complete wimp, I have gone wading out to a couple of feet deep…)
Just an aside: this movie not only scared me, it also got me interested in sharks and shark attacks. Maybe a little part of me thought, Yeah, this is all made up. Sharks don’t really attack people that often. So I went out and found the book Sharks: Attacks on Man, by George A. Llano. I read that book cover-to-cover, and completely freaked myself out.
Anyway, Jaws is really more than just a movie. It’s a part of our popular culture. There’s a Bad Hat Harry Productions, which uses the line spoken by Roy Scheider as Chief Brody to an elderly swimmer on the beach. And sharks are everywhere these days, including innumerable bad SyFy original movies. (Sharknado, anyone?)
As a kid and teenager, I watched and rewatched Jaws for the scares. In fact, I just watched it again a couple of days ago, and even now I think the first few minutes of the movie brings some of the best chills and foreboding ever committed to film. That first scene, when you’re not even sure what is really going on with the woman in the water, can still give me goosebumps.
Now, as an adult, I still get a kick out of the jump scares in this movie. I know they’re coming, but they still get me a little, and they leave me smiling. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve come to appreciate more than just the scary bits. I love the actors cast in the main roles, and at this point can’t even imagine anyone else playing them. I enjoy the comedic touches as well: Chief Brody’s obvious fear of the water and the way he tries to downplay it; Hooper’s sarcasm and impressive use of face-making; even the Benny Hill-like scenes of the influx of would-be shark hunters who flood the town and the beaches in search of fame and fortune.
I would have to say now, though, that my absolute favorite part of the movie isn’t one of the scary scenes, or the funny scenes, but it may be the most intense part of the film. Less than five minutes of dialogue, but in that short amount of time, you learn all you need to know to understand Quint and his enduring hatred and hard won understanding of sharks. I can imagine what it might be like to be lost in the water, waiting for the sharks to take a bite. I have a vivid imagination, a gift and a curse sometimes. I can’t think that surviving something like that, that I’d ever want to go into the water again. Yet, I can watch Jaws over and over. I can flinch and feel sorrow for the victims, laugh with Brody and Hooper and Quint who do what they must to protect Amity Island, and cheer at the end when the monstrous shark is destroyed. And then, when it’s all over, I can restart it from the beginning, and suffer goosebumps and cover my eyes in breathless anticipation as Chrissie Watkins makes the decision to go for a midnight swim.
Rose Blackthorn is a member of the HWA and her short fiction and poetry has appeared online and in print with a varied list of anthologies and magazines. Her poetry collection Thorns, Hearts and Thistles was published in February 2015, and the novelette Called to Battle: Worthy Vessel was published in October 2015. She is a writer, dog-mom and photographer who lives in the high-mountain desert, but longs for the sea.
The kid behind the counter is fiddling with the espresso machine when he rattles off a string of numbers and letters. NOS4A2. He’s staring at the book I’ve set on the counter, a rusted vanity plate stamped on the cover.
“Nosferatu,” I say, digging the cash from my wallet. “It’s German for vampire.”
Joe Hill, son of prolific horror writer Stephen King, has proven to be a powerful new voice when it comes to modern fantasy and horror. His first book, the brilliant short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, snagged the Bram Stoker Award, International Horror Guild Award, and British Fantasy Award for Best Fiction Collection. Heart-Shaped Box and Horns were soon to follow; the former claiming another Stoker Award for Best First Novel. Locke & Key, a comic series written by Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, has also claimed its share of awards.
Now Hill is back with his fourth book, NOS4A2, and he does not disappoint.
In his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, with the vanity plate NOS4A2, Charles Talent Manx cruises highways most people never know exist, but he doesn’t go alone. Nothing gives Manx greater pleasure than whisking innocent children off to a place called Christmasland, a wondrous playground where every day is Christmas and unhappiness is against the law; a place no child would ever want to leave, though the drive is far more taxing than his young passengers can know. Manx has never lost a child he has set his sights on. Then he meets Victoria McQueen.
Vic McQueen knows something about hidden roadways herself. She has a talent for finding missing things. By riding her bicycle over a magical covered bridge, she is transported to wherever it is she needs to be. It is only a matter of time before she crosses paths with Charlie Manx and the Wraith, though she proves somewhat more resourceful than the children Manx is accustomed to dealing with.
Years later, Manx is back with a vengeance, and Vic McQueen finds herself in need of the talent she has tried so hard to erase from her memory, this time to recover her son. Thus the battle between good and evil begins.
Hill’s prose sings, and the plot moves along at a blazing pace. This is a page-turner at heart. Everything boils down to the fact that Joe Hill is an excellent storyteller. He knows how to hook his reader from the first page and relentlessly builds tension throughout his tale. I feel it is a discredit to Hill’s talent to make the comparison, but NOS4A2 is reminiscent of King at his best. Constant Readers will feel right at home between the covers.
If you consider yourself a geek, NOS4A2 will welcome you with open arms. References involving Batman, Star Wars, Firefly, Jaws and plenty more are sprinkled throughout in heartfelt and touching ways that will leave you feeling nostalgic. He also gives nods to authors past and present including Ray Bradbury, Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, and others for readers to sniff out. Fans of Hill’s earlier works will find references on that front as well.
Where the novel really shines is in its characters. Charlie Manx makes for a truly terrifying villain. The Wraith accents him perfectly, acting as a living, thinking accomplice. Doors open on their own; locks bang into place, trapping unsuspecting victims; the radio constantly blares Christmas music regardless of the season. In many ways, the Wraith functions in much the same way as the 1958 Plymouth Fury did in Christine, and picturing the Rolls-Royce barreling out of a snowstorm that shouldn’t exist is downright menacing.
Vic McQueen offers a great counterbalance, winning the reader’s sympathy and respect. She comes off as a strong, independent heroine who is also flawed in all of the right ways. Her motivations, as with those of Charlie Manx, are complex and well thought out, pulling the reader close to consider each twist and turn alongside her.
Some of the greatest characters in the book are actually the secondary ones. It is not often that I find myself attached to characters to the degree I was to those in NOS4A2. From a librarian with a fish tank lined with scrabble tiles instead of rocks to a mechanic who uses a monster truck tire as a playpen for his child, there are so many small quirks in this book that one can’t help but smile at them as they go by. I found myself wishing I were friends with half the people I met while curled in my reading chair, and I am in awe of Hill’s ability to continuously populate his work with such interesting people.
At 692 pages, NOS4A2 is Hill’s longest work to date, but it holds up throughout its entirety, and readers can rest assured that they will be rewarded with a satisfying ending to wrap it all up. If you are a horror fan looking for a little Christmas-laced fear to chill your summer months, NOS4A2 is a must read. And if during the course of your reading you find yourself cruising down an unfamiliar snow-covered highway in the back of a classic car filled with Christmas music, just remember that you are on your way to someplace magical, a place you will never want to leave.