Tag Archives: Jeremy Wagner

The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8

FOR THE LOVE OF JAWS
by Jeremy Wagner

BRODY: “Slow ahead. I can go slow ahead. Come on down here and chum some of this shit.”
HOOPER: “That’s a twenty-footer.”
QUINT: “Twenty-five. Three tons of him.”

What can one say about the movie Jaws that isn’t already common knowledge? Like, we know Jaws stands as one of the most epic/awesome/untouchable movies ever made. Glad we agree!

I write this Jaws-worship piece for Shock Totem on June 19th—just one day before the film’s 41st Anniversary. Just thinking of this movie brings back countless memories of the film (and the Peter Benchley novel, too) that I’ve had since I was 5 years old.

Jaws was actually the first “adult” novel that I ever read. My mom and some other family members all had Jaws in paperback and I was immediately hooked (no pun intended) by the cover art. I recall a sense of fascination and dread as I stared at the brilliant artwork created by legendary Hollywood movie-poster artist, Roger Kastel.

(Kastel’s original art was painted in just days. Moreover, the original 20×30-inch painting went missing around the time of the film’s release, and as of today is still missing and reported as “stolen.”)

Jaws, the film, directed by Steven Spielberg, was released on June 20, 1975, a little more than a year after novel. The movie profoundly changed my life. The music alone scared the shit out of me—just like John Carpenter’s Halloween score would do to me a few years later.

Jaws opened across North America on 464 screens. Shortly after, the film’s distribution expanded to nearly 700 theaters, and then by August 15, 1975, it was in more than 950 theaters nationwide. Distribution overseas followed suit, with massive television marketing and wide releases.

The filming was riddled with major problems and was deemed a failure as soon as production started. “Bruce,” the mechanical shark, was the #1 culprit. The laundry-list of calamities that transpired set a tone of doom over the cast and crew—with Spielberg convinced his career as a director was over—but when the dust settled, unreal, monumental success came out of what was predicted as catastrophe. The superb cast; the genius, award-winning editing of Verna Fields; the Oscar-earning film score, by John Williams; and the directorial suspense that Spielberg delivered all made for the most legendary horror movie the world has ever seen, in company with, and with complete respect to, The Exorcist, Halloween, The Thing, and Psycho, among others.

Moreover, Jaws’s success surpassed the horror genre, skyrocketing to the top of countless “Best Films of All Time” lists to where it sat atop the cinema mountain with The Godfather and Citizen Kane.

Jaws became the highest-grossing film of all time until Star Wars hit theaters in 1977.

All the deserved accolades, music, and blockbuster facts aside, let’s get to what makes the movie really awesome: the fucking TERROR of an unseen monster in the deep. Jaws instills a primal fear in us. Entertainment is a given, but this movie did to oceans what Hitchcock’s Psycho did for showers—getting wet at home or in the ocean caused great anxiety and fear. I know this feeling firsthand, as I was scared to even swim in the country lake near my grandparent’s farm in central Wisconsin after seeing Jaws!

This feeling of unease and horror can be directly credited to:

VICTIM #1: Christine “Chrissie” Watkins, whose nighttime swim made for one of the most unforgettable and terrifying pieces of cinema.

VICTIM #2: Pippet, the black Lab, who goes out to fetch and never comes back.

VICTIM #3: Alex Kintner, who is attacked in broad daylight (post Pippet the appetizer), with a fountain of blood and bubbling, underwater screams accompanying his destruction.

VICTIM #4: Survivors. Mr. Denherder and his friend Charlie cast out a holiday roast for Bruce and get more than they bargained for when the shark takes the bait and the entire pier with it, sending Charlie into the nighttime ocean. He makes it to shore in one piece—that is, until his wife gets a hold of him.

VICTIM #5: Ben Gardner. When his dead, one-eyed head pops out of the gaping hole in his boat, I peed a little!

VICTIM #6: The rowboat guy. Bruce hits the rowboat guy and also causes Michael Brody and his pals to tumble off their sailboat and into the water. The shark bites off rowboat guy’s leg and pulls him under.

(Right before the attack on rowboat guy, a gal on shore sees Bruce’s immense dorsal fin and tail as it swims into the estuary/pond. She croaks out, “Sh..shark! It’s going in the pond!” And I gotta tell ya, just that scene alone still fills me with immense dread. Well done.)

VICTIM #7: Quint becomes dinner. Quint—my favorite character played by the amazing Robert Shaw, and based on real-life monster shark-hunter, Frank Mundus—spent most of his days catching sharks and boiling their jaws. Unfortunately, all those dead sharks get their comeuppance as Bruce destroys Quint’s boat and eats the hard-edged captain.

All these death scenes created what some call the “Jaws effect.” This phenomenon had unfortunate consequences as great white sharks—and many other species—were slaughtered for pure sport and with extreme prejudice. This troubled both Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley years later. Thankfully, great whites are now protected in many parts of the world, and conservation is paramount to most countries—except Japan who still insist on eating shark fins and contribute to the 273 million sharks killed annually.

I won’t get on my soap-box and preach about shark conservation, but it is extremely important to me and, fictional horror-sharks aside, I’m a self-proclaimed “great white shark expert” and have huge understanding of their biology and ecology and harbor a deep love for these animals. “Harbor” and “deep,” there I go again with the unintentional puns.

After 41 years, this film still holds up and is one amazing movie. Even though I own this flick, if this movie is just on normal TV and I stumble upon it, I just drop everything and say,” Fuck my day…Jaws is on.” It’s one of the best movies ever made. I’m always floored when someone young or old tells me that they haven’t seen it. I passionately inform said virgins that they’re missing out on seeing pure cinematic greatness and that they need to get off their asses and GO WATCH IT NOW!

I’m not only a huge Jaws fan, but I’m also an insane memorabilia collector. I own the movie in every film format ever made, I own numerous photos and original posters signed by cast and crew alike, I own countless film-related toys, and the crown jewels in my collection include one of the five yellow barrels used in the film, a harpoon used on the Orca in the actual movie, and one of the original film PRODUCTION/CREW t-shirts.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet Susan Backlinie (Chrissie), Carl Gottlieb (Meadows, and the author of The Jaws Log), and Joe Alves (production designer/epic story boarder), all of whom are not only gracious and friendly, but will also happily talk about their Jaws experiences and give you personal insight. For a Jaws nerd like me, that’s pure gold.

It’s summertime. The beaches are open. Go swimming and watch Jaws…and then go back in the water again. And for those who haven’t seen it, I’ll say it again: GET OFF YOUR ASSES AND GO WATCH IT NOW!

You’ll thank me later.

Jeremy Wagner has written lyrics to numerous published songs spanning several albums with his band Broken Hope. He also writes horror fiction with work published in RIP Magazine, Terrorizer, Metal Edge, Microhorror, and various works of short fiction published through Perseus Books, St. Martin’s Press, Ravenous Romance, and others.

Wagner’s published works include the best-selling debut novel The Armageddon Chord, the short stories “Romance Ain’t Dead” (Hungry for Your Love) and “The Creatures from Craigslist” (Fangbangers: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and Love), the anecdotal “When I Scared Myself Out of Halloween” (Shock Totem #9.5), and Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, an exercise in writing horror.

The Armageddon Chord earned a Hiram Award, a first-round ballot Stoker Award Nomination, and received critical acclaim in Decibel, Publisher’s Weekly, and Rolling Stone. Wagner has since completed two novels.

Wagner’s currently recording Broken Hope’s seventh studio album. The band last released Omen of Disease via Century Media Records.

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Shock Totem #9.5—Available Now!

Our latest holiday issue is now available!


Cover art by Mikio Murakami.

Treats abound, in this special edition of Shock Totem are seven short stories, one poem, and five nonfiction pieces. Of the fiction, John Boden and Bracken MacLeod venture into dark and weird neighborhoods in “Halloween On…” In “Out of Field Theory,” Kevin Lucia gives us a shadowed glimpse of what lurks beyond the frame. David G. Blake’s “Night in the Forest of Loneliness” smells of autumn and the beautiful death she brings.

Learn why sometimes it’s better to stay home on Halloween in “Tricks and Treats,” by Rose Blackthorn. Kriscinda Lee Everitt’s “Howdy Doody Time” is a poignant nod to the past. The shadows come alive in “Before This Night Is Done,” by Barry Lee Dejasu, and in my story, “The Candle Eaters,” I explore faith and hope and a darkness that haunts us all.

In addition to the fiction, Sydney Leigh provides a very fine poem, “Allhallowtide (To the Faithless Departed).”

Authors John Langan, Lee Thomas, and Jeremy Wagner, as well as filmmaker Mike Lombardo and the always wonderful and brusque Babs Boden, provide anecdotal Halloween recollections.

No tricks, all treats.

Table of Contents:

* Halloween On, by John Boden and Bracken MacLeod
* Night in the Forest of Loneliness, by David G. Blake
* Kore, by John Langan (Holiday Recollection)
* Out of Field Theory, by Kevin Lucia
* Tricks and Treats, by Rose Blackthorn
* Witches and the March of Dimes, and Mike Warnke, by Babs Boden (Holiday Recollection)
* Howdy Doody Time, by Kriscinda Lee Everitt
* When I Scared Myself Out of Halloween, by Jeremy Wagner (Holiday Recollection)
* Before This Night Is Done, by Barry Lee Dejasu
* The Mansion, by Lee Thomas (Holiday Recollection)
* Allhallowtide (To the Faithless Departed), by Sydney Leigh (Poetry)
* Flay Bells Ring, or How the Horror Filmmaker Stole Christmas, by Mike Lombardo (Holiday Recollection)
* The Candle Eaters, by K. Allen Wood
* Howling Through the Keyhole (Author Notes)

The print edition can be purchased at our webstore or Amazon.com and other retailers. The Kindle edition can be found here.

Learn more about our holiday issues here. And as always, thank you for the support!

Please note that if you buy the print edition through Amazon.com, you will also receive the Kindle edition for free.

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The Armageddon Chord

It’s Armageddon time again, boys and girls! This time brought our way by a scheming corporate scumbag and his equally vile archaeologist toadie. Festus Baustone is THE big cheese. In the corporate ocean, he is the top fish. No one messes with him; he gets what he wants at any and all costs. He employs Helmut Hartkopf, a badly scarred Egyptologist, to unearth a fabled relic that would usher in the End Times as well as grant the dying gazillionaire immortality. Helmut succeeds in finding the artifact, a piece of ancient music written in hieroglyphics by Satan himself, that when played will open the clanging gates of Hell and allow all its populace to spill forth and run amok.

Enter Kirk Vaisto, critically touted “Guitar God” of the modern age.

Kirk, a humble and nice enough fellow, is about to have his humble and nice enough life torn asunder. Festus and Helmut decide to rope him into a ploy to translate and play the evil song and open up a can of Hell-on-Earth™ on an unsuspecting world. That is the basic premise at work here.

The biggest mistake one could make with The Armageddon Chord, Jeremy Wagner’s debut novel, would be to take it too seriously. Doing that would no doubt cause one’s brow to furrow a bit and also leech the fun from the novel. The characters are great and purposefully over the top. They are loving caricatures based on some of Wagner’s favorites from page and screen. Helmut Hartkopf is so very obviously a mishmash of Major Toht from the Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark and Vladis Grutas from Hannibal Rising. Festus Baustone being an amalgamation of all the wealthiest, pompous douchebags we read about in Forbes. Our hero, Kirk Vaisto, is as blatant a homage that anyone versed in great guitarist would recognize it—Kirk Hammett and Steve Vai, if you need it spelled out.

Jeremy knows the ins and outs of the music end of things, being as he served as a guitarist for the grindcore band Broken Hope and is currently the Riffmaster General for the groove/death-metal band Lupara. He knows his shit.

With The Armageddon Chord Wagner has crafted a love letter to biblical/supernatural adventure works, drizzling them with numerous musical references and nudges. Jeremy describes it as “Crossroads meets The Da Vinci Code.” I can get behind that synopsis.

(And for all you kiddies out there, by Crossroads he means the bad-ass 80’s blues film, and not the tepid Britney Spears vehicle from a few years ago.)

I actually think this is quite a daring debut, in that the man is a horror writer and the debut novel he hands us is…well, barely horror. It has more in common with action/thrillers than monsters and gore. I know in my heart that Jeremy will deliver those to us as well, in the not too distant future, but the The Armageddon Chord is not that kind of book. It is, however, a fun and quick read and not a shabby way for the guy to stick his toes in the murky water.

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2010 Flash Fiction Contest Winner

Earlier this year, we began hosting flash fiction contests. It started out monthly then moved to bi-monthly. It was a lot of fun and we got to read some great tales. First Place winners received a prize of their choosing, usually a book or fiction magazine. Of those winners, an ultimate winner was then chosen to be included in our upcoming issue #3.

Because we had read a lot of the winning stories and didn’t want any kind of bias to play a role in our decision, we asked fellow writer and friend—and musician (check out Broken Hope and Lupara)—Jeremy Wagner to judge the stories and pick his favorite. He never participated in any of the monthly/bi-monthly contests and read all stories anonymously.

He chose Steven Pirie’s “Ruth Across the Sea” as his top choice. You’ll be able to read the story in a little over a month!

Jeremy also chose two runners-up in Amanda C. Davis’s “In Memoriam” and “Like Origami in Water,” by Damien Walters Grintalis. They will receive Amazon gift certificates kindly donated by Jeremy.

Congrats, guys! And Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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