I’ve been watching horror movies since I was… well, too young to be watching them. So coming up with my favourite is no easy feat. It’s like trying to decide which one of your kids you love the most. At best, I can tell you what my favourite horror movie is right now. Actually, it makes my top spot most days.
I’m sure I’m not alone when it comes to picking Jaws as my favourite horror movie, but how can you compete with this behemoth of a film? From the cinematography, to the score, to the fact that you don’t even get a good look at the eponymous shark until a good two hours into the film, Jaws has it all. The latter wasn’t even done on purpose, but rather was the result of the fact that the mechanical shark didn’t often work when Spielberg and Co. needed it to.
Who can forget that opening scene when the girl goes skinnydipping? She’s swimming around without a care in the world when there’s that sharp tug from below… and then the screaming begins. I know I’m not alone when I say it kept me out of the water for the foreseeable future.
The dialogue is also rife with one-liners that have made their way into the pop culture lexicon. From Richard Dreyfuss’s “This was no boat accident” to Roy Scheider’s “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” (which was improvised by the actor).
I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t like Jaws, and who wasn’t terrified by it on some level. Much of the horror in the film comes from the things you don’t see — fear of the unknown and the unseen — or by showing only small glimpses of the shark (i.e., its dorsal fin). The amount of blood and violence is actually fairly minimal. Again, Spielberg knows that the scariest images are the ones people come up with in their own minds.
In addition to being the first of the summer blockbusters, Jaws taught a whole generation that fear need not come in some supernatural shape. The greatest horrors are the ones that exist in real life, and while there have been no incidents quite like the one depicted in Jaws, that’s not to say it couldn’t happen someday.
Either way, I’m still staying out of the water.