By Joe Moore
Arguably, that may be one of the best lines ever written. Six words that encapsulate and summarize a situation so dire and frightening, there was no doubt in the mind of the moviegoer that the problems the characters faced had been grossly underestimated.
The movie JAWS came out in 1975 and is celebrating its 35th anniversary this summer. Few contemporary films had the same level of impact on life and the basic fears we all harbor inside. It came close to shutting down the beaches and everything people normally do at them during the summer. “Don’t go in the water” became a household phrase. Seaside resorts and businesses along the beaches were slammed while the theaters were packed and long lines lead up to the showing of JAWS. It was a phenomenon that undeniably equaled the mass hysteria of the 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles’ WAR OF THE WORLDS.
The movie was based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel by the same name. It was and still is the only book I ever read in one sitting. I remember picking it up off a table at my mother’s house and reading: “The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail.” I read the second sentence, walked over to a nearby couch and read the rest of the book without a break. It was beyond captivating. It was petrifying and easily the scariest story I’ve ever read. (Number 2 on my list is RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris followed closely by THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty).
It’s rare that a book and a movie can have such a drastic effect on the public. Benchley and Spielberg took the basic “haunted house” scenario and gave it a fresh spin, one that hadn’t been thought of before. They presented us a new type of antagonist, one that can’t be reasoned with, one that has no motive other than hunger—an eating machine. JAWS gave birth to a whole string of similar antagonist in movies like ALIEN, HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and others. But JAWS was the first to bring it to the page and the big screen and scare the you-know-what out of us. For those who are too young or just simply want to relive the moment, here’s the original movie trailer for JAWS. Enjoy.
Have you ever found a book so engrossing that you read it in one sitting? Has a book and/or movie had as great an effect on you as JAWS had on the public at the time?