August 11, 2018

Horror Favorites: Jaws (1975)

Jaws Book 1975 Cover
By Roger Kastel, via Wikimedia Commons
Selecting the film Jaws (1975) as one of my "horror favorites" is a bit weird for a couple of reasons. First, I usually don't think of it as a horror film. I know that sounds like a strange thing to say since it clearly is, but I've always thought of it more as a massively popular blockbuster of a film that just happened to have a few scary moments. Second, I didn't find Jaws to be particularly scary when I first saw it. It may be the only film that would make my list of horror favorites that didn't seriously scare me when I first saw it. When I watched it again recently, I enjoyed it as much as I always have, but can't say I found it scary, creepy, disturbing, or anything else I look for in a horror flick.

I think it is safe to say that Jaws is about nostalgia for me. I'm not sure how old I was when I saw it for the first time, but I'd guess 11 or 12. Not only was I an anxious kid, but I'd already developed a fear of being out on the open water. It was a vague fear that originated from a couple of bad experiences in early childhood. One involved breaking a few ribs and ending up in the water unable to breathe after a boat I was in flipped over. I couldn't have been older than 5 or 6 at the time, and it affected me profoundly well into my teens. The other happened not long after when some sort of plant got tangled around my leg while I was swimming and seemed to be pulling me under as I struggled to free myself. My fears at the time were more about drowning than any specific threats. Jaws gave me something else to fear.

That was the thing about Jaws: 11 or 12-year-old me didn't find it all that scary until the next time I found myself in the water. And no, it didn't matter that I was probably in a lake miles from the ocean. Every floating object was a fin, and I couldn't get the music out of my head. Anything that touched me from under the water was a shark. Images from the film that didn't seem like any big deal at the time suddenly came flooding back. And so, that delayed fear reaction earns Jaws a place on my list.

I've always considered Jaws to be a great film, but there are many great horror films that I wouldn't put on my list of horror favorites. And yes, there are more than a few films I would not consider to be particularly good that would make my list. I think that is because my evaluations of horror films - or at least which I would consider among my favorites - are usually based on how they affected me. I've been thinking lately about why I like horror so much, and it is clear that my most of the films I consider my favorites impacted me in some way but not all in the same way.

With Jaws, the impact while watching it was simply that it was an excellent film that more than lived up to the hype surrounding it. I'd never seen anything like it, and it blew me away. I still enjoy it today. But the impact when I was in the water lasted for years. It didn't keep me out of the water, but it made going in the water far more exciting than it otherwise would have been.