This film is my favorite “horror” film of all time.
I probably saw it when I was too little, but what are you going to do. It was on HBO all of the time in the early 80s.
After “Ghostbusters” this has to be the film I have seen the second most in my life. It isn’t just me that loves this film. My family loves it and once we had a copy of it, we probably watched it together in the summer time once a month after dinner when the kids could stay up late and finish movies with mom and dad.
The open “boating accident” in the film was the hardest for me. I remember after viewing it once, whenever we would sit down to watch it again, I would conveniently go do the dishes or find a need to make water. Next to the climactic kill, it is one of the hardest scenes for me to watch presently. The fact that it is a woman screaming in terror in the dark with no hope and the length of time at which it takes for her to finally be annihilated is what sets the horror tones in the movie. The actress was amazing and what a way to open a film. No blood, no murderer, no special effects–plenty of terror.
I say “horror” because a great majority of the film is action packed with a sea voyage on the hunt to save a small island from this very real monster. The first half of the film is horror at it’s finest (I am biased). We get slight glimpses of the beast for scale purposes, but we never get a full shot of the scope of the creature until approximately an hour and fifteen minutes in. This builds tension and drama and when we finally do see “it,” the pay off is sufficient due to a perfectly delivered line by the lead character to the captain of the Orca. I think everybody knows that line or has heard someone reference it.
This film gave me nightmares, and I had to slightly talk my mother into seeing it. She was a huge fan of the film though and she was torn between protecting me from nightmares or allowing me to experience a masterpiece of suspense and horror the way she had.
Mom was not aware of “Poltergeist” yet, so she didn’t know I already had years of experience keeping my nightmares to myself. That helped prepare my parents to allow me to keep watching horror movies as they never thought that I was effected by nightmares. Little did they know I was just trained at hiding it. My imagination is too great to escape nightmares. It’s a curse, but I can’t stop.
My therapist and I are working through it.
The nightmares I remember always made me feel like my blankets were constricting me from escaping the monster under the blankets with me at the foot of my bed as it latched onto my feet with it’s “Jaws.” Just like when you are under water or treading water. The shark totally has the advantage as it is their world we’re encroaching on.
I remember loving the thrills and the little bits of humor sprinkled throughout the film by Hooper and Quint. Chief ends up being the butt of a lot of jokes as well and Roy Scheider delivered a fine performance as a lead character trying to protect the commerce of his new home.
Spielberg has a way with pacing an action film so that it doesn’t feel like we are jumping from set piece to set piece. The writing and the acting have a lot to do with that and I give him credit for allowing his actors and writers to create entertaining dialogue that keeps the audience focused throughout with a clear flow from scene to scene. This is evident in his films that really work.
You cannot talk about this film and NOT mention the score. I know that it has now become a major cliche. I can’t think of another score that we hear that makes us know exactly what the setting is and who we are sharing that setting with (you hear it and you know I am under water and I am going to get eaten). Think about prior to 1975 however. No one had heard that score before. I have only lived in a time after that score and cannot imagine a world without that pop culture reference. Immediately that score became the cliche that it is and it’s a major contributor to the sense of terror that makes the movie work.
Just like being unable to live in a world without that score, I am thankful that I have watched that film and know what that pop culture reference is all about.
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