After all these years, Steven Spielberg’s aquatic classic of maritime mayhem still manages to make us hesitate just when we think it was safe to go back into the water (actually the tagline for Jaws 2, but who’s counting) and to celebrate its resurfacing in cinemas thanks to its swanky new IMAX screenings, it’s long past time that we cast a lifeless, black eye over the franchise’s most brutal bites and malevolent maulings.
Of course, with Spielberg at the helm, most of the entries unsurprisingly spring from the original movie, but there may be a few shocks in there that may startle you as much as a head looming out of the hole of a boat, so without further ado, grab the water wings, prime the harpoon and get John Williams’ fiendishly terrifying score up on spotify – because we’re about to go fishing.
5) Banana Boat Blues (Jaws: The Revenge – 1987)
The fact that any moment of Jaws: The Revenge has made any list is surely reason to complain; but the attempt made on a vengeful shark upon the life of Ellen Brody’s granddaughter, Thea is an inadvertently amusing masterclass in how not to stage such a scene – but it still amasses points for trying.
To set the scene, after the shark related death of her youngest son, Ellen goes to spend Christmas with her marine biologist son, Mike and his family in the sunny climes of the Bahamas where no Great White shark could possibly survive. Well, someone obviously forgot to tell the shark as it makes its presence felt while trying to put the bite on anyone related to the Brody family who dares to dip so much of a toe in the crystal blue waters and its targeted the baby of the family for a damn good chewing. Chasing her down while she rides with friends on an inflatable banana boat, the shark rises up out of the water (and up and up) as it hangs improbably in the air as all the women in the main cast shriek uncontrollably from the shore. However, this shark’s depth perception is obviously as questionable as its rubbery appearance and it misses its target by a country mile, sinking its teeth into the random, single woman sitting its intended victim who dutifully thrashed and screams while clenched in the predator’s dental work.
Overblown, over staged and utterly ludicrous, nevertheless all the strong Bahamas blues give the death a rather gaudy hue as crimson life blood pours into the water. While it bites in every sense of the word, there’s something trashily fun about how melodramatic it all plays out.
4) A Midnight Snack (Jaws – 1975)
If we were judging this list solely on cinematic acumen then the opening moment of the original movie when a 25 foot Carcharodon carcharias decides to treat late night swimmer Chrissie Watkins like so much chewing gum, would win hands down. Its unbearably atmospheric, beautifully staged, immaculately scored and cements exactly how fucking terrifying the movie’s concept is despite showing you very little at all.
If we were going to split hairs (as opposed to Bruce the Shark splitting Chrissie’s entire torso), dashing out into the inky black surf after spending all night knocking back tins of booze with your hippy friends was probably never going to end well even if a bloody great shark wasn’t prowling the area, but the Jaws’ opening masterclass is virtually perfect in every conceivable way. From Williams’ driving, to note melody to the tiny details that lodge itself in the subconscious like a tooth the size of a shot glass (Chrissie utters a barely perceptible “It hurts!” as she gets yanked around), Jaws’ first kill only gets better with age precisely because it’s so subtle. Well… a lot more subtle than most of the other entries on this list, anyway.
3) Best Foot Jaw-Ward (Jaws – 1975)
Another entry and another point for Spielberg’s original juggernaut of watery terror; but while the mastication of Chrissie Watkins is so memorable because of what we don’t see, the killing of the character unflattering dubbed “Estuary Victim” in the credit is utter nightmare fuel thanks to what we do see.
As Martin Brody’s son Michael chills out on a boat with his friends they are approached by some random dude in a row boat who oddly equires how they’re doing for slightly creepy reasons that are never fully explained – however, unnoticed to both parties is the huge shark that’s barreling toward them like a bullet with an overbite.
Taking out the nosey rower first, we are treated to the truly butt puckering sight of the shark, just visible under the water, advancing on the guy’s trailing leg as he struggles to get back on his overturned boat. As well as finally giving us some reference at to the sheer scale of this bastard shark, its also legitimately terrifying and it’s then followed up almost immediately by another angle as it rises partially out of the water to pull its screaming victim under the waves for our first semi-decent glimpse of this toothy monster. But that’s still not all as we’re finally gifted with the sight of a single, severed leg hitting the sea bed as if to properly underline what we’ve just witnessed and thoroughly ensure that our subconscious feelings about the ocean stubbonly remain utterly fucked until the day we die.
2) In Like Quint (Jaws – 1975)
Third entry in a row for Spielberg’s Jaws and we go from subtle and haunting to out and out bloodletting as the director attacks the messy death of deranged shark fisherman Captain Quint by simply slashing it all over the screen for all to see.
With a sinking boat and a crew member assumed dead (Hooper’s fine folks, he’s just sitting out the ending on the ocean floor – the cowardly shit), Brody and Quint barely have time to register exactly how deep in shit they currently are (here’s a clue: they’ll need a snorkle) before their dinner quarry bursts from the briney deep and lands most of its 3 tons squarely on the stern of the Orca, upending the entire vessel. As Quint slips toward those snapping teeth, Brody’s shit grip and a rolling oxygen tank to the fingers ensure that the sea shanty spouting Captain will not only go down with his ship, but probably also go down nice with some red white and a couple of potatoes.
Watching this scene as a child, the shrill high pitched catawalling given off by Robert Shaw was absolutely harrowing and continuous crunching down of Bruce’s teeth into the midsection of his meal seemed to go on forever, but it’s that last bit, when Shaw gobs out a gout of the red stuff before finally expiring, that really freaked me out. In Benchley’s original novel its Hooper who’s chomped in half while Quint drowns in a fate far more befitting Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, but thankfully, the movie decided to go full grand guignol and spray the seven seas with the captains internals.
1) Fitz Right In Your Mouth (Jaws 3D – 1983)
Wait, what? How did this happen? Jaws 3D beats out not one, not two, but three entries from the the peerless original? How could this be? How could I let such a blatantly ludicrous miscarriage of justice happen?
Well, I’ll tell you how: nearly 38 years of unfettered childhood trauma, that’s how.
The ridiculous, yet genuinely hideous death of smug wildlife photographer Phillip Fitzroyce (played with all the gentleman smarm Simon MacCorkingdale can muster) will be etched across my brain until long after I’m dead, like a really shitty tattoo that you’d get while smashed on holiday.
After a monster, 35 foot shark has terrorized a marine amusement park, a plan is put in place for Fitzroyce to lure the beast into one of the lagoon’s filtration pipes in order to trap it so engineer Mike Brody (not to be confused with his marine biologist variant from Jaws: The Revenge) can free trapped patrons from flooded areas of the park. However, Fitzroyce’s plans go horribly south when his life line snaps and the current forces him direction of a creature that’s less a shark and more of a Lovecraftian sea god that looks like someone’s stuck vampire fangs onto the front of a bus.
However, as it opens its jaws to consume him, the back swash sucks the hapless photographer directly into the fish’s maw, leaving him stuck in the fucking thing’s gullet and everytime the shark closes its mouth, Fitzroyce is gradually crushed as he noisily drowns.
It’s as macabre a death that’s ever been seen in the franchise before or since (crushed, drowned and swallowed), it’s made even more horrible by the director’s choice to include shot from inside the sharks mouth and whenever I get a little nervous whenever I’m in the sea (or even a swimming pool) it this scene my treacherous brain chooses to plaster all over my mind’s eye.
Honorable Mention: Chomping On A Chopper (Jaws 2 – 1978)
Reduced to “honerable mention” primarily because the fate of the pilot is somewhat up in the air (he just as easily could have drowned than ended up as squishy bits between the shark’s teeth), the scene in Jaws 2 where the giant fish decides to gave a go at a fucking helicopter may well be the stupidest moment of the franchise on paper, but in action it’s actually perversely cool.
From the moment the pilot touches down on the water and reveals that he owns a truly disturbing chin strap beard that practically has him begging to be eaten, director Jeannot Szwarc draws his rescue attempt out to ludicrous lengths, having him throw a rope over to the stranded kids and having them tie it off in agonizing real time. When he gets back in the chopper and starts the engine you’re convinced that things are about to go off without a hitch until – BOOM! Up rears the shark with half of its visage burnt like it used to be Gotham City’s district attorney, it sinks its teeth into one of the struts and wrestles the thing until it tips all the way over. Drowned or drowned, one thing’s for certain that pilot’s earned himself a legendary watery grave that steadily remains the series’ most outlandish, fistpumping death outside of Bruce himself going up like an oil refinery at the end of the first movie.
Jaws in IMAX is already showing in theaters as you read these words