3. Jaws (1975)
No film has left a bigger psychological scar on society than Jaws. Every time you walk into the ocean I guarantee the film flashes into your mind at least once, if even for a subliminal second, before you shake it away.
Even people who have never seen the movie before get psyched out by it when they wade into the water.
Whenever news of a shark attack makes headlines the fear from this 40 year old movie only gets reinforced.
Like an updated version of Henningway’s “Old Man and the Sea”, but only with teeth, Jaws stars Roy Scheider as Police Chief Martin Brody who becomes hellbent on taking out the giant great white shark behind a series of deadly attacks in his town.
Although the film’s plot may be simple, Jaws is a master lesson into the inner working of what truly what makes a scary movie work. Due to constant malfunctions in his mechanical sharks director Steven Spielberg was forced to film with a minimalist approach. It’s not until the very end that the shark is seen in full, instead being most often replaced by a first person point of view camera. For most of Jaws, we see what the shark sees. Most often a pair of legs, dangling above, helplessly surrounded by dark blue water. Spielberg dangles his victims out in the ocean in the same way a trout fisherman casts his lure. If you’ve ever been swimming out in the ocean then this could be you.
Being made to feel like bait while watching a movie is an unsettling experience.
The shark attacks themselves are brutal. Some of the most horrific ever put to film. Spielberg makes the audience watch helpless, as if on shore, while the victim thrashes about in the water and pleads for help. Then, in an instant….
Pulled under the water never to be seen again.
Like the best horror movies around, the musical score on Jaws is essential in amplifying the scares. Just as minimalist as Spielberg’s directing, John Williams theme music is subtle and suggestive. The iconic dun dun, dun dun sounds like the slow swish of a great white’s tail on the hunt for vacationing prey. Gradually growing louder with each note until the inevitable attack. Everybody around the world knows those notes mean to stay out of the water.
Jaws is so scary because so much of it is left to our imaginations. It’s what we don’t see that scares us the most. The unknown. The hidden. The real and the imagined. There aren’t many films that do this better than Jaws.
Except for #2 on this list…….
FUN FACT: After the mechanical shark was built and put in the water at Martha’s Vineyard, it sank straight to the ocean floor. It took a team of divers to retrieve it as it was never tested in the water.