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Jaws - Peter Benchley ”Duuun dun
duuun dun
dun dun dun dun dun dun BOM BOM
dun dun dun dun dun dun
doo dedoo doo dedoo dede doo dede doo dededoo.”

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Has there ever been theme music used in a film more effectively than for the 1975 blockbuster movie Jaws? A movie so powerful that there are legions of people that have refused to go into the water ever since seeing that movie. I’m not a water person, growing up in the landlocked Midwest I don’t like being in water deeper than the depth to which I can see the bottom of the lakebed, seabed, ocean floor, bathtub floor. It just seems practical. Roller coasters are the same way as long as I can keep my eyes open and see where I’m about to be dropped, twisted, or slung to next I’m fine.

The town of Amity is a summer town, most of the residents have to make enough money off the tourist trade in those few short months of “fun in the sun” to survive the winters. In particular the 4th of July weekend is critical, a time when the town goes from 1000 people to 10,000 people practically overnight. But unfortunately something deadly, something very hungry is...well...

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Matt Verges's version of the Jaws Poster art.

”At first, the woman thought she had snagged her leg on a rock or a piece of floating wood. There was no initial pain, only one violent tug on her right leg. She reached down to touch her foot, treading water with her left leg to keep her head up, feeling in the blackness with her left hand. She could not find her foot. She reached higher on her leg, and then she was overcome by a rush of nausea and dizziness. Her groping fingers had found a nub of bone and tattered flesh. She knew that the warm, pulsing flow over her fingers in the chill water was her own blood.
Pain and panic struck together. The woman threw her head back and screamed a guttural cry of terror.”

Peter Benchley goes on to describe in graphic detail what the fish does on the next pass. It actually made my blood run cold and has forever confirmed me in the validity of my own personal water rules.

Peter Benchley is the grandson of Algonquin Round Table founder Robert Benchley. They were a group of New York City writers that I’ve already marked down for further research.
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(l-r) Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott

”He developed the idea of a man-eating shark terrorizing a community after reading of a fisherman catching a 4,550 pound great white shark off the coast of Long Island in 1964. He also drew some material from the tragic Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916.” The book stayed on the bestseller list for 44 weeks and inspired the highest grossing film of all time up to that point.

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Peter Benchley and OMG it..its...him.

Politics are at issue and the struggle between Sheriff Martin Brody and the town counsel becomes a tricky balance between commerce and public safety. If the beaches close the town dies. If the beaches are open and someone else dies...well...that is a chance they feel they have to take. In the book Benchley has several subplots infused with surrounding circumstances that are controlling the decisions made by the town counsel that are not needed in the movie version.

Brody’s wife Ellen also has a bigger role in the book. She is dissatisfied with her life. She married beneath her social set when she decided to tie herself to a police officer. She is from the country club, tennis, sailing, and spending money on frivolous bobbles class, but she misses more than the money and the clubs. She misses her people. When Matt Hooper comes to town, tall, handsome, dressed in an Izod shirt, and fashionable bell bottoms (they went a slightly different direction in the movie.) she instantly feels comfortable with him. ”The past--like a bird long locke in a cage and suddenly released--was flying at her, swirling around her head, showering her with longing.”

It turns out Ellen even dated Matt’s much older brother David and the memories of that time of her life flood her with thoughts she’s never had before. Her obvious enamoration with Matt creates tension between her husband and the ichthyologist. Brody suspects the worst, and with the shark in the water and the piranhas on the town counsel he doesn’t need another distraction.

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Czech Jaws Poster

In desperation they finally turn to a local fisherman and shark hunter Quint. His rates are exorbitant and in the beginning he is doing it for the money, but as the fish continues to exhibit higher intelligence and even out foxes him a couple of times he becomes obsessive and killing the Great White becomes his quest. Herman Melville please take a bow, Captain Ahab has just been reincarnated in a pop culture horror book setting up an age old tale of man against nature.

The shark comes within a hair’s breadth of winning.

It was interesting reading the book and seeing the movie in such a tight time frame. Benchley also wrote the screenplay so most of the novel is translated well to film. There are many that believe that the film outshines the book. With the great music by John Williams and the solid acting from Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw I will have to agree. Visually it is a book made to be filmed. I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the movie holds up. We still jumped and I noticed my family at times were all poised on the edge of their seat. Ever since I took a book and film class in college I have loved, when possible, to read the book and then watch the movie. It in a way completes the cycle of an idea. Usually the book wins, but in this case Steven Spielberg took a wonderful idea and made it better. As I mentioned the book still has subplots not covered in the movie and knowing those subplots, I believe, actually enhanced my enjoyment of the film.

This is the third in what I hope will be a string of reviews exploring 1970s horror fiction (The Shining was published in 1980 but was written and influenced by the ‘70s.). The very books my parents would not let me read, but now are helpless to stop me. *Insert Evil Laugh*

The Exorcist Review
The Shining Review