It’s been 45 years since audiences watched Stephen Spielberg’s great white shark terrorizing the townspeople of Amity Island and still, decades later “Jaws” remains on everybody’s list of favorite horror films.
How can that be?
The shark is barely seen.
Plus the drama is centered on a police chief, oceanographer and an outspoken and peculiar shark hunter, who is admittedly a scary character himself, and their quest to destroy the devilish beast.
But as Professor Brendan Kredell explains, that’s the beauty of this film.
It’s what you don’t see that frightens you.
“I grew up near on the Jersey Shore and beach where the first documented white shark attack happened. The idea of a shark attacking you while you’re enjoying yourself in the water is perhaps the scariest thing you can imagine,” said the professor and head of film studies at Oakland University.
Animatronics at that time was nowhere near what it’s become today.
“So, Spielberg goes out of his way to make it so we don’t see the shark,” Kredell said. Instead he shows audiences a glimpse of its presence and what can happen to anyone who encounters the creature.
“He was taking a page out of (Alfred) Hitchcock’s playbook,” Kredell said, of the English film director and master of suspense, who is widely regarded by his peers as one of the most influential figures in the history of the horror genre.
Spielberg and Universal Studios also chose to make it a wide release film.
Today, we take it for granted that a new movie will be released in theaters nationwide but in 1975 that was a rare occurrence.
They also beefed up the marketing campaign and like the modern remake of Hitchcock’s thriller “Psycho” released 15 years earlier by adding restrictions so people could not just walk in after the film started.
“It became an event to go and see it,” Kredell said.
Another classic pulled out for Halloween is Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
Released in 1980 and loosely based on Stephen King’s novel, the chilling film stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, who becomes winter caretaker at an isolated hotel in Colorado, in hopes of curing his writer’s block. After settling in with his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd) Jack’s writing goes nowhere while his son becomes plagued by disturbing visions. When Jack discovers the hotel’s dark secrets he becomes a homicidal maniac, hell-bent on terrorizing his family.
“That’s a film that scared me and continues to scare me,” Kredell said. “It doesn’t depend on monsters or bloodthirsty sharks.”
Characters like Jason (“Friday the 13th”), Freddy (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) and Michael Myers (“Halloween”) are all scary for sure, but Kredell said it’s relatively easy to compartmentalize them.
“It’s unlikely that I’ll ever meet a serial killer like Jason but any one of us could actually become Jack? That’s scary,” Kredell said.
And that being said, here are a few more great horror films to watch, if you dare, as suggested by Kredell and other horror film aficionados:
It’s a gothic supernatural horror film (1992) written and directed by Bernard Rose and based on a short story by Clive Barker.
In this science fiction horror film (2006) directed by Bong Joon Ho, a monster emerges from Seoul’s Han River and begins attacking people until one victim’s loving family emerges to rescue the victim from its clutches.
Kredell is a fan of heist movies and the first in the franchise reminds him of that but is also scary.
Directed by Roman Polansky and released in 1968, “Rosemary’s Baby” is the story of a young couple and soon-to-be-parents who move into an aging, ornate apartment building in New York where they find themselves surrounded by peculiar neighbors.
This was the first (1979) film about the sharp-toothed-saliva-dripping alien starring Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt. Directed by Ridley Scott, it follows experiences of a crew on a commercial spacecraft who encounter a deadly lifeform while investigating an unknown transmission in space.
“I would put this one right up there with ‘The Shining,’” Kredell said, of the film (2019) about a family who head to the beach for a vacation that turns into chaos when they are attacked by a terrorizing group of doppelgängers.
Among the new horror films opening across the country this weekend is “Five Nights at Freddy’s.”
The new film directed by Emma Tammi (The Wind, Blood Moon) follows the story of Mike (Josh Hutcherson from ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise) a troubled young man caring for his 10-year-old sister Abby (Piper Rubio), and haunted by the unsolved disappearance of his younger brother more than a decade before.
Recently fired and desperate for work so that he can keep custody of Abby, Mike agrees to take a position as a night security guard at an abandoned theme restaurant: Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria where nothing is at it seems. With the aid of Vanessa, a local police officer (Elizabeth Lail), Mike finds himself encountering the supernatural who drag him into the black heart of an unspeakable nightmare.
“One of the things that made ‘Jaws’ novel was that it took a business model that had been pioneered by low-budget exploitation film producers and used it to make what was, at the time of its release, the highest-grossing film ever,” Kredell said. “That’s not to say I have such high hopes for ‘Freddy’s’ but I do think that its producer, Jason Blum (“Paranormal Activity”), is the best example of the durability of that concept in the modern era. He’s made a fortune by producing movies on small budgets that nonetheless find success with audiences — most especially by producing horror films.”
Put it like this: if the movie business were “Moneyball,” then Blum would be Billy Beane.
“He learned a lesson from prior generations that some kinds of films, action movies, say, don’t work unless you spend lots of money on them. You can’t make “Avatar” for $1 million. But it turns out you can make a pretty successful horror film for that much. Blum was the producer of “Paranormal Activity”, which by some measures is the most profitable film ever made: it cost $250,000 or so to make, and returned nearly $200 million to the studio.”