So, it’s summer and Jaws is playing nonstop on cable. I guarantee that if you’re bored and have 200+ channels, you will find Jaws playing RIGHT NOW somewhere in the vast world of cable TV.
I’ll be honest with you: Jaws is my all time favorite movie. (Along with Jackie Brown. Oh, and Galaxy Quest.) That was the first horror movie I saw that I can remember. It’s also where I came to the realization that parents lie. ALL PARENTS.
When I was 10 years old, my dad got it into his head that he needed to see Jaws, and he needed to see it THAT day whether or not he and my mom could find a babysitter. I can only imagine – hope – that my mom said, ‘Oh, honey…I don’t think we should take a 10 year old to see that movie…I mean, it’s about a killer shark that eats EVERYTHING.’ Regardless, they decided to go and to take me.
I remember vividly the walk from the house to the car. I remember my dad saying, “Just remember. It’s a fake shark. It’s just some guy driving around in a shark machine. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
And I remember asking, “Why would he DO that?” I thought it was a plot point – and a stupid one at that. Surely there were better, more effective ways to kill people aside from building a shark suit and cruising the beaches. It made no sense! (This should have been the first indication to my parents that I would be a writer.)
So we went. And when we got to the theater, my mom said, “If you’re scared, we can go home. Just say when you get scared.”
That was about three minutes into the movie when poor Chrissy took the last drunken skinny dip of her life. I hit mom with the high sign. I was ready to go, she had promised, and I was calling in that marker.
Her response: “It’ll be fine. Just close your eyes.”
And then she did what all moms do when something scary happens on the screen. She plastered her hand over my eyes.
Well, that’s not very effective, now is it? Short answer: No.
I watched EVERY HORRIFIC MOMENT of that movie through the mini-blinds of her fingers. I saw “that poor Kintner kid” get it, also Boo-Boo the dog, the poor sap who was rowing to the kids with his gawdawful New Yawk accent – “Hey, fellas. Fellas! You guyse okay ovah theyah?”, the Sunday roast, and then ultimately poor Quint - “You all know me, you know how I make a living” – and the Orca.
I was devastated, not only by the movie, but also by the fact that my parents outright LIED to me. They said we could go home. I remember being really PUT OUT on that drive home. And, of course, that night I had nightmares that there was a beach in my bedroom, right under my sister’s bed, and after waking the whole house, my parents made her sleep with me to get me to shut up. Take THAT, Mom and Dad. HA! (Sorry, sis.)
But the most vivid memory was sharing every gruesome detail of that scary movie with the kids in my neighborhood. I specifically remember telling Donna Boucher and her older brother John about it, especially poor Ben Gardner. “His head popped out of the bottom of the boat and his EYE GUTS WERE HANGING OUT!” It was gross and scary and wonderful! And they were wicked impressed that I was allowed to go see a movie that they could not. (Little did they know it would scar me for life.)
I don’t really know what the magic combination is that acid-etches memories into the human brain, but I can only assume it’s a combination of terror-once-removed, abject-glee, and the shock of parental betrayal.
In any case, Jaws is on right now.
I’m going to watch it for the hundredth time.