DEATH BECOMES THEM: TOP DEATHS IN THE JAWS  SERIES

They say that Hollywood has a habit of chewing up and spitting out talent, little wonder then that Spielberg ‘fondly’ nicknamed the first film’s creature ‘Bruce’, after his Lawyer. 

Such a phrase has not been truer when looking at Jaws and its three sequels, all with deaths aplenty. The sequels have all taken a bit of a bashing, certainly they don’t a candle to the original, but they still hold a certain fondness expanding the Brody universe. Even Jaws the Revenge has its moments, well okay then, maybe that should be singular.

Less Top of the Pops and more Top of the Pop-their-clogs , ‘open wide!’ and ‘smile, you sons of bitches!’ as – in film order - we celebrate the best 13, unlucky for some, Jaws deaths…ever!

JAWS (1975) AKA THE ORIGINAL AND BEST

Chrissie Watkins

Ah, poor Chrissie. The opening night time attack is up there with the shower seen from Psycho, sharing with it the vulnerablenessof being naked, and even after all this time it still packs a punch like a train. 

It’s the perfect opener for a movie (indeed Spielberg even copied it himself of sorts in 1993 in the opening of Jurassic Park). It effectively sets the shark up as a Jack the Ripper like monster. The noise, the screams and the music all blend to still create a sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. That scene also forms one of the most iconic, and oft-imitated, poster images ever. She was the first…

 

Pippit

You may scoff, but one moment this dog (often misheard as Pippen) was happily jumping around the surf, the next we see a floating piece of wood, which can’t be good. It showed that anyone could be next and that this fish didn’t care who it devoured. 

It takes someone with balls to kill a dog in a film and was most upsetting when I was youngster, convincing myself that perhaps he’d just run off for a little bit and hadn’t ended up as pedigree ‘chum’. I’m sure he is just living on a farm somewhere in the country. Of course it didn’t help that its owner was wearing a yellow t-shirt, the signifier of death or the shark throughout the film, from the barrels on the Orca to Mrs Kintner’s hat.

Alex Kintner

Is the reason I will never take a lilo on the sea through fear of being blown out to sea? Partly, but the main reason is not to end up like little Alex. It’s everything about that scene, the noise as he is dragged under, the size of the beast that flips him and the note perfect tightening of the screws of tension of the preceding beach scene. We know an attack is coming, so does Brody, but the sheer ferocity can only be met by the best ever use of the reverse zoom and simultaneous dolly shot – more commonly known as the Jaws shot - on Brody’s face. Hitchcock utilised it in Vertigo but it has never been put to better use than in Jaws. Ever.

And then we are left with the torn lilo surrounded by blood stains as waves lap against it on the shore. The sting of his death continued in a future scene on the dock when Mrs Kintner approaches Chief Brody and slaps him (for real) after she discovered that the Chief knew there was a shark in the waters of Amity and still kept the beaches open. Raw and emotional. 

 

Ben Gardner

We might not see him meeting his maker but we join Matt Hooper in the fright of his life when Gardner’s head comes bob, bob bobbing along. Even now you know it’s coming but just not exactly when.

Originally in test screenings this moment didn’t have the desired impact so was reshot in Editor Verna Fields’ swimming pool. Only Mayor Vaughn could be left unimpressed by the reshoot.

Estuary Victim

It’s that sliding mouth that glides towards him that stays with you and that leg hitting the pond floor. He’ll take you, even if it is piece by piece. It’s perhaps the most gruesome moment in the original film and is expertly sold by the aptly named stuntman Teddy Grossman, who was also stunt coordinator on Jaws 2. 

Again, when I was little I kind of thought that perhaps he had survived and just lost a leg. Cue footage of him hopping round a park taking Pippet for a walk. 

Quint

Ironic as Quint is roughly translated as five in Italian and he is the fifth human victim of the movie, you’re counting them aren’t you? 

Early on he and the crew of the Orca drank to their legs – in a rare lighter moment -so it was only fitting that this was the way he went, legs first. Nice blood explosion in the mouth as well before he is dragged to his watery grave into the hissing sea.

Despite him being obsessed we’ve really warmed to Quint at this point, we’d want to go drinking with him as well. Most of all, we don’t really want him to die, we want him to reach that damned machete! Knowing Robert Shaw had passed away when I first saw the film I made the mistaken assumption as a child that he had also actually been eaten by a shark in real life. He hadn’t. Sean Connery didn’t kill him on a train either.

Jaws

Well I say Quint’s watery grave as he exploded with the shark several minutes later. A master stroke of tension as the Orca slowly sinks with Brody and rifle on its mast, which if you notice is ticking down to his ‘death’ like the second hand of a clock. Smile you son-of-a-bitch indeed.

In the book it was simply bullets killed the beast but Spielberg wanted a spectacular ending, one that author Peter Benchley thought didn’t make sense. The director was sure though that having had the audience in the palm of his hand for the last two hours they would buy the exploding oxygen tank. And we did, it helped it was perfectly foreshadowed in a shark book Brody was flicking through at home and also when Brody pulls the wrong rope on the boat. Hooper warns him that if screws around with these things then they’ll explode. And so it did. Satisfying doesn’t even cover it.

The shark’s death groan as it sinks to the ocean floor is taken from The Creature From The Black Lagoon, something Chrissie’s attack pays homage to and of course both are Universal monsters. That wasn’t the first time Spielberg had used that noise though, it was also used to sound the death knell of the truck as it drove of the cliff in Duel.

JAWS 2 (1978) AKA THE ONE WITH THE ANNOYING TEENAGERS ON BOATS

Terri the water skier

Also the poster girl for Jaws 2, accompanied by the amazing ‘just when you it was safe to go into the water’ tagline. A technically brilliant scene that showed that even those on water skis were not immune to the jaws of doom. The photography and tension in this sequence is one of the highlights of Jaws 2 and showed how much more versatile the shark models and special effects were only three years after the original.

Clearly lots of lessons had been learnt. It’s two for one on the deaths front here as the boat manages to pour petrol all over herself (as you do) and then fire a flare at the shark blowing herself up and scarring the shark, just to make her all the more sinister (boo, hiss). We do get another payoff though as the corpse comes in on the tide straight into Chief Brody’s loving arms.

Eddie Marchand

Much of the film is spent rooting for the shark to pick off the annoying sexed-up teenagers, something of a pre-curser to Halloween and Friday the 13th as the shark is basically stalking and slashing (or should that be gnashing) them. The best death from these has to be that of Eddie Marchand who is dragged (echoing Chrissie in the first film) across the water and slammed into his boat – he hangs on for dear life and even pulls part of his boat with him as he is dragged under leaving his now hysterical girlfriend alone. It’s a genuinely chilling and adept scene.

Helicopter pilot

Hey we are safe! Don’t count you chickens yet kids. Its shark Vs quite frankly rubbish 70s helicopter and kills the pilot with a quite frankly lame beard. In the original we never see what happens but on the Jaws 2 DVD/Bluray there is great footage of him under the water as well which is well worth checking out. Bet Jaws wouldn’t have eaten the helicopter if it had been Roy Scheider in Blue Thunder!

JAWS 3-D (1983) AKA THE ONE AT SEA WORLD

Philip Fitzroyce

A shame that Simon MacCorkindale, who also played TVs ‘Manimal’ around this time, couldn’t change into a fish as he might have escaped this monster. Notable as we see and hear his death gargles as he is being crunched up inside the shark’s mouth – I can still hear it now - and then have him dangling like a piece of food stuck between his teeth. Was nice they tried something different with a death and neatly paves the way to the finale...

Jaws 3

Now I know this film has been slammed but I actually really like the concept and the ending to the movie. It’s a variation on the original but I like the original way they tried to do it. I certainly found it tense and exciting. I even like the 3D explosion – the blood and guts quota is certainly all here – and I even have a soft spot for the kitsch upper and lower 3D jaws coming towards you out of the explosion. 

JAWS THE REVENGE (1987) AKA THE ONE WITH MICHAEL CAINE AKA THE ONE THAT’S NOT MUCH COP…REALLY IT ISN’T

Sean Brody

A film of little note, this could be included alone for the death of the franchise. It does have its moments in places though and none more than the death of the youngest Brody, Sean, who is now a cop in Amity like his old dad was (Scheider decided against this one so they killed his character off screen – as shameful as the whole Alien 3 Newt death – what a waste). Still Sean Brody is worth a mention as one of the main original characters to kick the big yellow barrel, juxtaposed with christmas carols and sepia shots of the original, just to remind us how crappy this film is. 

The editing is a tad poor with the teeth of the shark, lacking any real tension, and fails to mask the badly hidden ‘bitten off’ arm. Clearly 1987 was a low point for failed missing arm acting as Carl Weathers seemed to have similar issues in Predator. 

Read an interview with Mitchell Anderson, who played Sean Brody in Jaws the Revenge, talking about that film and scene here.

Banana boat victim

That colour yellow is back again, this time in the shadow of a banana. Thea, Michael Brody’s daughter is out on said fruit-shaped floating device being dragged by a speedboat when a woman is picked off by Jaws and dragged under whilst still in her mouth. It’s a well-executed and effective attack, again something we’ve not seen before in Jaws. And – as Quint said – her lifejacket never saved her. Again, the primary reason for me not going on such a device. I just can’t unsee the slow motion moment.

And the worst?

Well, that is still staying with Jaws the Revenge and has to be the roaring shark before it is pierced with a boat/jumps onto the prow of the boat seemingly made out of lollipop sticks that explode the shark. Writing it down it doesn’t even make any sense.

Michael Caine may have got a lovely house out of it but the Jaws franchise sank beneath the waves for the final time. And I’ll be taking a closer look at Jaws the Revenge (you should smell the breath on that thing) for its 30th anniversary in a future entry on The Daily Jaws blog.

 

By Dean Newman

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