Alphabetical Movie – Jaws
I didn’t watch Jaws until I was in my late twenties.
I remember seeing the trailer and deciding I wanted nothing to do with the film. The shot of the girl being pulled violently under water that scared the crap out of me. I was just eight years old, after all, and I lived in a state full of lakes. I didn’t really understand the difference between oceans and lakes.
Sure, I knew oceans were bigger but I had been swimming in a lot of lakes and maybe whatever pulled that girl under the water lived in one of those lakes. I agree, that seemed pretty ridiculous. That trailer sure did scare the crap out of me, though. I had no desire to see a film that, I assumed, would scare me even more than the trailer.
I felt the same way about Alien. Possibly more so. I can’t think of a trailer that is so effective at scaring the piss out of you without telling you a thing about the movie.
I’ve never been fond of the experience of being scared. That is the main reason I’m not a big fan of horror films. If a trailer could give me nightmares, I had little desire to see the film.
Both Jaws and Alien were movies almost everyone of my generation had seen. They were cultural touchstones almost as universal as Star Wars. Yet I avoided watching them for a long time.
Long after the concept of Jaws scared me, that trailer still creeped me out. Not as much as the Alien trailer, mind you.
I’ve seen both movies now and I think they are both masterpieces. I may not enjoy being scared but I do enjoy how masterfully both of them scare me. Even now, I watch the opening of Jaws and hope that girl won’t go into the water.
Trailers don’t scare me the way they used to. Your average horror trailer consists of a voiceover that tells you something is wrong, a jump scare and a jarring chord played during a smash cut to the film’s title. Then you get an ominous warning (“you’ll never order coffee again”) and one more jump scare.
The Alien trailer is so visceral. It just gets into your head. You see so little of the actual film and the sound effects are creepy as fuck. The movie could have been a tremendous let down but instead, the atmosphere you are promised in the trailer is delivered on the screen.
Atmosphere is scarier anyway, isn’t it? Jaws is scary because in spite of the fact there is a shark eating people, the people keep going in the water.
Alien is scary because those people are stuck on a dark, damp ship with the alien and it is bigger, stronger and smarter than they are.
I think what really gets to me is when a film puts me into a place I don’t want to be. What worked about the trailers for both films is they communicated to me that there were both places that scared the piss out of me.
Years later, what still impresses me is how much the trailers managed to capture what made the films scary without ruining the experience.
The thing that scared me most about Alien was that (as best I can recall) they never quite showed you the whole creature, so you never quite knew how it was shaped. The final scene when the alien is displayed fully was a let down for me – Oh, it’s just a guy in a funny hat – I’d’ve preferred never quite knowing how the Alien was shaped or what it looked like.