Just last week, there was a piece on summer blockbusters on Post/50, and the leading photo was from Jaws. It was released nationwide on June 20th, 1975. I was 10 years old, and it was impossible to avoid all the commercials on TV, or hear about the movie from those who had already seen it.
I very much wanted to see Jaws, but Mom wouldn't allow it. It was only rated PG, not R, but her reason was not the rating. She had also heard about the movie; besides commercials, ratings and reviews she heard from her sister, my Aunt Pat. It was enough to make the decision that I would have nightmares if I saw it.
Nightmares? I was 10! I no longer had nightmares. Those classic horror movies like the original Frankenstein and Dracula bored me. I could handle it. My brother John championed my cause and set to work on Mom. Although it didn't happen as quickly as I'd hoped, he eventually convinced her to let him take me to the movie himself. Way to go John!
The opening scene was of young kids having a bonfire and partying on the beach at night. I was wide eyed, enjoying a glimpse into the world of young adults. Then a character named Chrissie decided she wanted to go for a swim in the ocean. More interestingly, she chose to go skinny dipping. Way to go John!
I loved to swim, and had been in the Atlantic once myself. I was thinking about how salty the water was compared to Lake Michigan, and how swimming in the ocean just felt differently. And mostly, that she was naked.
It's easy to forget, but the Oscar award-winning musical theme composed by John Williams was not used in the opening scene. That brilliant, dread inducing theme was employed frequently and effectively to warn of impending doom -- later in the film. Sure, I understood on some basic level that it was dark, she was alone in the ocean, and this movie was about sharks. I knew at least a minor scare was coming, but I was completely unprepared for how quickly and shockingly the scene played out. I was still rather enthusiastic about the whole skinny dipping part. What was the rush?
I had never been so completely enraptured by a movie from start to finish. Drama, suspense and comedy. Yes, there were some parts I considered boring, but they were welcome relief to the terror-filled "I don't think my hands will ever let go of this armrest" scenes before and after. I loved it! I couldn't wait to get home, tell Mom all about it, and assure her I was fine.
Preparing to go to sleep that night, I still wasn't worried about nightmares. That is, until I turned off the light and closed my eyes. Instantly, I had the point of view of being well underwater, looking up at a moonlit surface. Between myself and breaking the surface were silhouettes of sharks. Hundreds of sharks. Huge, unfeeling, hungry sharks.
The nightmares lasted at least a month. Not loving the fact that Mom was right (yet again), I eventually asked my sister Susan and my brother-in-law Terry to take me to see Jaws for the second time. I had to redeem myself.
This experience was more frightening than the first! The problem was, all of the scary scenes were -- well scary, but sometimes truly bad things happened, and sometimes you just thought they were going to happen. All of those scenes were mixed up in my head, so I was in a state of perpetual panic. Not cool. I think Terry had to pry my hands from the seat when it was over. However, in the end it was still a victory. I walked out of the Ford City Theater in a cold sweat, but the second viewing literally scared the nightmares out of me.
Finally, I went to see it with my friends. Mom thought I was nuts, going to see the same movie for the third time. But she didn't understand -- now I was a pro. Now, I knew that movie, inside and out. I could anticipate the best scares, and turn my attention to those in the crowd with the biggest buckets of popcorn, and the largest soft drinks available.
And watch popcorn and soda pop fly through the air, covering impressive distances, in fascinating patterns.