You’re gonna need a bigger boat

By Joe Moore

jaws Arguably, that may be one of the best lines ever written. Six words that encapsulate and summarize a situation so dire and frightening, there was no doubt in the mind of the moviegoer that the problems the characters faced had been grossly underestimated.

The movie JAWS came out in 1975 and is celebrating its 35th anniversary this summer. Few contemporary films had the same level of impact on life and the basic fears we all harbor inside. It came close to shutting down the beaches and everything people normally do at them during the summer. “Don’t go in the water” became a household phrase. Seaside resorts and businesses along the beaches were slammed while the theaters were packed and long lines lead up to the showing of JAWS. It was a phenomenon that undeniably equaled the mass hysteria of the 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles’ WAR OF THE WORLDS.

benchley1 The movie was based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel by the same name. It was and still is the only book I ever read in one sitting. I remember picking it up off a table at my mother’s house and reading: “The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail.” I read the second sentence, walked over to a nearby couch and read the rest of the book without a break. It was beyond captivating. It was petrifying and easily the scariest story I’ve ever read. (Number 2 on my list is RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris followed closely by THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty).

It’s rare that a book and a movie can have such a drastic effect on the public. Benchley and Spielberg took the basic “haunted house” scenario and gave it a fresh spin, one that hadn’t been thought of before. They presented us a new type of antagonist, one that can’t be reasoned with, one that has no motive other than hunger—an eating machine. JAWS gave birth to a whole string of similar antagonist in movies like ALIEN, HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and others. But JAWS was the first to bring it to the page and the big screen and scare the you-know-what out of us. For those who are too young or just simply want to relive the moment, here’s the original movie trailer for JAWS. Enjoy.

Have you ever found a book so engrossing that you read it in one sitting? Has a book and/or movie had as great an effect on you as JAWS had on the public at the time?

11 thoughts on “You’re gonna need a bigger boat

  1. Good swim down memory lane, Joe. I loved Jaws, too, book and movie. Young Spielberg (relatively unknown at the time) made the right decision in not showing us the shark until the end, which gave the water itself menace.

    The two scariest books I ever read:

    The Shining by Stephen King
    Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

  2. I noticed the anniversary, too, and at the risk of sounding like a young whippersnapper, I told my wife, “You know, I saw that in the theater with my friend Greg Miller. I was 11. What the hell were our parents thinking?”

    Spielberg said that he had tons of problems with the mechanical shark (Bruce), so he really only ended up using it at the end. He notes that it made for a better movie that way.

  3. I sat up all night to read THE EXORCIST. I’m sure there have been others I refused to put down, but that one sticks in my mind.

    I thought the movie version of JAWS was much better than the book. The whole subplot with the affair between Brody’s wife and the marine biologist stopped the story dead. Cutting that digression altogether was the best decision Spielberg made, even better than hiding the shark, though that was also brilliant, regardless of why he did it.

  4. I think THE EXORCIST and Straub’s GHOST STORY were the two scariest books. SILENCE and RED DRAGON are in the top five as well. I suppose THE SHINING would round out the top five for me.

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever literally read a book in one sitting, but in addition to books already mentioned, I have to throw in SALEMS LOT by King and THE OTHER by Thomas Tryon. Reading PET SEMETERY while my wife was pregnant scared me so deeply that I swore off King for 15 years.
    John Gilstrap

  6. Now I’m going to have nightmares. I used to ride a horse called Night Mare.:) I remember being in England my senior year of college 1976 and some of us were so homesick at thanksgiving we went to the movies to see JAWS again. Tells you something about that group doesn’t it? 🙂

    Scariest for me was Psycho and by far the worst ever was “The Thing.” The old one and the 80’s version. Why did I watch that?

    Books I’ve read in one sitting are:
    Harlan Coben’s Hold Tight and Francine Rivers, Redeeming Love. Both very different and both grabbed me so I couldn’t stop reading. Luckily, I didn’t pick them up until I had vacation time.

  7. Interesting side note–Peter Benchley, later in life, wished he never wrote Jaws. He influenced an entire population to fear sharks. He became an avid diver, shark lover and ended up regretting the “fear of the water” that Jaws created…although, probably liked the royalty checks…

  8. I was a kid of about 8 when my parents went to see JAWS. Ten years later we went to Florida and saw the ocean for the first time they were still cared witless that sharks would be coming after them. Amazing how that stuff sticks.

    BTW – scary movies & books have never been my thing. I had a traumatic experience at about 12 brought on my Bela Lugosi as Dracula at 1 am, alone in a dark house. Scarred me it did.

  9. I usually read Harlan Coben & Lee Child in one sitting.

    1st time I saw Jaws was in a theater on the boardwalk in Wildwood NJ. Wuss for the week I was….

  10. Two one-sitting books for me, one recent and one a little older. The first is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and the other is Jurassic Park.

  11. The Da Vinci Code- sucked me in and had me until the bitter end. Btw, we’re big JAWS fans in this house (thanks to my husband’s profession). The book was great, but I remember liking the movie ending better.

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