A Fishy Double Bill

I recently watched a couple of horror films in which fish were the main monsters.

Jaws (1975)

The big daddy of shark movies, which recently seem to have become a thing, and the film that gave director Steven Spielberg his first huge commercial success, while making millions of cinema goers stay out of the water. I’m guessing most everybody knows the plot – the island community of Amity menaced by a Great White, one that our three heroes find virtually impossible to kill due to its size, ferocity and native cunning. It starts with the one victim and then a second, with the town council unwilling to close the beaches on a 4th of July weekend owing to possible impact on business. And then, of course, the truth becomes impossible to deny, at which point sheriff Brody (Roy Schneider), shark expert Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and old sea dog Quint (Robert Shaw) set out in a formidable looking boat to kill the monster, only to find themselves, after the obligatory male bonding and back stories that add meat to the plot, engaged in a desperate fight for survival. Yeah, I liked the characters, each portrayed with very different but complementary personalities, and I liked the actors playing them. Brody is a former big city cop with a family and a fear of water that he has to overcome; Hooper is the rich kid with an obsession about sharks, and Quint, at first appearing mercenary and domineering, shows a more human side as the plot unfolds. The story itself works like a finely tuned engine firing on all cylinders, with the tension slowly mounting as one setback follows another. The shark itself seems rather rubbery by modern standards, but such is the film’s grip on our imagination that its shortcomings don’t really register until after the drama has played out, and besides, back in 1975 the most obvious point of comparison was the shark in the Batman movie. From memory this is a faithful adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel and a film that still stands up today, nearly forty years after its release.

Piranha 3D (2010)

We get a lot of small, fierce fish instead of one big monster fish in this remake of a 1978 original, but otherwise there are plenty of similarities to Jaws, such as the holiday community of Lake Victoria, whose people just won’t stay out of the water, the central relationship between sheriff Forester (Elisabeth Shue) and a marine expert, circumstances that place the sheriff’s own family in jeopardy. There’s even an opening cameo from Richard Dreyfuss as a drunken fisherman who drops a beer can overboard while boating on a Mesolithic lake, thus causing an earth tremor and unleashing a horde of prehistoric piranha. On the downside there seems to be a little too much emphasis on young women in bikinis, and while I could excuse this on the grounds that it’s a) probably a realistic depiction of the US phenomenon of spring break and b) valid commentary on the vapid nature of consumer culture and c) I like women in bikinis too, the whole subplot with the director of a porn movie out on the lake in a boat just took it too far, seemingly gratuitous, horrendously drawn out and the most ludicrously contrived method of placing the sheriff’s family in jeopardy that you could imagine, at the same time reinforcing horror movie conventions that people who indulge in recreational sex will end badly. I also didn’t really like how the sheriff’s son got to be hero after placing his younger siblings and girl friend in peril through his selfishness. Those objections aside, what’s left is an exciting story containing plenty of in your face action, with gallons of blood in the water and enough gore to give even the least squeamish pause, with Ving Rhames’ chainsaw variation a particular pleasure. As far as scary goes though, I found the underwater scenes in a cavern much more unsettling than anything else; just the thought of being trapped underneath all that rock and water is enough to unnerve me completely.

So who would win in a fight between a shark and piranhas? Probably the shark could outrun the piranhas, but would it be in serious trouble if it swallowed some alive?

And what’s your favourite fish movie?

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2 Responses to A Fishy Double Bill

  1. Rolnikov says:

    I like Jaws 4, just because the shark is apparently a psychic who follows Brody’s family halfway around the world.

    The stuff in Piranha 3D with the boy being so irresponsible made me mad too. Similarly, I get very annoyed by Disney and Nickoledon programmes where kids lose a younger sibling and then scramble to find them before the adults find out, instead of just telling the adults.

    • petertennant says:

      I don’t believe I’ve watched “Jaws 4”, but you make it sound so very easy to resist seeking out.

      One of my pet peeves is the “Home Alone” movies. I absolutely loathed that smart arse kid and was rooting for the robbers almost from the first, and I thought the parents should have been prosecuted for leaving their little darling behind. But it all comes out in the wash as a happy clappy family comedy with extra saccharine to go.

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