My earliest film-going experience was seeing JAWS in a drive-in as a child. I recall one of my parents telling me if the movie got too scary I could opt to look out the rear window of the station wagon at the screen in back us. That screen was showing THE REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER. I did not understand why a film claiming to be about the Pink Panther was not a cartoon.
Of course, I loved JAWS. What child could resist JAWS? Me and my brothers later went on to play JAWS in the pool, own a rubber shark toy and name our first gold fish JAWS who was later replaced by JAWS 2 before there was an actual movie sequel with that title. JAWS was a true cultural phenomenon in the seventies and whenever I watch the film now, it’s like I’m jumping through a time tunnel back to my youth.
Anyway, as much as every scene featuring the shark in the movie thrilled me to no end, there’s one moment in the movie that really stuck out and lingered in my mind. You likely know exactly the one I’m talking about. Late at night, Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) come across what looks like the half-sunken abandoned boat of Ben Gardner (Craig Kingsbury) who had earlier gone in search of the shark hoping to kill it and collect a reward. Matt gets in his scuba gear to check out the bottom of the boat where he finds a chomp-y shark bite-sized hole and a large tooth. All is quiet and dark when suddenly Gardner’s bloated, blue, floating head appears complete with one bugged-out eye and another missing and a frozen expression of sheer terror. The head so startles Matt that he drops the tooth. It’s undoubtedly one of the most effective jump scares in cinema history.
Recently JAWS was re-released all digitally cleaned-up and sporting brand new 3-D effects so of course, I jumped at the chance to see it. It turned out to be an incredible experience to watch this film that I’ve seen countless times over the course of my life in a brand new way. It’s absolutely stunning. The funny thing is that even though I could not have been any more prepared for the appearance of Gardner’s floating head popping out, it still somehow made me jump once again. John William’s incredible score blasting on the speakers almost makes it impossible not to flinch. Countless things have changed over the course of my life but there are some things that will always stay the same. JAWS will always be a masterpiece and Ben Gardner’s head will always startle the living daylights out of me.