They Don’t Bite! : The Evolution of the Terribly Awesome Shark Movie

(spoiler for Deep Blue Sea ahead)

I can admit it. It’s a hard thing to say out loud. But, I am no longer ashamed, and I must scream this from the rooftops for everyone to hear!!!!!

I enjoy terrible horror movies.

Don’t get me wrong; horror has been seriously upping its game lately. With surprise smash hits from A Quiet Place and Get Out to the seriously startling commercial success of the uber fun Happy Death Day, horror is proving that it can be smart, engaging and make money. I, for one, am looking forward to the creative outpouring that this horror renaissance is bound to bring.

Horror is a business, just like any other. But the minute it takes itself too seriously, the spark is gone. That’s why I like to mix my serious, hardcore horror with just a pinch of B (or C or D) movie action. Perhaps one of my favourite types of terrible horror movie is the shark movie.

Duuuuuh da. Duuuuuh da. Duh da duh da duh da duh da….. The familiar strains accompanying the arrival of the sinister sea dweller in Jaws have become the stuff of legend. It is so iconic that even just hearing it brings panicked screams of “SSSSHHHHHHAAAAAARRRRRRRKKKKK!!!!!!” instantly to mind. The fear that Jaws incited in movie goers was a shock to everyone. It truly captured lightning in a bottle. There is something about being in a situation like a shark attack that makes people feel helpless, and hopeless. The fact that you can’t see what might be lurking beneath you in a body of water is extremely unsettling. All of this should make for some serious horror script fodder; the fear is built in to people before they even hit the theater.

So the question is: how did we get from Jaws to Sharknado?

The success of Jaws brought after it a slew of sequels, as well as several deep sea attempts to engage audiences. Three Jaws sequels were made that included the ridiculous yet inexplicably entertaining Jaws: The Revenge, in which a shark came after the Brodys as revenge for its dead family member. B-movie gems such as Piranha and Orca followed soon after.

These attempts at making these deep sea creatures scary just didn’t seem to take hold like Jaws. Maybe it was a case of too much, too soon in a market saturated with those clambering for a piece of the seaweed-flavoured pie. Maybe it was a case of showing too much; Jaws was menacing in that you didn’t really see the shark until the movie’s climax. Or maybe it was just a case of the difficulty of suspension of disbelief; Jaws was scary in its believability. People believed that a shark is a killing machine that knows nothing other than eat and swim. However, people are less likely to believe that an orca whale would deliberately seek justice, and so some of these movies were perceived as ridiculous.

The first movie that I remember seeing that beautifully toed the line between ridiculous and scary was the insanely enjoyable Deep Blue Sea. Just when the movie was starting to feel a tad over the top, Samuel L. Jackson has an infamous moment where he gives a pep talk to the entire crew, complete with swelling music and epic build ups. Just when he has the team convinced they should work together, one of the sharks in question jumps out of the tank behind him and drags him in to the ocean.

I was instantly smitten.

This, I thought. THIS is my new guilty pleasure. It was unpredictable, overblown, and unprecedented. Samuel L. had finally met his match in nature; if a shark could take out Mr. Badass himself, then anything was now fair game.

What makes these movies so unnaturally entertaining is, in fact, their unpredictability. Because they are not trying to be anything more than a storm of sharks killing everything, they follow absolutely no rules. There are, in fact, no rules to follow other than the cardinal one: the more incredulous the audience, the more they laugh, and the more likely they are to ignore the many, many (many, many, MANY) flaws in execution.

After a brief hiatus, SyFy struck that golden chord again with the “who sold their soul” success of the ridiculous Sharknado franchise. What followed was a tornado-like flurry of shark mash-ups. Sharks in an avalanche. Sharks that swim through sand. Sharks that are ghosts. In one of my personal favourites, Roboshark, the shark in question even has time between kills to reply to his many twitter followers. There are no rules. There are no plots. There are no believable characters. Not one person in these movies talks that way in reality. This time, however, audiences were prepped for fun; they were ready for the ridiculous.

There have been some great, campy remakes that land somewhere between Jaws and Sharknado. The Piranha reboots are always an entertaining watch (though not for children’s eyes). The feminist in me hates how entertained I am by them, but they are worth it if only to hear Ving Rhames say, “Bring me my legs.” Plus, the super-pigs in these two get their comeuppance, which makes me feel a little better about it. The silly yet effective Shark Night is also a great staple. In both of these cases, the humans are the real monsters, while the menacing sea creatures just do what they do: eat.

It appeared for a while that the shark pendulum may have been swinging back closer to the Jaws side with recent success stories of 47 Meters Down and The Shallows, both of which present more harrowing encounters, and are more of a survival story. I wondered to myself if we had finally gotten our fill of the ridiculous.

However, this week, something magical happened in the form the trailer for the upcoming The MEG. Watching this trailer, I honestly don’t know what we’re going to get. It starts as genuine frightfest and by the end of the trailer moves to “Beyond the Sea” playing while people are getting mowed down by the prehistoric beast. Iif it embraces what it is (a movie starring Jason Statham about a giant shark that inexpicably starts targeting beaches after being in deep, deep cover for millions of years), this could be the most fun I’ll have at the movies this summer!

So go ahead…dive on in to the deep and enjoy some seriously cheesy horror comfort food. As long as you’re willing to shake your head when logic creeps in, I guarantee you’ll never have more fun!

Need recommendations to get started? Want to share your favourite terrible shark flick? Comment below!

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