Tales from the Video Store: My Afternoon with “JAWS”
Welcome to TALES FROM THE VIDEO STORE, where FANGORIA unspools their experiences in the eerie age of VHS. We’ll traverse our memories as if they were shelves filled with video insanity, and we invite you to join us in revisiting analog nightmares…
When I was a young lad, the video store was not just a place of business; it was a treasure chest. A budding cinephile from as far back as I can remember, a trip to the video store was an event, a compendium of culture and stories with imagination-sparking visuals that I could not find in sports or at the library. Of course, seeing and hearing references to films I had never seen in television and throughout life only made me more eager to return.
Perhaps the coolest aspect of the video store was its omnipresence, as there was always one close by to not just my home but my relatives, my friends and pretty much anywhere you could take a kid my age at that time. Each store always had distinctly different selections, no matter if what I could rent had been restricted by my guardians or the general indifference of particular cashiers. But even in the my stories of failure, my desire to track down these forbidden films was only amplified.
While I was more entranced by the stranger and vibrant titles within the depths of the aisles, I also knew even at that young age that I must track down the classics as well. There were few I had already seen considered “age appropriate,” including RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN and the STAR WARS trilogy. Yet despite my vocal interest, my parents were hesitant to introduce me to a certain horror classic: JAWS.
Now I had a small exposure to JAWS in terms of pop culture at the time. I’d seen the iconic score parodied in cartoons, television and movies countless times before I’d even known it was from a film. I had also known that the film was rated PG, which was a fact I frequently pointed out on the VHS cover itself. Most importantly, I had been on the actual JAWS Universal Studios ride which had put me face to face with the shark in question.
However, to my parents, this was a different story. The film was still too scary for someone under ten years old, and the PG rating was closer to a PG-13 or even an R for the time period. Similarly, the ride version could never fracture my then fragile psyche as it lacked the violence and occasional gore of the film. Luckily, I knew all of this information had not been passed onto my grandparents.
Eventually the day came, with an added bonus: while summer visits to my grandparents often resulted in pool time, this day had unpredictably become stormy. On top of that, my grandmother was joining my mother and aunt for a day out, leaving me with my much more relaxed grandfather. So as soon as I mentioned the prospect of the video store and pizza as an alternative to the rained-out pool day, the wheels had been set in motion.
What I had not expected was that we visited a different video store than I was familiar with, one that was about the size of a warehouse. (the name escapes me). This was no Blockbuster or rinky dink mom-and-pop video store; this was an outright video emporium. And when I made my way to the horror section, I was met with an even bigger surprise: there was not just one JAWS, but four. I knew at first glance that I needed to watch them all while I had the chance.
The emporium did have the benefit of being cheaper than the video stores I’d grown accustomed to, so convincing my grandpa of a quadruple rental was easier than suspected. When we arrived home, I ran into the guest bedroom, where the other VCR-equipped TV laid. My grandfather, as usual, stuck to fishing shows as he ordered pizza, trusting me to watch these PG movies without issue. With 8 hours to kill before the arrival of my mother and grandmother, I entered the VHS madness that was JAWS.
Needless to say, I was unprepared.
Even on tape, JAWS was genuinely scary. So much so, that I became glad the pool was locked up out of fear of a shark attack. What’s more, I realized why exactly the film was so iconic, as the story was so riveting, rich and fun that I couldn’t turn it off no matter how scary or barbaric it became. Afterwards, I couldn’t get the tape out fast enough to swap it out with JAWS 2.
JAWS 2 scared me, for sure, but the film didn’t quite have the magic of the first. In fact, JAWS 2 felt more like the horror movies I’d seen it the past, with the shark picking off teenagers with monstrous resolve. Even at that age however, the film was fun and some of the kills were genuinely upsetting. By the time the film ended, I was satisfied. And so I soldiered on to JAWS 3, curious to see where the series would take the shark and Chief Brody next.
For the entirety of JAWS 3, I waited for Chief Brody to show up and save the day. I waited… and waited… and waited. I sat through characters I did not know as a shark that was not in Amity came after someone who was allegedly one of the sons from the previous films. Even at that young age, I knew a boring movie when I saw one, and I was generally disinterested. And when I was on the verge of calling it quits, I found myself taken aback by a flying pair of shark jaws towards my face in the film’s closing moments. The effect was probably more amusing in 3-D, but that simple moment was just enough to convince me to go on. After all, it was called JAWS: THE REVENGE; with that title, how bad could it be?
The opening scene of JAWS: THE REVENGE was a change of pace; creepy, surprisingly brutal and bleak. I was immediately hooked, and when I saw Lorraine Brody in the flesh, I felt that this film was already better than JAWS 3. However, as the film went on, the shark was nowhere to be seen. Even worse, the young version of me couldn’t understand why a shark would chase Lorraine Brody to a vacationing spot. Coupled with poor writing and even worse acting, the impressive look of the film couldn’t save it from being just plain bad.
I fought every urge to turn JAWS: THE REVENGE off, partially because I wanted to see how exactly the shark came into play. Finally, the banana boat scene came… and just as fast, it went, taking with it a character I forgot was even in the movie. But now, the revenge angle became clear- and all the more silly because of that. And when the climax of the movie hit, my jaw dropped. Not only did they have the gall to reference the incredible ending of the original JAWS, but the shark roared. Even the shark in the JAWS theme park ride didn’t roar. And as the credits came on, I turned off the VCR sullenly, and patiently awaited the arrival of my mother.
Despite how much I liked JAWS and JAWS 2, I couldn’t shake this odd and deep disappointment I felt at that age; something I would now equate to watching an empire burn to the ground. In the course of three hours, I watched the goodwill and terror established in the previous four taken down minute by minute. In fact, by the end of the marathon, I was fairly sure that I no longer feared a poolside shark attack; besides, all I had to do was await his mighty roar.
To this day, I own JAWS on blu-ray, and am patiently awaiting JAWS 2 to make the transition as well. However, I’ve never gotten around to revisiting JAWS 3, and every time JAWS: THE REVENGE comes on cable, I find myself scrambling for the remote. While I still lament the near-extinction of the video store, especially the experience of in-store browsing that captured my imagination, there is a part of me that is relieved. As now with the death of the video store, less children will have the chance to replicate my experience of watching the legacy of an A+ horror classic dive deep into the recesses of cinematic trash.