It’s been 43 years since a struggling freelancer’s novel about a small town driven to the brink by an aquatic horror was adapted to film only to become a watershed cultural event that has scared generations away from the beach. Peter Benchley’s Jaws is arguably one of those monumental, genre changing works that has struck a chord with readers and moviegoers alike in a way that very few stories ever will. With imagery, references and characterizations that have rooted themselves deep in the pop cultural zeitgeist, Jaws continues to be one of those rites of passage for horror fans as they seek out thrills both mundane and astonishing. Even now, legend surrounds the inspiration of the film but three incidents often vie for credit.
The 1964 catch of a 4,500 pound Great White near Long Island by spear fisherman Frank Mundus is cited by Benchley as his actual inspiration for the man eating monster shark later known by film fans as Bruce. The big game fisher would even become a partial inspiration for the character of Quint. Meanwhile, the more popularly cited but often less credible inspiration for Jaws is a string of violent attacks off the coast of New Jersey in 1916 in which several people were partially devoured by sharks causing a sort of panic all its own. Lastly, and integral to the character of Quint is the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in 1945 as it returned from delivering the atomic bomb to the Pacific theater during World War II. The harrowing, horrifying struggle for survival of the crew of the Indianapolis after being torpedoed by a Japanese sub is equal parts heartbreaking and terrifying. Benchley and Spielberg both captured only a fraction of the terror survivors knew as, one by one, their shipmates were pulled into the murky depths of the ocean by the razor teeth of sharks.
These real life experiences, whether directly or indirectly involved in the inspiration of Jaws, helped add a realism to what is ultimately a struggle of man against a force of nature. The shark is an apex predator, an undisputed master of its domain. The human drama, the slow burn horror as this mysterious creature eats its way through the residents and visitors of Amity. As panic, greed, and blind avoidance of the issue keep the beaches open, the looming threat of the man eating monster is a steady rise until, at last, Brody, Quint, and Hooper confront it at last in an epic sea battle. In many ways, the movie follows a very familiar monster movie plot with all the best scares being in the audience’s imagination. Will they meet their end at the gruesome teeth of Jaws?
Like any great horror fandom, people like to commemorate and celebrate their love of the story by decorating their homes and shelves in items essential to that cause. After doing a little research, I’ve put together a few things that the Jaws fan in your life might just appreciate before they head out to the beach.
This thing is pretty cool in its simplicity and what it is. Much like the signs staked into the beach by Sheriff Brody as he struggles to keep people off the beach, this hanging sign is an excellent, unofficial prop reproduction. Handmade by Etsy shop curator Northwest Curiosities, this is perfect for a Jaws fan looking to give their movie area something extra. Or, if you’re like my wife, you may have done a bathroom up with some bright, beachy theme. This would be a perfect warning to hang on the door before anyone ventures too deep into the tub.
Nightmare Toys is an awesome little shop in Madison, Alabama that specializes in toys and trinkets to traumatize and delight every horror fan. Offering an impressive array of fandom merchandise (and shipping in the US and Canada) you can find almost anything your twisted little heart desires. Of their Jaws merch, this Bruce mask really stands out. It’s extremely well detailed right down to the metal canister lodged in his gaping, bloody mouth. I can think of at least a few creative costumes to be made from the mask centering around scenes from the film including the iconic movie poster. But that might be better left to another post.
Okay, this one isn’t specifically Jaws related but it’s bizarre and I thought worth a note. This little guy is an off brand Transformer who goes from killer Great White to robo warrior. It should would have added a new dimension to the seafaring horror show if Bruce had come equipped with a frickin’ laser on his head. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)
If you’ve ever paid attention to the bookcase in the back of some of Jeff and Haley’s videos you’ll notice quite an array of these Funko minis including, you guessed it, Bruce the shark. These things are adorable, durable, and absolutely fun because of the cartoonish cuteness and the attention to detail given the characters. The downside to them, however, is that they’re blind boxes, meaning you’re gambling a little bit to get what you want. Sort of like the old egg machines at the grocery store when you were a kid, the toy on the sign might not be what you get the first time around. That said, they aren’t a hugely expensive investment and they’re pretty neat.
A quick Google search (or a few minutes on Amazon) will turn up hundreds of shirts, jackets, earrings, and other clothing items covered in everyone’s favorite man eater or some comical variation. Of course, we love Bruce and everything Jaws so if you know of something cool that we missed drop us a line in the comments. And remember as you hit the beach this summer to keep making that scary.
Dan Lee is a film critic, editorialist, independent author, and horror culture correspondent from Tennessee. You can also follow him on social media @dotdblog.