5 Reasons the Worst Jaws Movie Is an Underrated Masterpiece
To most people, Jaws 3-D is a terrible, stupid movie that is easily the lowest point in the Jaws series and arguably one of the worst atrocities mankind has ever visited upon itself that didn't involve autotune or nuclear fission. It is a movie with exactly zero quality ingredients, and I am sure it owes the majority of its box office receipts to the fact that the average ticket price in July 1983 was $3.15, which is honestly on the low end of what most of us would pay to watch a giant shark eat people in chambray slacks.
However, beneath the dime-store special effects and Louis Gossett Jr.'s scowlingly mustached delivery of some of the most ridiculous dialogue in the history of American cinema, Jaws 3-D is secretly a gripping masterwork of psychological horror about a madman thrown headlong into the howling depths of dangerous insanity and murdering his co-workers. It is, in my opinion, the greatest Stanley Kubrick film that Stanley Kubrick didn't actually make.
The Shark Tortures Its Victims Mentally and Physically Like a Serial Murderer
First of all, the shark in Jaws 3-D doesn't just show up and eat people like your grandmother's Jaws, because that would be ridiculous. No, every death in this movie is a cold, deliberate killing of both body and spirit.
The first victim is a guy who, without question, was voted "Most Likely to Audition for Every Single Cop Show in the '80s" by his graduating class.
And this is the exact performance he delivered during each of those auditions.
The shark, apparently wielding the eternal wrath of Poseidon himself, skins our man alive, which logistically doesn't even seem possible, considering that the shark is supposed to be 35 feet long and Magnum P.I. over there is maybe 5'11". That's some precise chewing. The shark would've had to sit there for half an hour, carefully peeling the man's skin off like fried chicken, and only serial killers have that kind of patience.
The resemblance to skinless chicken cannot be overstated or ignored.
The shark doesn't even eat the body. It leaves the corpse more or less intact to be discovered in the most horrifying way possible -- by prison-smooching a teenage girl:
Later on, an English crocodile-hunter-type guy tries to defeat the shark, but ends up tumbling into its mouth like a stupid dumbass:
"Balls. I should've seen this coming."
But rather than simply bite the man in half with its Truckasaurus teeth or swallow him and be done with it, the shark just lets him sit there and drown as it slowly crushes him to death against the roof of its mouth:
This is seriously like two or three of man's greatest fears combined in a single hateful killing.
In one last desperate stroke of hopeless terror, Crocodile Hunter scrambles for a grenade to try to blast them both into merciful oblivion:
But the shark delivers a fatal crushifying squeeze that pulverizes Crocodile Hunter before he is able to pull the pin. And when his ribcage burst, he probably inhaled a lung full of water involuntarily, so he got to enjoy the agony of drowning while his organs liquefied. His dead body then gets paraded around for the remainder of the film, perfectly visible inside the shark's mouth and frozen in a Black Power salute.
Not pictured: dignity.
At the end of the movie, the shark corners Louis Gossett Jr. in a flooded control room with two members of his staff -- his nephew and some random white lady.
It should be clear from their expressions which one of them is about to be killed by a shark.
The shark explodes through the glass wall of the control room like Stone Cold Steve Austin's entrance video, knocking Random White Lady unconscious and leaving Scared Nephew lost in his own confusion. Fortunately, Lou Gossett's Lou Gossett powers render him immune to both sharks and drowning, so he perfectly adapts to the split-second catastrophe and remains in complete control. However, the shark is closing in on his two employees, and there's only enough time to save one of them. Like the Jigsaw killer, the shark is forcing Louis to make a horrible choice -- help his nephew or assist the unconscious woman. Louis chooses to swoop in and rescue Random White Lady and has to watch his nephew get eaten right in front of him as a result.
If you look carefully at that cloud of blood, you can see the chambray slacks I mentioned earlier.
It is a decision that will lay chittering tick eggs in Lou Gossett's nightmares until the end of his days, and the shark totally did that shit on purpose.
Which, of course, is something a shark wouldn't do. Which leads into the second point ...
The Shark Is a Creature That Cannot Possibly Exist
The villainous shark at the center of Jaws 3-D is formidable enough to smash its way through an entire amusement park before getting stuck in an underwater DJ booth like a cat with its head in a Pringles can, but the beast's physical strength isn't what makes it so terrifying. It's an animal that confounds both science and nature, like a stack of physical impossibilities somebody stapled together to cheat on a biology test. The shark is an animal that should not be. You'd need crisis counseling just for making eye contact with it. It's as if it were ripped from the darkest corners of the human psyche, straight from the oozing puddle of corrosive blackness in everybody's mind that incubates our greatest fears -- specifically, the age-old fear of being eaten alive by a big ugly fish.
First of all, the shark is 35 feet long, which I think technically makes it a sea monster. We never find out where it came from or why, out of the entirety of the world's oceans, it suddenly decided to imprison itself within 200 acres of South Florida theme park. It swims backward, which is impossible for fish. It has enormous Jon Heder gums, and it snarls, which is something that an animal without lungs simply cannot do.
It also has some serious meth teeth.
When it attacks, we never see evidence of it coming or going. It just suddenly appears, like it was wished into existence by a drunk genie. The characters do not even officially acknowledge the shark until over an hour into the movie, and at that point, they're all operating on panicked impulse after discovering the supermurdered corpse of Magnum P.I.
Which means that, in all likelihood, the shark isn't real.
Think about it -- the shark is an impossible animal that phases in and out of the water at will like a pirate ghost, slaying people in completely psychotic ways. It might actually be a figment of everyone's imagination, and in reality the people of Sea World are succumbing to paranoid homicidal delusions, killing each other and blaming it on a chimerical shark lord.
It's really just one of these people going nuts with a fillet knife and a snorkel.
In an effort to pinpoint the most likely suspect, let's take a look at ...
Dennis Quaid's Explosive Psychotic Meltdown
There is typically at least one character in every psychological thriller who totally loses his goddamned mind. In Jaws 3-D, the creeping fear in Sea World finally takes its toll on Dennis Quaid after they discover the flayed body of Magnum P.I. floating in an aquarium like a slimy coil of fish poop. And before you ask me to repeat myself, yes, Dennis Quaid is absolutely in this movie.
Dennis has a complete PTSD meltdown and runs screaming through the park to warn people about the hulking murderfish in their midst but can't manage to sputter out a complete sentence in his panicked rampage and probably ends up causing more personal injury than the shark does.
First, Dennis commandeers a popcorn buggy by diving in front of it and hurling the driver from the seat like he's being chased by ghosts:
The buggy proves to be too difficult for Dennis to drive while his mind is shrieking itself in half, and he crashes it on a 2-foot incline less than 30 seconds later, sending him tumbling into a fleet of strollers.
Luckily the strollers were empty, although if they had been occupied by actual babies, I assume Dennis would have driven the buggy directly through them.
He then highsteps his way toward a crowded amphitheater, doing his best to maintain a Sling Blade face while 300 people inexplicably fail to notice him:
Dennis sprints onstage in his frenzied hysteria and choke-slams the bandstand MC into the water, screaming incoherently into the microphone to try to alert some water-skiing performers to the shark's presence:
Although this should've been more than enough to get their attention.
But he can't manage to form the correct words around his suffocating horror, so he ends up gibbering out some indecipherable Sphinxian riddle while his face contorts as though he's powering through a shotgun blast of scalding diarrhea:
Clearly, the tainted foulness lurking within Sea World has haunted Dennis Quaid's mind and turned him into a spastic maniac. He's like this movie's Jack Torrance, tormented by internal demons brought to horrible life by a prowling unseen evil that only he seems to be aware of. Which means he's probably the one who's really killing everybody. Either that, or he and the shark are working in tandem.
The Fact That You Cannot Watch It in 3D Makes the Whole Movie Look Like a Schizophrenic Delusion
There are several shots in Jaws 3-D that were created with the glory of three-dimensional effects in mind, but since the 3D print of the film has never been available on home video, nobody has actually been able to see those effects for 30 years. Consequently, to watch Jaws 3-D is to be confronted by terrifying images that cannot be explained, like pointing a telescope out into the stars and seeing nothing but eyes and teeth. This is undoubtedly the type of bullshit that has been tap dancing behind Dennis Quaid's eyelids long enough to drive him over the edge.
For example, during the opening credits, a disembodied fish head floats toward the camera, slowly rotating through a swirling cloud of blood with its mouth opening and closing in mute reflex as the last of its motor functions burns out behind its dead eyes.
Seriously, we hit "play" less than two minutes ago, and here comes this heat-seeking incubus.
Again, this is during the opening credits -- the movie hasn't even started yet, and the first thing you see is a massacred fish face hovering toward you like some hideous fucking death talisman. It looks like an undead planetoid coming to whisper a Victorian lullaby in your mother's voice. If you blink rapidly while it is on screen, you will see grainy Kinetoscope footage of your own funeral playing behind your eyelids. It would not look out of place wearing a bear costume and blowing some dude in a ghoul-infested Colorado hotel room. And it hangs there in space for 25 seconds, daring you to look away.
Later, when the shark claims its first victim, we are treated to 10 seconds of a raggedly severed human arm, ripped mid-flex from a dude with permed hair and a mustache, drifting silently through the ocean like the Red October. It's as if the "rejected" bin from an organ harvester's cigarette boat accidentally spilled into the Atlantic and we're being forced to retrieve it.
The climax of Jaws 3-D features a palsy-stricken ultrashark gliding motionlessly toward the camera, which then bursts into a storm of glass that catapults outward in slow motion like shards of a forgotten nightmare. It's like a puppet show interpretation of the exact moment when a person goes insane.
The film's final two minutes are eerily similar to its opening, as we find ourselves staring into the blood-gouting center of a bone shrapnel meat explosion immediately following the sudden and violent death of a fish.
Without the benefit of 3D effects, Jaws 3-D just looks like the screaming echoes of vengeful madness. It's a 90-minute kaleidoscope of pure fucking chaos. Anyone with these images honeycombing through their mind like hungry termites would almost certainly start murdering their co-workers and blame it on a mythological hypershark.
Regardless of whether the film should really be called Dennis Quaid 3-D instead of Jaws 3-D, one thing remains perfectly clear ...
The Entire Movie Is an Allegory for Claustrophobia
To those of you who have read this far and still think Jaws 3-D is just a B-list gimmick picture about a biblically massive shark eating minimum wage workers in Orlando, prepare to have your minds blown straight into outer space -- it is actually a B-list gimmick picture about the intense psychological trauma of claustrophobia. The shark (if it exists), Dennis Quaid, and the body count are incidental -- it's Sea World that's truly killing everyone.
Check it out -- every person who gets killed by the shark is trapped in a small enclosed area. Magnum P.I. is fumbling with the lock on an underwater cage when he gets beefed:
To be fair, he is actually on the outside of the cage making sure the door is secure, but the visual implication is clear -- he's trapped, and the only way out is through the shark's anus.
Later, when Louis Gossett Jr. has to make Sophie's Choice in an underwater death chamber roughly the size of a studio apartment, two-thirds of the room is occupied by a biting shark face. There is literally no place for his doomed nephew to go, so the poor bastard can only sit there like a cocktail olive until the shark finally annihilates him.
The Crocodile Hunter is crushed to death inside the shark's mouth -- a suffocating tomb that closes in around him as he frantically tries to crawl out toward the light.
This is seriously one of the most conceptually disturbing death scenes in the history of film.
Even the shark itself is a massive ocean beast stuck within the entirely-too-small enclosures of Sea World. Every shot you see of it is like some bizarre taphephobic nightmare:
When the shark attacks the Undersea Kingdom exhibit, a submerged network of viewing tunnels loaded with hundreds of tourists, it is unquestionably a result of hulking fish rage brought on by claustrophobic hysteria. The Undersea Kingdom begins to flood and the exits seal up before everyone can get out, locking dozens of people inside a tiny underwater chamber. They can do nothing but watch helplessly as the shark continues its freakout and the room relentlessly fills with seawater.
That's meant to be us, the audience, trapped together in a freezing, lightless theater while this shitty movie drowns us. So really, nobody -- not you, me, Dennis Quaid, or the shark -- is truly safe.
If we're role playing this, I call dibs on the guy in the Panama Jack hat.