Bold Horror Statement:
Jaws 2 is Slasher Classic
If I were smarter, I would have themed this week as Shark Week in its lead-up to The Meg's release on Friday. But I'm new to this and so what you're getting, instead, is four days of Shark Stuff. I began by watching (and being tormented by) The Last Shark. Yesterday, I posted My Top Five Favorite Shark Movies that Aren't Jaws. Tomorrow, I'll post my review of The Meg. But, today, I take a look at Jaws 2.
I'd always thought Jaws 2 was a surprisingly good sequel. No, it will never compete with the original classic. How could it? When your predecessor single-handedly created the summer blockbuster, you don't have anywhere to go but down. And yet. And yet. Jaws 2 flipped the script. Whereas the first movie was an action-adventure flick with tinges of horror, Jaws 2 became a completely different subgenre.
It became a slasher.
I always thought I was alone in this assessment. Over time I heard a few others mention it, but it wasn't until Andrew Dries mentioned it both in podcast form and on twitter that I realized maybe I was onto something. Maybe I should investigate the movie more carefully and see if it truly was a slasher, based on the rules of the subgenre.
In Jaws, the main characters were an old grizzled fisherman, a police chief and a marine biologist. None of them are very young and even the youngest, Hooper, is probably in his thirties. They're adults and relatively sexless. Contrast this with the cast of Jaws 2. While Ellen and Martin Brody are still relevant and Chief Brody is ostensibly the main character, the focus shifts primarily to a familiar trope: Teens in danger.
The cast also represents characters that will become tropes:
You have the cutie patootie Mike Brody, who has that popular 70s haircut to make me swoon.
The Miss Amity Tina who's blonde and immediately sexualized.
A couple nerds who are looking to score above their social station.
A slightly overweight (for film standards) dude named Andy, who makes quips and, if this weren't a PG movie, would have smoked marijuana.
Let's not forget Tina's ship is literally named Tina's Joy; euphemism, much?
The Adults are Useless + The Kooky Old Man
Another motif in slasher movies are that the teens are on their own. Adults in slashers are completely useless. Jaws 2 mostly fits this theme. The adults should be able to keep their kids safe and completely fail, time and time again. The Mayor doesn't shut down the beaches. The adults who come to rescue them end up eaten. The police are pretty much useless; outside of Chief Brody, the cops don't do anything, except cart Mike to safety at one point. Even Chief Brody is minimized, which leads to the next point.
Chief Brody kind of becomes the kooky old man, warning the teenagers away in a lot of slasher movies (and ruthlessly satirized in Cabin in the Woods). Literally no one in Jaws 2 believes him. He's even removed from duty because he adamantly believes there's another shark. At his lowest point, he screams for everyone to get out of the water and runs down the beach like a madman. He ends up emptying his pistol into what ends up being a school of bluefish. And the town looks on him, in fear, confusion and pity. Here's a man who's lost it, because of the previous events. Chief Brody slowly becomes that kooky old man that no one listens to, but who typically warns people of their eventual demise.
The Teenager's Crime
Now that we've looked at the cast, let's look at the teenagers' activities. Everyone knows that if you are a teenager and you do inappropriate things, you're going to get punished in a slasher. Since the genre has consistently been reviled by conservatives, it's ironic just how conservative the genre truly is. But I digress. Again, because Jaws 2 is rated PG, the teen's misdemeanors are relatively trivial. But you can't tell me that Tina and her boo weren't trying to get it on, on their boat. I don't think that was just Coke in that cup.
But really, the teens broke the Police Chief's command and go out in the water, after he expressly forbid his kids to. As such, they have to answer to a crazed shark.
Think of the best slashers. Whether they be Halloween, later Friday the 13ths, A Nightmare on Elm Street or Scream, they all have one thing in common: villains with memorable faces and/or masks. In a lot of movies, the killer will wear a mask, not just to hide their identity but to menace and terrify. So, it's only fitting that in Jaws 2, the shark is visciously scarred in a fiery explosion, leaving it a gnarly burn/scar. It immediately identifies this shark are more terrifying than the original; it also indicates that the monster may be unstoppable. Which leads to the next point.
The Impacable and Potentially Supernatural Killer
Slashers blur fantasy and reality. Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers all seem invincible. Bullets don't stop them. They can be hacked apart, burned (see above), shot...you name it, and they'll keep coming. They also can appear without warning and the rules of time don't apply. So, too, can the shark just show up. In typical slasher fashion, Jaws 2 opens with two divers taking a picture of the remains of the Orca. Without warning, the shark slams into frame, kills them and then disappears, leaving only their camera as evidence.
This continues through the film, with the shark showing up where it's least expected or coming from a direction that its victims aren't expecting. Additionally, incredible and supernatural feats of strength are often exhibited, typically in spectacular fashion. This gif below illustrates both of these themes:
If the shark in Jaws can take on a boat, this scarred shark can instantly appear, take on a helicopter, demolish it and kill the human inside. Take that, Jason.
Revenge is Often the Motive
Mrs. Voorhees wants revenge on campers, for the death of her son. Freddy Krueger is killed by the parents of his future victims. Billy Loomis wants revenge for his family being torn apart. The shark in Jaws 2 wants revenge for the death in Jaws.
What? Don't believe me?
You might think this one a stretch, when talking about Jaws 2, but hear me out. Early in the movie, after an Orca carcass washes up on shore, torn to pieces, Chief Brody knows what caused it, even if others want to dismiss it. He talks to the marine biologist and has the most interesting conversation:
Brody: I know that dolphins communicate. I mean, they send signals. You don't think that if a shark was destroyed, that another shark could, could come and--
Dr. Elkins: Sharks don't take things personally, Mr. Brody.
But what if they do, in Cinema Land? While it won't be until Jaws: The Revenge that the franchise completely embraces this lunacy, all four movies feature members of the Brody family being stalked by a killer shark. Clearly, whether they want to admit it or not, revenge is on the minds of the sharks in the sequels.
Of course, there's plenty more minute details. Little things I've missed or forgot to include, but really I think the above proves that Jaws 2 should be a slasher. I'll leave you with the thought that this film, which has a huge portion of what would become subgenre tropes, came out four months before John Carpenter's Halloween.
So, really, which movie was the true pioneer?