Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: Jaws: The Revenge
Studios never mean to make cheesy movies. In fact, they’re terrified of them. But that fear just as often leads to productions going the way of cheese. And one of the greatest examples of this phenomenon is Universal’s Jaws series. The first is a classic; credited with jump-starting the blockbuster era. The second is a middling movie, but an interesting pilot for a Jaws TV series. And with the final two films in the franchise, Jaws slipped into the territory I like to examine here. One day, I’ll come back and talk about Jaws 3D‘s charms as a cheesy film in the Third Dimension. But this week, I want to focus on one of the earliest films I knew to be cheese: the fourth and final Jaws film.
Ignoring the events of Jaws 3D, Jaws: The Revenge moves the action from Amity Island to the Caribbean. Lorraine Gary reprises her role as Ellen Brody, the wife of Roy Schieder’s Chief Marcus Brody in the first two film. Sadly, she’s now widowed and convinced the sharks Chief Brody killed have inspired all sharks to hunt and kill Brodies. Oddly enough, it is an idea suggested in Jaws 2, but never fleshed out. In The Revenge, it becomes text as the shark kills younger son Sean in the opening moments. The Last Starfighter‘s Lance Guest arrives on the scene as Michael Brody, Ellen’s older son. Seeing her grief-stricken and convinced the sharks are out to get them, he invites her to spend the Christmas holidays with him and his family down in the islands.
Which sounds like the worst possible plan, but he assures Ellen that Great Whites hate the warm waters he swims in every day as part of his research. Oh, yeah, this film expects you to believe Michael would get into the water again after his run in with sharks in the first two films.
Nevertheless, Ellen accepts the invitation as it means spending more time with her granddaughter Thea (Judith Barsi) and the rest of the surviving family. It’s also a chance to meet Hoagie, a pilot with a bad reputation in the islands. He’s played by legendary screen actor Michael Caine, so the charm offensive is on from the word go. I would call this the booziest performance of his career, except that he maintains in his autobiography that he gave up liquor by the late 1970s. Knowing this, its tough to say if it’s a great performance or one Caine’s laziest. He presents Hoagie as pleasantly buzzed while romancing Ellen and making Michael nervous.
In fact, the whole film seems centered on Michael’s fears of sexual liberation as he is confronted with events like his wife throwing her panties at him, his research partner Jake (Mario Van Peebles!) bragging about his sex life, and the possibility that Hoagie is liberating her mother of her clothes. Strangely, it’s not a theme that seems intentional at the writing level, but becomes clear in the final edit of the film. Considering that Jaws films are never about sex — even if Jaws 3D features a very strange euphemism for the act — the sudden emphasis is out of place. If the shark somehow also represented Michael misgivings about the new openness on the islands, it might track. It might also manage to be stupider than what’s actually going on with Ellen Brody.
You, might want to take a few deep breaths before reading the next part.
Ellen Brody has a psychic connection to the shark. She knows when it attacks Michael and can sense its approach at other times. Her suspicion that the family is being hunted turns out to be correct and it’s up to her to stop these shark attacks once and for all.
It might be the strangest place for the Jaws series to go when you consider how plausible the first film feels. I mean, it has some story problems, but Steven Spielberg manages to create an environment so convincing that you look the other way. Jaws: The Revenge director Joseph Sargent — a veteran of film and television with credits including The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974,) Colossus: The Forbin Project, and the episode of Star Trek with Clint Howard — lacks that ability. So when the movie reveals Ellen’s connection to the shark, it hits like a hammer into anvil and thuds just as loudly. It’s patently ridiculous.
But that’s part of its charm. The movie features a number of whopping mistakes and uninspired cliches, including a cheap dream sequence, but never stops the consider how stupid it is to film these scenes. For a movie as cheap and cynical as fourth films tend to be, this thing commits to its dumb ideas. It also just keeps moving, leaving the viewer with a giddy feeling as all the horrible things a studio could do with a Jaws picture are realized.
I noticed this at a fairly young age as it appeared on Superstation WTBS and Los Angeles television KTLA a lot. As it happens, I saw Jaws: The Revenge at least four times before I ever saw the original. And that giddiness kept me coming back. I knew this film was making poor choices, but I was enthralled by them. The shark never looks convincing, the story is a muddle with a silly idea at its core, and then there’s that ending.
And if you care about spoilers on a thirty year old movie, look a away now.
Ellen steals Michael’s research vessel to chase down the shark or sacrifice herself to its bloodlust. When Michael, Hoagie and Jake catch up with her, they devise a plan to make the shark rise from the ocean via some tracking equipment aboard the ship. Jake ends up getting eaten while planting the device in the shark’s maw, but it allows to Michael to force it above the waves; allowing Ellen to ram it with the prow of the ship. Then it explodes.
Well, at least on KTLA it explodes. The theatrical version of the film features the shark merely plummeting to the briny deep with half a boat protruding from its mid-section. But as I saw the KTLA version first, the explosion is my headcanon and it’s one of the most gloriously cheesy things ever put to the screen. Oh, also, Jake lives in the exploding shark version. To paraphrase a William Castle poster, if this sequence doesn’t make you howl with laughter, you might already be dead.
Despite its bevy of poor choices, the film still has the feeling a legitimate production. Scenes are in focus, characters are played with conviction for the most part, and shots cut together in a fairly unobtrusive manner. But few serviceable films offer as many unintentional laughs as Jaws: The Revenge. It’s almost the ur-cheesy movie.
Jaws: The Revenge is available on Netflix streaming with the theatrical ending. The alternate ending is available on its Blu-ray release, which is worth every penny you’ll spend on it.
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