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  • Rev Horror

Jaws 2

Dir. Jeannot Szwarc (1978)

Another monstrous shark begins tormenting the shores of Amity Island.

Boy, there's a big difference between Steven Spielberg and Jeannot Szwarc (who I had to look up to even know who he was). Primarily known for directing a ton of different television episodes, Szwarc was tapped to direct the sequel to one of the best and most beloved American movies of all time despite having a name that sounds like you're choking when you try to pronounce it. Despite the absence of the original's legendary director, Jaws 2 returns many of its most well-known actors: Roy Scheider and Lorraine Gray return as Sherriff Brody and his wife Ellen, and Murray Hamilton is back as Mayor Vaughn. It's difficult for me to imagine that Vaughn would win re-election after the debacle of the 1975 July 4th holiday weekend, but after seeing what's going on in today's political world, maybe that was one of the more realistic parts of Jaws 2. If you can carry almost fifty percent of the vote after trying to overthrow the government, I guess a few dead children on your beach is par for the course.

When a couple of divers go missing and a killer whale's half-eaten body is found on the shore, a small vacation town finds itself in turmoil. A different shark has reappeared off the coast of Amity Island, putting the town's visitors in danger and once again giving Sheriff Brody a major problem on his hands. The shark has chosen to begin his assault immediately after the opening of a new hotel on the island, perhaps timing his appearance through careful monitoring of new listings on Expedia. A lesson in not learning your lesson the first damn time, Mayor Vaughn again tries to hide the carnage to avoid scaring away tourists, and Brody looks to confirm his suspicions of another shark as quietly as he can. Evil developer Peterson (Joseph Mascolo) is having none of this, eventually ousting Brody from his position as sheriff and passing the job to his deputy. The influx of visitors creates another watery buffet line, and it's up to ex-Sheriff Brody and his family to stop the shark before it ruins another summer season.

Seen here, ruining the summer season.

Horror sequels are rarely a bad idea, for a couple of different reasons. First, horror is profitable, and sequels enable a movie studio to make exponentially more money based off of the success of a single movie. What's better than money? Why, more money of course. In fact, Jaws 2 was the most profitable horror movie sequel until Hannibal in 2001, not a bad take for a film that several of its stars considered to be terrible. Second, it's very rare that a horror movie that spawns sequels is that good in its own right. Most horror films that start franchises are beloved, but they're usually not all that great as standalone films. The unfortunate thing about Jaws 2 is that its predecessor isn't just good, it's great. Creating a sequel to one of the best films ever made is a daunting task, and there wasn't much that writers Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler or director Jeannot Szwarc could do to live up to it. They certainly try, however, and Jaws 2 is still an excellent movie despite the legacy from whence it came.

There's a lot missing from Jaws 2 that made the original so special. A lot of the tension is cut because you're expecting events to unfold as they do, and Robert Shaw's Quint doesn't make an appearance on account of being bitten in half in the first film. The film still has the two best things about the original, however: a rousing score by John Williams, the best to ever do it, and a big-ass shark. And let's be honest, nobody is watching this movie for its Oscar appeal. We wanna see a lot of shark carnage, and there certainly is that. It's still got that 70's aesthetic of the original as well, giving the film a lot of charm that its further sequels are lacking. It's a very well-made film, and while it didn't have a prayer of living up to the original, it's a natural fit as a sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made.

In fact, I would posit that Jaws 2 doesn't get nearly as much credit as it deserves simply because of the gargantuan success of the previous film. The movie's tagline, "just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water," is often attributed to Jaws, and Szwarc's decision to keep the shark mostly hidden until three quarters of the way through the film was a smart one, upping the tension and suspense in a film that by all rights should have none. We know there's a shark, we know it's going to eat people, but Szwarc uses a lot of the tricks Spielberg did in the original to keep his audience guessing exactly when, where, and most importantly, how the shark will attack. Scheider is almost as good in this one as he was in Jaws, and some of the shark attacks in this film are almost as iconic as the ones in the original.

Jaws 2 is better than average, and it contains enough exposition to create a readable story even for audience members who somehow missed the original. It lacks some of the scare factor, it's ending is foreshadowed way early in the film, and there's clearly something missing without Spielberg behind the camera. Nevertheless, it's an excellent sequel that carries through on the same themes of incompetent governments and the evils of capitalism from the original, and the last act of the film really ratchets up the violence and shark-fueled terror. The shark-POV will never get old, and 2 uses the unique camera view almost as well as the first. While the film suffers greatly as a comparison to the original, it's a helluva sequel and still very much a good watch.

Who this movie is for: Shark movie fans, Jaws lovers, Terrible politicians

Bottom line: Jaws 2 is an underrated sequel to the original, and it's a damn good film in its own right. It lacks a lot of what made Jaws one of the best of all time, but it's still one of the better sequels in horror history. Scheider is great as always and there are some iconic moments of shark mayhem, really the most you could hope to ask of a followup to a legend. It's a great shark movie, it's wholly representative of the era in which it was made, and it's a great horror sequel that's worth checking out if you haven't seen it before. July 4th is for shark movies, and this is one of the best.

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