This article contains discussions of gore and death.
In addition to being a watershed moment for the business model of Hollywood, Jaws remains a terrifying top-tier thriller with one of the most frightening aquatic villains of all time: Bruce the Great White Shark. It isn't so much who dies in Jaws, but rather how they die.
The most terrifying aspect of Jaws isn't so much the amount of carnage exacted by Bruce, but rather the victimization of just a few key characters and the amount of heartfelt sympathy Spielberg is able to elicit from the audience before, after, and sometimes during their deaths. Children, teenagers, pet dogs, nobody is safe from Bruce's baleful bite.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
In one of the most heart-pounding opening sequences ever crafted, a carefree beach party at dawn turns into an abject nightmare when skinny-dipper Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) takes a swim in the waters off Amity Island.
With expertly paced tension and suspense, including the shark's underwater POV facing the surface of the water, Chrissie is nipped, poked, and pulled underwater by an unseen aquatic monster. The attack ceases momentarily until Chrissie is then grabbed and violently dragged across the surface, thrashed back and forth in a visceral close-up while screaming for her life. Next to Bruce's final kill, Chrissie's death is the scariest in the film.
While Chrissie's fatality ranks among the two most terrifying, the death of young Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees) in Jaws is the most heartbreaking. The second fatality in the film comes when the venal Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) refuses to close Amity Beach for the 4th of July despite the presence of a great white shark.
When hordes of vacationers hit the water and play in the surf, a sudden attack from Bruce leaves the shore in a state of pandemonium. As all the parents collect their children and bring them back to safe haven, Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fiero) is left with the sad realization that her son was the one attacked by the shark. The death itself, while less graphic, is punctuated by John Williams' mortifying Oscar-winning score and the infamous dolly zoom effect that Spielberg used to show Brody's realization that another shark attack was happening right in front of him.
The next character to die in Jaws is Ben Gardner, a character eaten off-screen by Bruce in the first half of the movie. Suffering a similar fate in the Peter Benchley novel, Gardner's corpse is found by Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) and Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss).
After cutting opening the tiger shark believed to be responsible for the deaths of Chrissie and Alex, the contents of its stomach include zero human remains. Certain another shark is responsible, Brody and Hooper take the latter's boat on a nighttime search and find Ben's half-sunken boat nearby. Upon examining the vessel, Ben's half-chewed body pops up next to a giant shark tooth stuck in the boat's frame. It is, without doubt, one of the all-time greatest movie jump scares.
One character who is in the novel but not the film is Morris Cater, a victim that is eaten by the shark in a brutal fashion. Conversely, the one victim in the film who is not in the novel is the unnamed estuary boater who is viciously attacked by Bruce in front of young Michael.
As a way to increase the psychological stakes for Michael, a serene day at the beach is interrupted when Bruce swims into the pond where Michael and his friends hang out on the water. A man on a smaller boat mere feet away from Michael is attacked by Bruce from behind until a geyser of gore colors the sea blood-red. The shot of a single human leg floating to the bottom of the pond seals it as one of the movie's most gruesome moments.
Saving the best for last, the final human victim in Jaws is none other than intrepid shark hunter extraordinaire, Quint (Robert Shaw). Hellbent on killing the shark himself, Quint fought to the bitter end when his ship, The Orca, began to sink far off the coast of Amity Island.
When the shark lunges its body out of the water and slams down onto the Orca, the vessel is all but destroyed. Left with nowhere to go but slide down into the giant sharp-fanged maw of the Great White, Quint puts up an admirable fight before being chewed in Bruce's mouth, with the camera refusing to look away before his body is dragged underwater.
Although Bruce the Shark succumbs to harpoon wounds in the novel, Spielberg gave the villainous character a far more exciting and incendiary death in the film. After the shark devours Quint on the deck of The Orca, Brody tosses a pressurized air tank into the beast's mouth as the ship begins to sink.
Climbing into the crow's nest lookout tower, Brody first stabs the shark several times in the snout with a spear and the shark swims away to prepare for another attack. As the beast charges toward the sinking ship, Brody fires multiple rounds at the air tank in the shark's mouth and makes contact on the sixth shot. The bloody explosion is immensely satisfying, but it's Brody's one-liner just before he fires the kill shot that makes the moment so immortal.
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