Control Nathan and Clint: Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Welcome to latest entry in Control Nathan and Clint, the column where we give the 47 living Saints who pledge to the Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast Patreon an opportunity to choose between two impossibly dire-looking films Clint and I must watch and then talk about. Since The Meg is the Scalding Hot Take for the episode I let y’all (and by “y’all” I mean “a very tiny but immensely appreciated subset of you all”) choose between Sharknado: the 4th Awakens, the fourth entry in the Peabody and Nobel Prize winning film series of docudramas, and 1987’s disastrous, franchise-killing Jaws: the Revenge.
Y’all chose Jaws: the Revenge, thereby sparing me from ever having to experience the Sharknado phenomenon, something I’m grateful for even as I remain morbidly curious about the weather-and-shark-based franchise. As bad as Sharknado: the 4th Awakens promises to be, and good Lord does it promise to be abysmal, in both a tongue-in-cheek and also very real fashion, I can’t imagine it being more ridiculous than Jaws: the Revenge, an official third sequel to one of the greatest suspense thrillers of all time.
Before they realized that there is always a fortune to be made in limply rehashing past successes, David Brown and Richard Zanuck, the producers of Jaws, contemplating making the second sequel to Jaws a spoof to be written by a young John Hughes and possibly directed by Joe Dante, who proved his chops with water-based horror-comedy with his direction of the sly, overachieving cheapie Piranha.
The studio ultimately opted to go in a more straightforward, less adventurous direction but I cannot imagine the premise for the abandoned spoof version of Jaws 3 being any more ridiculous or hilarious than the actual conceit for Jaws: the Revenge.
As Jaws: the Revenge opens Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) is grieving the death of husband Martin (Roy Scheider, who had the solid judgment to want to have nothing to do with the film). Officially Martin died of a heart attack but Ellen knows that it was the stress and pressure of dealing with sharks what put him in an early grave as directly as if he’d been chomped in half by one of those infernal swimming murder machines.
Like all good matriarchs, Ellen is primarily concerned with protecting her family from the sharks that want to murder them as tardy, watery vengeance. So when her youngest son, an Amity policeman, is killed by a Great White shark she knows that this is just the latest move in a decades-long psychological chess game with the family of the shark she holds responsible for her husband's death
Ellen understandably wants to avoid the water she associates with her son’s violent death and her husband’s heart attack. She really, really does not want her family to fuck around with sharks out of a fierce conviction that she and her entire brood ended up high up on a murderous shark’s shit list. In a movie that was not itself completely insane, that would be seen as clear-cut proof of mental illness. In Jaws: the Revenge, however, it turns out that she’s right: a shark does want her dead, and is aggressive about making that a reality, to an absurd, comic degree.
“I don’t want anyone in my family near any water!” Ellen requests understandably, apparently meaning no baths or showers either.
Ellen and water and all aquatic creatures have bad blood. They have a history. They have beef.
Ellen does everything she can to keep her family from getting eaten by a shark with a vendetta. Her surviving son, Michael (Lance Guest) pursues a markedly different strategy. As a marine biologist, he does everything he can to put his family in harm’s way and maximize their chances of getting murdered by a shark.
It’s as if Ellen has a grudge against all of the oceans of the world and all the creatures contained within but that Michael bastard is cheating on her with the sea. I wish the movie had made this betrayal more explicit and literal by having Michael conduct a romantic relationship with a sexy lady shark that inconveniently also happens to be hunting his family.
Michael’s insistence on studying sharks already feels like a weird form of cheating. Why not amp up the ridiculousness with a scene where Michael nervously explains to his mother that, yes, he initially was very angry at this particular shark for murdering his brother but the more time they spent together, the more they fell in love. Sure, Ellen would probably be shocked, and, initially very angry, since she really seems to have a bee in her bonnet about sharks killing her family but I’d like to think that if she really gave the lady shark a chance she’d come around and give her blessing to her son marrying a shark.
Yes, that’s right. In Jaws: the Revenge a freakishly intelligent shark decides to do what the birdies do and travels South for the winter, and for the same reason our fine feathered friends migrate annually: to hunt down and personally murder the traumatized widow of a police chief that murdered someone close to them.
I don’t know why people find Jaws: the Revenge so implausible. Clearly the shark is so smart and so savvy that he made a small fortune in stock market speculation and was able to charter a private plane to the islands so that he can enact tardy revenge.
You know how they say that the business world is full of sharks, cold-blooded predators who will do anything to get ahead, or even just survive? Let’s just say that sometimes they’re being very literal. Honestly, a Jaws sequel where a super-intelligent shark becomes a billionaire through savvy investments would be less ridiculous and more realistic than what they came up with.
In the Bahamas we meet Hoagie (Michael Caine), an adventurer, gambler, pilot and womanizer who immediately takes a liking to Ellen. Hoagie, who rumor has it is descended from the Earl of Sandwich himself, is a real GILF-hunter. Ellen seems flattered and intrigued by the dashing pilot’s advances. He’s the only thing in her life that makes her forget that she’s doomed to be eaten by the shark that killed her sonny boy.
Mario Van Peebles costars as Jake, Michael’s comic relief sidekick and partner in marine biology. He’s supposed to be a brilliant scientist on the verge of getting his PhD but he comes off instead like a “Jamaican me Crazy!” novelty tee-shirt come to life who keeps pushing his reluctant partner to really engage with the shark that traveled from New England solely to murder them in ways that make it exceedingly likely that the shark will realize his ambitions.
Early in the film Jake points out the many reasons why Jaws: The Revenge's premise is impossible. For starters, sharks do not like tropical water. They do not track people and they most assuredly do not have GPS-like tracking systems in their brains that allow them to track their prey anywhere in the Western hemisphere.
Yes, the movie takes special care to point out why it would be absolutely impossible for a New England shark to follow a family over a journey of thousands of miles specifically to murder several members of the same family, then expects us to believe that, actually, it would be possible for a New England shark to follow a family over a journey of thousands of miles specifically to murder several members of the same family. Jaws: the Revenge considerately points out the many, many holes in its plot, then implores us to ignore them.
To paraphrase the Oscar Wilde line on the death of Little Nell, one must have a heart of stone to react to the death of Sean Brody and his mother’s grief without laughing. When she heaves with sobs over all of the damage and bloodshed sharks have done to her family we quake with nervous laughter.
In the Jaws: The Revenge novelization the shark’s uncanny ability to hunt down his prey over a period of thousands of miles is attributed to the shark’s connection to a voodoo witch doctor with a grudge against the Brodys using it as a vessel for revenge. This helps explain why Ellen spends so much of the film wrestling psychologically with the horrific, traumatic role sharks played in her past and her ferocious conviction that if she’s not careful they’ll play a big role in her future as well.
The voodoo subplot is, to borrow a technical term, dumb as fuck. But at least voodoo qualifies as an explanation for the shark’s behavior. It’s an incredibly shitty, ridiculous, insulting explanation but at least it’s an explanation. Without it, Jaws: the Revenge feels unhinged and insane, a movie that’s borderline avant-garde in its overwhelming contempt for realism and plausibility.
This is a film where a woman who has spent the whole film trying not to get killed by a shark with seemingly magical, superhuman abilities closes it by confronting the shark in a boat by herself, angrily taunting the lower life form, “Come and get me, you son of a bitch!”
Jaws: the Revenge is so astonishingly convoluted that it would have made more sense if the film had ended with the camera pulling back to reveal that Ellen is in a straightjacket in a mental hospital and is only now waking up from what has apparently been a film-long nightmare, before turning to the camera and saying, “Wow! This was all just the intense nightmare of a woman driven mad by her hatred of sharks! And even as the nightmare of a crazy woman, it was still insultingly, impossibly far-fetched and preposterous!”
The Jaws series did indeed produce at least one comedy in Jaws: the Revenge but the laughs are entirely accidental.
You know how I make my living: I kill sharks and I have a Patreon page so if you consider donating as little as a dollar a month over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it'd be