Happy Independence Day! And thank you, Steven Spielberg.
Now, those two sentiments may not seem to have anything in common on the surface, but when you consider that Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece Jaws must certainly be regarded as the best horror film set in and around the Fourth of July, you get the idea.
Jaws has stood the test of time (approaching its 50th anniversary now) for so many reasons–John Williams’ award-winning, pulse-pounding score; Spielberg’s inventive and distinctive directorial touch; first-rate acting performances–but perhaps the film’s greatest appeal is that it’s scary as hell.
And the Fourth of July theme in Jaws follows through from start to finish–from the opening (and deadly) nighttime swim to the buildup to the holiday festivities on Amity Island to the mayor’s insistence that the beaches remain open for the tourists despite the shark threat. The fireworks erupt in and out of the water.
Film critics of the 1970s were as taken by the summer blockbuster as moviegoers. Roger Ebert gave the movie four stars, calling it “a sensationally effective action picture” and a “scary thriller.” The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael took it one step further, writing that Jaws was “the most cheerfully perverse scare movie ever made.”
Frank Rich praised Spielberg, saying he is “blessed with a talent that is absurdly absent from most American filmmakers,” adding that “it speaks well of his gifts that some of the most frightening sequences in Jaws are those when we don’t even see the shark.”
Judith Crist called the film “exhilarating adventure entertainment of the highest order,” and Rex Reed wrote that Jaws “is a gripping horror film that works beautifully in every department.”
As the years have passed, other accolades have followed. The American Film Institute ranked Jaws second only to Psycho on its list of 100 Most Thrilling Films, and the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the sixth-scariest film ever. Perhaps even more impressive, several years ago, Empire magazine ranked Jaws as the fifth-greatest film in history.
So, if you can pull yourself away from the hot dog-eating contests and fireworks today, try to find Jaws on some streaming service and enjoy it (again) with someone you love. It doesn’t get much better than that.