Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

So many people use Jaws: The Revenge as an instantly recognizable reference point for bad movies. If you watch any of those top ten worst films lists on YouTube, inevitably it’s right there on the top of every one of them. But can it really be that bad of a movie? 

It’s certainly made by people with talent. Producer/director Joseph Sargent won four Emmys throughout his storied career, as well as helming such well-thought of movies like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The Night That Panicked America, Nightmares, MacArthur and Colossus: The Forbin Project. He even won his the Directors Guild of America Award for The Marcus-Nelson Murders, the TV movie pilot for Kojak. In fact, he still leads all DGA members for most nominations for the TV movie category.

Sir Michael Caine is certainly a talented actor. He’s been nominated for an Academy Award in every decade from the 1960s to 2000s, winning two for Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules, with his performance in Educating Rita earning him the BAFTA and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. 

So what happened? How can a movie — that one assumes was made with good intentions — turn out to be the touchstone for what constitutes a bomb?

In interviews before the film was even released, Sargent referred to it as “a ticking bomb waiting to go off” and noting that MCA Inc. President — and husband of star Lorraine Gary — Sid Sheinberg “expects a miracle.” There was no script when Sargent was asked to direct. Years later, he’d say that the movie was made out of desperation and that he tried a mystical take in an attempt to give audiences “something interesting enough to sit through.”

Even though this film was to center on Gray’s Ellen Brody character, Roy Scheider was offered a cameo where his Martin Brody character, rather than Sean Brody, would have been killed by the shark in the beginning. This was a wise choice to avoid this opening — murdering the center of the first two films would have put such a bad taste in audiences’ mouths that they may have hated this movie even more than they already did. To his credit, Scheider said, “”Satan himself could not get me to do Jaws Part 4.

Lee Fierro also returned as Mrs. Kintner, the mother of Alex in Jaws, along with Amity Town Council member Mrs. Taft, who is again played by Fritzi Jane Courtney. Amity Selectman Mr. Posner (Cyprian R. Dube) is now the mayor, probably because the actor who played Larry Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) is dead.

Otherwise, forget all you knew about Jaws and the previous sequels. Mike no longer works for SeaWorld and he’s no longer played by Dennis Quaid. Instead, Halloween 2 hunk Lance Guest fills in. Following the heart attack death of her husband and great white murder of her son Sean — to the strains of holiday carols no less — Ellen Brody forgets all that she knew as well and leaves for the Bahamas. 

There, she falls for Hoagie (Caine), who is a degenerate gambler by night and a pilot by day, but we all know that he runs cocaine. It’s just never said, but we can read between the lines that he’s done some shady things. In fact, scenes involving him being a smuggler were shot, then deleted during post-production, because it took away from the shark scenes.

Right now, Hoagie is having a September September romance with Ellen, trying to get her to forget the past — keep in my her husband died a few months ago and her son a few days hence — with some airplane riding, slow dancing and carnival attending.

Some moments of the film definitely make me understand why people dislike it so — the sepia toned callbacks to the first film, Mario Van Peebles’ forced accent, a shark that is somehow able to swim from an island in New York to the Bahamas in three days, which means he’d had to swim at nearly its full speed of 25 mph non-stop to make it. I mean, sharks never sleep, but that’s ridiculous. 

Also, when you watch the ending, you may notice that the shark roars. Underwater, no less. The sound effects guy thought that this was so stupid that he used a sound effect from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. 

Speaking of the ending, the one that gets aired on TV and home video isn’t the original. When the film was first released, it ended with JJakebeing devoured, Ellen ramming the shark with Mike’s boat and the shark’s death throes nearly killing everyone. Audiences hated that, so the ending with her stabbing the shark with the bow of the ship was added. Because they didn’t have much budget left, the film ends with the footage of the dying shark from the original.

These reshoots kept Caine from accepting his Oscar. Imagine that.

It could have been much worse. Or better, if you’re someone like me that loves movies packed with inanity and insanity in equal measure. 

That’s because in the novelization of the film by Hank Searls, Hoagie is a government agent transporting laundered money. Jake is killed by the shark. And the reason for all this mayhem is because a voodoo witch doctor has a score to settle with the Brody family — which also explains, I guess, why Ellen and the shark have a psychic connection. 

While the movie ignores the third film, the book combines all the movies with the Peter Benchley novel, making a reference to Ellen’s affair with Matt Hooper that is eliminated from the Spielberg-directed original film. 

In truth, I like this movie. It’s an interesting take on how years of dealing with shark-related mayhem takes its toll on the various characters’ lives. And I really enjoyed how Michael and Carla’s marriage is depicted; she initiates lovemaking as much as him and it just seems honest and real. 

Let’s face it. I’ve seen plenty of worse movies than this one. If there’s any tragedy to this movie, it’s that the actress who played Thea — Judith Barsi — died not long after it was released, as she and her mother were the victims of a murder/suicide at the hands of her father. Lance Guest served as a pallbearer at her funeral.

Perhaps the best review of the film comes from Sir Michael Caine himself, who said, “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific. Won an Oscar, built a house, and had a great holiday. Not bad for a flop movie.”

This article originally appeared in Drive-In Asylum Special Issue #4, which you can buy here.

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