The Plagiarists: Exploring the good, bad and ugly of the ‘Jaws’ ripoffs
Have you read the Sharkometer? From the shockingly unwatchable to ridiculously good, the Sharkometer series dissects every shark movie according to the GOAT Jaws.
I have a confession: I think most shark movies are pretty bad!! They’re often poorly written, overly reliant on bad CGI or just downright boring. Does this stop me from watching them? Getting my hopes up? Crafting an entire series based on reevaluating and exploring them? Certainly, not. But it has obliterated my love for and joy of watching them right now and dampened my ability to approach them from that place of love and joy. And since we’re trying to dig our way out of the darkness and not settle in for another never-ending-two-weeks-at-a-time stay, we’re switching it up.
The Sharkometer series came from the idea that Jaws cast one of the biggest movie shadows ever and can’t be beat: it’s our judge, the den mother shark movie. This success spawned two distinct paths: (1) sequels, blockbusters, low-budget realism, ripoffs and more all centred around that one frightening creature, the shark, and (2) creatures features of a different animal, or at least with a different animal, and that’s where we’re going to go.
They’re known as the Jaws ripoffs, the Bastard Pups of Jaws, the knockoffs. We’ll just call them The Plagiarists. Those creature features that popped up right after Jaws (or slightly further down the road) and were immediately dubbed exploiters, capitalizing on the success of Jaws (how dare they!).
What we’re going to figure out is if that’s actually true: were these movies, the Piranhas, Barracudas, Alligators of the film world, just carbon copy reprints with a different beast or were they trying to do something different in a more creature feature friendly world? Let’s cue up a new matrix and find out.
After probably too much research (I tend to procrastinate), I’ve confined our first entries to the most-often cited offenders: Orca, Grizzly, Day of the Animals, Barracuda, Tentacles, Alligator, Piranha, and one last shark one The Last Shark because we just had to.
These movies tend to come up when you google “Jaws knockoffs” or “Jaws ripoffs” (which I did… a lot), do not centre around a shark (with the exception of The Last Shark ,obvi) and were released around 1975 when Jaws premiered.
The Plagiarists Review Matrix
This new series demands a new rubric, so here it is! As always, it is a mix of heavy research and extreme bias, but this time dissecting the specific components, as opposed to the methods, that make Jaws, Jaws and seeing if other movies replicate the success. Here’s our category breakdown:
1. Creature Featured: What’s the new beast?
Creature features function on two levels: take an already scary animal or entrenched fear and exploit it (Arachnophobia) or take an outlier and make it act strange (Slugs). Shark movies exist in the middle.
Sharks have always stoked fear in humans because of actual, real attacks and, well, they look really scary! Jaws took that fear, ratcheted it up to an untenable degree and has since fueled a shark-fear-mongering industrial complex run on mass hysteria.
Our interests lie elsewhere. We’ll explore the animal replacement, it’s real-life reputation, movie representation and ask: is it as scary? After all, we demonize the shark, but we humanize other animals.
Value rating: 10 shark teeth
2. Dead Girls: Does a woman die first? (Bonus points if it’s the opening shot!)
It’s one of the most famous movie scenes ever: Chrissie gets violently jerked around the surface by the shark while her drunken would-be lover hopelessly passes out on the beach in his unbuckled pants.
The shot is incredible. The crutch of killing off a woman is not. So, who’s gonna die first?
Value rating: 1 part of jean shorts
3. Primal Score: Is there John Williams-style music?
One enormous gaping hole in the Sharkometer review matrix is the lack of music category. We didn’t tackle it for two very important reasons: (1) the John Williams score is so iconic that not much can stack up against it and (2) I forgot.
So for that egregious error, here’s a little treat: one of the most shocking things to discover in these movies is how good the scores are. Maybe it’s a ripoff score, maybe it’s the unintended influence of Williams. Either way, composers be composin’.
Value rating: 6 staccato notes
4. Fake news!: Does a mayor want to cover everything up? For tourism?? Because of the economy???
Welp, in the biggest life imitating art scenario in the history of the world, not only is a political leader sacrificing human life for ThE eCoNoMy a real big red flag for a souless, corrupt, idiotic, evil person, the choice tends to end up with some pretty predictable, yet unfavourable results like, oh I dunno, more senseless and preventable human death. *stares at camera*
Value rating: 2 crumbled bills
5. Think of the Children!: Does a kid die to up the severity and get everyone to take the beast seriously?
Who can forget Mrs. Kintner — draped in her mourning blacks, shaking with grief — slowly walking up to Chief Brody on a crowded pier as people gleefully celebrate catching the wrong shark and slapping and blaming him for the death of her son and then collapsing into tears?
It is a cold, devastating moment juxtaposed against the wrongful joy happening on the pier around her that shocks everyone in Amity and outside the screen to wake up and take this thing seriously.
Put another way, as Michael Jordan said, fuck them kids.
Value rating: 1 inflatable raft
6. Like a Doll’s Eyes: Is there a Quint speech?
Quint. Our beautiful anti-hero whose stubborn masculinity and Ahabian pursuit ultimately kills him. While not totally surprising, it is tragic nonetheless to see our flawed captain go down with not his ship, but in the jaws of his greatest fear.
Eleven hundred men went into the water that day; three hundred and sixteen came out and he was one of them. Decades later, we heard his pain. We felt his terror. We humanized him and his demons. We saw him meet his end. A ghost story that haunts us to this day. Can anything even come close?
Value rating: 5 scratching nails on a blackboard
7. Style Check: Are the outfits sick?
The unsung hero of Jaws is the costume and wardrobe department. The style is outta control in this movie! The jean jackets. The high-waisted pants. The mock neck long sleeves. The short shorts! Bellissimo!
Value rating: 8 tinted eyeglasses
8. It ‘Sploded: How do they kill it?
How do you defeat a relentless killing machine? You blow it up of course! Is there another way? We’ll find out.
Value rating: 3 yellow barrels
9. Bonus!: When to watch?!
Some say I’m sadistic; others think I’m brilliant. Tomato, tomato. (You read them differently, didn’t you?) One thing I love doing is pairing a creature feature with a totally inappropriate (re: the most appropriate) time to watch. Going fishing? Time to watch Psycho Pike. How about a lake trip? Piranha 3D it is. You catch my drift.
The Verdict: Is this movie actually plagiarized?
Spoiler alert: not all of them are! Some are merely overtaken by Jaws’ shadow, some are definitely, definitely ripping off Jaws and some are in between. All offer something, though sometimes it feels like nothing, but we’re going to dig deep into their commitment and effort that pushes through even though these movies are “just ripoffs”.
Value rating: 7 wrongfully killed tiger sharks
And that’s it! No disclaimers this time, just full throttle fun. Read through The Plagiarists series published every time I have something ready (hopefully a little quicker pace than last year) and just relax and enjoy and comment if you like, but don’t be that guy that went through my blogs and commented every time he saw an error. I guess that’s a disclaimer: there’s probably typos and I don’t care. It’s a blog.
Buckle up! These movies are pretty batshit in so many ways. Let’s have some fun!
First up (it’s almost ready): The traumatizing grief of Orca