AJ Gregory knows his sharks. Whether he’s laying down monstrous prog/post-metal hymns with Bay Area mainstays Giant Squid (known for such fishy jams as “Sevengill,” “Revolution in the Water” and “Monster in the Creek”), bashing away with his Jaws-themed side project Squalus or slinging paleobiology-themed apparel through his Cotton Crustacean clothing line, the dude is fully immersed in the life aquatic. So, we asked AJ to crawl out of his diving bell and wax poetic about his five favorite shark movies. Here’s what he had to say:
I grew up completely and utterly obsessed with sharks. That has stayed with me to this day, but as a busy-as-hell dad, band dude, blue-collar biologist and freelance illustrator, I don’t exactly sit around and watch Jaws: The Revenge every week like I did when I was 11.
That being said, my main requirement for a good shark movie is simple: whatever thing that’s playing the role of the shark still has to be a thing. Give me a robot shark above anything, because I want the fantasy of a larger-than-possible beast rampaging through bathers. But I’ll certainly take real sharks, too, because that hits home in a different way. Hell, I’ll even take floating dummy sharks that bob up and down. Fuck all that unwatchable, laptop-animated, Syfy Channel bullshit. The only reason to watch a movie like Sharktopus is to see that thing do rad shit and blender beachgoers. So you fast forward through the drivel and get to the kill scenes, but they look like a Sega Dreamcast game. Can’t do it. I’ll watch Orca 10 times before I sit through one of those turds.
And let it be known, I’m like a semi-expert shark nerd pro. I can rattle off Latin names, which order a species belongs to, where you can find them in the world, if they give live birth and so on. But I’m certainly no expert on shark movies, because thanks to Jaws, there are endless knockoffs beyond even the Syfy garbage that I’ll never see. Since the ’70s, people have been trying to cash in on the seemingly easy formula of “dark water full of the unknown.” And no matter how bad these flicks get, they can still prick that little animalistic fight-or-flight button in the back of your brain that makes you go, “Get the fuck out of there! Grab the fucking buoy!”
So, here are five fin flicks that tap that nerve in ways both horrifying and abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous:
5. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Wait a minute, didn’t I just say, “Fuck computer graphics,” especially bad ones? Bad CG scenes aside, have you actually seen the robotic, remote-controlled, million-dollar android sharks they made for this movie? No wonder it lost its ass. Seriously, Google it, they’re AMAZING. Giant, slinky, free-swimming, mouth-snapping, robot monster sharks. Like, you could take these things to Folsom Lake and just ruin lives.
This movie has some fairly good actors, like that dude who played The Punisher after Dolph Lundgren, Samuel L. Jackson, that guy who plays Thor’s buddy in the Marvel movies, the token hot British marine biologist gal and fucking LL COOL J! Sold.
The plot is so ridiculous, it fucking rules. These scientists genetically modify three different sharks to be massive and then take their brain cells or something. The big, smart sharks break loose in a floating building in the middle of the sea; sharks swim down hallways and pop open doors like velociraptors; and pretty much everyone dies. I truly love it. It’s fucking ridiculous, though.
4. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
I wore out my VHS copy of this flick as a kid, and one of the biggest reasons is because the shark is everywhere right off the bat and flaunts his whole ass every chance he gets. I got off on seeing that giant fake shark porn. Also, this came out in 1987, so it wasn’t that old when I was a kid. Maybe it felt more relatable to me compared to the heavy ’70s radness of the first two movies in the franchise. And it kind of felt legit, you know? Ellen Brody is back (played by original actress Lorraine Gary) and hanging out with Michael Caine…and Mario Van Peebles for some reason. Shit is going down in the tropics: Jaws is attacking mini-subs and swimming through shipwrecks.
OK, fuck it, this movie is a turd, but the death scenes are brutal. The opening scene with the guy getting his arm ripped off while the Christmas carolers are singing in the background? Merciless! That scared the living shit out of me and kept me out of pools at night until I was like 16. And what about the banana boat beat down? The fucking shark almost got that little kid! And she still had to watch her big sister or babysitter or whoever was sitting behind her get crunched…slooowwwlllyyy.
3. Open Water (2003)
This movie is hard to watch for all the right reasons. I’m a diver, and I’ve come up from 65 feet down to see my dive boat on the horizon, seemingly a mile away, which is really unnerving for a second. There’s nothing like floating in open water in the ocean, completely exposed. So, I certainly have enough relatable personal experience that I cringe through this movie more than someone who has never strapped on a tank and gone under.
Because of the particular nature of this movie, I could see many people overlooking it, which is too bad. It’s brilliant. Kind of low budget, but only in the sense that it’s more or less the same shot for 90 percent of the film. We watch two divers who have missed their dive boat after surfacing and are truly lost at sea, wearing only their dive gear as the days and nights pass.
Shit gets real when the sharks come around, especially because all the sharks are real. Nothing is superimposed, like the white sharks in The Reef. They’re real sharks and they’re really close…and the movie doesn’t have a happy ending. Many have called it The Blair Witch Project of shark movies.
Honestly, I’ve only seen it once, and that was enough. Not that it’s gory or extremely violent; it’s just an oceanic mind fuck. You’ll be hugging your couch afterward.
2. Jaws 2 (1978)
Ultimately terrifying scenarios on the water have only been done better by my number one pick. Otherwise, this totally bad ass sequel takes the crown. A sailing trip turned total fucking nightmare: kids get devoured; boats turn upside down with people clawing at the slippery hulls, desperately trying to keep their limbs from touching the encroaching water; and all the while, their ravaged boats float just a hundred feet or so from a rock island (I think their anchor is stuck so they can’t paddle over?). Between them and the island is fucking bottomless black water stalked by the Freddie Krueger of all the Jaws sharks—his face melted, bloody and disfigured.
Bring back Roy Scheider as Chief Brody, once again fighting a monster shark, and we’re done. This movie isn’t just legit…it kills. I mean, a fucking shark eats a helicopter and you’re just left thinking, “Holy shit, I didn’t think he could do that!” You’ll never get that reaction out of one of the Snow Sharknadosaur movies.
Actually, I haven’t watched Jaws 2 in years. It may suck.
1. Jaws (1975)
Every post-1975 monster movie worth a bucket of chum owes its existence to Jaws. Hell, there have been movies made about how good it is (The Shark Is Still Working). It’s one of the greatest American movies ever made, and it’s about a giant shark ruthlessly terrorizing an island and three knuckleheads who are willing to battle it on its own turf. Pure gold.
All that’s left to say about Jaws is how it may have personally affected you. When I was a kid, it admittedly made me scared shitless of not just the ocean, but water in general. I saw this movie when I was way too young (somewhere between six and eight), and I grew up hanging out on rivers and lakes in Sacramento, so I was fucked. It took my soul, dragged it through the brine, gave it back and said, “You’ll spend the rest of your life absolutely obsessed and mesmerized by the sea, lakes, rivers, streams, and all the things that live in them. You’re welcome.”
Jaws for life, yo.
Giant Squid’s latest album, Minoans, can be purchased here. See them live on their upcoming tour dates:
June 17: Sacramento, CA*
June 18: Chico, CA*
June 19: Nevada City, CA*
June 20: Salt Lake City, Crucialfest 5
June 24: Newhaven, CT**
June 25: Brooklyn, NY**
June 26: Philadelphia, PA**
June 27: Providence, RI**
*with Aequorea and Shadow Limb
**with Hex Inverter