Welcome to Jaws Week! When it was announced that Steven Spielberg's Jaws was arriving on Blu-ray, we thought it'd be perfect to dedicate an entire week to the movie that created the summer blockbuster. Every day this week we'll be posting an assortment of really fun features tied to the film, its production, its legacy, its fans, its merchandise and so much more.
We all know that virtually everyone loves Jaws, and here's some cinematic proof of that assertion. Steven Spielberg's film was a huge hit, obviously, and you know what a huge hit means, right? Rip-offs, knockoffs, copycats, retreads and wannabes!
But not all Jaws-inspired movies are cobbled together equally, and these are the flicks that manage to be sort of entertaining in their own right. They're nowhere near as good as Jaws, but then, what copycat movie ever is?
Grizzly (1976) -- Jaws hit theaters on June 20, 1975, and this blatant-yet-adorable rip-off was in theaters by May of 1976. Now that's how you do a knock-off! Also known as Claws, this William Girdler horror flick is pretty much the same as Jaws, only with a bear instead of a shark, but it has some outrageously nasty kills for a PG-rated movie. It also offers Christopher George, Andrew Prine and Richard Jaeckel, and if you know who those actors are, then you've probably already seen Grizzly. They're hardly a Scheider-Shaw-Dreyfuss trio, but in the realm of low-budget knockoff cinema, one takes what one can get.
Day of the Animals (1977) -- Before his untimely death in a 1978 helicopter accident, director William Girdler went back to the Jaws pool once more, only this time he brought a whole menagerie of unhappy beasts. This one reunites Christopher George with Richard Jaeckel, but the cast also includes Leslie Neilsen, Lynda Day George, Andrew Stevens and Susan Backlinie. (She was the first victim in Jaws.) Plot? Try this: a hole in the ozone layer causes all of the animals above a certain elevation to get all crazy and murderous. And of course there are a bunch of campers around. Points for simple silliness, and extra credit to the writers for predicting the "ozone layer" issue, even if they did do it in relatively silly fashion.
Orca (1977) -- This patently absurd but undeniably entertaining De Laurentiis production features Richard Harris as a rather stupid whaler, Charlotte Rampling as a biologist who spews nonsense, Will Sampson as a noble native, and Bo Derek as a pretty woman who gets her leg bitten off. The opening tragedy, in which Harris performs an unintentional abortion on a pregnant whale, mortified an entire generation of young movie watchers, but there's some fun to be had up to and including a wacky finale involving a fluke, a dummy and a glacier. Moral of the story: leave whales alone, especially pregnant ones with angry mates.
Jaws 2 (1978) -- Universal was in this for the money, but give it up to director Jeannot Szwarc for turning in a perfectly serviceable sequel to Jaws -- even if Jaws 2 never comes close to copying the wit, cleverness and intensity of Steven Spielberg's original. Little more than a fancy slasher flick dressed up as a sequel, it's about a group of fun-loving teens who decide to go sailing just as another ravenous shark invades the waters of Amity Island. The premise stretches credibility, but fortunately Roy Scheider is back to lend some legitimacy to this sequel. (Note: Jaws 3 and Jaws 4 are absolutely terrible, even on the rip-off/sequel scale. Don't watch them.)
Alligator (1980) -- Probably the funniest of all the Jaws knockoffs, thanks mainly to the screenplay by a young John Sayles, this flick asserts that if you flush a baby gator down the toilet it could, in theory, feast on genetic waste material and blossom into a beast the size of a stretch limo. The actors, particularly Robert Forster and Henry Silva, bring a welcome sense of humor to the now-familiar proceedings, but director Lewis Teague is still smart enough to throw in some gooey gore and some memorable murders. (I had nightmares about the swimming pool scene as a kid, and I bet some of you did, too.)
Great White (1981) - And, fine, no article on this topic would be complete without at least a mention of the infamous Italian flick Great White, which was so much of a Jaws rip-off that Universal actually sued the distributor, and won the case. True story! Aside from its very brief initial theatrical release, Great White has never officially reappeared in America in any form. (Now you really wanna see it!)