The Movies Made Me Do It: Confessions of a Film Actor (Issue #4)

Russell Bradley Fenton
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)
5 min readNov 15, 2020
“Jaws” by inky is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

JAWS THE REVENGE, 1987, PG-13 — It was the first Jaws movie I’d ever seen. The title alone got me. Something with teeth. And an attitude. I had no idea what a sequel was. Or a film series. But the things that sharks did in this movie, to me, felt 100% true. Because I was six. And at that age, just when you’re beginning to understand things like life, death and danger, here comes a film, full of shock and terror, showing:

•A shark that eats not one, but two boats.
•A shark that stands on its tail and roars like a lion.
•A shark that swims from New England to the Bahamas in just 48 hours.
•A shark that invades your dreams, not once, but twice.
•A shark that eats cops.
•A shark that eats banana boats. With kids on them.
•A shark that hunts you in sunken ships.
•A shark that eats planes.
•A shark that won’t eat Michael Caine.
•A shark that is pretty much The Boogeyman. Or Liam Neeson. No matter how far you run (or swim, or sail), it will find you. And it will kill you.

Did I think, for one second, this was preposterous? No. Not even the slightest bit? Not at all. Was there somewhat of a moderate interest in this horror film about a pissed off shark? Yes. Did it spur me to discover the rest of the series, with different sharks each time around? You’re still reading this.

I was living at the time on Nantucket Island, right next door to Martha’s Vineyard, where most of the series was shot. It was my first real exposure to the ocean, a scary, formidable place that involved holding your breath and not seeing whatever swam below you. So, of course, a movie like this came along on cable TV and was instantly relatable.

It didn’t matter that others told me the movie was dumb. At that age, I still believed strongly in my tastes and remained totally unaware that movies could be good or bad. To my mind, a movie simply was. I had no right to judge it and only to accept it or switch back to Looney Tunes. Even today, I can think of worse films in quality, direction, acting, and execution. It’s most likely Jaws the Revenge became the scapegoat of bad movies due to being tied to such a popular series.

So let’s start with the good:

•The music. It’s in every Jaws film, but listening to the score for the first time ever just floored me. It’s like a heartbeat. It defines tension. And it sticks with you, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, making even a bad monster movie watchable.

Several sequence standouts — spoilers below:

•The opening with a young cop getting munched offshore in the dark night water, while a choir singing carols on the beach drown out his screams. Right there, it was quickly established that people can die around the holidays. And the police can’t protect you because they’re dead already.

•The banana boat attack, caught in slo-mo, with all the kids bouncing in terror (or excitement, it’s hard to tell), while the shark’s head pops up, mouth agape, teeth bared, gliding up like a rubber inflatable, only to finally chomp on the kids’ chaperone, T-Rex style. Blood everywhere. And I have never rode a banana boat since.

•The underwater chase in a sunken ship, basically a haunted house of flooded hallways and impossible-to-open doors, and a hungry shark that knows the schematic layout of this boat’s dimensions, AND is capable of swimming through the wreck to pursue the hero diver who can’t catch a break. Because, as you know by now, this shark wants revenge.

•The ending. You don’t really know what happens. It’s very abrupt and suddenly we see the survivors gearing up for a plane flight and you’re like, uh what? It feels like the production ran out of money or had major issues with filming a proper ending. Bottom line, the shark doesn’t make it, but neither does the movie. It just ends. You were waiting the whole time for the big revenge climax to really pay off, only to see the credits suddenly roll. This no doubt pissed off every fan and moviegoer in 1987, marking the end of the Jaws saga.

According to certain production notes on the film, it was originally conceived that Jaws (the shark) was possessed by a voodoo witch doctor to take revenge on the Brodys (the hero family). Interesting, despite being a huge left turn from its predecessors. But why voodoo? Perhaps that was something too avant-garde and thus dropped and simply streamlined as ‘revenge’ for the actual movie. Whatever the reasons, it was reportedly a fast production, except for actor Michael Caine, who couldn’t accept his Oscar that year for best supporting actor. In an autobiography, he joked how the film was, by all accounts, terrible, but the house it bought him was terrific.

Jaws the Revenge taught me early on the power of movies, even in their most absurd and outrageous ways. That sharks will eat you. And hold grudges. And they’re incredibly smart, with very special skills, like Liam Neeson. It wants to be the ultimate Jaws entry, since the shark competes heavily for screen time with the actors. And the film’s tagline “This time, it’s personal,” declares that the first three films were just a warm-up. With a little more chutzpah, they could have even tried, “It’s not personal…it’s strictly business.”

I was once a proud owner of the original Jaws on VHS, sharing the film with friends and family growing up. It certainly got me interested in acting and filmmaking. It definitely got me interested in horror films. And it was right then that Jaws took the credit back, eclipsing the power of Jaws the Revenge, and forever shaping my opinion that Jaws was better. Jaws was Spielberg. Jaws was plausible. Jaws showed little of the shark…

And on and on. Until Jaws the Revenge swam back under a rock, waiting to spring out and traumatize another kid. Because it wants revenge.

*Full disclosure: I cannot deny that I would find myself, again and again, years later, rewatching the film on late-night TV. Was it sentimental? Was I hoping it would improve with age? No, I think it was because, as the late comic Richard Jeni argued in his best bit, “You had nothing better to do.”



Russell Bradley Fenton
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

I am a film/TV actor for life, screenwriter in development, and film/TV enthusiast.