We’ve all heard the statistic: you’re more likely to die from a wayward vending machine than a shark attack. Despite the pleas of environmentalists and activists, movies just can’t seem to stop casting sharks--and their rows of razor-sharp and blood-stained-teeth--as frenzied killers. Jaws, The Shallows, Deep Blue Sea--the horror genre has been shark-infested for decades now. But what makes sharks so chilling? Why do filmmakers keep reminding us of the (mostly imagined) danger of sharks? And more importantly, why is it so fun?
In any good horror film, the best thrills come in the moments before the jump scare, the silent and breathless on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling before the Big Bad jumps from around the corner. For this reason, it’s worth considering a quintessential element of shark horror: water. More than any graveyard or a haunted house, water renders humans uniquely vulnerable. It's enormous, it’s disorienting, it slows us down and deafens our screams. Oh, and we also can’t breathe in the stuff! Submerged in a deep pool of water, there’s also a three-dimensionality to the threat of attack: something can come from behind, above, below. Even when you’re on a boat, the dark and distorted depths have a panopticon effect: you can’t see what may or may not be watching and stalking you from below. So, perhaps the creepy depths do most of the work, and sharks are simply the teeth-bearing poster child of the sea that finish the job.
Once the waters have gushed in an eerie sense of horror and tension, enter the shark: incredibly versatile and effective in the way that they instill a sense of dread and panic. They work alone and travel in frenzied packs, they can play the stalking long-game and suddenly dash in for a quick and violent attack, they can be lean and svelte or formidable and hulking. Heck, they even travel via tornado these days. No matter what you find scary about sharks, though, we can all agree about one thing: the most bone-chilling, horrific shark film ever made is Shark Tale. That animation is really the stuff of nightmares.
What do you think of the legacy that sharks have carved out for themselves in film? Have a favorite shark movie? Let us know!
And be sure to come celebrate all things shark and film with us at Sharks After Dark on Friday, July 21st from 7-10 PM at The Discovery Center! It'll be a frenzy of JAWS-dropping programming: live music from Red Light Challenge and Mighty Fang, sushi dumplings from Genki Takoyaki, drinks by Powderhaus Brewing, the world class Planet Shark Exhibition, of course a screening of Sharknado by yours truly, and much, much more. 21+! Get your tickets here!