Scaring children with horror films is not unlike shooting fish in a barrel. Young, impressionable minds with no frame of reference will believe anything ... up to and including that a man-eating great white shark resides inside the bathtub, just behind the shower curtain. (I count myself among said children.) What proves the worth of any horror movie is just how terrified people are of the production years after its release, long after jaded adulthood and knowledge of special effects has set in. With this in mind, I think it's safe to say that few movies can boast such a long, scarring, impact as that of Jaws.
In 1975, Universal Studios released an unspeakable evil on unsuspecting theatergoers and a blockbuster was born. The Jaws franchise was enthusiastically embraced through the early '80s and lurched onto the screen one last time in 1987 for Jaws: The Revenge. Even with the fourth installment being a little lacklustre, the demon of the deep remained in the hearts (and nightmares) of many. I was personally introduced to the monster via television at the age of three and thus began my lifelong phobia of water and bold red lettering. As a child of the '80s, I can fully attest to the large amount of memorabilia surrounding the dreaded film that seemingly filled up every junk shop and video store. Games, posters, belt buckles, and trading cards all poised to send me into a fit of panic at the most inopportune time. All a testament to the extreme love and fear people have felt over the years towards the shark.
It was only natural that when Universal Studios Orlando opened in 1990 they included a ride dedicated to Satan's goldfish. Set in the middle of an Amity-themed area, guests of the park have been able to board a small boat and drift around a pool while a giant, fake shark head pops out at them. I've seen the footage: boys laugh, women scream, children cry, and families get pictures taken with their heads inside a shark. Wholesome fun.
Universal Studios theme park (up until recent years) has always been sort of an "Anit-Disney" vacation spot. A break for parents who didn't want to stomach another round of "It's A Small World" or wait two hours in the Florida heat to have a photo taken with a creep in a mouse suite. The original rides at Universal were designed to thrill (and sometimes terrify) their patrons, creating a true since of wonder and bonding. After all, deep down, who doesn't like having the shit scared out of them in an environment you ultimately know is safe?
With the King Kong and Ghostbusters attractions already closed, it was only a matter of time before the theme park did away with yet another signature ride. On December 2nd , via Facebook, the company announced Jaws was next on the chopping block. In a statement to fans the company wrote: "We know you love Jaws! and we do too. It has been an amazing attraction and after terrorizing the water of Amity here at Universal Orlando for 20 years, it's a VERY important part of our history. So, we've got a couple things planned to insure we always remember and honor it. We know it's hard to say goodbye, but we can't express how EXCITED we are about the new, innovative & amazing experience we're going to be bringing you."
It would seem that my oldest (and most worthy) foe is losing ground. One might think that a person who has been nothing short of traumatized by such a franchise would be celebrating this event; yet I feel nothing but sympathy for the clunky old ride. The American culture has become so obsessed with shiny new things that it has completely forgotten first loves. Are we so desperate for the latest trend that we can't reserve a space at a theme park for an iconic movie? I can almost guarantee that whatever new ride they put in its place won't hold a fraction of the cultural relevance. Point in case: They replaced "Kongfrontation" with the "Revenge of the Mummy" roller coaster. Gross. It also seems a bit silly to be closing a ride based on a great white when Shark Week is practically a national holiday now.
Whatever the justification, this is a true and unnecessary loss for theme park and horror fans alike. On January 2nd, 2012 at 9 p.m., the haunted waters of Amity in Orlando were closed forever. See ya on the other side, old friend.