Welcome to Written in BLOOD! This monthly series will take a look at the long-lost novelizations of some of horror’s finest films! Sometimes these novelizations stay very true to the final product, and sometimes they go completely and absolutely bonkers! Either way, we will examine the details and the subplots written in these books that add to the stories we already know and love.
I’ve mentioned this before, but water terrifies me. Bodies of water, like rivers, ponds, and the oceans, really bump my goose. I grew up fishing on a river, and the mere thought of reaching down into the murky blackness to grab the catfish on my line made me panic. I’ve been on vacations to both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, but I refused to go into the water beyond ankle-deep.
When I watch something like Jaws 2 (which I recently did for the first time), I see these people frolicking in the ocean and wonder why they would court death so openly. They know what’s down there, they just think that beer and splashing are more important than having limbs. Because of all this nonsense, I end up spending the majority of the run time just sitting there mad as hell. It pisses me off that Mike took his little brother out on the water when he knew damn well that there were approximately 5,000 teeth down there wanting to grind him up.
“[The Jaws 2 novelization’s] amalgamation of source materials gives us a fascinating read that has very little in common with the film.”
That’s why the novelizations of these movies work so well for me. Do people still make dumb decisions? Yup, they do, but with the benefit of a few hundred pages of exposition, we can kind of understand why they are making those dumb decisions. When we have time to spend with our characters, then we start to sympathize with them. We even begin to wish there was more story for them than what we are used to in the films.
With Hank Searls’ novelization of Jaws 2, we get so much more than what was shown on screen. It was written based off a combination of Peter Benchley’s original novel, the first film, and an early draft of the sequel’s screenplay by Dorothy Tristan and Howard Sackler. This amalgamation of source materials gives us a fascinating read that has very little in common with the film.
There are obviously going to be similarities. There’s another Great White going chomp-chomp on the people of Amity Island. There are a couple divers, a skier, and her boat driver that bite the bullet, and Martin Brody kills the beast at Cable Junction. Beyond that, the book takes us in some amazingly wild directions.
Buns in the Oven
We never get this from the movie, but the book lays it out pretty clearly that this is a momma shark who is fat with baby sharks (do-do-do-do-do-do). It even teaches us the valuable lesson of “How do mommy and daddy sharks make little baby sharks” (hint: it’s pretty sexy). It also sets up the reason the shark in Jaws: The Revenge is seeking, well, revenge for the deaths of its father and mother while vacationing in the Bahamas.
It also explains why this momma is causing so much more carnage than her hubby did in Jaws. When I first watched the film, I assumed that there was more death so that they could one-up the original. The book actually explains this with her pregnancy. You see, she has three slimy and toothy babies on board, which means that she needs to eat that much more to maintain her energy and keep them from eating each other in the womb. It makes sense, and it kind of shows that she’s just being a good mom, and the real villains in the movie are the government officials who care more about the economy than the health and safety of their citizens (can’t relate).
Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel, Jaws, is not a good book. I’m sorry, but it stinks. I understand that it might seem good if you’re reading it before you see the movie and you take the shark to represent a giant penis eating away at American life like the greed and lust of Amity’s leadership. If you pick it up after watching Spielberg’s masterpiece, however, you’re going to be very disappointed.
One of the most disappointing things about the book is how it strays off course with mentions of mob activity and its connection to the mayor. This novelization carries that same course over to the sequel, but it is handled so much better. Why is that? Well, it’s because Searls is a much better writer than Benchley.
In this tale, the mob is bankrolling Mr. Peterson and his new resort, and they don’t like that Brody is messing up their big opening. It adds a layer of suspense and real danger to Brody’s decisions that simply doesn’t exist in the film. There, he pisses off everyone and simply loses his job. The smarmy and arrogant Peterson would never make the mistake of confronting Brody physically. In the book, the fact that there is organized crime behind the resort (it’s actually a casino on the page) makes the reader truly fearful of something that isn’t swimming along Amity’s coast.
Who Can Sex You Like Hooper? NOBODY
We all know that Ellen gets piped down something fierce by Hooper in a seedy hotel room in Benchley’s book. It’s weird, and it really pisses you off when you read it. It worships the masculine Hooper and demeans Ellen by making her a flighty and untrustworthy woman. We feel a bit of catharsis, then, when the Ivy-league rich boy who fucks other men’s wives gets eaten up by the shark while in the underwater cage. This means that Brody is the lone survivor of the Orca, and that no one is paddling beside him to back up his story.
While Hooper getting ate up real good is fun to read, the continuation of that story line makes the novelization so complex and interesting. The film does a magnificent job of showing Brody’s emotional issues with what happened (called simply “The Troubles” in the book) and has him go off the rails slightly when nobody will believe him. The novelization takes this a step further by insinuating that the townspeople are starting to not believe his side of the Orca story at all.
Deep into the story, Brody asks Anderson to take the eaten diver’s camera and get the film developed. Unlike in the film, though, Brody never sees those pictures. In the book, the pharmacist who develops the film sees, without a doubt, photos of a Great White shark. His first reaction isn’t “Holy shit we have another shark!”, it’s “Holy shit Brody was lying about the whole thing and he never killed the first shark!”. He then lies, telling Brody that the film was ruined, and leaves town after trying to extort the mayor with his story.
“If you’ve seen all the films and want more Brody and Company in your life, this is a perfect book to pick up.”
This rattles Everybody who hears it, especially Brody. In Benchley’s novel, there is no “Smile you son of a bitch” explosion moment. There, the shark is killed by the many wounds inflicted on it by Quint’s harpoons. It approaches Brody, who is floating on a seat cushion, and just kind of… dies. It stops, rolls over, and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. This means that Brody never actually saw the shark die, bringing up a ton of guilt and doubt inside of him during this novelization. He still, by the end of the book, isn’t sure that the first shark ever really died.
As you can see, Searls’ novelization of Jaws 2 is a treasure trove of new information and story lines. If you’ve seen all the films and want more Brody and Company in your life, this is a perfect book to pick up. You’ll get more storylines, more hyper-realistic descriptions of underwater attacks, and more time to envision Hooper getting eaten up because he couldn’t keep his legs closed and respect the sanctity of marriage.
Do you have a favorite horror film novelization or book that you would like us to check out? If so, join our Horror Movie Fiend Club over on Facebook and let us know what you want to see. Or, you can hit us up on twitter @NOFSpodcast. While you’re at it, be sure to bookmark our homepage at Nightmare on Film Street to keep up to date on all the hottest horror reviews and retrospectives the internet has to offer.