The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Jaws: The Revenge (Movie Tie-in)

Jaws: The Revenge
Movie adaptation by Hank Searls, based on a screenplay by Michael de Guzman
Berkeley Books, 1987

A letter writer to an episode of The Flop House (my favorite bad movie podcast) called the hosts out for not mentioning the novelization of Jaws: The Revenge during a Bad Movie Night screening of this infamously terrible film. His pitch for the book included a voodoo priest soul-bonded to a shark and Miami Vice-style drug-running. I couldn't resist such appealing craziness and immediately requested a copy from PaperbackSwap.

To my surprise the novel was engaging well beyond the camp level I expected. The author, Hank Searls--a Navy flier, yachtsman and underwater photographer--brought a high level of authentic detail to the book. He also used some Turn of the Screw technique and provided alternate (more realistic) psychological and/or biological motivations for the human and animal characters. The reader can believe the shark is revenge driven and stalks a family across the globe OR they could believe it followed an unfortunate chain of prey down the coast. Sure maybe the shark was directed by voodoo drums to take out a Hougan's enemies or maybe it was just chasing the sonar pings coming from a boat that was tracking its heartbeat. Searls also works in a fair amount of tropical economics and class resentment to raise the tension and give an Amity Beach-worthy reason for hiding the lingering presence of a three-ton shark.

In one of my favorite scenes, Mike Brody is chased by the shark and trapped in a wrecked ship. He's panicking as the shark rams his way through the sand covering a rupture in the side of the boat. The impacts loosen a rusted door latch and Mike takes shelter in a ghostly, still chamber that hasn't been entered since the boat went down and is still occupied by a drowned sailor. This scene is an excellently atmospheric haunted house story in miniature.

Never having seen the film all the way through, I tracked down a copy, curious how it compared to the book. Disappointingly there was no voodoo priest and no drug-running double agent. These subplots were from an early draft of the screenplay and were cut to focus on developing the character of Ellen Brody. This is unfortunate as Lorraine Gary's performance in the film has two settings: Over-the-top Medea level grief (in huge shoulderpadded sweaters) or the dazed happiness of a 1980s douche commercial.

I can only imagine Searls' irritation when he saw the finished film and all the ludicrous twists that he struggled to make...if not plausible at least unlaughable weren't even in the movie. This book inspired me to seek out two of Searls' other sea-faring novels: Soundings--a book following an aging sperm whale (which was supposedly the inspiration for the Sega Genesis game Ecco the Dolphin) and Overboard--a survival at sea novel about a yachtsmen who discovers his wife was swept away at some point during the night. I'm looking forward to enjoying these books which don't carry the burden of adapting a ridiculous screenplay.

[By the way, reading this--a beat-up movie tie-in paperback for the worst Jaws movie ever--on the subway felt like the literary equivalent of normcore.]

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