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Jaws-Inspired Summer Reading, Part 1

Fans of pulp horror fiction and trashy novels… come one, come all! In this two-part series I’ll be taking a look at some horrendously wonderful books inspired by Jaws.

In this first part, I’d like to outline some essentials published between 1975 and 1985. Like similar books from other genres, these books were cheap to produce and easy to sell – particularly if the book was riding on the coattails of a motion picture counterpart (like Grizzly, Piranha, etc.). Several Jaws-inspired films were turned into books after the fact while other books preceded their cinematic versions. Others were standalone books that drew heavily from the themes and imagery of Benchley’s classic novel but had no real ties to any one specific film.

Below is a list of some of my favorites, and if you love all things trashy and exploitative, I urge you to keep these on your radar as you begin building your summer 2016 reading list!

Grizzly (1976) by Will Collins

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Written by Will Collins in 1976 and released in paperback form, the novelization of William Girdler’s film stays only somewhat true to the film. It contains a variety of scenes that did not appear on-screen – including a variant ending! Whereas, the filmmakers struggled to create genuinely convincing POV shots for the killer bear, Collins is slightly more effective where this is concerned. As the website for William Girdler sarcastically and humorously explains in referring to the book, “You learn a lot about this bear. He was abandoned by his own mother as a cub because she feared his strength. None of the cute girl bears talked to him…” and so on.

As was typically with novelizations, the violence and gore was described more intensely here than in the film version. As mentioned above, the ending of the book differs from the film – but I won’t spoil it here! You’ll have to nab a copy on eBay or find one buried in your local thrift store to find out what happens.

Killer Sharks: The Real Story (1976) by Brad Matthews

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There were also authors who tried to set their story in either a legitimate historical context or, at the very least, a believable scenario. This book – with its totally rad cover – is actually hard to find these days. Set during WWII, this one feels more like a spinoff of the iconic Indianapolis story from Jaws than a straight ahead ripoff.

“During WWII, Brad Matthews watched in horror as hundreds of his comrades on the torpedoed Indianapolis were torn to shreds by ravenous killer sharks. From then on, the young oceanographer vowed to devote his life to the study of nature’s most perfect killing machine. His adventures span three decades of bloody encounters with the gaping jaws of death. He has witnessed sharks gorging themselves on human flesh, heard the cries of terrified victims he could not help, and barely escaped the savage attack of a great white. This is the real story–a saga written in the blood of countless men and women.”

Orca (1977) by Arthur Herzog

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Here’s another slice of eco-fiction horror. Written by Arthur Herzog (who also brought us The Swarm), Orca was actually published prior to the film though, much like the big screen version, it takes a sympathetic look at the killer whale and its desire for revenge against man. Herzog has been quoted as saying he had the idea for the story before Jaws came around, but who really knows for sure? Admittedly, I’ve got a huge soft spot for both the book and film.

The official description for this Moby Dick/Jaws mashup reads: “Orca — the killer whale — is one of the most intelligent creatures in the universe. He hunts in packs, like a wolf. Incredibly, he is the only animal other than man who kills for revenge. He has one mate, and if she is harmed by man, he will hunt down that person with a relentless, terrible vengeance–across seas, across time, across all obstacles.”

Alligator (1977) by Shelley Katz

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A popular cult film by the same title was released to the moviegoing public in 1980, but prior to that there existed a little adventure story about men battling a ferocious beast in the Florida Everglades. As someone who adores Lewis Teague’s film, Alligator, I gave this one a chance and really enjoyed it (for what it is). Details from the back cover: “Many men had hunted the beast. All were dead. Ripped by jaws lined with 80 razor teeth – or crushed by a lashing tail that could shatter trees. But Lee Ferris and Rye Whitman were two men who had to try. Both were death-hardened adventurers, bound by a mutual hatred – and a mutual need – to conquer the most savage killer in Florida’s Green Hell.”

To modify a phrase from the 1975 Jaws marketing machine: Read it before you go swamping.

Killer (1980) by Peter Tonkin

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More insane whale carnage! Of all the books on this list, Killer might be the most violent and heavy on the gore. Despite succumbing to some of the classic horror tropes (chaos ensuing as the result of an animal bred and experimented on by the military), this story is an easy enough read that it’ll keep you engaged most of the way through. After our lead whale (of some 30+ feet in length!) bites off the arm of a visiting general, its keepers attempt to put it down. After failing to do so, said whale escapes and then all hell breaks loose — and I’m talking explosions. Lots of explosions.

Your appetite not whet yet? Read on: “Five men and one beautiful woman. Marooned on a floating island of arctic ice. Together they had the equipment and skills to fight the freezing cold, the violently savage storms. Then suddenly from the angry seas the jaws of horror opened wide as nature’s deadliest creature rose from the depths – a huge killer whale of enormous intelligence, incredible power, indestructible endurance, ravenous for human prey…”

Killer Croc! (1982) by Grahame Webb

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Killer Croc! was written by a non-writer — an Australian zoologist, in fact. Grahame Webb’s professional career was spent mostly working with saltwater crocodiles and Aborigines in Arnhem Land (the northeast corner of Australia’s northern territory) – which is also where the book is set. Similar to several other eco-horror books and films, this one incorporates plenty of local lore, religion, and traditional culture, and with these things multiple character perspectives of the monstrous beast itself: Some want to study the croc (or, as it is sometimes referred to here, Numunwari); some seek only to worship it; while others are driven to kill it. And also like many other books and films, the original artwork here looks and feels a lot like Roger Kastel’s iconic poster for Jaws.

This one doesn’t have any ties to a specific film; however, it does occasionally feel a bit like the 1987 Ozploitation cult film Dark Agea favorite of Quentin Tarantino’s, believe it or not!

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The official details on Killer Croc! go a little something like this: “To the people of Darwin: the name means death. To Steve Harris: he is unique and must be saved at all costs. To Oondabund: he is the symbol of his people’s timeless culture. To John Besser: he is a murderous monster to be destroyed on sight. And to Rex Barrett: he offers the chance for considerable political gain. As the frantic search for the gigantic crocodile begins, Numunwari waits silently in the waters of Darwin harbour for his next victim.”

I’m sure there are cheaper copies out there, but as of this writing you can score your copy on Amazon for a measly sum of just $2,766.61! (WTF!)

Rip Tide (1984) by Donald D. Cheatham 

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We lovers of B-movies and trashy books alike know all too well that blood and violence aren’t the only tactics used to try to sell a product. We also know that sex sells, and Donald D. Cheatham takes full advantage of this fact with his Floridian shark horror novel Rip Tide. Despite being similar in a couple of ways to the novel Jaws (there’s a token shark expert, similar to Matt Hooper), this story involves a rogue tiger shark chomping away on swimmers, boaters, and beachgoers as if they’re appetizers. What could possible stop it? Strangely enough, this story eventually takes a turn from Jaws ripoff and becomes a decidedly blatant disaster novel packed with all of the silly hurricane action you could ever want. Sex, blood, and rock n roll hurricanes, I always say.

What’s not to love? Unlike Killer Croc! you can buy this one for fairly cheap here.

Honorable mentions include:

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John Campopiano