Belfast Telegraph

Scary movie? Their jaws were sore from laughing

By Frances Burscough

Teenage boys love horror films and I have two who are in charge of the remote control in our house, so naturally there’s gore-a-plenty on the box most weekends. However, until recently one film was banned.

The story begins in 1975 when I went to the cinema to see the movie Jaws. It had an ‘A’ classification and so at the age of 10 I was technically too young, but even at such an age I was susceptible to movie hype and this was that summer's ‘must-see’ blockbuster. So, I begged my big brother Chris to smuggle me in, which he duly did. I felt really grown-up. But then the movie started and I wanted my mummy.

It traumatised me beyond belief.

Until then our local cinema had been the setting for many a Saturday afternoon of childish escapism ... from the opulent and exotic Siamese palace in the King and I, to the pure Alpine valleys resonating to The Sound of Music — films that ignited my vivid imagination and enriched me with a glimpse of far-away travel and an infinite desire for adventure.

But then Jaws came lurking onto the screen, leaving a trail of fresh blood and body parts in its wake, and ruined everything.

In retrospect it was too much too young. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards. On that actual night I didn't sleep a wink and insisted on leaving the bedroom light on, much to the annoyance of my seven brothers and sisters.

Every time I closed my eyes I imagined I was on a lilo floating towards the cavernous jaws of a ravenous shark. I didn't even dare let my hands or feet dangle over the side of the bed in case it somehow made its way into my bedroom and lopped off one of my limbs as an appetiser. When you're a child and half-asleep, technicalities like how would a great white shark actually climb the stairs and open the bedroom door don't occur to you, do they?

A few weeks later we went on holiday to Cornwall. All the family were revelling in the glorious hot weather and pristine beaches, bounding into the sea with carefree abandon. I, however, was still reeling from the memory of severed heads and disgorged torsos and sat there bolt rigid, clinging onto my stripy nylon deckchair with white knuckles, scanning the horizon for the harbinger of doom — that gigantic grey dorsal fin that would inevitably appear just a second too late for me to save their souls from a grizzly death.

They didn't have a hope in hell of getting me to join them in the water.

“Don't be daft, Franny!” they had chortled (the ones who hadn't seen the film, I might add). “You don't get sharks here and especially not one like in Jaws!”

My brothers even crept up behind me once or twice, humming the film's haunting theme tune — “De de de de derrr da; Da da derrr da ...” — which made me yelp hysterically and cover my ears tightly, while they ran off again laughing and splashing noisily into the waves.

Of course, we all returned from Cornwall intact, surviving the trip without a single loss of life or limb, or so much as the sting of a small jellyfish or the nip of a tiny crab.

This made me the family laughing stock. My abject fear and morbid predictions of shark attacks at Britain's top seaside resorts became a long-running subject of great mirth at countless family gatherings for the next three decades.

“Blackpool? Ooooh you don't want to go to Blackpool ...” they would scoff “... rumour is, there's sharks aplenty in them there waves!”

Eventually the nightmares subsided and by the time I went to university I was even able to sleep without the light on and dangle my feet over the side like everyone else.

Still, swimming in the sea was — and still is — completely out of the question. To this day I even have to think twice before a quick paddle on Ballyholme Beach with my dogs.

So when I saw that Jaws was on TV last weekend I at once denounced it from my armchair pulpit and banned the boys from watching it, fearing that post-traumatic stress might blight their lives too.

“It's ok mum,” said Finn, my youngest.

“We saw it at dad's and its complete rubbish! Luke and I laughed all the way through at the mechanical shark. How could anyone be taken in by that piece of junk?”

I kept quiet.

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