Copyright 2018 by Gary L. Pullman
“Analyses of film structure are never theory-neutral . . . . Once the analyst determines which of the many events in a film are the most salient in the light of his theory, he builds a structure that supports his theory” (George Ochoa, Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films, 38)
Plot Structure of Jaws, seen as a three-act story (Syd Field):
Act 1: Ends with arrival of shark scientist Hooper on Amity Island.
Act 2: Ends with shark hunter Quint’s story about surviving a shark’s attack in World War II.
Act 3: Ends with the destruction of the shark.
Plot Structure of Jaws, seen as a four-act story (Noel Carroll):
Act 1: Onset: The shark makes its initial attack.
Act 2: Discovery: Police Chief Brody discovers evidence of a shark attack.
Act 3: Confirmation: Brody convinces the mayor to hire Quint to fight the shark.
Act 4: The shark is hunted and destroyed.
Plot Structure of Jaws, seen as a two-act story (Ochoa and Carl Gottlieb, co-screenwriter of Jaws):*
Act 1: The shark attacks.
Act 2: The shark is destroyed.
*”Appropriately generalized, these two acts can be considered the basic structure of all horror movies:
“1. Attack of the DDB: The DDB attacks one or more normals, often repeatedly.“2. Final battle: A climactic confrontation occurs that involves both DDB and one or more normals. It is usually a head-on DDB-normal clash, though it may involve a clash of two or more DDBs“ (38).
“Since knowing the DDB is the primary purpose of the horror film, these two acts are the basic components of horror film structure” (39); the “details” that “are. . . overlooked” by this generalized description of horror film structure, when identified, indicate “common alternatives for how to present the DDB through its conflict with normals--the central narrative idea of the horror film” (40).
“One common elaboration is to add another act at the outset, the entrance of the DDB” so that it becomes ‘;apparent at least to the audience, and sometimes to the normals. He begins to display his deformity, which may be further revealed in later acts. An example of this three-act structure is The Abominable Dr. Phibes:
“1. Entrance of the DDB: A hooded Dr. Phibes plays his organ and dances with his assistant Vulnavia, then puts his face together in preparation for going out to a murder.
“2. Attack of the DDB: Phibes kills his first offscreen victims, then kills more.
“3. Final battle: Dr. Vesalius saves his son from Phibes’s wrath, although Phibes eludes capture” (40).
Note: This is how I see the plot of the typical horror film: Act 1: A bizarre incidents occur. Act 2: Additional, seemingly unconnected, bizarre incidents occur. Act 3. The protagonist, aided or unaided, discovers the cause of the bizarre incidents, all of which are, in fact, related to one another. Act 4: Using his or her newfound knowledge as to the cause of the bizarre incidents (often the presence of a monster), the protagonist, aided or unaided, puts an end to the incidents, thereby restoring order.