Forty years ago, a certain great white shark terrorized Amity Island’s beach-goers, making audiences everywhere afraid to step foot into the water. Not only is a 25-foot killer shark in its element terrifying enough, but the fear of the unknown leaves much to the imagination. With so much of the world’s oceans and its depths still left unexplored, the idea of what can be lurking beneath the surface may be enough to ward you away from the water permanently. These aquatic horror films explored that fear.
1. Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
One of the most beloved Universal horror films features a prehistoric creature stalking a group of scientists in the Amazon River. You know that feeling of swimming in murky water when something brushes against your leg? This was Gill-man’s signature move, especially when swimming beneath protagonist Kay Lawrence (played by Julie Adams). Filmed in 3-D, this black and white film’s villain made a lasting impression on the genre.
2. Shock Waves (1977)
A group of tourists on a passenger boat encounter an orange haze in the sky, resulting in equipment malfunction that leaves them stranded on a nearby island inhabited solely by a retired Nazi scientist (Peter Cushing). This scientist happened to create a group of super soldiers with the ability to fight underwater, and then abandoned them to the ocean when the project was shut down. This may the first and only film featuring aquatic Nazi zombies.
3. Piranha (1978)
Clearly inspired by Jaws, Joe Dante infused this creature feature with tongue in cheek humor. Though the giant beast has been swapped for a swarm of pointy toothed, voracious eaters tampered with by military experimentation, and the beach setting has been replaced by a river with a local summer camp in direct path of the carnage. With many mutilated corpses and a lot of child victims of this menacing school of fish, not even fresh water recreational swimmers are safe.
4. Humanoids From the Deep (1980)
This controversial, gratuitous flick by Roger Corman features mutated fish creatures that seem solely driven to mate with women and kill all males that get in their way. Perhaps most surprisingly, this exploitation horror film is adeptly directed by Barbara Peters, though an assistant director was brought in to shoot more gore and boobs to up the ante. Despite a sleazy plot, the creature design buoys the film just above complete schlock, as does decent directing, and the climax at the carnival makes this worth watching.
5. DeepStar Six (1989)
First in a duo of Alien-esque copy cats, this sci-fi horror flick features a large group conducting a study on underwater colonization as well as missile installation. The discovery of a cave system nearby with its own bizarre ecosystem sets up the horror when the film’s creature relentlessly pursues the crew for their trespass. Look for Miguel Ferrer to once again play the jerk, and an interesting creature design. Terrible dialogue and schlocky overall, but some entertaining kills.
6. Leviathan (1989)
A crew of undersea miners find a Soviet shipwreck, Leviathan, and their six month job becomes more hazardous when a crew member smuggles a flask of vodka found in a safe among the wreckage. That particular crew member discovers strange side effects from drinking the vodka, and dies a short while later. His corpse doesn’t remain dead, and ends up mutating into the creature that begins taking out the crew one by one. With a more recognizable cast lead by the likeable Peter Weller, this Alien rip off with excellent monster design and claustrophobic setting makes for a more memorable creature feature of the deep.
7. Deep Rising (1998)
Pirates descending upon a luxury cruise liner sets up for an interesting action flick, but Stephen Sommers complicates the pirates’ heist by adding in a hungry sea monster into the mix. By the time lead John Finnegan delivers the hijackers to the ship, the creature has already devoured most of the passengers and is lying in wait for more prey. Kevin J. O’Connor entertains as the comic relief, sidekick role and Famke Janssen appears as the jewel thief with a heart of gold. This particular creature, designed by Rob Bottin (make-up effects creator of The Thing and The Fog), is gruesome with its kills though a bit dated with the heavy use of CGI.
8. Dagon (2001)
H.P. Lovecraft expert Stuart Gordon teams up again with Brian Yuzna for this Spanish horror film based on Lovecraft’s novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Jeffrey Combs doppelganger Ezra Godden portrays protagonist Paul whose vacation with girlfriend Vicki is cut short when their boat capsizes near a fishing village. These villagers display unusual characteristics, like gills and pasty white skin. Oh, and they’re a bit hostile toward outsiders, if the tannery full of human skin and remains is any indication. The production is a bit clunky, as is character development and dialogue, but the underwater scenes are amazing. Though not quite as great of a Lovecraft adaptation as Re-Animator, fish-god Dagon, and his worshipers are terrifying.
Blood Beach (1981)
This B movie horror gives its own twist to the Jaws formula. This creature doesn’t even wait for its victims to enter the water, choosing to devour them through the sand of Venice Beach. Lead by genre favorite, John Saxon, this creature feature is more for die hard 80s horror fans. There’s very little blood as mentioned in the title, though a highlight includes a castrated would be rapist. It takes most of the running time before the sand creature is finally revealed. News of a remake held promise for a gorier reboot, but legal issues over rights put that firmly into purgatory.
Directed by David Twohy and produced by Darren Aronofsky, this impressive World War II horror film set in a submarine sounds cheesy but proves anything but. Strange things on board begin to occur when a U.S. Submarine picks up survivors from a British ship that was torpedoed days earlier. Mistrust, paranoia, anger, a fear rips through the crew. This is a haunted mystery, and the ghost effects chill against the claustrophobic setting. Though no creature exists in this film, save for the evil of men and a creepy ghost, this beautifully shot film feels as chilling as the black depths it is set in. Below is a psychological genre movie that will instill an aversion to stepping foot in a submarine.
Are you afraid to go into the water?
About the Author
Meagan Navarro is a blogger from Houston, TX. She fell in love with monsters at age four after being exposed to them via Ghostbusters, and her passion grew into an obsession for all things horror and Halloween (which is the entire month of October, as far as she’s concerned). Meagan also loves traveling and chocolate.