When it comes to summer themed horror, most revolve around summer camp or camping in general. There are countless slashers and supernatural horror films set around cabins in woods that it’s pretty much ensured that I never need to go camping again in my life. It makes sense, though; summer camps and campsites can be anywhere. The beach, however, is a much more specific setting, but one that’s even more closely aligned with the season than camping.
Cooling off in the water under the blazing sun feels much less ominous than the dark, dark woods, right? Leave it to horror to ruin that for you as well.
Here are some essential beach-themed horror films to ward you off from ever stepping foot in the water or on sand again…
Of course, no beach themed list would be complete without the quintessential summer horror film. Still considered one of the greatest films ever made, and the prototype for the summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s seminal film based on Peter Benchley’s novel made creepy use of the malfunctioning animatronic shark against John Williams haunting score to create nail-biting tension. More than any other horror film in memory, Jaws ignited a very specific and long-lasting fear of sharks, and going in the water, making it the epitome of summer horror.
Psycho Beach Party
A horror-comedy mashup of ‘60s beach movies and ‘80s slashers with a psychodrama center, this underseen parody checks off all the boxes for beach-themed horror. Lauren Ambrose stars as Florence “Chicklet” Forest, the first female surfer at Malibu Beach. Her surfing ambitions are hindered by her dissociative personality disorder that results in blackouts, making her afraid that she’s the one responsible for murders happening in her town. Based on a play, this horror-comedy also stars Nicholas Brendon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Amy Adams (Arrival).
The beach isn’t exclusive to oceans. Any large body of water, like a lake, can have a beach. So, technically this spring break lakeside beach set horror film by Alexandre Aja counts. For those said spring breakers, fishermen, and the Lake Victoria authorities, spring break gets bloody when an earthquake frees prehistoric piranhas from the depths of the lake’s floor. Over the top in gore matched equally by its biting sense of humor, this one is every bit as fun as it sounds and perfect for summer viewing.
If there’s anything that this list will teach you, it’s that beaches in California can be bad news. In this case, it’s Santa Monica Beach, and the threat comes from beneath the sand rather than the water. Playing off Jaws 2’s tagline, Blood Beach sums up their plot and tone with, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… you can’t get to it!” Hard to find and out of print on DVD, Blood Beach is the rarer option for summer horror viewing. If you can get hold of it, it’s schlocky B-movie fun that feels almost like a precursor to Tremors, but with a beachy twist (Tremors is much better).
The Lost Boys
Sometimes you don’t even have to step foot in the water to find horror at the beach. In the case of this beloved horror-comedy, the beach town of Santa Carla is inundated with vampires. When the Emerson family moves in with Grandpa after mom Lucy’s divorce, older brother Michael (Jason Patric) falls in with a gang of blood-sucking teens that prefer to party all night and sleep all day. They also choose the beach and boardwalk as their feeding ground, and hide out in a beachside cliff.
Humanoids from the Deep
An exploitation creature feature from Roger Corman that’s set in a Californian fishing village. It results it fun brutal kills from aquatic humanoids but super sleazy raping of beach going women. Take out that icky aspect and you have one hell of a fun creature feature with creature designs by Rob Bottin (The Thing, The Howling). Directed by Barbara Peeters, she did a fantastic job handling the gruesome deaths of the men under Corman’s directive, “Kill all the men and rape all the women,” but wasn’t explicit enough on the latter part of his orders. So, Jimmy T. Murakami was brought in to direct those scenes in a way that would push Corman’s B-movie goal. Save for those scenes, Peeters’ version of the story is a must watch.
This ‘80s slasher, one of the goriest, probably doesn’t seem like essential beach horror. It is, though. It follows a group of friends heading to a family owned beachfront condo over break, and naturally, things get deadly. Originally titled Fall Break, it’s a rare slasher with an upbeat theme song that feels like it belongs more to a comedy than horror, and it fits the charm of this over the top movie. The kills are gruesome and make great use of beach themed weapons like a fishing gaff. It’s also a rare slasher where there’s no real mystery at all behind the killer’s identity. Beach theme plus gore equals a must watch summer slasher, even if it’s set during the fall.
Creepshow 2 “The Raft”
The best segment for this anthology sequel also perfectly encapsulates the terror of summer. Or at least, it makes for a strong case to heed warning signs posted on the beach. For four college friends, they decide to opt for a more isolated setting for their day at the beach, driving to a secluded, empty lake. They swim out to the raft out in the middle, only to be greeted by a strange oil slick. The friends realize they should’ve just stuck with a more crowded beach when the oil slick begins devouring them in painful ways. Not only is this one of horror’s best anthology segments, but it proves horror can lurk in all bodies of water.