Aquatic horror is a broad categorization that can include anything related to the water, and it’s also a subcategory often dominated by sharks. But in this instance, I’m talking oceanic horror that leans into the supernatural. I’m not interested in monstrous sharks, piranha, or crocodiles (though I’ll gladly take those too). I want more deep sea creature features or horror movies that take the alien, isolated setting of the ocean and use it to enhance the fear of the unknown. With so much of the world’s oceans still a mystery, there’s a vast wealth of potential waiting to be tapped.
These six aquatic horror movies take full advantage of the strange mysteries of the sea, and the disadvantages that brings for its human characters. They elicit thrills and chills, while bringing something unique to the genre. These movies prove we need more like them.
1989 was the year for underwater themed movies, and DeepStar Six was the first released that year. Produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th), it’s objectively a not-so-great movie. Even still, it’s fun. The plot is simple; the crew of a deep sea US Naval facility discovers a massive cave system with strange new lifeforms. One of which is an extremely aggressive creature unhappy about being disturbed. Cool creature designs and effects by talented artists Mark Shostrom and Chris Walas, and some fun character deaths like the one teased on the cover box makes for a cheesy good time.
Released just a couple months after DeepStar Six, this deep sea creature feature shares a lot of similarities. A group of undersea miners also must contend with one pissed off monster, but this one is a result of well, we’ll say human error. Leviathan also boasts more recognizable stars and creature effects by Stan Winston Studios. I’ve written more about my love for this one here, but Leviathan is a fun mix of ‘80s monsters and body horror trapped at the depths of the sea.
In 2001, Cinemax broadcast a series of made for cable creature features that were meant as a tribute to the retro horror films of American International Pictures. The first of the five that aired was writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez’s (Snakes on a Plane, Gothika) She Creature. With creature effects by Stan Winston Studio, and Winston himself serving as producer, it’s a period horror film at sea about a killer mermaid. Starring Rufus Sewell and Carla Gugino as a husband and wife team looking to take a captured mermaid overseas to America, they find their voyage a much more treacherous experience when the mermaid on board. It’s claustrophobic horror with imaginative creature effects and proves that not only do we need more aquatic horror, but more films about killer mermaids as well.
Directed by David Twohy (Pitch Black), and co-written by Twohy, Darren Aronofsky, and Lucas Sussman, Below demonstrates that aquatic terror doesn’t always have to have giant carnivorous beasts. In the vein of Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, this World War II-set horror film weaves its historical setting with a chilling ghost story. When the captain of submarine U.S.S. Manta dies mysteriously, and the next in command picks up three battle survivors, strange things begin happening on board. It’s a spooky haunted house story that addresses the question of why don’t they just leave? It’s hard to escape ghosts when you’re navigating war infested waters by way of submarine.
Stuart Gordon’s 2001 horror film is a loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. When a boat crash maroons a pair of vacationing couples on a nearby fishing island, they find its inhabitants to be weird half-fish people who worship the monstrous fish god that created them. Unpredictable, gruesome, otherworldly, and full of hybrid fish people, Dagon has no shortage of tentacles. It’s the precise type of movie that makes it easy to understand why Lovecraft was scared of fish.
Writer/director Stephen Sommer’s late ‘90s action horror is one that most needs a reboot or sequel. It follows a group of armed hijackers attempting to loot a luxurious cruise liner, only to find that a large, tentacled man-eating sea creature has already devoured most of the people on board and is still hungry. It’s so much fun. There’s action, there’s humor, and there’s even a lot of surprising gore; the creature has rather grisly eating habits and gruesome table manners. The only downside for this one is that the late ‘90s CG hasn’t aged well, and some of the big reveal scenes with the creature doesn’t hold up. Even still, it’s a complete blast.