October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best aquatic horror movies that don’t feature sharks, gators, or crocs is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
When you think about the best horror movie creature features set on or under the water, your mind probably goes to films like Jaws 2 (1978) or Shark Night 3D (2011). You’re only human after all. But what if we challenged you to think about the best waterlogged monster movies that don’t focus on sharks, crocodiles, or alligators? Well lucky for you that’s the focus of the list below!
We’ve scoured the seas, made some devilish deep dives, and found sand in the darkest of crevices, and we’ve returned with a look at one of our favorite water sports — coming face to face with an unforgiving and murderous ocean dweller. Are our choices unexpected? In some case, absolutely. Are some favorites missing? Of course. Are these still ten wet ‘n’ ready slices of soggy terror? Yes, yes they are. Now roll up your pants, strap on your lifevest, and wade on in for the 10 best aquatic creature horrors as chosen by Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Mary Beth McAndrews, Meg Shields, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell, and myself.
10. Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
I’m not saying Humanoids from the Deep is comparable to Jaws. I’m not going to say that. That would be an affront to Steven Spielberg. However, if you’re looking for a good summer movie in which a small town located alongside the water is under attack from a deep-sea monster, and you don’t want that movie to be Jaws, then Humanoids from the Deep might be the movie for you. Instead of a shark, you’re dealing with sex-hungry salmon mutations resulting from growth hormone experiments. These creatures mutilate and kill the men in the fishing village of Noyo while assaulting the women. If that sounds crazy and uncomfortable, that’s because it is. The film’s final act takes place during the village’s annual festival, and it’s all kinds of bonkers. Leonard Maltin described it as “hilarious gutter trash,” and he couldn’t have been more right. (Chris Coffel)
9. Orca (1977)
While Michael Anderson‘s Orca usually gets labeled as a Jaws ripoff, I’m going to be the lone voice saying that’s bullshit. Sure, it may have been greenlit due to the success of the killer shark movie, but unlike actual knockoffs it’s actually telling its own story. Is it a silly story with silly characters? Absolutely, and Anderson can’t touch a hair on Spielberg’s head as a director, but — and this is important — Orca is a ton of fun. The film sees fishermen catch a pregnant killer whale, and after it births a calf from the stress they wash the little one right off the deck unaware that daddy is watching too. And he is mighty pissed off.
The angry whale snatches a guy right off the boat, damages pipe lines, scares away fish (the local village’s source of income), and makes it very clear it’s out for revenge. Richard Harris stars as the captain tasked with hunting the beast down, and it all gets very personal when the whale takes out a house on stilts and eats Bo Derek‘s leg. Things get nuttier from there leading to an epic showdown among icebergs. Add in Charlotte Rampling, Robert Carradine, Will Sampson, and a score by Ennio Morricone, and you have a fun time with a mean-ass killer whale. (Rob Hunter)
8. Uninvited (1988)
We know what you’re thinking. Hell, we thought it ourselves! But you know what? Uninvited DOES deserve to be considered an aquatic horror movie because, well, why not? No one argues that Virus (1999) is an aquatic horror movie, and those space robots NEVER went in the water.
The cute, cuddly kitten-cum-lab experiment that massacres a boat full of gangsters and college kids doesn’t come from the sea or sky, but it doesn’t matter. Because what makes a horror movie an aquatic one? If it’s set on the water with an incomprehensible villain. And I can’t think of anything more incomprehensible than a “regular” cat who vomits an evil cat-monster whenever it feels threatened.
Need more convincing why Uninvited deserves to be considered aquatic horror? Director Greydon Clark layered into his killer cat opus many of the basic tropes we expect from thrillers set on the high seas. Food has to be rationed, dead bodies are ceremoniously thrown overboard, the crew slowly loses their marbles, and – naturally – lifeboats have to be deployed as the ship invariably sinks. Uninvited may not tread in standard megalophobic fears like other aqua-horror films, but the end result is still the same. Who in their right mind wants to go back in the water after watching this? (Jacob Trussell)
7. Leviathan (1989)
Released just two months after Sean Cunningham’s DeepStar Six, this undersea creature feature saw a similar fate at the box-office. The two share more than a few traits, but this is the better of the two thanks to a combination of factors. Director George P. Cosmatos knows how to deliver fun, B-movie thrills. Stan Winston knows how to design memorable beasts via practical effects. And Peter Weller is one hell of an entertaining lead in genre fare. Add in a script from the writers of Die Hard and Unforgiven, a score by Jerry Goldsmith, and a terrifically eclectic supporting cast including Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Lisa Eilbacher, Hector Elizondo, and Meg Foster, and you have an 80s creature feature that only the 80s could have produced. It’s good goofy fun with killer creature effects and some thrilling set-pieces. Watch it! (Rob Hunter)
6. The Bay (2012)
Aquatic horror and found footage? We can thank director Barry Levinson for bringing together these two subgenres to create something that is both disgusting in its subject matter and devastating in its message. The Bay takes place in Claridge, a small town on the Chesapeake Bay on the eastern shore of Maryland. Here, Donna (Kether Donohue), a young reporter, is filming a news segment on the town’s festivities, gathering pretty basic footage and interviews from the locals. But, they slowly begin to notice something is wrong. Strange lesions begin appearings on town residents and the local hospital is quickly overwhelmed with incredibly sick patients. The doctors discover a parasitic isopod is chowing down on the innards of the Claridge townsfolk, devouring them from the inside out.
It’s essentially an ecological disaster movie on a much smaller scale, but that doesn’t remove the tragedy from the situation. In fact, the found footage technique allows us to become closer to the film’s two camera operators: Donna and Stephanie (Kristen Connolly). Stephanie is a young mom with a baby trying to survive after the horrific death of her husband at the mouths of these parasites. Both of these women offer a heart-wrenching first-person look at the swift destruction of an entire town at the hands of a government who writes them off as expendable. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
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