It’s hot, it’s sunny, and we are kicking off July. It’s the time of year to get comfy on the couch after a long day at the beach and switch on some golden-age aquatic horror.
The fear of what lies beneath is instinctual—everyone has a fear of going into the water, from a pool to the open sea. Whether it’s snarling, bloodthirsty piranhas, or a colossal rogue shark, screening these terrifying flicks is the perfect way to scare yourself into the spirit of the holiday.
The Fog (1980)
Two years after Michael Myers ‘Halloween’, John Carpenter released ‘The Fog’. This eerie seaside ghost story unspools the sinister history of the small coastal community of Antonio Bay, California. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh, Carpenter’s classic features a bloodthirsty skeleton crew bent on revenge, a beautifully spooky synth soundtrack, and a story bound to give you goosebumps.
Before Joe Dante directed the evil mogwais of ‘Gremlins’, he was neck-deep in flesh-hungry piranhas. 1978’s ‘Piranha’ is the finest of post-‘Jaws’ knockoffs, standing on its own from others like the 1977’s sober killer whale horror ‘Orca’ and 1980s reptile feature ‘Alligator’. The gruesome story tells of thousands of military-made piranhas that are accidentally released into a river. Down the river, a children’s summer camp waits. A local guide and investigator race against time to get to the camp before the murderous piranhas do. Tinged with comedy and a wacky origin story, Dante’s flick doesn’t take itself too seriously while remaining vicious in its kills.
For a bonus dose of piranha mayhem, check out the 2010 remake, ‘Pirahna 3D’. While its acting isn’t much to write home about, there are a few wins here—the origins of the piranhas, the gnarly kills, and the Richard Dreyfuss and Eli Roth cameos. While Dante’s flick is vicious, it isn’t quite as gorey as ‘3D’, so keep in mind that you may need a stronger stomach for this one.
Humanoids From the Deep (1980)
Barbara Peeters’ largely-forgotten cult classic is more vicious than it lets on at first glance. ‘Humanoids From the Deep’ chronicles the rise of hideous deep-sea creatures that impede and invade a small California village. As they slaughter their way through town, their purpose is revealed to be more violent—and all the more terrifying. This one is a particularly brutal 80s sci-fi horror flick that will make you squirm and shudder the next time you see a clump of seaweed drifting your way.
Creepshow 2: The Raft (1987)
Stephen King’s notorious segment in ‘Creepshow 2’ has haunted many viewers (and readers) since childhood. Originally written as a short story in King’s 1985 collection ‘Skeleton Crew’, it was adapted into a twenty-minute film embedded within ‘Creepshow 2’. Despite not having an entire feature-length film to itself, this flick is terrifying enough to stand out on its own. Four college students take a dip in a remote lake in mid-October, swimming out to a raft in the middle of the water. A black, oil-like blob quickly encompasses them, graphically consuming and digesting alive any person that gets too close.
‘The Raft’ is the most unnerving aquatic terror on this list, if only for the fact that the blob has no known history, and by extension, no reason to massacre these kids—it just does.
Saving the best for last, the king of summer horror is Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic ‘Jaws’. Though it tops every list and may seem cliché to include here, it’s impossible not to. Not only is it terrifying and has caused decades of people to be fearful of going swimming, but ‘Jaws’ has heart. At its core, its the story of three men—young, enthusiastic ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), shark hunter and gruff but charismatic sea captain Quint (Robert Shaw), and mild-mannered, kindhearted police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider). We follow our heroes as they face their fears in the form of a colossal 25-foot great white shark that’s been feeding on the unsuspecting citizens and tourists of Amity Island, Massachusetts.
‘Jaws’ is a beautiful and terrifying film, and should be a summer staple of any film lovers’ watchlist.