Swimming is a beloved summer pass time until what lurks beneath the surface gets hungry.
From countless shark attack films to man-eating piranhas and strange, mythical creatures, there are a variety of horror films featuring aquatic creatures to enjoy as the summer draws to a close. There isn’t an abundance of aquatic horror films, but those that exist prey on our fears. Fears of the dark, unexplored depths of the ocean, and what lurks beneath the surface of the water.
It’s human nature to fear the unknown. Perhaps that fear is why so many of us are wary of the ocean. There’s something off-putting about wading through murky water, unaware of what lies below the surface, possibly right beneath your feet. Over 80 percent of the ocean has never been explored. Who knows what sort of terrifying creatures could be down there?
Before the summer ends, explore your fear of the deep blue sea with five thrilling aquatic creature features that’ll have you questioning if it’s safe to go back into the water.
You can’t make a list of terrifying aquatic creatures without including Jaws (1975). Steven Spielberg’s film based on the book of the same name by Peter Benchley is arguably one of the most influential thrillers of all time, inspiring several generations to fear sharks. The film stars Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw. Police Chief Martin Brody (Scheider), marine biologist Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss), and ship captain Quint (Shaw) seek out a man-eating great white shark that’s been attacking and killing beachgoers off Cape Cod. The coastal town of Amity Island relies on summer tourism and
A mechanical shark nicknamed Bruce was constructed, but the shark often malfunctioned, and its presence had to be implied with underwater shots and an ominous score by composer John Williams. The horror relies on cleverly built tension and the audience's imagination, with the shark not appearing on-screen until the film’s final act. Nearly 50 years later, Jaws remains a pop culture phenomenon. If you haven't seen Jaws, you're missing out on a truly iconic creature feature.
Sharp-toothed carnivorous fish is already terrifying, so it’s no wonder these freaky little creatures inspired the 1978 Jaws parody, Piranha (1978). Directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins), it’s about a river infested with genetically engineered piranha attacking the guests of a nearby summer resort and anyone else in the river. The film was released to mixed reviews but eventually gained cult status as a self-aware satire that manages to be both frightening and comedic. It led to a sequel, Piranha 2: The Spawning (1982), and two remakes in 1995 and 2010. Piranha is iconic in its own right, with Steven Spielberg even referring to it as "the best of the Jaws ripoffs."
The only thing scarier than being trapped in a category five hurricane is adding flood waters infested with alligators. That’s the plot of Crawl (2019), directed by Alexandre Aja. The film follows Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario), a college swimmer who, after learning a hurricane is heading for her family home in Florida, goes to locate her father (Barry Pepper), to make sure he evacuates safely. However, aggressive alligators trap the two and their dog in the home’s crawl space, and soon the house begins to flood. Although most of the film takes place in one location, the horror is heightened by the claustrophobic space and the characters’ sense of helplessness when they cannot escape. Horror icon and creator of The Evil Dead (1981) Sam Raimi is one of Crawl’s producers, and in an interview with Flickering Myth, Aja said The Evil Dead inspired the movie’s crawl space setting.
If being shipwrecked and forced to survive alone on a deserted island isn’t scary enough, imagine being stranded and having a terrifying humanoid sea creature stalking you at night. In Sweetheart (2019), Jennifer Remming’s (Kiersey Clemons) boat sinks, and she washes up on an uninhabited island, only to be hunted by a giant sea monster. Directed by J.D. Dillard and produced by Jason Blum, the film garnered mostly positive reviews for its unique addition to the aquatic creature feature subgenre.
There’s room for more than one man-eating shark on this list. Although there's a plethora of shark attack features, most of which attempt to emulate the success of Jaws, The Shallows (2016) stands out for its focus on survival horror, with its suspense emanating from a woman’s determination to make it out alive. Blake Lively plays medical student Nancy Adams. In honor of her late mother, she travels to a secluded beach in Mexico to surf, and a shark attacks her in shallow waters. Nancy becomes stranded 200 yards from shore with only an injured seagull to keep her company. Directed by Juame Collet-Serra (Orphan), The Shallows generally received positive reviews.