Terror Beneath the Sea: Eight Aquatic Horror Movies to Watch Before Underwater

Space and the deep sea make for great horror settings. This is probably in large part due to the fact that they’re both unexplored. At some points, the ocean is thousands of feet deep …. who know what lurks at the bottom. And it’s this ambiguity – or lack of knowledge and experience – that fuels what we’ll call ‘aquatic horror’. This weekend 20th Century Fox releases the Kristen Stewart vehicle, Underwater, bringing aquatic horror back into theaters. If you’re thinking of checking Underwater out and want an appetizer beforehand, below is a list of some other aquatic horror movies.

Virus (1999)

‘Scream Queen’ Jamie Lee Curtis has starred in a lot of good horror movies. Halloween. Prom Night. Terror Train. Sadly, Virus isn’t among those good movies. Even Jamie Lee Curtis hates Virus. To a large extent, criticisms of Virus are warranted. In spite of a few good ideas, the movie is patchwork of stuff lifted from better movies. And Donald Sutherland is a legend, but his scene-chewing here is cringe-worthy. Nonetheless, Virus’ story of a salvage crew encountering a sentient alien energy intent on wiping out humanity by mixing us with machines has its moments. Decent effects and an unwillingness to slow things down help. Neither scary nor atmospheric, Virus is watchable by virtue of the fact that it chugs along without giving you much time to roll your eyes at it.

DeepStar Six (1989)

In 1989, Hollywood released not one, but two aquatic monster horror movies. Neither of these movies is a classic. Though opinions may vary, DeepStar Six is the lesser of those two movies. Friday the 13th director Sean S Cunningham helmed this aquatic horror movie about a sea monster attacking a deep sea naval outpost. On the one hand, the creature – some type prehistoric sea scorpion – boasts a pretty impressive design. Moreover, Cunningham knows how to get a few good scares from the setting. Unfortunately, DeepStar Six is utterly predictable, too often reminiscent of better movies. Ham-fisted dialogue and unmemorable characters sink any commentary on protecting our ecosystems.

Leviathan (1989)

And the winner of the 1989 aquatic monster movie is … Leviathan. First, Leviathan is not technically a great movie. Upon its release, critics hated it just a little less than DeepStar Six. Both movies are built on heavy-handed warnings about ‘meddling with nature’ while featuring safe, predictable scares. Where Leviathan improves on DeepStar Six is Stan Winston’s impressive creature effects. In addition, Leviathan benefits from a much better cast from top to bottom.

Below (2002)

Arguably, Below is most unique movie on this list. No sea monsters or killer sharks here. Consider Below to be a mix of Das Boot meets The Haunting. Set during World War II, David Twohy’s (Pitch Black) Below is a supernatural thriller on a submarine. Less pulpy and rooted in B-movie aesthetics, Below strives to be a more atmospheric ‘haunted house’ movie. And for the most part, Twohy manages to exploit his claustrophobic setting to weave an effective, supernatural mystery. Good performances and nice cinematorgraphy also elevate Below over other movies on this list.

Deep Rising (1998)

If Leviathan is a passable aquatic horror movie, Deep Rising is fun popcorn entertainment. Director Stephen Sommers knows how to do B-movies justice and it shows in Deep Rising. Mercenaries sent to loot a luxury ocean liner find it abandoned … with the exception of giant, tentacled sea monsters. Mayhem ensues for the next 90 minutes or so. What makes Deep Rising work is that it knows it’s a B-movie. As a result, Sommers lets a strong cast and impressive creature effects have some fun. And if you go into Deep Rising with the right mindset, you’ll have fun, too. Fun side note: Deep Rising is the third movie on this list starring Cliff Curtis.

The Meg (2018)

For a movie about a massive prehistoric shark, The Meg has was a pretty forgettable killer shark movie. Arguably, the best thing about The Meg was its marketing campaign. Aside from the Child’s Play remake, I can’t think of many other horror movies that had such great promotional posters. Though the megalodon’s scares didn’t match its bite, the deep sea shark thriller is briskly paced. And it packs just enough dumb fun to earn a passing grade. That camera shot of the prehistoric shark floating in murky water outside an underground research lab is a money shot. If only The Meg had chased an R-rating. This was clearly a movie that would have benefited from some over-the-top carnage.

Piranha 3D (2012)

Speaking of carnage, New French Extremity alumni Alexandra Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Crawl) knows what horror fans want out of their B-monster movies. As far as remakes go, Piranha 3D honoured the spirit of its 1970’s predecessor, mixing old-school monster movie fun with plenty of blood and entrails. Expect tongue-in-cheek horror delivered by a surprisingly strong cast. No, the CGI piranha aren’t all that convincing. But Aja’s shot of hundreds of the man-eaters in a deep sea cavern is still pretty cool. And who doesn’t want to watch Ving Rhames use a boat propeller to dice up piranha. As a bonus, you’ll get to see Jerry O’Connell’s severed penis floating in the water. In 3D no less.

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Smart sharks, dumb movie. Yet it’s difficult to complain about Renny Harlin’s deep sea shark thriller. It’s a movie that knows it’s dumb and jumps into the water feet first. Harlin takes his B-movie premise and CGI sharks and never lets things slow down once the first bite is taken. Like Aja’s Piranha, Deep Blue Sea finds plenty of clever ways to have its sharks pick off an underwater facility’s scientists. Arguably, Samuel L Jackson’s death scene is the movie’s scene-stealer. When a shark shockingly surprises a rousing monologue, you’re laughing and jumping at the same time. If the effects feel dated, enjoy the stellar cast that would go on to bigger and better things. But word to the wise. Avoid the belated sequel at all costs.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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