Welcome to the good ship creature feature. If you’d like to sit down, we can go through the safety procedures that at no point you’ll ever need to use. What’s that? Blood on your seat? No, no, the previous passenger had a nose bleed, that’s all. Honestly, no, you can’t get off, we’re already on the way out of this peaceful harbour. Why not distract yourself with your last selfie? I mean, a selfie.
There’s nothing like a good underwater horror movie. There’s a base natural fear living just below the ocean wave, meaning a veritable slew of uncomfortable feelings for creature features to feed on like chum. But within the genre are the guilty pleasures. The movies we categorically shouldn’t love but still absolutely do. With the release of The Shallows as Blake Lively single handedly takes on a really vindictive shark, I thought I’d take a look at the best guilty pleasure underwater movies. Just don’t expect anything of a high calibre like Jaws and we’ll get on like a shark on fire.
1. The Shallows (2016)
It’s always a challenge to hang a movie off just one person and a giant angry sea creature but Blake Lively pulls it off pretty effortlessly. This might be shot like a Davidoff perfume advert and sold as a thriller, but it’s waist high in guilty pleasure territory as Lively’s surfer finds herself on a rock in the middle of a bay, unable to get back in the water due to a shark with a serious chip on its shoulder. The tension and pain is in there but so is the fact that she makes friends with a seagull and calls him Steven, meaning that even when the shark tension ramps up, we’re still in schlocky horror territory. Short, gory and sweet, The Shallows is intense, if guilty, fun.
2. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Also fondly known as ‘that Samuel L. Jackson shark movie’, Deep Blue Sea is the ultimate in toothy trash. On a quest to cure Alzheimer's disease, a remote science lab has genetically engineered three ultra intelligent sharks and been harvesting their brain tissue. In news to precisely no one who has ever heard Jeff Goldblum talk about whether scientists should or could, this isn’t a wise idea. Of course the mensa sharks escape and Samuel L Jackson, Saffron Burrows and LL Cool J - who has a pet cockatoo - all end up attempting to escape the facility. One enjoyably grim highlight sees a man in a stretcher who had been on his way into a rescue helicopter being used as an underwater battering ram by a giant shark who wants to get into the viewing area. Yes. Go watch now.
3. Bait 3D (2012)
Because more shark movies should be set in supermarkets. Hey look, we’re only on movie three, isn’t this fun? At least hear me out. In this schlocky Australian horror, a motley crew of attractive humans all find themselves in a supermarket and its attaching car park when a tsunami floods the place. This would already be unlucky enough but, just for good measure, a great white shark ends up in there with them that has a very different view on what makes a perfect bite to eat while they await rescue. The shark issue is fun enough but there’s plenty of human drama to enjoy too, and some loose electrical wiring that adds a certain spark to proceedings.
4. Piranha 3D (2010)
Yes, the one with Kelly Brook and the floating dismembered penis that should really be seen in the glory of three dimensions to be fully appreciated (even if there is a colour loss of 30%). Piranha 3D is shameless and brilliantly, brutally gory. Directed by horror maestro Alexandre Aja - the French director of Switchblade Romance/High Tension - the action is swift, gratuitous and hilarious. One giddily enjoyable sequence shows exactly what happens when a swarm of mutated piranhas meets swathes of spring breaking twenty somethings having a party on the lakeside. 75,000 gallons of fake blood were apparently used every day on set and you can see every drop. Don’t worry, it was environmentally friendly.
5. Lake Placid (1999)
Time for a crocodile movie. So good that it spawned three terrible sequels, not to mention a crossover Syfy TV show with Anaconda, Lake Placid follows the digestive tract of a 30 foot long saltwater croc. Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson and Bridget Fonda all head to the lake to investigate when something starts crunching down the tourists, and end up in a battle to stay alive as they try and capture it for science. Given the fact that crocodiles also have legs, it’s significantly harder to escape and there’s a stack of dark humour in store when you find out where it actually came from in the first place. With a solid R rating in a decade of safer disaster movies, there’s still plenty of good reasons to go back into the lake.
6. Shark Night 3D (2011)
Ok, this movie is officially terrible, it’s barely redeemable in fact, but it’s about every kind of shark you can think of being put in a lake and then a group of bickering college students being eaten. Yum. Abercrombie and Fitch flavour. Every shark you’d possibly like to imagine shows up to gnaw on young, attractive limbs and there’s even a hamfisted attempt at some kind of media influence social commentary. It doesn’t reach the heady heights of Piranha or even Sharknado but the trashiness of the offering is almost to be commended. Especially given that this was a cinema release and not direct to DVD fodder.
7. Rogue (2007)
Rogue is actually bordering on ‘really too good for this list’ territory. With a tagline of ‘how fast can you swim?’ this enormo-croc affair stars Radha Mitchell as a wildlife expert taking a group of reasonably obnoxious tourists on a river cruise. Things take a gory turn for the worst when they spot a wreck and the boat is badly damaged. Lo and behold they’re stranded and beholden to the the tide on a small island. With a twenty three foot reptile on the loose that really likes arms and legs, a dog that half the boat wants to use for bait and, of course, someone that can’t swim, it’s far too much fun for its own good.
8. Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy (2005)
Half man. Half shark. Total terror. Not joking. If you’ve ever turned on the Syfy channel in the last ten years you’ve probably had the pleasure of seeing what happens when Paul King has his stem cells modified with shark DNA. Or perhaps you were just appalled when the doctors (on the remote island that no one knows exists) call his wife who thinks he’s dead to try and get her to copulate with her now very carnivorous husband in the hope of creating half man/half shark babies. As cute as they would be, this is a brilliantly bloody disaster from start to finish. It’s awful. Truly. But in the best way. Perhaps best combined with…
9. Sharknado (2013)
My favourite thing about Syfy’s Sharknado is not the point when a man yanks a chainsaw into action and jumps into the mouth of a great white shark while on land. It’s not Tara Reid’s acting. Or even the part where a house in the middle of LA somehow floods like the Titanic. It’s all the moments where someone clearly said “we’ll fix this in post production.” When you can see people driving past in the background as the leading actors battle sharks tumbling from a tornado. It’s best enjoyed with friends and more than a few margaritas but this is the original and best. And hey, if you like it, the latest in the series Sharknado: The 4th Awakens is available now.
10. Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009)
The idea of Asylum’s films is always far better than the, well, execution. Two stratospherically huge creatures at war with humanity stuck in the middle painfully unequipped to deal with the battle at hand. It’s probably a testament to these giant monster movies that even the latest Godzilla movie couldn’t get it right either. Just like the rest of the absurd giant creature features, there’s a lot of innocent joy in Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus if you don’t need your films to have good acting, special effects or characterisation. Hell, you’ve got Suicide Squad for that, right? The scene as a shark the size of a building leaps out of the water and eats an entire plane is definitely the highlight. Maybe never pay actual money but it’s what movie streaming was made for.
Image credits: 20th Century Fox, Incentive Film Productions, The Asylum, Syfy, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Dimension Films, Village Roadshow Pictures.