Horror By the Sub-Genres: Underwater Horror

The more advanced and civilized humanity becomes, the less equipped we are to protect and defend ourselves without the civilization and the technological advances. The world itself seems to be aware of our inherent weakness and actively tries to confine us in the narrow window where we can survive; gravity keeps us out of the cold vacuum of space, and buoyancy keep us out of the crushing depths of the ocean. Constantly being pushed down from the sky and up from the water, and we still have the audacity to consider ourselves the superior species.

As if it weren’t humbling enough that our planet is the only speck of uninhabitable dirt for billions of miles, we also look around this planet to see that two-thirds of it is covered in water. Water is the lifeblood and poison of humanity; too little and we die of dehydration, too much and we drown. The relationship between humanity and water, much like any tenuous relationship, is a matter of degrees.

But humanity refuses to be told what they can and cannot do; our ego tells us that there is nothing that ingenuity and hard work cannot achieve, and so we venture into the murky deep with a level of unearned confidence matching our lack of preparedness. Requiring a sealed suit made of metal, thick fabric, and tanks of air just to keep our fragile bodies from suffocating, freezing, or being crushed, we bob in the water, barely able to move and appearing not much different from the fish pulled from the ocean and left to flail about on the deck of a boat. We may not die because of the water, but we certainly do not look at home in it.

And it is that battle, the fight between the inherent danger of the depths of the ocean and the hubris of man, that creates situations rife with the real-life and not-so-real-life terrors from beneath the surface. Here are four recommendations for further exploration into the sub-genre. (NOTE: This only covers films where the horror is beneath the surface; a whole other sub-genre of horror film exists at the surface of the water)


Based on the novel by “Jaws” writer Peter Benchley and directed by Peter Yates, who made the fun fantasy of “Krull” and the cool action of “Bullitt”, “The Deep” revolves around a vacationing couple who stumble onto treasure in a shipwreck in Bermuda. Though not strictly a horror film, and not spent entirely underwater, the amazing undersea photography earns this film a place in the category.
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Another thriller in the ocean based on a novel, this time by “Jurassic Park” author Michael Crichton, “Sphere” follows four scientists taken to an underwater station in order to make contact with what they believe to be an active alien vessel which crash-landed in the ocean 300 years earlier. Directed by “The Bay” director Barry Levinson, and starring a great cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson and Liev Schreiber, this sci-fi tinged horror film’s heady subject matter made for a difficult time at the box office.
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The other “aliens under the water” film that came out in 1989 (the most famous being “The Abyss”), “DeepStar Six” was directed by horror film guru Sean S. Cunningham of “Friday the 13th” fame. This minor effort from likeable stars such as Greg Evigan, Miguel Ferrer, and Nia Peeples had little chance against James Cameron’s juggernaut, and was quickly relegated to cult status on VHS.
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A clever and claustrophobic military thriller with a possible supernatural slant, “Below” was directed by “Pitch Black” writer/director David Twohy, from a story by “The Wrestler” director Darren Aranofsky. When a World War II American submarine picks up survivors from a British medical ship, they begin to notice that strange occurrences on the boat could be as a result of too much carbon monoxide… or something much more sinister. Filled with a cast of soon-to-be stars (including an early appearance from “The Hangover” comedian Zack Galifianakis), this criminally underseen film came and went with little fanfare.
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Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay


Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay are a husband and wife writing team who agree on almost everything except whether or not 28 Days Later should be considered a zombie movie. After years devoted to interviews, podcasts, and articles in which they championed the idea that the horror film genre should be taken seriously, they hope the idea is finally catching on.

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