The Best Offshore Horror Movies You've Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You've Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week we get our feet wet with some underappreciated horrors on the open water!)

Horror can unfold anywhere, but there's something especially unnerving about nightmares at sea. Traveling by boat can be a lonely affair under even the best conditions as you're cut off physically from the outside world, and that can be the case whether or not you're alone. Add natural threats like sharks, sunstroke, and the disorienting effect of thirst and things get even worse. But toss in horror elements and it becomes something altogether more frightening. There's nowhere to run when you're surrounded by water.

Jaws (1975) is the best the genre has to offer, but there are plenty of other examples delivering thrills and chills. Virus (1999), Ghost Ship (2002), and even Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) are all varying degrees of fun, but they're just the tip of the offshore horror iceberg.

Keep reading for a look at six good to great movies you've probably never seen about boat-set horrors.

Satan's Triangle (1975)

A pair of Coast Guard pilots responding to a distress call find a seemingly abandoned sailboat with a priest's body hanging from the mast. A second body is stuck in a hatch, a third is floating in mid-air in a cabin below, and a traumatized young woman is found to be the only survivor. Trapped on the boat with her, one of the pilots listens as she recounts the nightmare that transpired.

As television movies go this one has one hell of an opening. The dead bodies offer a succession of horrifying scenes culminating in the one floating below, and the flashback teases additional terror. Opening text suggests thousands of people have disappeared in the Triangle and that this is just one explanation, and what an explanation it is. It blends common sense, accidental demise, and our innate human fears into a story rife with possibility. Some fo the optical effects are hindered by their 70s TV origins, but the core of the mystery and unease survives.

There's plenty of cheese to be found here – Doug McClure isn't the most subtle of actors, and his character's smarmy macking on the scared woman seems uncool – but in addition to the opening imagery, the film builds to a darkly cynical ending that I wholly approve of. Warning, 43-year-old spoiler heading your way, but it does not end well for our pilots. All of the answers fall into place, but then the film pulls the trigger on its most horrifying beats leaving real-world explanations in its wake.

Satan's Triangle is not currently available.

Savage Water (1979)

The Colorado River calls to many a vacationer hoping to find fun and adventure rafting its winding waters and raging rapids, but one group enjoying a weekend paddling through the Grand Canyon finds only terror instead. The first death occurs after the group's three rafts move deep into the canyon and stop to make camp, but while it appears to be an accident it's only the beginning of what promises to be a very deadly holiday weekend.

This regional thriller is a slasher of sorts as it's made clear from the very first kill that someone is offing people intentionally. We see hands push a man to his death and hide a rattlesnake in an obnoxious kid's sleeping bag, and this same killer slashes a throat, poisons a woman, and more. The kills start after a good amount of time spent with the characters, and its whodunnit nature offers up a few clear suspects in between banter leaving us hoping certain characters will bite it. The film shifts as paranoia and panic leads some to target the man they suspect of being the murderer leading up to a denouement featuring a court case (?) and a final reveal. It's incredibly cheap fun that I cannot recommend enough.

Regular readers know I like to cheat on these lists once in a while just so I can feel alive, and to that end, yes, most of this film takes place on land. It's land only reachable by whitewater raft, though, so I feel pretty okay about it. They're on strips of dry land, but the water plays a major enough role in that it essentially traps them there between the river and the canyon wall. There are a couple hairy moments on the water itself including one sequence of the survivors riding the rapids after having just realized there's a murderer among them – it's thrilling, but also a bit silly as some of them are clearly smiling and laughing as anyone would while whitewater rafting. What are you gonna do... it's a regional indie.

Savage Water is not currently available.

Dead Calm (1989)

A couple dealing with the grief of losing their young son head to sea for solace and relaxation, but both are soon interrupted by the discovery of a panicked young man in a lifeboat. His own ship has met some unclear fate, but as the hours pass, it becomes clear that he may have been the one responsible.

Philip Noyce's terrifically intense film is the first of two on this list that some among you have in fact probably seen, but I'm including it because a surprising number of people still haven't. Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman play the couple while Billy Zane goes gloriously gonzo as the mad American, and all three give energetic and focused performances that leave audiences rooting for the first two and raging against the third. Fair warning to animal lovers, there is a dog aboard with the couple and he does indeed meet his maker – but he's something of a prick meaning you won't be too broken up over it.

There are multiple set-pieces here squeezing real suspense and tension between the three characters, but the centerpiece sees Neill's capable sailor head over to the American's ship in search of answers only to find a bloodbath. Bodies are everywhere, the ship is sinking, and he's quickly trapped inside as the madman sails away with his wife. It's a true nail-biter leading up to a leap guaranteed to leave viewers holding their breath in anticipation and fear. It's just aces all around, and it ends with one hell of a cathartic and cheer-worthy kill.

Dead Calm is available to buy/rent on Amazon.

Ghostboat (2006)

A British submarine that went missing towards the end of World War II suddenly resurfaces, but while it originally went down with nearly its entire crew it's found completely empty. One sailor who escaped before it sank is called back to service to help explain what happened. Along with a new crew of British sailors, they retrace the sub's original path in search of answers, but ghostly voices from the past soon start taking control.

This UK mini-series should appeal to fans of U-571 (2000) and Below (2002) alike as it approaches the sub's handling with legit-sounding detail. It feels at times like a more traditional sub film like Das Boot or Crimson Tide, but it applies that serious approach to a solidly Twilight Zone-like premise. It's the present day above, but the crew below begins taking on the traits and behaviors of the sub's original sailors. It's a haunting of sorts as the two times merge, and unless it can be stopped this new crew is equally doomed.

Its immediate story is that of a seemingly haunted sub, and it succeeds in delivering some engaging supernatural shenanigans, but much of the terror comes from the overriding impulses of men. The sub is deemed to have some manner of otherworldly power, and some aboard her think she should be used as a weapon. Harnessing evil powers for the purpose of war almost never works out well for those involved, and that trend's not about to change here.

Ghostboat is available on DVD from Amazon.

Triangle (2009)

A group of friends on a sailing trip capsize far from land and find rescue in a passing cruise ship. One problem, it appears empty aside from a killer wearing a burlap sack. That's frightening enough, but the mysterious figure is ultimately the least of their concerns.

Like Dead Calm, this is a film that many of you have probably seen, but it's again a movie that still more of you should. Writer/director Christopher Smith delivers a mesmerizing puzzle box mashing horror and sci-fi into a brilliant genre concoction. It's constantly surprising, and as more twists rear their head the dark beauty of it all comes clearer causing the corners of your mouth to rise. (That's me describing a smile in a convoluted way.) The film is easily spoiled on that front, but happily, even knowing the details the film is highly rewatchable all the same.

It's a smart film across the board, but Smith's smartest decision is in the casting of Melissa George in the lead. She has a few horror gems amid her filmography including 30 Days of Night (2007) and A Lonely Place to Die (2011), and she's the best thing in some lesser fare too (Turistas, 2006). Her role here is a demanding one physically, mentally, and emotionally, and it grows increasingly complicated as she keeps pace with the story beats.

Triangle is available to buy/rent on Amazon.

The Boat (2018)

A fisherman heading out for the day's catch finds an abandoned sailboat instead, and when his own boat mysteriously comes untied and drifts away he's forced to remain aboard. Mechanical problems, the threat of sinking, curiously locked doors, and an impending storm see his wits and abilities tested, and it only gets worse when he realizes that someone – or something – is on the boat with him.

There's a lot to love in this terrific slice of seabound terror from its setup to its pitch-perfect ending, but one of its most appealing aspects is its dual nature as both horror and survival film. Even if you remove the elements teasing something unnatural at play you're still left with an incredibly thrilling adventure pitting one man's knowledge and instincts against all manner of challenges. Most of us would be dead thirty minutes in, but our unnamed protagonist – the film's only character – meets most obstacles with grit and calm determination. It's a suspenseful ride, and as confirmed by its ridiculously good ending it's also a highly satisfying ode to mutual respect between man and nature... and something else.

Several crazy good movies played this year's Fantastic Fest, but this unassuming gem was my absolute favorite. With only a single character the dialogue is kept to the bare minimum, but star/co-writer Joe Azzopardi makes his intentions and emotions clear with a solid performance that holds viewers rapt as he fights to survive against increasingly damning odds. Imagine 2013's All Is Lost, but with a heavy hint of the unknown, or even the Dead Calm scene highlighted above, but stretched out to feature length and given a twist of the supernatural. It's smart entertainment I'm hoping to set sail with again soon.

The Boat is currently unavailable and seeking distribution.