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.

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