It is once again the time of year when we all pack up our cars and head out for days of sun, sand, and sea. The beach getaway is a time-honored summer tradition, a part of American life that’s so seeped into our collective consciousness that we can’t help but wonder what could be lurking under the sand or in the surf. Sure, the beach can be fun, but have you considered all the ways living by the sea can go horribly wrong? There are sharks, of course, but what if there are also Humanoids From the Deep? What if this beach makes you old?
So if you can’t make it to the beach this summer (or you just want to stay home because you’ve seen too many horror movies), but you’d still like some beach vibes on your couch, we’ve got you covered. From Northern California nightmares to Massachusetts massacres, these are the essential seaside horror movies.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Jaws is still the first and best choice when it comes to seaside horror stories. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s got great performances, the John Williams score will stick in your head for decades, and, of course, it’s the movie that basically gave birth to the summer blockbuster. Most important, it still feels like a summer blockbuster almost 50 years later because director Steven Spielberg’s powers of composition, pacing, and blending horror and humor are just that strong, even in his breakthrough film. Quint needs a bigger boat, but you won’t need a bigger beach horror extravaganza than this one.
If you’ve seen Jaws a million times and you’re looking for some deeper cuts, you could start with this under-the-radar gem about a waitress in a seaside bar (Millie Perkins) whose dark past and breaks with reality slowly turn her not just into a killer but into a kind of oceanfront succubus. Born the daughter of a sailor, she has the ocean in her blood and believes it holds answers to the mystery of her father’s absence — and to her own strange relationship with reality. Perkins is phenomenal in the lead role, and the dreamlike quality of the story as she drifts from violent act to violent act will hypnotize and terrorize you.
If zombies are your thing, look to legendary Italian Godfather of Gore Lucio Fulci, who delivers beachfront undead for the ages with this splatter-laden classic, a would-be sequel to Dawn of the Dead that features all-new characters and an all-new location. This time, most of the action unfolds on an island in the Caribbean, where zombies rise up from their graves, walk across the sand, and murder everyone in their path — including one infamous kill involving a jagged piece of wood and an eyeball. Zombi 2 is probably the only movie where you can see a zombie fight a shark, so take that, Spielberg.
What if The Creature From the Black Lagoon went to deeper and more gruesome extremes in his original Universal horror days? And what if there was more than one of him and they were all steeped in practical-effect gore? Then you get Humanoids From the Deep, a nasty little creature feature about the title monsters rising up from the ocean to prey on the women in a seaside town. It’s pure ’80s horror sludge, and we mean that in a good way.
Sometimes beaches don’t mean sun, sand, and swimsuits. Sometimes they mean nights by a fire, lighthouses on a hill, and … ghost sailors rising up from the sea to collect their revenge. Though it’s not as iconic as Halloween or as well constructed as The Thing, The Fog remains John Carpenter’s most eerily atmospheric film — certainly literally so, if not figuratively. His camera takes to the coasts of Northern California so naturally, and with such practiced grace, that you’ll want to vacation in Antonio Bay next summer … you know, once the ghosts are gone.
There’s a lot of talent in Dead & Buried, but four decades after its release, the film’s unassailable star is Stan Winston, who did the often stomach-churning visual effects. Narratively, the film fits right into the Small Town With a Secret subgenre, depicting a coastal town and the strange residents who are behind a series of mysterious deaths. In terms of vibe, it functions much like The Fog: an eerie chiller that will make you question your next pit stop on a seaside drive.
One of the most memorably brutal straight-up slashers of the 1980s, The Mutilator was originally named Fall Break because it follows a group of friends who head to a beach house during some days off from college. What they find when they get there, of course, is much more than a quiet seaside retreat. Once the brutal kills begin, in often inventive fashion (outboard motors aren’t just for boats!), they never let up, cementing The Mutilator as one of the most memorable entries in the ’80s slasher boom. Killers weren’t just waiting for you at summer camp. They were on the beach, too.
We’re cheating a little bit here because “The Raft” isn’t really seaside horror. It’s lakeside horror, but it’s such an unforgettable piece of aquatic terror that we have to include it. (And people who live closer to freshwater than the ocean deserve love, too.) Based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name, it’s a simple tale of a group of friends trying to survive an attack in a secluded lake by a blobbish monster that has them cornered on the title raft. The creature and gore effects do the rest, and the result is thousands of traumatized kids in the ’80s and beyond.
When you’re young, the beach holds a sense of uninterrupted, limitless promise, and it’s that sense of eternal youth and beauty that The Lost Boys seeks to both capture and subvert with its story of a California town plagued by vampires. It begins as the story of a family trying to adjust to a new life by the ocean and evolves into an exploration of the creatures who make the ruins of former boardwalk glory into their watery playground. Joel Schumacher directs the hell out of the film, perfectly balancing camp with genuine scares, and lead performances from Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland remind us of the dark and light sides of any beach getaway.
Kids do dumb stuff on summer vacation, and sometimes that dumb stuff has fatal consequences. That’s the hook (pun very much intended) behind this seminal ’90s slasher — one of the most memorable in the post-Scream boom — in which a group of friends are preyed upon by a killer fisherman after covering up a death the previous summer in their coastal town where the ocean always threatens to expose their secrets. Most fans remember the film for its quartet of sexy young ’90s stars, but today it plays very well as a study in privilege and what it costs when you fail to acknowledge it.
The great Stuart Gordon made this his last H.P. Lovecraft–inspired horror film after the double whammy of Re-Animator and From Beyond, and it’s a worthy capper to the thematic trilogy. Dagon follows a couple who stumble upon an isolated fishing village in Spain where it seems to constantly rain and where the villagers themselves have begun mutating into human-fish hybrids with frightening voices and even more frightening intentions. You can see most of the twists and turns coming, but the sheer force of the atmosphere here is palpable and powerful and will make you look at every local a little bit differently on your next beach getaway.
Though it never got the same cult-classic love as Super Troopers, Broken Lizard’s slasher spoof still has plenty to offer, particularly for longtime fans of the horror genre. Set at a fictional resort that’s definitely not a Margaritaville ripoff (run by Bill Paxton, playing a guy who’s definitely not Jimmy Buffett), Club Dread follows a lot of conventional slasher rhythms, as the resort staff are picked off by a masked killer with a machete, but it also packs some surprising inventions. The buildup to each kill is satisfying and the cast is clearly having a blast playing in this space. The result is goofy fun as sickly sweet as a giant piña colada.
Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich star in this somewhat forgotten thriller about a couple who sets out to hike toward a mysterious and secluded beach in Hawaii, only to find that a killer who’s been wreaking havoc on tourists may be stalking them. Full of solid performances and natural beauty, A Perfect Getaway creates a palpable Who Can You Trust? vibe then backs it up with satisfying twists. You really never truly know the friends you make on vacation.
Like “The Raft” before it, Alexandre Aja’s update to the Piranha franchise is technically lakeside, not seaside, but it’s too much fun to ignore in this case. Set at Arizona’s Lake Victoria during spring break, the film documents the carnage that unfolds when a group of prehistoric piranhas make their way up from an underwater cave and start devouring spring breakers left and right. The gore effects are astonishing, plentiful, and often darkly hilarious, and the cast is totally game for what’s going to happen to them. If nothing else, Piranha 3D is the only movie on this list that has a severed penis come straight at the screen.
Jordan Peele’s second horror feature is inspired, in part, by The Lost Boys, taking on the same exploration of the dark side of a beach getaway. The whole film is about duality, the darker side of all of us, and how it factors into one family’s seaside vacation. Throw in one of the most brilliant murder scenes in recent memory, a layered and complex backstory, and plenty of beachfront creepiness, and it becomes an epic portrayal of how quickly the idealized façade of our lives, and our vacations, can fall away. We’re still mad about Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscars snub for this one!
Survival horror and beach horror fit right in with one another, and J.D. Dillard’s Sweetheart is a perfect blend of the two subgenres. Starring Kiersey Clemons as a young woman stranded on an island in the wake of a shipwreck, Sweetheart is part creature feature, part survivalist, and part deep dive into one person’s psychological journey. It’s also one of the most slept-on horror success stories of the past five years, so watch it and tell your friends.
Even by M. Night Shyamalan standards, Old is a memefest for the ages, and it’s easy to see why. Shyamalan’s tale of a group of people stranded on a stretch of sand that accelerates the aging process — a.k.a. The Beach That Makes You Old™ — is satisfyingly and gloriously pulpy, playing up the immediate horror implications of such a place with a sense of fun that never lets up. But when the memes fade out and the body horror dies down, it’s a potent meditation on lost time, the things we neglect, and what we’re meant to do with the time we have left. But if you don’t buy that, you can still make those memes.