Water-based Horror films

Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons | The main antagonist of the “Jaws” franchise, Bruce, swims toward the ocean surface on the 1975 “Jaws” book cover.

By Will Gruwell ’21


Throughout the past few decades, the entertainment industry has witnessed a significant increase in the production of horror films revolving around the ominous mystery of the vast ocean.

The movie “Jaws” kicked off this trend in 1975, featuring a massive shark that was responsible for killing a young lady. Chief of Police Martin Brody teams up with a scientist and an old ship captain to take down the beast in a gripping man vs. nature showdown.

“Jaws” was particularly well known for how great director Steven Spielberg used tension, keeping the film’s viewers on the edge of their seats. According to Mr. John Damaso ’97, Brophy’s cinema teacher, this film is now looked back upon as the “catalyst to Spielberg’s career, especially the famous scene where Brody sees the child being eaten…They pull the camera away, making the famous ‘Hitchcock vertigo shot.’

It was planned for a strategic summer release, and it became an event. Jaws was marked as the first summer blockbuster.” Mr. Damaso went on to explain that, “the filming itself was unique as it was filmed in pools, not in the ocean due to the salt corroding the mechanical shark.”

He eventually went on to explain that, “Spielberg’s point of view camera angle featured in Jaws regulated the angle into mainstream movie production.” It practically kicked off the beginning of a new sub-genre for horror movies, water-based horror films.

Following “Jaws” was the film “Piranha” and eventually the sequels to “Jaws.” As the years progressed so did the fear of the ocean and its creatures. Mr. Damaso continued to mention the idea that all of the movies started out as man vs. nature, often re-enacting the classic man vs. mythical beast.

However, as the movie progresses, you soon see a man vs man conflict emerge. For example, in “The Shallows,” the primary and initial antagonists presented are sharks, hunting Nancy Adams, a medical student, who is surfing alone at a secluded beach. As the film continues, though, it becomes a mental game in which her mind soon deteriorates and she begins to hallucinate.

After understanding the fear behind water-based horror films and how the evolution of Jaws truly changed the way we see water and the ocean today, is it really the water that we fear or is it our own perception of water that we fear?