The Phantom’s Top Ten Fishy Horror Films for Lent

Join the Phantom of the Ville as he gives up all manner of bloody horror films for Lent, and chews exclusively on the ten best fishy terrors in cinema history!

Louisville is a city with strong Catholic roots, but I suspect that even non-practicing Catholics in the River City partake in the many church sponsored Fish Fries that take place between Ash Wednesday, March 5th and Thursday, April 17th. It’s in this spirit of ritual fasting that I offer this Top Ten List of Fishy Horror Films for those of you that may wish to abstain from bloody slashers, creepy ghost stories and other land locked horrors during this time of year.

This list required some really tough choices, as the horrors of the deep have offered Hollywood countless aquatic nightmares, and even though several of my picks are certainly B-movies, I’ve made it a point not to sink to the level of the SyFy Channel (Sorry, “Sharknado”!).

So without further ado, let’s jump into the deep end of the pool.

10) “It Came from Beneath the Sea” (1955): Let’s start the seafood banquet with a little calamari, or more specifically, a heaping portion of giant octopus. A giant, radioactive octopus terrorizes San Francisco, tearing down the Golden Gate Bridge during its monstrous rampage, as stalwart Navy Captain, Kenneth Tobey, fights back with a high tech torpedo. Special effects genius, Ray Harryhausen, also fought a serious budget limitation by creating only six legs for his animated octopus.

9) “Alligator” (1980): According to a post on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, US Catholics are free to eat alligator this Lent. So feel free to pair some Louisiana cuisine with this gritty and funny B-movie about a giant alligator loose in the New York City sewer system. Atmospheric lighting and gory alligator attacks highlight this toothy gem as New York cop, Robert Forster, seeks the truth about this 1980s urban legend.

8) “Frankenfish” (2004): Mark A. Z. Dippe, the director responsible for ruining the film adaptation of Todd McFarlane’sSpawn” (1997), delivered much better results with mutated Chinese snakehead fish in this much-better-than-it-should-be fish tale. Rising from the toxic waters of the usual SyFy Channel trash, “Frankenfish” delivers an extremely gory good time and above water special effects. DVD copies are currently available at Half Price Books for less than five bucks, making this B-movie the perfect after Fish Fry dessert.

7) “Humanoids from the Deep” (1980): Leave it to super producer, Roger Corman, to deliver the perfect thriller about gooey fish creatures from the deep who want nothing more than to mate with hot American women and make little fish abominations! Two-fisted Irish fisherman, Doug McClure, must save a small town’s Salmon Festival from a sexual assault from an army of fish monsters. Skip the limp 1996 re-make and stick with the original.

6) “Orca” (1977): What makes this fisherman VS blackfish tale unique is the fact that it might be the only horror film of its kind that sort of makes the fish the vengeful hero of the story. I guess you could certainly argue that Captain Ahab was more of a villain than the white whale in “Moby Dick,” but “Orca” makes it pretty clear that star, Richard Harris, is guilty of a terrible sin for the savage killing of a killer whale’s mate and unborn baby. The remainder of the film follows the killer whales’ dogged pursuit of Harris across the ocean in a quest for revenge.

5) “Bait” (2012): I’m picking this recent Australian shark film over dozens of other “Jaws” knock-offs produced since the summer of 1975 as one of the more clever and entertaining twists on the shark movie subgenre. I reviewed the movie for the Louisville Halloween website a couple of years ago ( if you’re curious to see why this beat out “Deep Blue Sea” (1999), “Great White” AKA “The Last Shark” (1981) and dozens of other worthy competitors for a spot on this list. A rogue tsunami wave traps of group of people in a beachfront shopping center with a couple of washed up Great White sharks.

4) “Dagon” (2001): No list that deals with the slimy, mysterious, tentacle covered terrors of the deep is complete without mention of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and this Stuart Gordon directed masterpiece is based both on Lovecraft’s “Dagon” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” A boat accident lands a young man and his girlfriend stranded in a strange Spanish village where the villagers appear to worship an elder sea god who may be turning them into subhuman fish people!

3) “Piranha” (1978): The shark fin of producer Roger Corman surfaces again as the mastermind behind director Joe Dante’s razor tooth epic about Amazonian flesh-eating fish set loose in the fresh waters of a summer resort community. Genre all-stars Bradford Dillman, Kevin McCarthy and Barbara Steele must navigate the piranha infested river to save the kids at a nearby summer camp from becoming fish food. Skip the inferior sequel, “Piranha Part Two: The Spawning” (1981), which was directed by JamesTitanicCameron, and the worthless 1995 remake with William Katt. I had fun with “Piranha 3D” (2010), but not so much with “Piranha 3DD” (2012).

2) “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954): It’s back to the Golden Age of Science Fiction to bring this list’s runner up to the surface, Universal Studio’s masterpiece of sci-fi adventure, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” A small group of scientists travel up the mysterious Amazon River to uncover the secret lagoon of the prehistoric gill-man. Stunning underwater cinematography and one of the greatest monster suits ever designed combine to deliver fun for all ages. The gill-man returned in a solid sequel, “Revenge of the Creature” (1955), and a not-so-great third film, “The Creature Walks Among Us” (1956).

1) “Jaws” (1975): Steven Spielberg changed the movie business forever in 1975 when “Jaws” created both the concept of the summer blockbuster and the possibility of crossover movie marketing with t-shirts, posters, books and collectibles. “Jaws” is “Moby Dick” for the modern popcorn munching crowd and so much more; a B-movie disguised with an A-movie cast, budget and score. There’s very little more to say about “Jaws” that hasn’t already been said. It was followed by the fun, “Jaws 2” (1978), the sluggish “Jaws 3D” (1983) and the absolutely terrible, “Jaws: The Revenge” (1987).

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