Wet (yet sweaty) thanks to March’s bitterly odd temperatures? It could be so much worse: You could be on a tropical vacation from hell! As these 12 horror, cult, and thriller picks will prove, sometimes there’s no more worse place to be than a warm, sunny beach.
Piranha II: The Spawning
James Cameron’s first directorial effort has its share of underwater scenes, but it’s a far cry from the sophisticated special effects he’s known for now. That said, this 1981 creature feature does take place at a sun-drenched Caribbean resort that’s suddenly inundated with a plague of flying piranhas, which is a plot just as perilous as anything we’re likely to see in the Avatar series. Also of interest to Cameron fans as well as Jaws rip-off completists: Piranha II stars future Aliens android Lance Henriksen as the weary local police chief.
Jaws: The Revenge
Speaking of Jaws rip-offs, this fourth entry in the shark-attack series supplies soggy camp where the original brought oceanic terror, moving the action from Amity Island to the Bahamas. That is to say, a shark literally follows Ellen Brody (the returning Lorraine Gary) on a trip to visit her son Michael (The Last Starfighter’s Lance Guest), a marine biologist who’s far more excited than she is about the rare presence of a Great White in Caribbean waters. Most people rightfully remember this 1987 flick for Michael Caine’s jaunty “yes indeed, I’m doin’ this for the money” performance as a local pilot, as well as the notion that a shark both understands the concept of revenge and is capable of setting a precise compass and travelling over 1,931 km to accomplish it.
Speaking of hungry sea creatures, nothing says “tropical fun gone wrong” like a day of diving that features a close encounter with a shark… followed by a close encounter with a zombie that’s just hanging out underwater. Of course, nothing says “tropical fun gone so, so right” like the fact that the shark and the zombie then proceed to fight each other in one of the scenes that’s made Lucio Fulci’s 1979 in-name-only follow-up to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead an absolutely legendary entry in the Italian horror genre.
M. Night Shyamalan’s 2021 thriller follows a family that heads to a tropical resort, where they and a handful of other vacationers end up on a beach that has the curious and terrifying effect of rapidly ageing everyone and exacerbating any and all medical conditions that may be lurking within them. To put it mildly: body horrors galore!
A Perfect Getaway
Humans are the worst monsters (as they so often are) in this 2009 thriller from writer-director David Twohy (Pitch Black), which stars Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich as newlyweds who head to the most remote part of Hawaii for their honeymoon. The scenery provides a gorgeously lush backdrop for murder as Chris Hemsworth and Timothy Olyphant co-star in a tale that’s as full of plot twists as it is brutal violence.
Don’t you just hate it when your carefree backpacking jaunt through steamy Brazil turns into a horrifying nightmare in which you realise that hot young tourists — you know, like yourself — are being stalked by an illegal organ-harvesting ring? Worst. Vacation. Ever.
When the tale of a balmy Mediterranean getaway (not quite tropical, but stick with us) is co-written and directed by cult legend Joe D’Amato, you know things are gonna get gruesome almost the instant the hapless characters dip their toes into the sand. This over-the-top “video nasty” leaves very few taboos untouched — in the film’s most infamous sequence, a serial killer (played by co-writer George Eastman) kills a pregnant woman… then removes and gobbles her unborn baby! — making it an exceedingly potent argument in favour of never leaving the house again.
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) realises that her ordeal from the first Last Summer isn’t over, a fact she discovers only after she and her friends travel to a resort in the Bahamas — where a killer awaits! This 1998 sequel, released at the height of the ‘90s slasher revival, lacks any narrative tension whatsoever, but it does have a few casting quirks (Jeffrey Combs as the hotel manager, Jack Black as the local weed purveyor) that help elevate it from stupid to silly.
Quirky casting also does a lot for this tongue-in-cheek slasher spoof set at a Costa Rican resort — specifically Bill Paxton as “Coconut Pete,” the resort’s owner and a former musician whose jams sound suspiciously similar to those of his rival, Jimmy Buffett (ahem, “Piñacoladaburg”). The rest of Club Dread’s cast includes members of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard, which should give you an idea of its goofball tone, but the body count is still admirably high.
Sure, it’s fun exploring ancient Mayan temples while you’re on your carefree Mexican vacation… until you get yourself tangled up in all the KILLER PLANTS! Jena Malone (The Hunger Games) is the final girl in this gory entry, which was adapted by author Scott Smith from his hit survival thriller.
The Bermuda Triangle
We’ve all heard tales of doomed voyages through the Bermuda Triangle, a notorious vortex known for whisking away planes and ships to dimensions unknown. But did you ever hear the highly specific warning about not fishing random cursed dolls out of the water if you’re sailing anywhere near that fabled stretch of ocean? For that, you’ll need to view this 1978 film from cult-beloved director René Cardona Jr., which follows a multi-generational family that’s searching for the ruins of Atlantis — only to set themselves on a collision course of In Search Of… topics by drifting into you-know-which forbidden zone.
What if the cheesy 1970s TV show leaned into its more eerie and ominous qualities and embraced full-on horror? That’s the approach this 2020 film took, as the various guests who arrive on the titular island expecting sun, fun, and wish fulfilment soon realise that surreal nightmares and deadly peril (including zombies) are the resort’s true specialty. Smiles, everyone, smiles!