Spring Break Nightmare Fuel: 10 Cautionary Tales on Film

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The boozy, beach-bound phenomenon otherwise known as spring break is in full effect this month. Hordes of horny, stressed-out college students venture seaside for debaucherous all-nighters. The intoxicated tradition is a cliché harbinger ripe for horror cinema and other cautionary tales. Here are ten spring break movies that take a deadly detour from the party.

Piranha (1978)

With the success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in the late 1970s, producer Roger Corman’s New World Pictures had its eye on the killer fish flick and cast filmmaker Joe Dante at the helm for a B-movie version. The director worked with writer John Sayles on Piranha, about a genetic experiment gone wrong. The monstrous beasts are accidentally released into a river, after which they terrorize a summer camp and riverside resort. The 2010 film Piranha 3D sets the scene at spring break, but the original horror film has our heart. Dante’s dark humor, social satire, and entertaining cast (horror queen Barbara Steele plays an evil doctor!) is quintessential B-cinema greatness.

Spring Breakers (2012)

Teen girls with machine guns, sex, drugs, and a rapper named Alien. Spring Breakers shows what happens when bored former Disney stars go wild during a trip to the spring break mecca of Florida. Their neon fantasies come true, but the girls get more than they bargained for. Several embrace the dangerous dream, while others take the walk of shame back home. For an in-depth look at the film, read our own Judy Berman on Harmony Korine’s jiggle fest and its weirdly conservative moments.

Nightmare Beach (1989)

Umberto Lenzi’s Italian slasher finds a deadly biker dispatching with a group of spring breakers by electrocution. The corrupt townies and teen sleuths don’t exactly make for riveting viewing in Lenzi’s trashy tale, but John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street) playing a sheriff with something to hide and Michael Parks (Kill Bill) as a boozy doctor are fun to watch.

Jaws (1975)

We’ve written about the many ways that Steven Spielberg’s breakthrough film Jaws changed movies forever. The 1975 horror classic started the summer blockbuster trend and scared ocean lovers everywhere. There was an uptick in reported shark sightings and reduced attendance on sandy shores. Where there are bikini bodies and beaches, the specter of the salt-water killer looms.

April Fool’s Day (1986)

Fred Walton’s cult horror favorite with the unforgettable poster finds a group of college students staying at a remote island mansion over spring break, which also happens to fall on April Fool’s Day weekend. From critic Daniel Stephens:

Director Fred Walton may have a limited ‘C.V’ but his debut When A Stranger Calls proved in its first twenty minutes that he had talent as a horror filmmaker. Its opening has to be one of the best, if not the best, of any horror picture ever made with its absolutely perfectly paced tension, superb set-up and terrifying conclusion. Many of these elements are thankfully present in April Fool’s Day but what sets them apart and makes Day far the better of the two, is their totally different tones. Whereas When A Stranger Calls was slow, bleak and downbeat – the very essence of raw terror – April Fool’s Day is quick, to the point and doesn’t take itself seriously. The humour is superbly used, and is at times exceptionally funny, allowing us to lower our guard and engage with the characters before they meet their untimely deaths. Yet instead of trying to bludgeon his audience with a bleak world that offers little optimism, Walton plays on the friends’ aspirations about life after college, their bonds and friendship, and their hunger to get laid. Here, we see the director using exploitative trash to its fullest – if a character is going to joke about having sex with everything is sight, then he’s going to die masturbating. It’s a wonderful conceit that Walton uses for laughs and for terror, making for a film that’s sadistically funny and frequently quite shocking.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Sam Raimi’s Bruce Campbell-starring horror-comedy starts as the typical fright film: five college kids set out to enjoy a spring break vacation at an isolated cabin in the woods where all hell breaks loose. Drew Goddard poked fun at the trope in his 2012 film The Cabin in the Woods. Despite some of the cartoonish gory antics and Campbell’s bug-eyed expressions, Raimi’s movie contains genuinely scary passages thanks to gross-out low-budget effects, dizzying camerawork, and shocking scenes (you’ll never look at trees the same way again).

Shallow Grave (1987)

College girlfriends take a spring break road trip to Florida to meet up with some guys and have fun, but some (not-so-surprising) car trouble stalls their journey while passing through Georgia. The rural mayhem begins when one of them ventures off to the woods during their forced rest stop. From Hysteria Lives:

Shallow Grave starts off like any manner of 80’s teen comedies: bad new-wave providing the soundtrack to scenes of teenage girls stuffing their bras and jumping up and down on their beds; the first half and hour follows this pattern, as the group zoom down the highway in a blur of neon colours and teen attitude. However, this is one film that actually confounds stereotypes. The principle cast are all likeable and it’s one of those movies that you kinda hope they all get away, which of course they don’t. This, coupled with the fluffiness of the film’s first half-an-hour jars (in a good way) with some flashes of real nastiness (the second murder provides a real jolt) and some unexpected sleaziness.

Shock Waves (1977)

Low-budget scares reign in Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves, about a group of vacationers who discover an army of Nazi zombies (that swim!) when they become shipwrecked on a remote island. Genre vets Peter Cushing and John Carradine are the best things that Shock Waves has going for it. From DVD Talk:

The film certainly delivers on creepy visuals. The zombies, with their blonde hair, pockmarked skin, and black goggles, are a frightening crew, and the shots of them rising from the water are definitely memorable. Director Ken Wiederhorn and crew also make great use of their locations, such as the abandoned ship (which looks great) and the white beaches of Florida. . . . Horror fans looking for a zombie gorefest will be quite disappointed by Shock Waves, but those who want a subtle and unique experience may enjoy this quirky low-budget film.