In the new 3-D film Sanctum, a group of cave divers get their spelunk on in the least accessible cave system on Earth. Down deep they encounter problems and end up in a fight for their lives.
If that synopsis sounds familiar, it should. Most cave movies—and yes, that is a bona fide genre—have very similar plots.
Here’s the typical rundown: A group of people jump into a giant hole and then really bad things happen. Usually at least one of the characters says, “It’s so deep... you can’t even see the bottom” just before they disappear forever.
Why do we keep coming back for more—and why do people like Sanctum producer James Cameron keep making these movies? I think it’s because they’re about the most basic primal feelings of all— claustrophobia, fear of the dark and the unknown. What could be scarier than a giant hole with who-knows-what living in it?
The most frightening giant cave movie has to be The Descent, a 2005 scary spelunker that features the second most used line in cave diving flicks: “No one's ever been down here before.” The film focuses on six women trapped in an Appalachian Mountains cave system. That’s scary. Even scarier are the pasty humanoid creatures that start hunting them. Horror website Bloody Disgusting ranked it as one of the top horror films of the decade and Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars.
A sequel, imaginatively titled The Descent: Part 2, came four years later. Although it was advertised as being “deeper and darker” than the original, it isn’t nearly as bloodcurdling.
2005 was a big year for creepy cave movies. The Cave, starring Piper Perabo and Cole Hauser as cavers who are stalked by bloodthirsty creatures, may have a plot about original as the movie’s name, but it does offer some genuinely terrifying moments.
If the subterranean creepy crawlers of The Cave (or others like What Waits Below or WithIn) aren’t for you, then perhaps the 3-D thrills of Cave of Forgotten Dreams will appeal. In this breathtaking documentary, director Werner Herzog explores the Chauvet caves of Southern France, literally a 33,000-year-old art gallery containing 400 Palaeolithic cave paintings. The legendarily loopy German filmmaker studies the drawings, made to replicate the movement of animals, and asks, “Is it a kind of proto-cinema?” It’s a wild, gripping look at life beneath the surface.