Since man crawled from the safety of his cave in pursuit of fire, meat and a decent lay that didn’t require a heavy club, the elements have proven a formidable opponent. From lightning storms to tornadoes, Mother Nature has proven she can be a real bitch. Just to make matters worse, she’s also given a lot of thought into what she wants roaming the skies, lands and seas. Whether it’s claws, teeth, pincers or plain ol’ rip your head from your torso, animals have posed as serious obstacles for our would be heroes in films. Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst threats in the form of animals in film.
Ah, our eight-legged arachnid friends. You have not only haunted the minds of millions of people in the real world but managed to do so to varying degrees of success on the big screen. The great thing about movies is that directors can build on existing phobias in a manner of ways. Scared of spiders? Great, how about a GIANT TARANTULA, or millions of the buggers? One of the all-time classic horror movies is the 1955 Tarantula that scared the webbing out of its audience by throwing a three-storey high spider at them. Not only this but it was practically indestructible! In another approach Frank Marshall’s 1990 horror/comedy Arachnophobia had thousands of small(er) deadly spiders overrun a town. Either way, spiders play to a special place in our minds where fear and reason don’t get on very well.
I cannot think of a movie that managed to make the seemingly benign seagull and fellow aves an instrument of mass death more horrifying than the 1963 The Birds. Indeed, very few shots actually showed birds carrying off limbs, babies or iPads, but for a master of cinema like Alfred Hitchcock, that was unnecessary. However, for a director like Sheldon Wilson, pissed off crows who eat your damn eyes is exactly what he needed for his low-grade 2007 Kaw (Kaw) flick. It’s quite difficult to make a truly terrifying movie with birds, small things like houses, cars, and shelter get in the way of their potential madness, which is why Hitchcock is still the only director to make people walk that little bit faster when birds stare.
Some love ’em, others hate ’em, Europe in the 1600’s positively loathed them. Rats are clever, we all know that. Luckily most are probably not as clever as those encountered in the delightfully dark 1971 film Willard by Daniel Mann (brilliantly remade in 2002 by Glen Morgan). These rats not only know how to chew faster than a group of chappies World Record holders, but can follow orders from their human master. All good when giving orders, but you don’t want them crossing you. Of course messing with their genes will give you the usual ‘it’s frigging huge, it has red eyes!’ scare, which was rather popular in the 70’s and 80’s, but nothing quite beats a rat that is able to check you out, and come back when you are sleeping for a few bedtime snacks.
Our Amazon nightmares have enjoyed quite the career stripping humans of their valuable flesh, most recently in all the splendour that 3D can offer. In 2010 we had a 3D remake of the 1978 imaginatively titled Piranhas with the equally imaginative 3D Piranhas. Then in the same year we had Megapiranha (note the trend to SUPER SIZE) which was, well, not so mega. Two years later we jumped back into the water with the squeal to 3D Piranha, Piranha 3DD… One does have to wonder how much silicone these fish can consume from the average holidaying young American.
Man’s best friend. They get our newspapers for us, they greet us to a confused and happy smile when we come come home, like they’ve forgotten we actually left but are happy we are back nonetheless. They also tear us to shreds sometimes. Possibly the most prolific of movies to capture this would be Pet Cemetery 2 (1992) but there have been a plethora of others; from the 2002 Man’s Best Friend to the 1982 movie Dogs of Hell, our best friend has proven to be as adept at murdering their owners as they are at humping absolutely anything. We can’t forget wolves of course, lest they track me down and ‘question’ why, as the fathers of dogs, they were not mentioned. Most recently we had Liam ‘I’ll find you and kill you’ Neeson taking on a pack in the 2011 thriller The Grey, which was received with much praise, something not often seen in this genre. Either way, when your dog is begging for that last dog bite you may want to consider just tossing the whole bag, before walking… very slowly… away.
Possibly one of the best lines ever shouted has got to be by character Neville Flynn, acted by Samuel L Jackson. Of course I am referring to “enough is enough! I have had it with these mother****ing snakes on this mother****ing plane!” The difference with Snakes on a Plane (2006) compared to many other snake horrors is that it is SO absurd that it is enjoyable, unlike its counterpart Snakes on a Train (also 2006, riding a wave, much?) Anaconda (1997) was probably the most well received and spawned another three movies, each progressively worse than the first. Then we have Boa vs. Python (2004) which in one scene has a human female being pleasured by one of the reptiles, before it eats her of course… All I can say is… Eish. The 90’s seems to be filled with the reptiles killing people off in one way or another, whether that be snakes, crocodiles or alligators leading me to ask the question ‘what the darned happened in the 90’s to make us so wary of reptiles?’
I remember being scared out of my wits by the TV series Chimera back in 1991. There is something extra sinister when our closest relatives decide to turn on us. Okay, most of the time they have a reason. Experimentation (see above), kidnapping and being made to dance (King Kong 1933), and the old ‘we made you clever, but now want to kill you’ as seen in Planet of the Apes (1968). We really have given our hairier than Darryn brothers and sisters some problems in the past. Luckily they get to return the favour in movies like the rather mental 1990 Shakma, the 2007 Blood Monkey or the rather fun 1995 Congo.
I think some of the best horror movies are the ones where the enemy is within, you know, where you can’t be sure who the antagonist is. I’ve always found the idea of an insect that can sting you, plant an egg in you, and live in you as a rather bad way to start a weekend, and a worse way to start a date. In movies like Slither (2006) or Shivers (1975) people are transformed from ordinary mild-mannered citizens into, well, utter bastards. This idea of being infected and controlled is not new. In fact it’s appeared in almost every science-fiction series to date and was the fall-back story idea of every X-Files writer desperately in need of putting food on the table.
Not many directors can claim to have scared an entire planet’s population into wanting to murder a naturally occurring predator as Steven Spielberg, but with Jaws he can do just that. Spielberg managed to tap into our primal minds, a place where memories of why we decided to leave the ocean lurk and terrify us. He did this first back in 1975 with the most famous of shark movies, Jaws. The commercial success of this boosted his reputation as a director and the reputation of the Great White as being a blood thirsty killer. It generated countless copies, some good, others terrible. From movies like Shark Swarm ( 2008), Shark Night 3D (2011) and Deep Blue Sea (1999), we have been exposed to a wide range of sharks with major anger issues. There were a few attempts to make it realistic though for instance Open Water (2003), a very minimalistic drama that sees two protagonists floating in the sea for most of the movie (yes, it does drag). Sharks may not be evil as movies like to depict but I think it’ll take many more movies like Finding Nemo to undo the damage of Spielberg.
Okay… I put this here for two reasons. One, ultimate animal vs. Human? How about mixing two! Yes, this has been done many times before, but not to this level of “WTF am I watching?”. I can only imagine how the writer of 2010’s Sharktopus, Mike MacLean, came up with the idea: “Like, what’s worse than a shark man?” *Inhale* “”Like, how about a shark that’s combined as a military weapon with an octopus!” Yeah, the only person more stoned in that room was the producer who spent money on it. That being said some people have said they enjoyed the stupid nature of the film, me not so much.
So there you have it! A nonsensical list of animals that have been either kicked to many times, injected too many times, or just not listened to. Our movie history would suffer a huge hole if it were not for the ones being left in us by raging animals. What animals do you think have done an equally good/bad job at tearing us human beings up? And if you could combine any animal to make a SUPER monster, what would they be? I’d mix a shark with a tornado… Nah, that’s just a bloody stupid movie idea…
Last Updated: October 3, 2013