Listen to the simple notes of John Williams’ unsettling theme music for Jaws and you’ll be reminded why you’re not going back into the water. The animal kingdom has played a frightening role in horror cinema over the years. We count down the best.
10 (Tie). Day of the Animals (Girdler, USA, 1977)
A chemical imbalance affects a menagerie of forest inhabitants. American hiking trails are beautiful but now proven deadly. Cougars, bears, birds of prey you name it, they’re out to get you. Hinging on the ozone layer gap as a new reason for animals gone off kilter, it’s fairly 70’s accurate. Leslie Nielsen gives his most B-movie performance ever.
10 (Tie). Arachnophobia (Marshall, USA, 1999)
Fear of spiders. It’s a very common affliction, not helped at all by this feature. When a giant species is transported to America and mates with a native species it results in the disappearance of an entire Californian town’s population due to unknown spider bites. John Goodman features as an exterminator on the hunt with some scientists to cure America of the ensuing blight of terror.
9. Razorback (Mulcahy, Aus, 1984)
An Oz favourite, this time a disgruntled wild boar rampaging for reasons not understood. Somewhere between attacking an old man, grabbing a baby and killing a newsreader the boar has time to have a few face offs with Gregory Harrison and Bill Kerr (worth looking up their filmographies for more terrible but cult Oz films). Quoted as being the size of a rhino, the boar seems to have it in for anyone coming into it’s expanding territory.
8. Long Weekend (Eggleston, Aus, 1978)
These animals aren’t super-sized, they’re just evil. A long weekend away to a remote paradise soon unveils that there’s something out there that’s darker than the force of nature controlling the cute Aussie natives. Our soon daring couple try to make sense of the random attacks and solve the mysterious reasoning behind the animals’ bloodlust.
7. Food of the Gods (Gordon, USA, 1967)
A hilarious romp of terror on a Canadian hunting island. A group go to hunt, only to become the hunted, by giant animals that have mutated in abundance. Some unknown substance that a farmer unwittingly feeds the animals is soon leaked to the fauna with dire consequences. A favourite scene is the utterly ridiculous rat attack. You have to hand it to the camera crew though, their strict attention to detail has allowed for the magic scaling of the beasts.
6. Night of the Lepus (Claxton, USA, 1972)
As obscure as it gets, literally giant rabbits running riot. Superimposed furry fury is unleashed on a remote Arizona ranch after the owner decides to call in researchers to help deal with the overpopulation problem. Chemicals and nature don’t go side by side as this film again proves.
5. Cujo (Teague, USA, 1983)
Dog is known as mans best friend, and here’s the film that made audiences worldwide disregard that commonly adored saying. The stuff of nightmares for dog lovers and pet owners alike. Based on Stephen King’s epitomised novel, the demonisation of a family Saint-Bernard gone mad with rabies wreaks havoc on the picket fence American suburbs.
4. Roar (Marshall, USA, 1981)
It’s not a horror narrative and the intention of the film isn’t to see the animals actually attack the characters, but that’s just what happened to the poor actors and crew on set. It makes perfect sense to unleash lions and other giant cats and expect that it’ll be safe enough, no? This gem has been given a recent resurgence in cult appetite. Staring Hitchcock’s muse Tippi Hedren in addition to Melanie Griffith. ‘There’s never been a film like ROAR – and there never will be again!’ as far as health and safety laws are concerned.
3. Them (Douglas, USA, 1954)
Ah Hollywood 1950’s when the atom bomb was a popular threat to civilisation. Something micro sized could cause so much destruction, the same can be said for this chemically overgrown army of ants loose in the desert. Black and white never looked so delightfully tacky and entertaining.
2. The Birds (Hitchcock, USA, 1963)
No animal attack list would be complete without Hitchcock’s infamous masterpiece. Taking the island isolation and mundane-turned-nightmare themes to the dizzying heights of auteur class brilliance. This thriller-come-horror will make you take a second glance at those seagulls overhead and question if you should pity feed a pigeon in future.
1. Jaws (Spielberg, USA, 1975)
THE shark film. A classic and cult favourite in its own right. The animal attack horror film theme probably wouldn’t be such a popular sub-genre of thriller/horror if it wasn’t for the claustrophobic tension of danger that lies beneath the tranquil waters. Featuring some of the most iconic imagery of 70’s Hollywood, the juxtaposition of the pleasure beach with death and terror never looked more perfect.
Written and compiled by Laura Shearer
Over to you: what are your favourite animal attack horror films?