Hasitha Fernando with a selection of essential animal horror movies to watch if you enjoyed Beast…
Animal horror, creature feature or whichever way you choose to label them, all these films belong to a subgenre of horror that taps into our primal fear of what would happen if nature went haywire. With the Idris Elba survival thriller Beast now available digitally [read our review here], let’s have a look at some great animal horror flicks to sink your teeth into…
Undoubtedly the most influential animal horror movie, Jaws made quite the considerable splash at the box-office when it debuted back in 1975 going on to become the quintessential summer blockbuster. The creature feature not only succeeding in making beach goers wary of the sea but also garnered several Academy Awards including Best Score for John Williams’ iconic musical contribution.
The film, helmed by the legendary Steven Spielberg had a famously problematic shoot – with Bruce the robotic shark malfunctioning, tension between cast members and production going overbudget – but the end product was a masterpiece unlike any other, that still manages to hold its own even today.
This horror comedy was the first of a series of low-budget B movies inspired by the film Jaws. Initially Universal Studios even considered obtaining an injunction to prevent Piranha being released but the lawsuit was dropped after Spielberg himself called it the “best of the Jaws rip-offs”. Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery after all.
Produced by the ‘Pope of Pop Cinema’ Roger Corman, the flick received mixed reviews during the time of its release but has, since then, acquired something of a cult status. And rightly so, because Piranha is what it is- an unpretentiously self-aware B movie, with its tongue planted firmly between its bloodstained cheeks.
The Birds (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds can be labelled as the very first mainstream success in the animal horror subgenre. Loosely based on the 1952 short story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, the plot focuses on a series of sudden and inexplicable bird attacks that takes place in the seaside community of Bodega Bay, California.
Though a misunderstood gem back in the day, The Birds went on to inspire aspiring filmmakers like John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro who’ve lauded Hitchcock’s creativity in transforming an innocuous creature into a terrifying villain. You will not look at a bird the same way, every again, that much is certain.
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
The Ghost and the Darkness is a fictionalized account of the Tsavo man-eaters, a pair of male lions who terrorized construction workers of the Uganda-Mombasa Railway in 19th Century East Africa. The incident in particular, still remains notable for the unusual behavior the lions displayed and the ferocity of their attacks.
Headlined by 90s superstars Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas, the historical adventure benefitted extensively from lavish production values, which included stunning cinematography courtesy of Vilmos Zsigmond and a powerful, ethnically charged score from Jerry Goldsmith. A bona fide edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller from start to finish, this is one movie you will not want to miss.
This is certainly one of those so-bad-it’s-good type deals which pops up from time to time that you tend to never forget. But if you look past the hokey, outdated CGI and an over-the-top John Voight there’s plenty of chills and thrills to be had from this adventure horror flick.
Peruvian filmmaker Luis Llosa expertly capitalizes on the foreboding jungle locales and its oppressing elements, which really sells the whole journey-into-the-heart-of-darkness aspect of the story. Jennifer Lopez delivers a compelling turn as the lead, but the real star of this creature feature is the massive Anaconda which writhe and thrash about in a manic frenzy, looking for hapless individuals to swallow whole.
The Shallows (2016)
In the wake of Jaws came a barrage of subpar, mediocre sequels and even worse rip-offs which tried to capitalize on the success of the original blockbuster. So, close to four decades later audiences had seen every form of nonsensical cash grab effort featuring sharks and then some. The Shallows, however, is a different story.
Anchored by a captivating performance by the effervescent Blake Lively, this survival horror flick replaces derivative shark-attack tropes with white-knuckling suspense and sterling action set pieces featuring a very toothy antagonist. If Jaws doesn’t make you think twice before going out to sea, I guarantee you that this one will.
Part natural disaster film and part creature feature, Crawl combines the best of both those worlds into one jaw droppingly kick-ass whole. The result is an animal horror movie that makes Lake Placid look like a children’s tea party.
Simple in premise but brilliantly executed by genre film director Alexandre Aja, this action-packed, tightly paced affair offers relentless visceral thrills amidst a nightmarishly claustrophobic setting. I kid you not, if you have claustrophobia, it’d be best to avoid this one. But if you like a jolt of adrenaline in your system, then by all means give this one a looksee.
Willard is a psychological horror loosely based on the novel Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert. The property, had been previously adapted to a film back in 1971 but this recent update starring the uber-talented Crispin Glover is a different beast altogether.
As you’ve no doubt figured out by now the animal in this particular creature feature is rats, lots and lots of rats. And these rodents make for one helluva scary opponent. Of course, Glover’s oddball character is creepy enough but couple that with a colony of rats and it will truly freak you out.
Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Cujo follows the disturbing story of a St. Bernard going rabid and tormenting its owners and the local community.
When you think about it now the premise does sound rather outlandish; but the terrifying possibility that man’s best friend, a creature we’ve been accustomed to seeing in our lives quite frequently, would suddenly turn turtle and transform into an unstoppable, savage brute committing acts of carnage is something truly unnerving, and Cujo captures that unspeakable horror with frightening precision.
Comparatively the more lighthearted film featured on this list, Arachnophobia is nonetheless a solid horror comedy chock full of its own twisted thrills and chills.
The directorial debut of Hollywood super produced Frank Marshall, the movie functions as a great tribute to classic creature features and B movies featuring alien invaders. Only, instead of extra-terrestrial beings we have creepy, crawly, spine-tingly arachnids to deal with, and that is a much scarier prospect. Believe you me.
What are your favourite animal horror movies? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.