Oct 20, 2017

13 Essential Environmental Horrors

Article By: Sean Abley

Whether you believe climate change is manmade or the inevitable outcome of a natural cycle, there’s not much more terrifying that our planet trying to kill us. Here are thirteen prime examples of Mother Nature’s wrath. (Sadly, with only thirteen allowed, we had to cut The Day After Tomorrow, where we learn it’s possible to run from freezing.)

1. From Hell It Came (1957)

“Hate and horror gave it life!” Yup, hate and horror, and a witch doctor, and nuclear radiation bring a murdered South Seas man back to life as a really mean tree. If nothing else, you’ll find out how a tree can outsmart a human being with a brain and two legs for running. 

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2. The Day of the Triffids (1962)

Possibly the most well known film on this list courtesy of the titular characters and the leading actress, Janette Scott, being name-checked in Rocky Horror’s opening number, “Science Fiction Double Feature.” After a freak meteor shower blinds everyone who had the misfortune to watch it, triffids begin attacking and feeding on the myriad of helpless creatures stumbling around the planet. Whether or not the meteors delivered the triffids, or merely emboldened them, is never answered in the film or the John Wyndham book upon which the film is based.  Also check out the two TV miniseries based on the book (1981 and 2009), the BBC radio serial adaptation, and the authorized sequel novel, The Night of the Triffids by Simon Clark.

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3. Gas-s-s-s (aka Gas! or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It) (1970)

Notable for being the last film directed by Roger Corman for AIP, and a cast consisting of soon-to-be stars Cindy Williams, Bud Cort, Ben Vereen, Talia Shire, and TV perennial Elaine Giftos. An experimental gas developed by the military finds its way into the air, resulting in everyone over 25 years old dropping dead. What follows is largely a stream of consciousness plot that meanders over 80 minutes, and includes Edgar Allen Poe back from the dead, tooling around on a motorcycle.

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4. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster) (1971)

Big G battles an alien who starts out microscopic, but after eating delicious pollution grows to a monster-sized sea monster. Hedorah continues to mutate and evolve courtesy of Earth’s unending supply of pollution, making him almost impossible for Godzilla to defeat. Almost. 

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5. Food of the Gods (1976)

In this reductive adaptation of the H.G. Wells The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth, a mysterious white goo bubbles up from the ground in a wooded area on a secluded island. All manner of animal and insect chow down on the goo, and before you can say, “Remember Marjoe Gortner?” giant wasps, rats and even a chicken attack the normal-sized character actors and 70s b-movie staples. A ton of fun even without Wells’ social commentary, Food of the Gods was Bert I. Gordon at his low budget best. (Empire of the Ants, shown on drive-in double bills with Food of the Gods during the original release, is another fun but ridiculous Gordon adaptation of a Wells story. The sequel, Gnaw: Food of the Gods 2, is also surprisingly watchable.)

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6. Day of the Animals (1977)

Years before he would transform into funnyman Leslie Nielsen, menacing villain Leslie Nielsen stars as one a handful of humans stuck on a mountain when all the animals go berserk. Turns out hairspray is the culprit—the depletion of the ozone layer causes our forest friends above a certain altitude to lose their minds and attack people. Other animal bait includes 70s cinema mainstays Richard Jaeckel, Michael Ansara, Andrew Stevens, and husband and wife team of Christopher and Linda Day George.

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7. Long Weekend (1978)

An unlikable couple spend an unpleasant weekend on the Australian coastline, basically sticking their fingers in the eye of nature as they bicker away—killing animals, destroying plant life, and basically being terrible. Funny how the “Me” generation seemed to predict our current crop of Instagram douchebags. But never fear--slowly but surely, methodically, Mother Nature strikes back at the couple with ever-increasing attacks leading to the ultimate punishment. Written by Everett De Roche (Patrick, Road Games, Razorback), Long Weekend is shot in that 70s matte finish, cinéma vérité style reminiscent of documentaries, which makes the film even creepier.

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8. Prophecy (1979)

Logging and a paper mill near Native American land has caused high levels of mercury in the water, which in turn causes horrifying mutations to the local grizzly bear community. Add campers, corporate shills, Native Americans, and some folks from the Environmental Protection Agency, and you have a good old fashioned mutant grizzly bear buffet. Directed by the great John Frankenheimer and written by David Seltzer for Paramount Pictures, during a time when big studios actually made monster movies.

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9. The Stuff (1985)

Having learned nothing from Food of the Gods, the greedy capitalists of The Stuff find a creamy, white substance bubbling up from the ground and think, “This would make a great dessert!” Soon The Stuff is flying off the shelves and into the stomachs of hungry consumers. Sadly, this Yogurt from the Center of the Earth is actually bad for you—it’s not even food! Shocker! The Stuff is actually a parasitic organism that eventually eats the host from the inside out. Filled with a cast of actors who should know better (Michael Moriarity, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, and Rutanya Alda, plus cameos by Brooke Adams, Laurene Landon, Tammy Grimes, Abe Vigoda, and Clara Peller), The Stuff is an undeniably entertaining bit of fluff.

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10. Creepshow 2 – “The Raft” (1987)

Definitely the best segment of the mediocre sequel to the super fun Creepshow, “The Raft” is a faith adaptation of Stephen King’s short story of the same name from his Skeleton Crew collection. Four actors who look good in swimsuits are menaced by some sort of pollution flotsam while fooling around on a raft floating in a lake. There isn’t much more to it than that, but watching four college kids being eaten by the Blob of the Lake is a lot of fun.

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11. The Last Winter (2006)

Larry Fessenden, purveyor of endlessly inventive horror premises, serves up this ice cold rift on global warming. A team of environmentalists and oil company employees investigate the possibilities of a new ice road in northern Alaska. When one of the team ends up dead, “sour gas,” a toxic gas released from the ground due to climate change, is blamed. In addition to death, sour gas can cause hallucinations, which when combined with a remote location add up to a pretty bad day at the office. 

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12. The Happening (2008)

If nothing else, watch this movie for the scene where Mark Wahlberg apologizes to nature… or the air… or the wind. Something. It’s pretty ridiculous, but thankfully this is a film that supports such ridiculousness. From the content-free trailer, you’d probably assume this is a film about some sort of terrorist attack. Wrongo. The terrorists in The Happening are (probably) plants tired of human beings screwing up the planet (we think). So they release some sort of toxin into the air (apparently?) that causes people to kill themselves in creative and fun ways. Mark Wahlberg plays a science teacher, making this film pure science fiction.

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13. The Bay (2012)

A found footage film that actually works, courtesy of director Barry Levinson and a cast of (at the time) unknown actors. Something is in the water of Chesapeake Bay, which facilitates a tongue-eating parasite (we’re not kidding) infesting the locals. Told through home video and news footage cobbled together and leaked by a reporter after the government clamped down on the story, The Bay truly does feel like a documentary.

Sean Abley is a screenwriter, playwright, novelist and journalist. His new novelization of Night of the Living Dead is available from Amazon.

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