Jul 26, 2013

13 Killer Animal Movies You've Never Heard Of

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Everybody knows that King Kong, The Birds (you know which ones), Willard, Cujo, Jaws and Ben  are the godspecies of angry animals in films (Michael Jackson even wrote a song about the latter).  However, there are hundreds of pissed off, murderous animals whose plight has been relegated to the shadows of film history.  This must make them even more annoyed.  So today, we highlight animal horrors that you might not have seen…

1. Orca (1977)

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Captain Nolan aims to capture a living orca to make big bucks, but accidentally maims and murders the orca’s pregnant wife.  The widower suffers a grieving process, then gets pissed and sets out to kill Captain Nolan and all who get in his way.  Thanks to some gorgeous, majestic cinematography and a sweeping score by Ennio Morricone, Orca, against all odds, is a devastating and powerful character study of a living creature navigating tragic life circumstances.  We dare you to side with Captain Nolan.  Also, Bo Derek gets her leg bitten off at one point, so there's that. Some trivia: In the mid-1980s, the film’s producer, Dino De Laurentiis, thought about creating a sequel in which Orca would go up against King Kong (1976 edition)!  If only.


2. Grizzly (1976)

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A pre-historic, 15-foot-tall, man-eating grizzly bear begins attacking campers at a national park.  Heroic park ranger Mike Kelley tries to stop Grizzly rationally and humanely, but goes head to head with inept park supervisor Charles Kitteredge, who invites a gang of redneck hunters for a bear-shooting contest.  Guess who wins?  Director William Girdler was also responsible for the poignant Three on a Meathook (1973) and Abby: The Black Exorcist (1974), which Warner Brothers victoriously sued for plagiarism.  Girdler realized that he could rip off Jaws and run away with the bags of cash if he kept all the plot points and characters but chose a new animal and setting.  Smart.


3. The Swarm (1978)

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In perhaps the most notorious Animal Attack movie of all time, producer-director Irwin Allen (The Poseidon AdventureThe Towering Inferno), always one to frankly deal with important social issues, confronts the problem of foreign killer bees.  Massive gangs of relentless, furious buzzers are flown in from Brazil during a hurricane and nearly destroy a naval base, a small village, and Houston, TX.  Michael Caine plays the embittered entomologist who must stop them.  Because of space constraints, it is impossible to outline all of the over the top set pieces and corny plotlines in this movie.  But watch out for the scene in which a boy, traumatized by watching his parents killed at a picnic, freaks out after hallucinating a gigantic bee flying next to Caine’s shoulder.  The completely insane cast also includes Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Jose Ferrer, Olivia De Havillad, Fred MacMurray, Slim Pickens, Lee Grant, Henry Fonda and, of course, Patty Duke. Check out some bonkers clips below:


4. Tentacles (1977)

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A typical evil, greedy developer (Henry Fonda, again!), builds a tunnel through an ocean using the usual cheap, unsafe methods that lead to all sorts of problems in 1970s disaster movies.  The construction results in an octopus developing extraordinary size, strength, and misanthropy.  John Huston, showcasing his remarkable ability to appear in every cheesy 70s horror film, plays a journalist who must stop the octopus’ killing spree, and Shelley Winters plays his depressive, alcoholic sister with a penchant for sailor costumes and ridiculous hats.  Shelley, knowing about the killer octopus, logically enrolls her kids in a yacht-race that involves 40 children sailing in small, flimsy sailboats on the open sea.  They get attacked, but inexplicably survive.  Finally, the octopus is destroyed by two orcas, the best friends of oceanographer/killer whale trainer Will (Bo Hopkins).  Another badly dubbed, all-star Italian rip-off from Ovidio Assonitis, producer of The Visitor (1979), that is as confusing and delightful as it sounds. 


5. The Food of the Gods (1976)

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Unlike most angry animal movies, Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods, based on a story by H.G. Wells, has the guts to feature multiple kinds of gigantic killer animals!  A group of friends on a hunting trip on an island in Canada confront giant wasps and an enormous killer chicken before finally figuring out that the island is run by a slew of giant animals, including an army of mutant rats that plan to wage war with their uninvited guests.  It turns out that a farmer fed an oozing skim milk like substance to his chickens, and everything went awry.  Rather than get off the island, the token arrogant human fool decides to patent the liquid in an effort to end the national food crisis (a creepy foreshadowing of the current controversy over genetic engineering).  If you want to know what to do when massive poultry walks into your garage, watch this.


6. Empire of the Ants (1977)

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After consuming Food of the Gods, make sure to leave room for Gordon’s even more ridiculous follow up, also adapted from a story by Wells.  Joan Collins plays Marilyn Fryser, a snotty, sleazy, scheming real estate agent trying to sell worthless property on an island in the Everglades to a group of unsuspecting American dreamers.  Little do they know that gigantic, toxic waste mutated ants dominate the island and control its human dwellers!  Director Bert I. Gordon intercuts footage of an ant farm, shots of cheesy papier-mâché puppets, and “ant-vision” sequences, in which the viewer sees the pending victim through 100 beedy little insecteyes.  Nobody, including an innocent elderly couple, is safe from peril.  The queen of the ants finally hypnotizes Joan in an effort to enslave her and also because, who wouldn't, she's Joan Collins. Important question: What's a more fair fight, Joan vs. a giant ant, or Joan vs. Linda Evans' male stunt double on Dynasty? You decide!

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7. Of Unknown Origin (1983)

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Like most people, angry animals hatehate, hate yuppies.  Case in point, Of Unknown Origin, in which Peter Weller plays the perfectly named Bart Hughes, a handsome, bespectacled executive. He has a renovated New York townhouse and a foot-long, pissed off rat in the cellar.  The rat tears apart his house while he’s at work, resists all traps and poisons, and all but laughs at him when he tries to fend it off with books from his well stocked library.  Enraged that his rich white male superiority has been threatened, Bart goes off the deep end, finally putting on a baseball cap and wielding a bat to go mano-a-mano with his nemesis, and almost destroying his house, his job, his wife (Shannon Tweed!), and his kid in the process.   Mickey and Minnie probably watch this film and roar after a long day of taking pictures with vulgar tourists at Disney World.


8. Strays (1991)

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Imagine that you’re a cat living happily in a big old house with 20 other cats and a sweet old crazy cat lady who loves you.  Then one day your human dies and your house is taken away.  Timothy Busfield, the philandering creep fromt hirtysomething, and his smug little family move in and throw out all of the furniture that you’ve worked hard to make your own through shedding, clawing, and odor emission.  Wouldn’t you be prepared to entrap a little girl in a closet and try to kill her in order to get your life back?  Some have said that this unintentionally riotous made for USA Network movie proves that cats just aren’t that scary.  Anybody who has tried to deprive his cats of wet food for a whole week knows that it is terrifying in its accuracy.


9. Dogs (1976)

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A miserable biologist in a California college town learns that the considerable horrors of academia are nothing compared to dealing with a pack of pheromone infected killer canines.  Dogs’ greatest strength is its noble effort to represent all breeds within the dog community.  Unlike films which induce terror with low hanging fruits like Cujo’s intimidating Saint Bernard, Dogs demonstrates that innocent looking collies, terriers, and golden retrievers can also be nasty bitches (literally!). It's the United Colors of Benetton of dog movies!  The sight of all these dogs running down the street to wreak havoc is a lot more endearing than filmmakers must have intended.  Watch out for pre-fame Linda Grey, who gets eaten in the shower by a German Shepherd.


10. Night of the Lepus (1972)

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It’s hard to know whether the filmmakers of Night of the Lepus actually thought that they had found a great subject for a chilling horror movie—bunnies!—or if they intended to create a ridiculous hoot. At any rate, they made the latter, for which all should be grateful.  A foolish little girl takes home a rabbit from a laboratory after her scientist parents inject it with a growth formula.  Her friend sets him free, and you know how those cottontails reproduce. Within no time, hordes of gigantic, bloodsucking hares roam the land and want to eat.  They take down a herd of horses, hang out at the general store (naturally), and finally stalk scientist Janet Leigh and her daughter, who caused all the trouble to begin with.  In the end, the bunnies are rehabilitated by missionaries and get jobs working at malls on Easter.  Not really—but wouldn’t that have been a great ending?


11. Jennifer: The Snake Goddess (1978)

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Carrie meets snakes: High concept filmmaking at its best.  Jennifer is a sweet, smart girl working her way through an education at a snotty private school.  Her fellow students wear capes and have bad attitudes.  Her evangelist father owns a pet store, and she has a special relationship with the merchandise.  She also controls snakes.  Jennifer gradually becomes more and more fed up with the girls’ terrorizing her while she doles out their cafeteria food.  She understandably loses it when they kidnap her (while she’s in her nightgown!), tie her up, and drag race around her.  Any drag race involving an angry woman with powers and killer snakes is bound to rock, and Jennifer’s does not disappoint.  One can only hope for a remake starring Jennifer Lawrence (sadly, Bert Convy can't be in it). Here's the trailer, which oddly doesn't feature snakes.


12. Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

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Movies need to have more heroic veterinarians, especially ones played by William Shatner.  Shatner plays Dr. Robert “Rack” Hansen, who is called to the country to investigate the deaths of several prized farm animals.  He points a finger at killer tarantulas, and soon they begin going after humans.  En masse, they attack people driving cars, flying planes, swinging, and, in Shatner’s case, crawling up a flight of stairs.  Real tarantulas play themselves in this film, making it one of the most genuinely creepy and skin-crawl inducing of the bunch.  Still, nothing overshadows the Shat.





13. Slugs: The Movie (1988)

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They don’t just ruin gardens anymore.  A giant slug gets in a man’s gardening glove and inspires him to cut off his hand and blow up his greenhouse.  A couple of teenagers having sex are destroyed by the slugs that suddenly appear en masse around the bed.  The head of the sanitation department discovers that a toxic waste spill at the local mall has created masses of man-eating slugs (for aficionados of angry animal movies, this narrative immediately becomes laughably familiar).  Adding insult to injury, the slugs are filled with man-eating worms.  This explains why, after a guy eats a slug that has crept into his salad, his head explodes as worms eat their way out of it.  As you can see, if you can’t keep up with complex plot developments, Slugs: The Movie may be too sophisticated for you.  For anybody else, it’s nasty, funny, and a very valuable propaganda tool for public health organizations:  All who see it will clean their lettuce thoroughly forever thereafter.

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Ben Raphael Sher is a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA, where he also teaches.  His work has appeared in Fangoria, Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, and Back Stage. You can read more of his work here.

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