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Top 10 Animal Horror Films

Muderous varmints seem never to get old for fans of big screen horror flicks like Piranha 3D. Muderous varmints seem never to get old for fans of big screen horror flicks like Piranha 3D.

Creating a list of the Top 10 animal-themed horror films is a challenge because so many of the most enjoyable films in this genre are awful. However, the Rosebud list makes a good faith attempt to find movies that are actually good, and not “so-bad-they’re-good.” With all the hoopla surrounding this summer’s Piranha 3-D, the animal horror, or eco-horror, genre could be in for a rebirth. It will probably never reach the proportions of the ‘70s, when these films were churned out en masse, but you never know what the public will clamor for next. From the ferocious to the friendly, common to the obscure, all the murderous critters you can imagine are here.


 10. Cujo

Stephen King is undoubtedly the king of horror fiction, and many of the films based on his novels have made for an enjoyable night of popcorn and screams. There have been a number of stinkers, too. But Cujo lands among the list of worthwhile King adaptations.

Cujo tells the story of a rabid and murderous St. Bernard. King undoubtedly chose the canine for its size, but also to juxtapose the stereotype of the breed, generally portrayed as a helpful and gentle giant, with the reality of a creature evolved to hunt and kill.

Throw in a case of rabid madness, add a mother and her child stuck in a car on a sweltering summer day, and let the discomfort settle in. Viewers squirm with the curious mix of anxiety and fun that is the hallmark of a good horror movie experience, until the film arrives at its forgivably predictable conclusion.


9. Piranha

The ‘70s and early ‘80s saw an incredible number of knock-offs trying to capitalize on the success of the #1 film on this list. Of that glut of shoddy B-movies, Piranha differentiates itself with a little self-awareness and a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humor.

Joe Dante directed the film, paving the way for a successful career that included another creature feature, the wildly popular Gremlins.

Piranha features biologically enhanced versions of the carnivorous fish – a military project gone awry – rendered in capable (for the era) stop motion animation. We never get to see too much of the killer fish, but the havoc they wreak is a source of none stop thrills.

Piranhais also notable for its sequel, which marked the debut of a little known director by the name of James Cameron, who went on to make a few of the most successful films in the history of the known universe, including Terminator 2, Aliens, Titanic, and Avatar


8. Deep Blue Sea


It’s always nice when a horror movie has a good sense of humor. And not the cheap teenage slapstick of your average slasher flick, but a healthy dose of irony from a film that knows it is not breaking new ground, but still delivers decent thrills. That’s Deep Blue Sea in a nutshell.

L.L. Cool J and Thomas Jane star in this over the top movie about genetically engineered genius sharks who feed on a group of people trapped in an underwater lab. The film knows how ridiculous that sounds, but sticks to its clichés with a deadpan delivery.

The entire tone of the film is best captured in its best loved scene, wherein Samuel L. Jackson gives an impassioned motivational speech. Heck, that scene is so good it would make the whole movie worthwhile even if it didn’t’ deliver so much fun.

7. Alligator

Piranha screenwriter John Sayles makes his second appearance on this list with 1980’s Alligator. This is perhaps a slighter film than Piranha, and similarly low budget, but it plays on the classic ‘80s urban myth about flushing an alligator down the toilet. In Alligator, the reptile grows to giant proportions and eats everybody.

Probably the most intriguing thing about this film is the question of whether or not it is a parody. It is played mostly straight, hitting all the formulaic conventions of a horror film, but doesn't come off like a mindless derivation because of the satirical elements.

Alligator's magic is its ability to play to both sides of the room by striking that delicate balance between honoring convention and sending it up.




6. Monkey Shines

Legendary horror filmmaker George Romero, best known for his trilogy of zombie films – Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead – makes the list with a film about a super intelligent and semi-telepathic helper monkey turned psychotic.

The premise sounds ridiculously hokey, but Romero manages to pull off a sense of sheer terror through his quadriplegic protagonist. The main character’s immobility creates a sense of helplessness that has viewers squirming in their seats as the once cute Capuchin monkey undertakes a series of revenge murders on the increasingly disturbed man's behalf.

The film's climax also manages to tug at the heartstrings a little.

For those interested in further primate thriller viewing, check out one of Bela Lugosi’s lesser known vehicles, 1932’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, a must for the Universal Horror completist.

5. Jurassic Park

Cracking the top half of our list is a record-breaking film. Jurassic Park shattered the numbers set by E.T. for highest-grossing film of all time, only to have that record eclipsed by Titanic (there’s James Cameron popping up again) four years later. The $63 million Jurassic Park wound up grossing over $914 million.

The film was a bonafide cultural phenomen, not only dominating screens across North America, but becoming a merchandising juggernaut as well. The primary villains here were velociraptors – a super smart species of carnivorous dinosaur. Of course, the Tyranosaurus Rex gets his due as well.

Jurassic Park was a blockbuster that delivered thrills and chills alongside awe-inspiring special effects, and all without losing track of a solid story.


4. Arachnophobia

One of the smartest approaches to the animal horror genre is 1990’s Arachnophobia. By the end of the ‘80s, cheap, cheesy, predictable horror films were passé, as audiences had grown tired of having their intelligence insulted.

Enter Arachnophobia, a horror-comedy featuring Jeff Daniels and a scene-munching John Goodman as a small town exterminator. The film gives a nod to many horror movie conventions, but never forgets that it is ultimately a fun, silly-but-witty popcorn flick.

The premise is that a killer spider ends up in rural America and breeds with a local species, creating a race of even deadlier arachnids. It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, but the smart and funny approach of the film heralded a brighter day for horror fans hoping the genre would emerge from its nadir in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.




3. Willard

2003’s Willard is a dark, quirky, not-for-everyone remake of the 1971 film of the same name, but outdoes the original with its gallows humor, wit, and suspense.

Hollywood eccentric Crispin Glover plays a role that seems tailor made for him as the human protagonist, Willard. In his most unforgettable role since George McFly, Glover plays a misfit who trains an army of rats to take murderous revenge against the people who have done him wrong.

The playfully twisted tone combined with Glover’s inspired performance make this one of the few animal horror films truly worth your time. You'll never have more fun rooting for a vengeful social pariah.



2. The Birds

What to say about Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film? The Birds started it all, but did it better than nearly any other film to follow.

Making this one all the creepier is the movie’s ability to turn something commonplace and non-threatening into a truly frightening danger. After all, birds like crows and gulls permeate the background of our daily lives. What if, en masse, they turned on us?

The tension of the film mounts slowly, but hits its zenith when a small California town is besieged by hordes of crazed birds that attack anyone they can, including children. No reason is ever explored in depth for such deranged animal behavior. As such, the senseless chaos of both modern life and the natural world collide to create a haunting theme in one of the most nightmare-inducing films of all time.

1. Jaws

Jaws was the original summer blockbuster, and may be the film to have produced the most knock-offs. Its inspiration was widely felt, not just in terms of animal-themed horror schlock, but in terms of virtually any thriller of any kind.

From the first scene to the last, Jaws keeps you on the edge of your seat. There are a number of effective misdirections that keep the audience guessing. Then, when the real thing hits, it blasts you to the core.

The trio assembled to take down the monstrous great white shark is an unforgettable collection of characters. Roy Scheider as the conscientious police chief, Richard Dreyfuss as the pedantic marine biologist, and an unforgettable Robert Shaw as Quint the hard-boiled fisherman comprise as much of the film’s charm as anything to do with the shark.

Jaws launched Steven Spielberg to instant directorial superstar, and he went on to become one of the most distinguished and successful filmmakers of all time. Hardly a coincidence - Jaws isn’t just horror done right, it’s moviesdone right.


So Bad They’re Good

The discussion of animal-themed horror movies would be incomplete without mentioning some of the laughable attempts to cash in on the craze birthed by The Birds and kicked into full gear by Jaws.

Here are some titles (and brief descriptions) of the most notable disasters, each of them worth a look when you’re in the mood for some cheesy fun in the form of bad acting, cheap effects, and laughably derivative plots.

Orca  - Jaws with a whale.
Grizzly – Jaws with a bear.
Prophecy – Jaws with a mutant bear.
Frankenfish – Jaws with a mutant fish.
Razorback – Jaws with a mutant pig.
Slugs – Jaws with a bunch of slugs.
Night of the Lepus – Jawswith a bunch of bunny rabbits.


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Pirranha got a reboot. Was it better or worse than the original?
Last modified on Tuesday, 26 July 2011 02:48

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