Movies with Killer Animals
While plenty of our readers may be scared of spiders and snakes, how about killer whales and giant, mutated rats? In this post, we focus on those moments when animals attack, especially if it occurs in a low-budget or offbeat production (that’s why ‘Jaws’ doesn’t make our list). So set some rat traps, grab a can of bug killer, and settle in for a few noteworthy cinematic selections.
Grizzly (1976) – What do you get when you combine the prehistoric era and a grizzly bear? Well, according to the movie poster for this 1976 ‘Jaws’ rip-off, “18 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror.” This massive bear isn’t playing around, as it pushes over lookout towers, attacks helicopters, and crashes through the walls of cabins to reach its victims. How closely was the film patterned after the killer shark classic from Steven Spielberg? Here’s a hint: One of the grizzly’s victims is played by Susan Backlinie, who also appeared as the unfortunate swimmer in the opening scene of ‘Jaws.’
Black Sheep (2007) – In the spirit of Peter Jackson comes this New Zealand horror/comedy about a herd of sheep turned into bloodthirsty killers through genetic tampering. When they get loose in the countryside, it’s up to our hero (Nathan Meister) to stop them. Of course, he just so happens to have an irrational fear of the wooly buggers. From giant half-sheep creatures to exploding sheep farts, this Jonathan King film bombards the viewer with one outrageous moment after another.
Orca (1977) – After harpooning a female killer whale by mistake, an Irish fisherman (Richard Harris) becomes the target of her rather pissed-off mate. A number of well-known names get eaten or maimed in the ensuing struggle between man and nature, including Robert Carradine, Bo Derek, Will Sampson, and Keenan Wynn. While it was no doubt inspired by the success of ‘Jaws,’ the film still manages to forge its own identity by providing several gonzo action sequences and a memorable turn by Harris.
The Pack (1977) – A pack of wild dogs are ripping people to pieces on a vacation island, and it’s up to Joe Don Baker (Buford Pusser in ‘Walking Tall’) to deal with the situation. The filmmakers don’t skimp on the gore, as you’ll see plenty of folks gets chewed up. And director Robert Clouse is an equal opportunity offender, showing killer canines getting shot and run over in graphic detail. When it comes to animal rampage movies from the ‘70s, ‘The Pack’ is a largely undiscovered gem.
Lucky (2002) – Millard Mudd (Michael Emanuel) is an alcoholic cartoon scriptwriter with a major case of writer’s block. On the way to pick up some brewskies, he mows down a little dog named Lucky and ends up taking the mortally wounded creature home with him. After the pint-sized pet passes away, Millard prepares to bury him. That’s when Lucky begins to speak, helping Millard restart his career by telepathically dictating cartoon scripts. But when the woman of his dreams enters Millard’s life, Lucky shows his true colors. Before long, Millard is transformed into a serial killer that even The Son of Sam would consider crazy.
Lake Placid (1999) – This tongue-in-cheek flick about a Maine lake plagued by crocodiles was directed by Steve Miner (‘Friday the 13th’ and two sequels) and written by television legend David E. Kelley (‘Picket Fences’ and ‘Boston Legal’). Mixing comedy, romance, horror, and the buddy genres, the film stars Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, and Brendan Gleeson. To top things off, the venerable Betty White co-stars as a woman who enjoys feeding the massive crocs by blindfolding cows and leading them to the water’s edge.
Alligator (1980) – Nineteen years before ‘Lake Placid’ hit theaters, this film about a 36-foot-long mutant alligator in the sewers of Chicago was scaring the hell out of viewers. Written by John Sayles, the script is far better than you’d expect, and the cast includes Robert Forster, Robin Riker, and Henry Silva. And who wouldn’t want to see a giant gator named Ramon run amok through a wedding party attended by the social elite of the city?
The Swarm (1978) – A small Texas town gets overrun by killer bees. Sounds like the usual low-budget stuff, right? Well, what if I told you that this box-office bomb was nominated for one Academy Award (Best Costume Design) and scored by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith? And what if you learned that the cast of potential bee victims included Henry Fonda, Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Richard Chamberlain, Fred MacMurray, Olivia de Havilland, and Ben Johnson? It only played in theaters for about two weeks before being pulled, and star Michael Caine considers it the worst movie he ever appeared in (and he was in ‘Jaws: The Revenge’). Still, it’s worth a look for fans of killer animal films.
Night of the Lepus (1972) – Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and DeForest Kelley somehow got mixed up with this film about giant rabbits on a carnivorous rampage. It’s awful, make no mistake about it, but there’s something perversely charming about its absolute lack of quality. Besides, how can you completely hate a movie that places live bunnies in a model town and then films them in slo-motion to generate terror? ‘Star Trek’ fans will never be able to shake the sight of Dr. McCoy blasting away at mutant rabbits with a double-barreled shotgun.
Willard (1971) – Bruce Davison stars as Willard, a lonely young man who lives with his mother is a ramshackle mansion infested with rats. But as it turns out, Willard is able to communicate with the little beasts, and he soon becomes close chums with a white rat named Socrates and a massive rodent called Ben. That’s bad news for Mr. Martin (Ernest Borgnine), Willard’s jackass of a boss. A sequel called ‘Ben’ was released the following year, with the Michael Jackson theme song shooting to the top of the charts.
The Food of the Gods (1976) – Critic Michael Medved considered this the worst rodent film of all time, but watch it yourself before jumping to conclusions. The trouble starts on an island in British Columbia, when a strange edible substance begins bubbling up from the ground. Helpful hint: don’t eat anything that suddenly appears from the bowels of the Earth, no matter how tasty it looks. Unfortunately, a local couple wastes no time in feeding it to their chickens, and soon the island is overrun with massive rats, wasps, and (gasp) worms. Thank God there’s a professional football player on the scene to battle these titanic pests.
Rats – Night of Terror (1983) – Since we’re on the subject of killer rats, we might as well go for the trifecta. It’s the year 2230, and Earth was long ago ravaged by the effects of a nuclear war. Most of humanity lives underground, but a few brave souls exist up top and scavenge the wasteland. This campy Italian/French co-production follows 11 nomadic motorcycle scavengers as they roll into a deserted town searching for sustenance. As it turns out, the town isn’t completely empty, and soon the group is set upon by wave after wave of mutated rats. I always wondered who would win in a showdown between flamethrower-wielding marauders and mutant rodents. Now I know.