There's more to animals than just Snakes on a Plane.
Here's other notable when big-screen animals…attack!
Man’s Best Friend?
A rabid dog traps Dee Wallace Stone and her son (well, their characters...this isn't a documentary a la Grizzly Man) in a Pinto in this thriller based on Stephen King’s best-seller. What to do? Well, there's not much to do when poor Dee can't start her damn car, the mechanic is mauled to death and (since it’s 1983) there’s no such thing as a cell phone. Sitting in the car absolutely terrified, mother and son have to deal with a rabid dog the old fashioned way--wait it out. And scream. A lot. Cascades of doggie drool, a wrecked windshield and one seriously terrifying bathroom break ensue. Which begs the question--why not let the kid pee in the car?
Snakes on a…Boat
An incredibly underrated bit of slithery camp, Anaconda finds Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson and Eric Stoltz as members of a documentary film crew pitted against not only the titular snake but a deranged Jon Voight as well. Cruising down the Amazon, the group is taken hostage by obsessed hunter Voight who makes these unfortunate passengers accompany him on his crazed journey to capture a big, huge anaconda. Though many critics thought the movie simply stupid, they missed out on just how much the movie wasn't taking itself seriously. And you gotta love a film in which Lopez and Cube become the heroes and a major scene involves Voight being regurgitated from a snake’s belly.
The Ultimate “Bee” Movie
The Swarm (1978)
It’s not just African killer bees swarming this movie, it’s the stars—big stars, many who could have just as easily swarmed the Brown Derby decades back. Instead they're present via the “Master of Disaster”, director/producer Irwin Allen. Roll call? Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray, and Slim Pickens top-line a respectable cast of old-timers who suffer the rather unglamorous ardor of bee fury. With Caine as the scientist attempting to stop both the insect force from destroying Houston, and an environmentally unfriendly military advisor Widmark, the film alas never delivers the necessary, ahem, sting. I mean, when Widmark's supposedly evil military guy actually makes a great deal of sense, it's hard to root for Michael Caine. But then he was sleep-walking off a house payment in ths film so...
Where’s Steve Irwin When You Need Him?
Lake Placid (1999)
Bridget Fonda is the uptight yet plucky paleontologist sent out to investigate some weird animal happenings in Lake Placid, Maine—chiefly, how the fuck a 30 foot crocodile got in those chilly waters? Bill Pullman, a hilarious Oliver Platt and Betty White add additional weight and wit to the proceedings, especially when we're granted the gift of watching real life animal activist Betty White display the foulest mouth of any Golden Girl (even Bea Arthur) while feeding the monster croc. It's sweet.
Don’t Go in the Water Part I
A sublime “when animals attack” picture on every count, Steven Spielberg’s early directorial effort Jaws is a classic for good reason. The Great White is terrifying, the legendary John Williams score memorably evocative and the acting absolutely top notch. Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw bring poignancy, gravitas and humor to a film that could have been all about the effects. But it's not-- as the shark causes panic in the otherwise calm burg of Amity, New England, the picture masterfully yet unexplicitly exploits our most primal fears. And it contains one of my favorite lines—something that I apply to any insurmountable situation—“You're gonna need a bigger boat.”
Don’t Go in the Water Part II
Acclaimed independent director John Sayles (Matewan, Lone Star) wrote this squirm-fest in which rapacious fish attack a Texan resort. But these piranhas are no ordinary ravenous creatures—they were created by scientists for use in a large government plot concerning the Vietnam War. Though a poor man's Jaws (Spielberg allegedly considered it the best of the Jaws rip-offs), Piranha does boast fine moments of gore, suspense and humor. Director Joe Dante does a wonderful job working suspense, convincing effects and humor into the low-budget film. And you have to appreciate the film for getting its own jokes--especially when this line is uttered: "Sir, the piranha are eating the guests."
The Worst Picnic of Your Life
Empire of the Ants (1977)
Loosely adapted from a story by H.G. Wells, Empire of the Ants is actually a political, dare I say, cause movie. Really. After a container of radioactive waste lands on a Florida beach, innocent black ants take a bite and are suddenly transformed into enormous, mutated gigantor-ants intent to “eat” humans. Pre-Dynasty Joan Collins is the real estate developer who takes a group of potential buyers, via boat, to their prospective property, not knowing the man-eating ants will attack. And attack they do, though, the “giant” ant effects aren't exactly scary (the acting's scarier). Still, the film holds its charm through its cleverly veiled political message concerning zoning laws. OK, so that's not really the film's message but I like to pretend it is.
Bird Flu Nothing!
The Birds (1963)
The Birds is downright horrifying. And brilliant. Feeding on those paranoid fears that occasionally run through our mind when we see a flock of birds on a wire (what if they all swooped down?), Alfred Hitchcock crafted a movie that’s tense, inventive and in an odd way, gorily beautiful. And Tippi Hedren (whom I revere) is wonderful as the rich, party girl, blonde outsider who unluckily journeys to Bodega Bay for what will turn into a man vs. nature apocalypse. Actually, it's a kind of blonde vs. nature apocalypse, as if Hedren's very presence has something to do with the bird frenzy. And the ambiguous ending is utterly terrifying.
Froggy Went a Killing
I love this movie. Why? Because its environmental message wrapped in the nuttiness of the animals-going-insane genre is goofily charming. It also teams the great movie star Ray Milland with the (then) young upstart Sam Elliot. And then there's the frogs – all ten o’ em (they sure don't congregate with the kind of numbers as say, The Swarm). But maybe that's why it takes everyone so darn long to figure out what's going on. Milland plays a seriously cranky millionaire who’s not going to let a bunch of weird deaths upset his birthday party held on his gothic Florida island estate. Elliot is the environmentalist photographer who's stuck with Milland and his spoiled family. He's also the only one who can figure out this whole frog-killing situation as the angry critters (seen in frequent “mad” croaking close-ups) seek vengeance on an uncaring, environmentally unfriendly world. And it's not just frogs—snakes, lizards, spiders and even an alligator get in on the act. If you've got just one ferocious frogs movie to see in your life, this is the one.
Don’t Call Me Babe
Daddy’s Deadly Darling a.k.a Pigs (1973)
Remember the whole pig feeding scenario in Ridley Scott’s Hannibal? If you take that disgusting sequence, add a gawky female escapee from a lunatic asylum, a deranged old man murderer and, yep, his hungry pet pigs, you’ve got the uber-gross Daddy’s Deadly Darling—a movie that gives new meaning to the term “pork chop.” Directed by veteran character actor Marc Lawrence (The Ashphalt Jungle, Marathon Man) and starring his daughter Toni in her movie debut, this film's so utterly disgusting that we, well, see it for yourself.
Am I nuts or are the rats in Willard cute? And is the movie kind of, well, touching? A remake of the 1971 Bruce Davison cult favorite, this version stars Crispin Glover as the lonely, demented office worker who trains his rats (his best friends) to kill his enemies. But here's the “cute part”--his rates love him. Beautifully filmed and effectively acted by Glover, the film's highlight comes when Michael Jackson’s plaintive “Ben” (the theme song to Willard’s 1972 sequel, Ben) plays during an especially exciting rat attack. And yes, “Ben” is a song about murderous rats. P.S., the song was a hit 30 years before.
When All Animals Attack
Day of the Animals (1977)
Leslie Nielsen is so berserk in this movie you really do sympathize with all the crazed bears, hawks, wolves, cougars, and yes, snakes lurking about. A silly movie but lots of fun (and with a kick ass movie poster), Day of the Animals tackles the serious issue of our depleted ozone layer causing all the fauna to go loco. Not so great for the unlucky group of backpackers attempting to enjoy their nature outing. If the rumors of a planned remake are true, I can only hope they cast Nielsen again. Especially if he can bellow this line: “My father who art in heaven you've a made a jack a** out of me for years… You see what you want you take. You take it! And I am going to do just that!” Directed by William Girdler (who the year before helmed the ursine fear-fest Grizzly), this would make a great double bill with Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.