What’s that coming over the hill! Both B-movies and blockbusters have entertained us with members of the animal kingdom intent on crushing, biting or stinging innocent people to death. Sometimes, they’re just doing what comes naturally and sometimes, human interference makes them ‘go bad’. This list is strictly creatures that are in the known world, albeit enlarged by radiation in the case of ants. So you won’t see aliens, mythical creatures or supernatural beings on this top 10 list. No, these beasts all really exist, maybe just a bit smaller and little less bent on vengeance. These films tap into our deep-seated primeval fears. If you’re of a nervous disposition, turn away now.
10. Piranha – Piranha, 1978
Directed by Joe Dante
Scientists have produced genetically altered piranha for deployment in the Vietnam War, and (you guessed it), they are accidentally released into the river system. These man-eaters find their way into a summer resort and feast themselves on the guests. The race is on to stop them but they are reproducing at an alarming rate! Kevin McCarthy and Bradford Dillman give their usual professional performances and cult director, Roger Corman was the movie’s producer.
9. Bees – The Swarm, 1978
Directed by Irwin Allen
A swarm of African killer bees terrorizes America and kills thousands of people. Entomologist Brad Crane (Michael Caine) leads a group of scientists in the search for an antidote. As usual, the military (led by Richard Widmark as a Major General) would rather blast the culprits to kingdom come. The plot is shaky, to put it mildly, and the dialogue is laugh out loud ridiculous. Caine and Widmark, along with co-stars Katherine Ross, Olivia de Havilland, Richard Chamberlain and Henry Fonda, were probably embarrassed to be in it. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining romp, undoubtedly for different reasons than disaster guru Irwin Allen, intended.
8. Giant Squid – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1954
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Based on the Jules Verne novel set in 1866, this is the celebrated version of several adaptations. James Mason plays the sinister Captain Nemo, commander of the Nautilus submarine, a vessel that is both futuristic and luxurious. Disney’s first venture into live action resulted in Oscars for Art Direction and Special Effects. Nemo and his crew are joined by whaler Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), Professor Arronax (Paul Lukas), and Conseil (Peter Lorre). There have been rumors of a sea monster, said to be responsible for attacks on shipping. The monster is revealed to be a giant squid, which attacks the Nautilus with gusto. Who can forget seeing the long tentacle reach out for its victim?
7. Ants – Them! 1954
Directed by Gordon Douglas
A nuclear bomb test in the New Mexico desert has devastating consequences when ants mutate into radioactive giants with a taste for human flesh. Once again, the US Army is called in to save the day and to stop them multiplying. You’ll never complain about a few ants in the kitchen again. It’s a message film, about the dangers of unleashing atomic power on the world, as well as a monster movie. It was nominated for the Oscar for Special Effects.
6. Crocodile – Lake Placid, 1999
Directed by Steve Miner
A 30-foot crocodile is discovered in a lake in scenic Maine, capable of snapping unsuspecting people in two. The investigating team includes a Fish and Game Officer (Bill Pullman), who flirts with a visiting paleontologist (Bridget Fonda). The film combines laughs (intentional this time) with frights and there are comic turns from Brendan Gleeson, playing a cynical sheriff, and Oliver Platt, who is an eccentric crocodile expert. The star performance, however, is from Betty White as Delores, a foul-mouthed woman living by the lake who treats the crocodile like a pet, feeding it with cows from her herd.
5. Spiders – Arachnophobia, 1990
Directed by Frank Marshall
If you’re not scared of spiders before you see this movie, you will be afterwards. This is another story of the natural order of things going wrong, when a South American killer spider is a stowaway on a boat to America. It mates with a local spider and the offspring bite their way through thousands of people in a small town in California. Physician Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) and exterminator, Delbert McClintock (John Goodman) team up to investigate. The unfortunate Dr. Jennings is terrified of spiders and there is a nest in his barn!
4. Saint Bernard Dog – Cujo, 1983
Directed by Lewis Teague
A rabid bat bites a friendly Saint Bernard named Cujo, causing the dog to become violent and go on a killing spree in a small town in America. The movie, adapted from a Stephen King novel, is known for its genuine terror. Perhaps it’s all the more frightening because the star is man’s best friend. This story is more true to home, as opposed to all those giant mutants.
3. Birds – The Birds, 1963
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
No one does suspense like Hitchcock and this is truly menacing. Adapted from a short story by Daphne du Maurier, it involves a series of bird attacks in a small town in the San Francisco Bay that escalate in violence, as the birds seek to dominate. Tippi Hedren (one of Hitchcock’s best ice cool blondes) and Rod Taylor star. There is a memorably chilling scene in which a group of crows gather quietly in the school grounds, preparing to attack. The film received a nomination for the Special Effects Oscar.
2. Velociraptor – Jurassic Park, 1993
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Raptors or Tyrannosaurus Rex, take your pick. Either creature easily makes this list at #2. Jurassic Park had two sequels but the original is the best. Richard Attenborough plays John Hammond, the owner of a theme park on a remote island, inhabited by dinosaurs, cloned from DNA from dinosaur blood found in insects trapped in amber. The idea is ingenious but it all goes horribly wrong. Before the park’s public opening, Hammond invites scientists, played by Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, and Laura Dern, to check it out, along with his two grandchildren. The combination of Animatronics and Computer Generated Imagery won the film the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Everyone (and who hasn’t seen it?) is on the edge of their seats when the kids hide from the raptors in the kitchen. The message is don’t interfere with evolution.
1. Great White Shark – Jaws, 1975
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Some people complain that sharks are given a bad press but the Great White in Jaws seems to be on a personal vendetta. The shark’s presence is indicated by John William’s excellent music, shortly followed by blood in the water. Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) tries to protect the Amity Island beach resort residents and tourists but must contend with the Town Mayor, who wants to keep the beach open for the busy summer season, despite attacks indicating a large shark. It falls to Brody, a Marine Scientist named Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and shark hunter, Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt down the Great White. The sequels are a case of diminishing returns but the original delivers. Don’t watch this in a room with a low ceiling because you will jump on several occasions.