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Stacie Ponder – Jaws Bites, The Birds Peck. When Animals Run Amok, Man Loses

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Among my favorite horror sub-genres is the one I affectionately call “animals run amok,” movies that pit man against beast in a battle to the death. I don’t care whether the beasts are domesticated or wild, regular or super-sized, attacking en masse or solo. The point is, animals get fed up with our crap and they fight back, which I find very entertaining. I’m sure this says something about me, but I’m not a psychologist, just a humble horror blogger.

As fears of nuclear war grew during the 1950s, so did horror-movie animals: In Them! (1954), for example radiation poisoning doesn’t make for a slow, painful death — it makes for gigantic ants who hate us. By the genre’s ’70s heyday, environmental concerns came to the fore: Overuse of pesticides and hairspray anger Mother Nature, who sics her babies on mankind. After the mauling and bloodshed, the lesson: Be kind to the earth and its inhabitants, because nature will kick your butt. Here are ten of the best movies featuring man as the underdog.

10. Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009)
This direct-to-DVD thriller features bad-to-middling CGI, laughable dialogue and a nonsensical plot. But really, I don’t care when it also features Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson battling the mega shark and giant octopus, who are battling each other. Who will win? We all will.

9. Bug (1975)
No, not the 2006 William Friedkin movie about obsessive lovers holed up in a hotel room and going insane. I’m talking the horror movie written by William Castle, about super-intelligent, flying, carnivorous cockroaches who can fart fire… though it’s easy to get them confused.

8. Night of the Lepus (1972)
In case you didn’t know, “lepus” is the genus to which hares and jackrabbits belong. Yes, this movie is about killer bunnies. Giant killer bunnies! A serum designed to curb the exploding jackrabbit population in Arizona somehow turns them into enormous monsters with a sudden taste for human flesh. Oh science… you’re so unpredictable!

7. Empire of the Ants (1977)
Have you ever thought, “All I really want from life is to see Joan Collins attacked by giant ants?” Well if that’s the case, friend, then here’s the movie for you: Collins plays an evil real estate magnate/developer trying to sell some Caribbean land that happens to be infested with oversized, radioactive ants. Director Bert I. Gordon doesn’t fully exploit this amazing premise, but the movie’s failings are our cheestastic winnings.

6. Day of the Animals (1977)
On the titular day of the animals, all the beasts of a mountain region attack humans. Why? No one knows for sure, but as one character explains, “This ozone thing has something to do with it!” By the end of this free-for-all, star Leslie Nielsen is half-naked and wrestling a bear in the rain… can’t we all relate?

5. Squirm (1976)
When a city boy travels to the country to visit his new girlfriend, some culture clashes are to be expected. What’s not to be expected: Mounds and mounds of killer worms crawling around everywhere — but that’s what a storm and an underground electrical surge will getcha. Squirm will also getcha a great insult you can use at anytime: “You gonna be da worm face!”

4. Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
William Shatner stars as veterinarian Rack Hansen, who’s flummoxed when a desert town’s cattle begin dying in droves. Enter the foxy, big city entomologist who quickly deduces that the town has a nasty spider problem. These eight-legged baddies are ticked off about the wanton use of pesticides, and they don’t mess around, taking down the local population and even facing Shatner’s overacting without a hint of fear.

3. Slugs (1988)
Undoubtedly one of the grossest animals-run-amok movies ever made, Slugs features flying limbs, blood, gore, ooze, exploding eyeballs, piles of slugs and people stepping in piles of slugs — it’s just a flat-out FX fun fest. To combat the fact that slugs aren’t, you know, scary or deadly-seeming (no matter how much toxic waste you dump on ’em), the movie simply has people suddenly, inexplicably surrounded by the squishy things. It’s terribly awesome or awesomely terrible, depending on your world view.

2. The Swarm (1978)
In an attempt to make all my wildest dreams come true, director Irwin Allen crossed the animals-run-amok and disaster-movie genres, giving the world The Swarm, in which an all-star cast runs for its life from zillions of killer bees. It’s every bit as bloated and overwrought as any movie featuring an earthquake or a downed airplane… but it’s got bees, which makes it, well, one of my wildest dreams come true.

1. Jaws (1975) and The Birds (1963)
These classics from, respectively, Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock, are really too well-made and classy to be included on a list of trashtastic animals-run-amok movies. Yet to omit them would surely result in an angry mob outside my door… or at least a comment or two wondering what my problem is.

OK, so that’s actually eleven… but I’m not a mathematician, just a humble blogger grateful that horror movie characters exist in a universe where horror movies do not. That’s why they never learn the lessons taught by these morality tales, and there’s always some new animal making with the bite, the sting, the peck, or the whatever it is slugs do. Hooray!


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When Stacie Ponder isn’t writing about horror movies here or at her own beloved blog Final Girl, she’s making them. Always, though, she leads a glamorous life, walking on the razor’s edge of danger and intrigue.

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