Animals have been our companions for millennia, but what happens when nature… goes bad? Some of cinema’s scariest moments come from creatures who have become freakishly intelligent, aggressive, or large, normally as a result of human experimentation. (If movies have taught us anything, it’s that scientific progress is to be frowned upon.) Other times, it’s simply that our reckless disregard for the natural order means a clash between man and beast; a fair fight only if we have guns, fireballs, and industrial-strength pesticides.
While the likes of Jaws and Arachnophobia create hauntingly iconic scenes that spring to mind at inopportune moments in your life (paddling in the sea, eating popcorn etc), glorious counterparts to these classics are to be found in the cinematic bargain bin. Sometimes a straight-up thriller becomes a B-movie simply with the passage of time, as the animatronic monster becomes less terrifying and more ludicrous. How do you know if you’re watching a B-movie? The deaths aren’t morose and chilling, they’re hilarious.
Without further ado, here are 25 of the best murderous animals to grace the B-movie screen (and if you’re wondering why there are no sharks in the list, they’re all here).
25. Strays (1991)
A bit of a horror-by-numbers. Family moves into a big new house, creepy things start happening, husband is allergic to cats, yada yada. They have problems with strays almost immediately, but nobody takes it seriously – “We’re talking about a cat, get a grip on yourself!” – and soon things have come to a yowling, spitting, growling climax. People try desperately to get water onto the cats as if this is actually a magical antidote to feline attack.
Our fear of cats’ spooky reputation was also exploited in The Uncanny (1977) in which Peter Cushing and Ray Milland head a cast of people who are forever screaming while being covered in cats, while Uninvited (1988) stars a mutant cat running amok on a luxury yacht.
24. Inanimate/Harbinger Down (2015)
I’m cheating, because just like ultimate B-movie The Blob, this concerns alien bacteria rather than animals. It’s discovered by a submarine crew, leading to shape-shifting monsters taking over people’s bodies. Think Alien crossed with The Thing and a dash of Tremors-style special effects. Then imagine cheap sets and bad acting and voila! It may not be a ‘good’ film, but when it comes to ridiculous, quotable lines it’s in a league of its own.
“Pull a knife on my ship and I’ll gut you with it.”“We have as much money as the Vatican and almost as many lawyers.”“If you throw one more tantrum I’ll bite your goddamn nose off.”“There’s a lot more goo than we thought!”“Keep that nitrogen pointed at me!”“Freeze melts. Fire is forever.”And my personal favourite: “You don’t just jump into these sort of things hickety pickety.”
In a similar vein, I can’t NOT mention David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975); the parasites fit all too neatly into a list of the unintentionally comical.
23. Dogs (1976)
Casually insulting your average monster screenplay, one character explains “giant ants and scorpions and lizards are just products of an ignorant screenwriter who never took biology.” He’s lecturing students on the “hive mind” which makes creatures like ants work towards a single purpose. Lucky other animals don’t do the same, right? Oh.
Local dogs begin mutilating farm animals, and it’s not long before humans are on the menu. (It’s easy to sneak into people’s homes, because SO MANY women leave the back door open when showering, don’t they?) Despite a dog show ending in pandemonium, the film lacks the standard climax: what are you going to do, shoot all the dogs in the world?
Fans may enjoy Night Of The Wild (2015) and Man’s Best Friend (1993) infamous for a scene in which a genetically engineered mastiff swallows a cat whole, anaconda-style.
22. The Devil Bat (1940)
Vintage horror films could have filled this entire list; there’s an abundance of pre-CGI movies with fantastic monsters (normally some kind of giant insect or sea creature) so I will simply say this: if it’s black and white and has ‘monster’, ‘devil’ or ‘Attack of the Killer-‘ in the title, it’s going to be a winner.
This little gem features a giant bat who can kill with one swoop to the jugular. His mad scientist creator is a murderer who tricks people into wearing a scent which attracts and enrages the freakishly large and screamy creature. With lines like “If half what I suspect is true it’s the most diabolical plot that a madman ever concocted!” this is an unmissable retro treat. Giant bats also feature in such classics as Bats: Human Harvest (2007) and Fangs (2002).
21. Wild Beasts (1984)
Real animals were used in this ‘zoo inhabitants go crazy when accidentally drugged’ story. While a remake would no doubt feature special effects and gory deaths, this looks like maybe Italian safety laws weren’t particularly strict and some animals were just set upon others while director Franco Prosperi pointed a camera at them.
The dangers are fairly imaginative: it’s no good having a car to escape when you’re being chased by a cheetah! A courting couple are eaten by rats, elephants invade an airport runway, and a tiger terrorizes subway passengers. The highlight of the film is the school containing screaming small children and a polar bear. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it turns out that not only animals drank that PCP-laced water…
1978 TV movie The Beasts Are On the Streets covers similarly amusing ground as zoo animals escape and invade hospitals, carnivals etc.
20. Beyond Loch Ness/Loch Ness Terror (2008)
Sadly there are no Hollywood z-listers attempting Scottish accents; although they have pilfered the name of Nessie the action actually takes place in the States. Booo!
Lake Superior is inhabited by a prehistoric monster, who apparently travelled from Loch Ness via those convenient under-sea tunnels. Perhaps it came in search of James Murphy (Brian Krause), who encountered the beast decades earlier when it chomped up his father in Scotland. Murphy is now the mysterious stranger who has come to town in search of unknown animals (his title as a cryptozoologist is explained multiple times, presumably because the producers were not expecting the average viewer to be comfortable with big words. It may not a totally unfair assumption.) The CGI is more Walking With Dinosaurs than Jurassic Park, but that’s all part of the fun, along with Nessie attacks which leave people surprised by their missing appendages.
19. Empire Of The Ants (1977)
If you’ve ever wanted to see Joan Collins get ant pheromones puffed into her face to brainwash her into accepting her new insect queen’s authority, you’ve come to the right place. Collins starts the film trying to convince a boatload of people to invest in island property, never guessing that radioactive waste will have created an army of giant ants. What are the chances that such a small island would be home to a sugar factory? There’s a lot of screaming in this film (one actress actually dislocated her jaw from her exertions) and certain scenes may remind you of Honey I Shrunk The Kids, but the H.G. Wells story gets a fun update with the ‘hypnotic ants’ angle.
For an Oscar-winning alternative, try Them (1954).The tale of enormous mutant ants created by atomic testing is considered one of the most influential sci-fi movies of all time.
18. It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)
Released as a double feature alongside Creature With The Atom Brain, this may have been a B-movie with impressive special effects at the time, but it has become a bona fide (cult) classic. Stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen used his own special brand of animation (known as dynamation) to sandwich the octopus model into a live action shot – prior to this, actors had to be content to film their reaction shots separately, and occasionally wrestle with puppets. Dynamation made those scenes of people being chased down by an colossal angry octopus look ALL TOO REAL.
Overly large octopi/squid have proved to be popular adversaries for oceangoing heroes; in Tentacles (1977) Henry Fonda has no choice but to set some killer whales on one, and Deep Rising (1998) features a primeval beast with extra spiky tentacles which seem to be sentient beings in their own right.
17. Squirm (1976)
Squirm’s intro implies it’s based on a true story, citing an electrical storm which sent thousands of volts into the ground, cutting off a town’s electricity and leading them to experience “one of the most bizarre freaks of nature ever recorded”.
Director Jeff Lieberman insists “Squirm is based on a scientific reality. Electricity really does make worms shoot out of the ground.” I’m guessing it doesn’t normally give them little fangs and a whining shriek, though. Squirm takes a while to get going, but the climactic scenes of piles of writhing worms falling out of doorways, seething across the floor and creating a deadly sea for victims to fall into makes it worth a watch. (My favorite part is actually a moment of human-on-human violence: a surprise bite to the thigh.) Fans may also enjoy Attack Of The Giant Leeches (1959 AND 2008) and Mongolian Death Worm (2010).
16. Frogs (1972)
Deceptively named, Frogs does feature a number of amphibians, but they’re more of a plague than an actual threat to life. Crabs, geckos, and leeches all do their bit to ruin a family’s party weekend; the grumpy patriarch insists that “man is still master of the world” and deals with a snake by using his gun, so you know he’s going to end up with more than just frogs hopping on his picnic tea.
Which is the best moment? Is it when a woman appears to be choked simply by walking into some vines, then falls screaming into a puddle? When an actor forgets which leg is supposed to be stuck in the mud? Or perhaps the unforgettable alligator-wrestling? Special mention must go to the scene in which a survivor of the carnage hallucinates animal sounds as he surveys his collection of taxidermied creatures; all very poignant until a stuffed fish makes a noise like a cheerful dolphin.
15. The Swarm (1978)
Described as “the ultimate B movie” (presumably not as a pun), even a starry cast can’t save a film featuring frequent hallucinations of giant insects, or lines like “I never dreamed it would be the bees – they’ve always been our friend.”
Michael Caine is the expert trying to warn the military about the dangerous swarm headed their way, and being ignored just makes him even more frothing-at-the-mouth angry. The town’s flower festival is interrupted with shrieks of “The killer bees are coming!” and it seems that smashing windows in order to shelter in buildings may not be the best idea…
Various methods of defence are used, including a vaccine which a very unscientific scientist decides to try on himself, and pesticides which are no use on super smart bees: “They’re not touching the pellets – they seem to sense it’s something that could kill them!”
14. Kingdom Of The Spiders (1977)
When it comes to cheesy spider movies, we have an embarrassment of riches. Special mention must go to The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), where alien spiders resembling large cuddly toys pop out of drawers and wrestle people to the ground, and the wildly entertaining Lavalantula (2015) in which Los Angeles is invaded by giant lava-breathing spiders. 1955’s Tarantula is also worth checking out for a 100-foot monster (the UK’s spider season seems quite reasonable in comparison).
Here we have another “interfering with nature always causes disaster” movie of the 1970s, starring a suitably dramatic William Shatner. When spiders’ usual food is in short supply due to pesticides, they band together to kill larger prey… Spare a thought for actors who were covered with real spiders for scenes (extra difficult when attempting to portray motionless dead people) and suffered itchiness from all the tiny tarantula hairs that were shed.
13. Deadly Eyes (1982)
Steroid-filled grain makes for over-sized rodents (this film had me from “dachshunds were dressed up as rats for the special effects”) and they’re soon invading homes, cinemas, and subway tunnels, determined to clamp their gnashers into human flesh.
The constant squeaking is quite disturbing, as is an early death scene (apparently filmmakers in the ’70s thought of small children as fair game for grisly, albeit implied, deaths). However, it is a fun film, not least because those iron-jawed creatures vaguely resemble Roland Rat from 1980s kids’ TV.
Of Unknown Origin (1983) is perhaps the best man vs rat film, but the critters also feature in enjoyably terrible films such as Rodentz (2001) and Rats: Night Of Terror (1984). For vintage fun, try 1959’s The Killer Shrews, the first horror film to really make use of them needing to eat three times their body weight every day…
12. Anaconda (1997)
A pre-big time Jennifer Lopez stars as a documentary maker on her first big project, seeking a remote tribe who live near the Amazon river. Ice Cube, Owen Wilson, and Eric Stolz are among the crew accompanying her, but Jon Voight steals the show as a sinister snake hunter.
The movie is packed with scares before any people meet the infamous anaconda (a particularly surprised panther is an early victim) but as more things go wrong they’re forced to rely on Voight’s apparently superior knowledge of the area and its wildlife. “Anacondas are the perfect killing machines,” he says gleefully. The film has many great moments, but an unexpected wink cements it as B-movie gold.
Followed by zillions of sequels including the crossover Lake Placid Vs. Anaconda (2015); serpent aficionados may also enjoy Jennifer (1978) which is basically Carrie with a twist: a teen with mystical power over snakes.
11. Black Sheep (2006)
Refreshingly fast-moving and concise, this New Zealand offering is a deliberately silly gorefest. Like all good animal-monster heroes, Henry (Nathan Meister) has a phobia about the animal in question. He returns to his family’s farm to discover that sheep are the subject of experiments which have turned them into vicious freaks. They now have the ability to eat humans, or worse, turn them into were-sheep. At least Henry now has a reason for his crippling fear, but can he overcome it and save the day?
Bring your strongest stomach and most puerile sense of humor to a movie which features sheep hijacking cars, people who resort to beating away the slavering killers with their own severed limbs, and mint sauce being used as a deadly weapon. There’s also a nice nod to the classic transformation scene in An American Werewolf In London (1981).
10. Night Of The Lepus (1972)
Rabbits may not be the first animal you’d associate with horror films, but their infamous speed at reproducing makes them a suitable candidate for this amusingly low-budget effort. After all, the film points out that their real-life population growth has wreaked havoc in their non-native countries. What happens if an accidental mix of chemicals turns those bunnies into gigantic carnivores? Based on sci-fi novel The Year Of The Angry Rabbit (1964), I was disappointed that the director failed to capitalize on the effect that car headlights might have on rabbits, when using them in the big climax.
Having seen the rabbit episode of Father Ted made it even harder to take the film seriously, but the growls and squeaks, the blood thrown upon actors with no thought to creating visible wounds, and the occasional shot of giant rabbits roaming through a miniature village, all made for a unique viewing experience.
9. Grizzly (1976)
Grizzly was originally considered a land-locked tribute to Jaws; in retrospect the tale of a psychopathic bear has more in common with the slasher films of the era. You can’t help wondering if Freddy, Jason et al were inspired by the heavy breathing and preference for nubile young women as the bear stalks happy campers showering in waterfalls.
One character occasionally dresses up in a bear skin, and it struck me that if he was periodically believing himself to be a bear and eating people, it would have been a much more interesting film. That’s not to say it doesn’t have moments of genius; I particularly like the way the bear severs limbs with one swipe of the paw and manages to keep up a steady roar while killing. (Biting isn’t always necessary – sometimes you can just squeeze people to death or swing them against tree trunks.)
8. Food Of The Gods (1976)
Vaguely inspired by an H. G. Wells novel, this covers man’s greed as well as the foolishness of feeding animals with unknown chemicals. (How very topical.) Island-dwelling farm animals fed with a mysterious substance bubbling up from the ground consequently grow abnormally large. People visiting from the mainland are attacked by a plethora of humungous chickens, wasps, and rats, which is as brilliant as it sounds. (For more of the same, 1961’s Mysterious Island also features giant crabs, birds, and insects.)
The rat scenes are particularly enjoyable, with cute rodents being filmed wandering harmlessly over miniature cars and caravans, intercut with close-ups of puppets biting people. (Just imagine a sinister version of Hammy the Hamster.)
Followed by an equally amusing sequel (Gnaw: Food Of The Gods II) in 1989, with giant children as well as animals: highlights include rats entering a pool via sewers to create carnage among synchronised swimmers.
7. Piranha 3D (2010)
Based on the original 1978 film, this was followed by a sequel, the ‘wittily’ titled Piranha 3DD (2012). Unashamedly a boobsploitation movie, Piranha 3D is ridiculous and knows it, but if you enjoy juvenile humour, gory deaths and extensive scenes of Kelly Brook swimming around in skimpy attire, it will certainly make a divertingly fun Friday night popcorn movie.
Richard Dreyfuss makes a cheeky cameo; Christopher Lloyd also appears as a wild-eyed scientist trying to understand this unknown species. Elizabeth Shue is the local sheriff and Jerry O’Connell has the absolute time of his life playing a sleazy photographer. The flying, snapping fish are perfect for 3D (and really, what’s the point in making a 3D film if you’re not going to have someone thrusting an outboard motor towards the audience at some point?)
Fans may also enjoy 2012’s Piranhaconda. (You’ll have to guess what that’s about.)
6. Devil Dog: The Hound Of Hell (1978)
Unfortunately the kids in this film didn’t get the memo about just saying no if a man asks if you want to see his puppies. It’s all a bit Village Of The Damned, as their new pet doesn’t maul anyone, just uses those big doggy eyes to hypnotise them all – “that damn dog tried to force me to put my hand in the lawnmower!”
The kids’ mom is curious about the dark gloopy stuff on the floor (she puts her fingers in it to sniff it, not something I would do with a dog in the house) – and it’s blood. Hey, are you kids practicing the dark arts again? Soon it’s down to their dad to figure out how to defeat the devilish pooch. It’s never really clear WHY satanists want to spread the word via evil dogs, but it sure makes for an entertaining film.
5. Monkey Shines (1988)
Alan is paralyzed from the neck down after an accident; his dodgy scientist pal Jeffrey provides Ella, a monkey home-help. Fittingly, George A. Romero’s first studio film is all about grey matter: Jeffrey’s been injecting Ella with a serum made with human brains in the hope of increasing her intelligence. Instead it creates a telepathic link between her and Alan, and he finds himself as enraged as, well, a laboratory monkey who’s been injected with random chemicals.
Ella starts carrying out Alan’s darker temptations, resulting in hilarious scenes of her electrocuting people in baths and chasing them with razors. She also likes to turn the lights down and put on romantic music when snuggling with Alan, which should maybe have been the first sign something wasn’t quite right. For more killer simian fun check out Shakma (1990) and its amazingly dramatic trailer.
4. Snakes On A Plane (2006)
Snakes often make for great B-movies (See Sssssss (1973) and Rattled (1996)) and while this clearly has a B-movie premise, it transcends its origins to become a witty and well-structured comedy thriller.
For the uninitiated: a dude in witness protection is flying to LA to give evidence, never suspecting the criminals in question might fill the plane’s cargo hold with snakes, dosed up with pheromones to make them super-aggressive. Serpents slither from air vents, ping out of the ceiling along with oxygen masks, and pop out of sick bags. They memorably surprise a couple attempting to join the mile high club, and while the surviving passengers panic, FBI agent Samuel L. Jackson takes charge with an infamous line; suffice to say he’s had enough of snakes.
Mockbuster Snakes On A Train was released direct-to-video in 2006; Tail Sting (2001) also follows a remarkably similar storyline, but with giant scorpions.
3. Alligator (1980)
Expanding on the ‘baby alligator gets flushed then roams the sewers’ urban legend, from the moment you see a victim’s leg being casually carried around in a plastic bag, revealing that he was wearing alligator wing tips, you know you’re watching a quality film.
Alligators can look like animatronics at the best of times so the ropey special effects are fairly effective, and it’s genuinely well-written and humorus. However, most of the deaths are so comical it falls firmly into B-movie territory. The highlight is a wedding reception crashed by the hungry gator, who sends people flying through the air at jaunty angles with his tail. He rampages through town, unseen by all the people whose sole purpose is looking for him. (The police spot him in a lake but accidentally use him as a ski jump, resulting in their boat exploding.) Followed by Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) and many pale imitations.
2. Slugs (1988)
“What kind of slug bites someone?” “The kind that’s living in your garden,” is the pithy retort in this enjoyably awful movie. Slugs has it all: an everyday creature made terrifying by unusual aggression and a population explosion, plentiful nudity for those obligatory sex scenes, and slugs infiltrating homes via lettuces etc.
But Slugs really shines in its death scenes. My favorite is the elderly man who finds a nasty surprise in his gardening glove and instinctively takes an axe to his arm just before there’s an explosion set off by – well, slugs were involved. A close second is the man whose wife mistook slugs for anchovies… let’s hope nothing happens at his fancy business lunch! People slip in slithering masses of slugs and are eaten despite their feeble attempts to simply get up again. We also learn that the secret to bad acting is to speak incredibly slowly.
1. Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)
This tops the list because it works on so many levels. It has hysterical munching sounds and a creature who grows bigger every time she eats another rooftop sunbather or window cleaner, magicked into life by bizarre religious rituals involving a man dressed like a giant bird.
Despite its impeccable B-movie credentials, it’s actually well-structured, with an interesting, original plotline and stunning aerial shots of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. Writer/Director/Producer Larry Cohen claims he was “aided by the fact I didn’t have any money”, depending on tantalising glimpses of Q rather than full-on special effects all the way through. David Carradine is the cop on the case of the inexplicable deaths – “maybe his head just got loose and fell off” – and has a hard time convincing his superiors that a mythical winged lizard is responsible. It’s a rip-roaring monster movie that culminates in a big shoot out at the Chrysler Building.
Bug (1975): Mutant cockroaches who live on raw meat and terrorise small towns by setting stuff on fire. There is nothing I can say that would add to the brilliance of this concept.
Beaks: The Movie (1986): A low budget version of The Birds, its saving grace is that it’s better than Birdemic: Shock And Terror (2008) which has the kind of ‘clip-art from the 90s’ special effects that must be seen to be believed.
Zombeavers (2014): It’s about zombie beavers and pretty much does what it says on the tin. (Tagline: They’ll dam you to hell!) I’m only surprised this idea wasn’t used earlier – they can swim AND gnaw through doors. This stuff writes itself.
Mosquito (1994): “Something is killing these people and sucking them dry!” Regular mosquitos are annoying enough, but gigantic alien ones can only be dealt with by fiery explosions.
Day Of The Animals (1977): A very serious Leslie Nielsen heads up a group of hikers attacked by animals. It isn’t an amazing film (not counting a plate of rats springing into someone’s face) but it has some awesome lines “My god, they’re like an army!” and famous last words – “ALL animals are afraid of fire!”
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