We look at ten of the most effective animal horrors or natural horror films in existence. A range of sizes, species and directors are spread across this list of animals do the funniest most horrifying things. A distinction has to be made though, as many consider films like Godzilla part of the genre, this list mostly concerns more realistic animals going on a bloodlust. Sink your teeth into some of these beauties.
Gordon Douglas’s classic nuclear monster flick is in many ways the perfect precursor to the natural horror film. This is the only film on our list to be nominated for an Academy Award and to this day is among the most acclaimed of these films. One of the real classics of science fiction and the first of the many “Big Bug” pictures, Them! Is a creature feature that boasts great monster ant special features and comments on the ever-relevant nuclear age.
The Birds (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is one of the cinema classics but people forget that it is in many ways a landmark of the natural horror film. Not least because it features an unsettlingly ambiguous bird revolt against humanity but because it is, without doubt, one of the classiest entries in the natural horror sub-genre. A film that is heavily character based but which works thanks to an absence of soundtrack, tremendously horrific atmosphere and the fact it is all unexplained leaves you feeling so much worse. A classic film and one of the masters most enjoyable.
The film that birthed the blockbuster and could well have broken director Steven Spielberg physically, mentally and financially. Needless to say this thrilling adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel succeeded and stands today as one of cinema’s most narratively simple but lingering pieces of entertainment. Spielberg (with the aid of John Williams’s score) masters the nature vs. man tone and with Bruce the shark unleashes a savagery that will never be forgotten. Quite possibly the biggest and most memorable natural horror film that was ever made and will ever be. Three less impactful sequels followed.
As with any successful device, Jaws inspired much similarly themed fare and this 18ft bear in the woods film was among the first and most successful. No doubt cheesy and campy nowadays, at the time and with a rather shocking PG rating, this film traumatized quite a few children with arms lopped off, people diced and structures decimated by a big Grizzly bear. This film lingers as one of the most memorable natural horror films and whilst it has not got the flair of others of its kind, this is a simple but effective killer bear film. Rumours still surround its unreleased 1982 sequel which was to star a young George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, Timothy Spall and John-Rhys Davies among others, featuring songs from Michael Jackson to boot.
Among the many natural horror films trying to capitalise on the success of Jaws, this Roger Corman produced B-Movie is among the best. Mostly because of its well judged approach to the material. Directed with wit by Joe Dante (Gremlins), this film was bloody but funny approach to this kind of filmmaking. Piranha is a film that uses the fish to parody the tropes of the animal-led Horror and still stands as a real gem of the genre. James Cameron directed a sequel in 1981, which was less impressive.
Alligator is a far smarter film than it gets credit for, no, really! The film is a pastiche of the cheese that accompanies B-Movie monster flicks. The film is all at once a comment on the animal testing industry and homage to the alligators in the sewers myth. The monstrous, genetically enlarged Alligator at the films centre is brilliantly constructed and the film revels in its anti-gloss. Lewis Teague’s Alligator deserves to be remembered. A less intelligent sequel followed in 1991.
This film gets a lot of unwarranted stick and it really is hard to see why, not everything in cinema can be expertly constructed. Anaconda has been accused of having poor special effects, being hammily performed and stupidly written. Yet what is here is vastly charming and ridiculously entertaining. Jon Voight’s hammy snake hunter only adds to the B-Movie delight and there is the odd effects jar but mostly the prosthetics are superb. Very underrated, although its sequels are more deserving of their reputation.
Black Water (2007)
Andrew Traucki’s Black Water is one of the most different natural horror films out there. In the traditional sense, these films feature quite linear characters, a typical “the evil continues” ending and more so in modern days some dodgy CGI. This film however, based on true events and is a character-led and excellent piece of suspense. The film sparingly uses effects, instead opting for real crocodiles and is an absolutely compelling survival horror. Black Water is a tense example of why Natural Horror film can be technically brilliant instead of merely fun.
Piranha 3D (2010)
Alexandre Aja’s remake of Joe Dante’s film is bloodier, rowdier and features copious amounts of sex and nudity. On the face of it, Piranha 3D is pure exploitative trash but in reality this film is one of the most gloriously made pieces of Grindhouse cinema around. The cast is full of delights and the 3D is a real hoot, this is one hell of an effective cinema gag. Brilliantly entertaining and hilariously gratuitous in every way possible, Michael Wandmacher’s score is excellent too. Piranha 3D is that rare remake that knows what its doing, shame its sequel Piranha 3DD, didn’t quite get that.
The Reef (2010)
After being immensely successful with Black Water, Andrew Traucki returned to the genre with a different animal but similarly effective intentions. If you have ever seen Open Water, this shark horror is practically the same situation but used far better and features some real intense storytelling. The Reef is a film that does not get much recognition but is a survival horror that is ferocious and unpredictable.