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When Animals Attack: Movies With An Animal Antagonist

When Animals Attack

From classics like The Birds and Jaws to Prey and Crawl animals attacking humanity is a cinematic staple. They show us that we are not the masters of the world we proclaim ourselves to be. But sometimes these movies feel a bit too familiar. So today we will look over some crazier examples of “animal attack” films and what makes them effective.

1. Them! (1954)

Giant monsters were nothing new by 1954 but Them! was one of the first movies to capitalise on fears of the atomic age. Its villains are ants who have become giants because of nuclear mutation and who proceed to rampage across New Mexico. Them! was mildly successful at the time and remains well-regarded today. This is thanks to fantastic special effects which make the giant ants feel real and transforms seemingly harmless insects into a terrifying threat.

Them! is a great introduction to the "animals mutated by radiation" subgenre // Credit: Warner Bros
Them! is a great introduction to the “animals mutated by radiation” subgenre // Credit: Warner Bros

2. Night of the Lepus (1972)

A bold choice for a horror villain. After a wild rabbit population explosion leads to crop devastation across America, scientists are called in to stop the problem. When one rabbit gets loose after being experimented on though, the local bunnies become larger in size and much more violent. Night of the Lepus did relatively well at the box office and is now considered a cult classic for good reason. Trying to make rabbits into horror monsters is laughable. No matter how much blood you splatter on them bunnies are just too cute to scare anyone. But this bold villain choice coupled with the fact that the film takes its premise seriously has led many to embrace it as a so-bad-its-good favourite.

Bunnies may not be scary but they are certainly memorable villains // Credit: MGM
Bunnies may not be scary but they are certainly memorable villains // Credit: MGM

3. Roar (1981)

Here is a hard watch. Roar is about a man living in a nature reserve alongside Lions, Tigers, Elephants, etc trying to study them. However, when his wife and children come to visit he must try to rescue them from his wild friends. But the film’s plot is largely meaningless. People watch this infamous cause celebre for the insane human and animal interactions. And while this film’s production antics were dangerous and irresponsible it’s hard to argue against its effectiveness. It is amazing and terrifying to see how animals interact in an unrestrained way around humans. And It shows why animals like big cats make good cinematic villains. Because their size, power, and unreadable body/facial language is frightening to those unfamiliar with them. 

Roar exemplifies the old saying, "never work with animals" // Credit: Filmways Pictures
Roar exemplifies the old saying, “never work with animals” // Credit: Filmways Pictures

4. Sharknado (2013)

This franchise launcher follows a group of people trying to survive in Los Angeles when a tornado hits. The problem is that the storm is carrying hundreds of sharks inside. Sharknado amped the tired shark movie premise up to 11 by combining a disaster movie and an animal attack movie. The result is hugely entertaining. With sharks already a go-to villain because of their perceived ferocity and relentless drive, containing them in a tornado was a stroke of genius. Because it means that sharks can get you even on land. And the film’s social media success led to a 6 film franchise full of hilarious carnage

When sharks attack on land // Credit: Asylum Films
When sharks attack, on land // Credit: Asylum Films

All these films show that animals are a great source of entertainment and horror within cinema thanks to the ways they fracture our sense of safety and superiority. Them! and Night of the Lepus take animals we see as innocent and turn them into apocalyptic threats. Roar creates anxiety about how we cannot understand animals and Sharknado shows that humanity is still struggling against new natural threats. Demonstrably animal attack films, even over-the-top examples, are still capable of evoking something primal in us, like fear or laughter. Both emotions that cinemagoers love experiencing.

Also Read: The Ingredients Of A Cult Classic

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Posted by
Josh Greally

Writer and filmmaker from Chesterfield. I have a masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.