Jaws is the major statement on killer animal movies. It’s hard to argue with that, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been countless movies about the subject over the years. Most of them have not done very well, some have even failed spectacularly. The Asylum seems to own the patent on this kind of feature as they appear to be the only ones making them anymore, and every single animal rampage or combined animal rampage they put out is more absurd than the last. Still, Sharknado was an undeniable success despite itself. The interest is there, even if no one has quite figured out what to do with it.
While so many combination and mash-up movies have failed, there have been some killer animal movies in the forty years since Jaws was released that hold up surprisingly well. Some are supernatural in nature, some are more straightforward. Some have creatures growing to enormous size, others stay relatively small. Whatever technique they use to convey their scares, here are five movies about killer animals that are still surprisingly fun.
Directed by Lewis Teague, Alligator is a play on the classic urban legend of alligators lurking in sewer systems. It takes that concept and does the most with it, providing some really entertaining moments and even a few surprisingly genuine scares. The alligator itself is accomplished with a combination of an actual gator on miniature sets and puppetry/mechanical FX. It works better than you would think. While it’s a little campier, in some ways it plays out like a darker version of Jaws. The enormous gator makes for a great movie monster, overall. The sequel Alligator II: The Mutation, isn’t at the same level as quality as this one but is still worth checking out.
Based on one of the most absurd Stephen King stories, Graveyard Shift is about an old mill with a serious rat problem. While the rats themselves are scary enough on their own, there’s some great FX work with the mother rat, an enormous and hairless creature that is really more bat-like than it is rodent-like. Brad Dourif is appropriately insane as the exterminator. The movie also holds the honor of having some of the worst New England accents ever committed to film, but it is still a fun ride from beginning to end. Even if, by the end of it, there’s not a whole lot of King’s original story in there.
As a lifelong arachnophobe, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Arachnophobia. It’s obviously a hard movie for someone like me to sit through, and I often find myself thinking that I’ll never watch it again. But at the same time, it’s just really, really well done. There’s a perfect mixture of humor and horror here, with a sort of Twin Peaks quirkiness thrown in for good measure. As traumatizing as it may be for those who are actually arachnophobic, it really is worth a look and John Goodman’s small role is a treat.
A surprisingly strong little movie from the early days of straight-to-video, Ticks is probably better than it has any right to be. Unlike way too many features of its type, Ticks does not take itself too seriously. Directed by Hellraiser II’s Tony Randel, it tries to invoke the spirit of things like Re-Animator and Evil Dead 2 and for the most part, it succeeds. The cast is made up of a group of troubled teens out on a wilderness retreat, and while the acting is corny, it kind of adds to the experience. The gooey, slimy FX work is also undeniably neat and the kind of thing we see in animal movies all too rarely these days.
Stephen King and Lewis Teague make the list a second time, with probably the second-most famous killer animal movie after Jaws. There’s a good reason for this too. Cujo is a suspenseful feature that crafts characters that the audience can easily care for, as flawed as they may be. There are some liberties taken from King’s novel, particularly the fate of young Tad, but King himself has said that these changes are better than what he originally wrote. This is as scary as a movie about a killer St. Bernard could ever hope to be. It’s incredibly simple, but that’s a large part of its strength. For the most part, it’s centered on two people trapped in a car. There’s not a lot of space for inventive camera work and no room for set pieces, but it works. It all works really well, which is a testament to both King’s novel and Teague for bringing it so effortlessly to the screen.