Today we look at some of the most famous movies in cinema history, among those which feature attacking animals.
Some time ago, I wrote a similar article, suggesting several old hits where, in contrast, the main topic was how sometimes humans and nature could coexist in symbiosis.
In this case, we see the full murderous potential of an unforgiving nature unleashed, reminding us how tiny and meaningless humans are.
Indeed, despite our delusion of believing ourselves to be at the top of the food chain, there is no use running here; you have no chance anyway; these deadly beasts will chase you everywhere, from the earth to the sky and even underwater.
Given the subject matter, these are almost exclusively survival action or horror genre stories, with some delicious sprinklings of sci-fi to flavor the already juicy meal.
I am sure you are already familiar with some of today’s attacking animal movies; otherwise, they would not be great classics, as I mentioned earlier.
However, even if you already know them, it never hurts to take a second look to check if they have the same chilling effect on us today as they did yesterday.
Still, at this point, it’s best to save our breath and start running because I can already hear something pawing merrily in our direction with claws out.
Table of contents
Monkey Shines (1988)
Since horror is the beating heart of today’s movies, we begin with an attacking animal under the direction of an undisputed master of the genre, George A. Romero.
The protagonist is a young athlete in the heyday of his youth who, unfortunately, is run over by a car while on his morning run in his neighborhood.
After numerous surgeries, unfortunately, there is nothing to do but accept that he will be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life.
The boy cannot cope with his new condition, even attempting suicide when his girlfriend dumps him just for the surgeon who operated on him.
Fortunately, an old friend of his, a scientist, comes to his aid by giving him one of the monkeys/guinea pigs from his lab, adequately trained by a young girl specialized in preparing support animals for quadriplegics.
Its presence dramatically improves the mood and quality of life of the boy, who also falls in love with the girl who empathizes with his condition.
Of course, the animal is not quite normal, having undergone treatment to increase his intelligence, and he also develops a morbid telepathic bond with the boy stuck in the wheelchair.
When everyone he hates mysteriously begins to die, it is clear there is something profoundly disturbed and awful in the seemingly harmless little monkey.
George A. Romero crafts a perfect little horror set almost entirely in just two interiors, the boy’s home, and his friend’s laboratory.
As usual for the brilliant director, none of the characters are positive, and even the killer monkey, after all, is just another victim of scientific experimentation without conscience or control.
So let us applaud one of the pearls of a late director whom many mistakenly remember only for his pioneering of the zombie genre.
After due respect to Romero, we move to the debut of another cinematic genius sadly forgotten by many today, Joe Dante.
Indeed, in 1978 the director brought this unforgettable low-budget horror to theaters, whose success paved the way for his career, leading him a few years later to direct the Christmas cult movie Gremlins.
It begins with a private detective searching for two missing boys, following their trail to an abandoned barracks.
At the back of the building is a pool where he believes to sees their bodies, so he activates the emptying pump while a man from the base desperately tries to stop him.
Indeed, the man was a biological weapons researcher during the Vietnam War, and the pool held a ferocious pack of piranha fish, genetically altered to survive in any climate.
So their adventure becomes a race against time, chasing these hungry little killers along the river that becomes blood tinged as they pass.
However, their real goal is to get to the lake hosting all the local children on summer camp vacation before the annual opening of the dam that would give the deadly piranhas the green light to escape to the ocean.
Like was also true for Romero, Joe Dante is among the few who perfectly balances irony, horror, and splatter, making us laugh in one scene and then mercilessly shred a character in a bloodbath immediately afterward.
The director exploits all the experience gained in the court of the legendary Roger Corman, a brilliant producer who also launched many of his colleagues’ careers, such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and James Cameron, just to name a few.
Today it remains an example of a scary horror movie without ever showing the attacking animal, blatantly inspired by the masterpiece we will discuss next.
We finally arrive at the best movie ever in the animal attack genre, one of the early works of a director who certainly needs no introduction, Steven Spielberg.
As mentioned, the genius of this cult classic lies first and foremost in never showing the animal for more than half the story, instead heralding each attack with the somber notes of the legendary John Williams score we all know so well.
Anyway, the story is short: on this small New England island, horribly mauled victims start popping up everywhere in the water.
The mayor and local community leaders don’t even want to hear the word shark because the summer season will soon begin, and they definitely don’t want to scare the tourists.
However, the first day of the beach vacation turns into a bloodbath, so the sheriff and a biologist begin investigating this deadly predator.
When it becomes clear the animal has no intention of leaving the island’s shores, the protagonists board an experienced shark catcher’s boat, beginning a far more dangerous hunt than they can imagine.
Unfortunately, Steven Spielberg seems to have no intention of returning to the horror genre, although he keeps churning out excellent cinema every year with his enormous talent, such as the romantic autobiography The Fabelmans in 2022.
Jaws remain something unique and never repeated in his career, although we sometimes get scary horror flashes in his other movies, such as the famous Indiana Jones saga.
In this sense, Spielberg‘s direction is impeccable, a magnificent climax of tension definitively exploding in Robert Shaw‘s antihero character, an unforgettable stubborn and intractable pirate sailor.
After you’ve seen it, I can guarantee you’ll never set foot on the water the same way again.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
After starting with the murderous ape run by Romero, we raise the bar by populating an entire planet with primates fiercely hostile to humans.
The story takes off like a rocket ship carrying astronauts captained by Charlton Heston, a novice pioneer traveling to the other side of the galaxy seeking new habitable worlds.
However, the spaceship stops long before its destination, exiting its journey at the speed of light and crashing on an unknown planet.
The men wander through this vast desert, eventually ending up in a plain where they see a group of people fleeing in terror.
Indeed out of the confusion comes a pack of monkeys on horseback, who unceremoniously take everyone, prisoner.
Separated from his colleagues, the astronaut is locked in a dungeon with other humans, who seem mentally childish and unable to speak.
So when he tries to ask for an explanation, the guard gorillas bring him in to be examined by chimpanzee scientists.
At that point, an absurd trial starts where the man will find out what happened to his friends, even before escaping, and then find out what happened on this mysterious planet that yet seems so familiar.
Unlike today’s other attacking animal movies, here I am cheating you a little bit since we are a long way from survival blood horror.
Planet of the Apes is an all-time science fiction classic and probably director Franklin J. Schaffner‘s best work, along with the equally classic prison genre Papillon starring Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.
We simply have a rare cinematic occurrence where every aspect is perfect: the story is outstanding, the costumes, sets, and direction are unerring, and finally, the actors are flawless with or without monkey makeup.
Do you really need anything else? If you have never seen it, fix it immediately.
The Birds (1963)
We conclude today’s list of naughty pets with another classic by one of my favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock, here on the attack with one of his movies most beloved by audiences and underrated by worldwide critics.
It begins with a spoiled rich girl going after a young lawyer who has just given him a hard time in court.
Initially, she just wishes to retaliate with a good quarrel, but finding the man attractive and pleasant, she secretly follows him to the island where he lives with his mother and child.
Unfortunately, the girl chose the wrong time for her romantic getaway because every bird species in the area seems to be going crazy, causing all sorts of increasingly violent and sudden incidents.
The locals seem to deny the impending danger, but everything changes when a flock of birds besieges the nearby school and then razes the entire town to the ground.
At that point, the girl, the lawyer, and her family must lock up in their home, trying to hold on to survive the frightening flying wave bearing down on them.
Many people snubbed this Alfred Hitchcock movie, deeming it inferior to his 1960 masterpiece, the unforgettable psychological horror thriller Psycho.
Instead, The Birds is no less original, starting as a brilliant comedy and slowly fading into a horror that reaches the extremes of the apocalyptic catastrophe genre.
No less are the relationship dynamics between the characters, from the lawyer’s obsessive mother to the spoiled girl who ends up in a catatonic state like the protagonist of the famous 1968 Night of the Living Dead, legendary George A. Romero‘s debut.
So let’s not give a damn about the reviews crushing this movie at the time as little crap because we are still talking about the undisputed king of suspense.