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Creature Features: When Animals Attack...

It's been 45 years since Spielberg and Bruce (apparently nicknamed by crew members after Spielberg's lawyer) made audiences afraid to go back in the water.

Let's get the obvious business out of the way:

Jaws is a brilliant film.

I watched it a couple of years ago at the Royal Albert Hall with an orchestra providing the live score. It was utterly brilliant (although a little disturbing when people cheered the shark's fate).

There is little that I can say that hasn't already been said by more eloquent, better informed people about this wonderful film. So, instead, to celebrate the 45th birthday, I'm going to take a look at some other creature features.

When I say creature features, I'm talking about horror films involving critters (rather than the TV format) everything from antagonistic alligators to wrathful rodents. Now, I could fill this list with genuinely great films like The Birds, but this would not be doing justice to a sub-genre of horror that I unashamedly adore: when animals attack.

The specimens from this sub-genre that I particularly love don't tend to be classics that push the boundaries of genre and cinema. They're popcorn entertainment or insomnia entertainment- the sort of film you encounter on a channel you've never seen before at some unearthly hour of the night. That's the time when this species of horror film really shines, when you're somewhere between asleep and awake- and these are some of my favourites:


A daughter and her father take on alligators during a hurricane in a crawlspace under the old family home. Equal parts cheese and popcorn thrills- this is a solid film, made good by the performances of Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario. This is probably the best of the bunch (this is higher praise than it might seem considering some of the titles that are coming up!) and well worth reading Meagan Navarro's piece on Bloody Disgusting to get a more profound take on it than I can offer!


I found this on something like the Horror Channel, late one night/early one morning. This 1959 oddity sees people stranded on an island where a mad doctor has been experimenting with wild shrews. You may be forgiven for thinking said shrews are in fact dogs that someone has thrown rag-rugs over. Utterly ridiculous, utterly watchable.


A tsunami leaves a group of disparate Australians stranded in a supermarket with sharks. This is a brilliant concept and as much as I love it, it could definitely be a much better film.


This is not a good film, but if you've ever wondered: How would Michelle Rodriguez fare against genetically enhanced hounds (that look suspiciously like ordinary dogs)? Then this is one for you. I have watched this film many times, I am well aware that it is not good, but I keep coming back to it for some inexplicable reason. I'm not a fan of the phrase guilty pleasure, but I guess this is mine because I really enjoy it.


Brendan Gleeson. Massive croc. There is no more than needs to be said. Again, not a good film, but again, I'm suckered in by it every damn time! Even the uneven script and story feel charming to me in this tonally confused beast.


This is one of those films I'm not sure how I feel about. On the one hand: Liam Neeson taking on wolves with a DIY knuckle-duster...on the other: it's not good, is it? Or is it? I'm going to have go back and have another watch. It's definitely worth a watch.

PIRANHA 2: The Spawning

He may have gone on to Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator, etc. but never forget where James Cameron started out: Piranha 2. Although he claimed to have been fired after 2 1/2 weeks and, while it was useful to get Terminator, doesn't feel it was actually his first film. It's pretty abysmal, but if you like the sound of very cheap looking flying piranhas then you'll love this.

Much like The Breed, I know this is bad, but it draws me back.


New Zealand horror comedy about zombie sheep. This was less effective on second viewing, but I still remember finding this hilarious when I first watched it, so it makes the list.

It might feel like I've intentionally picked a number of poor quality creature features (this might be accurate), but I've enjoyed each and every one of them. I have a soft spot for horror films about animals attacking. If there was a horror film about ducks attacking a group of buddies out for a weekend of beer and hunting then I'd probably lap it up...I've had a quick search and can't see such a film (I was my imagination it's called something like Ducks in a Row*)

Honorary mentions:

If porcine creature features are more your thing: Boar

If eight-legged freaks are more your bag then: Arachnophobia (although I'm very intrigued by Ice Spiders from 2007)

*The hunting buddies are played by Michelle Rodriguez (she'd be brilliant), David Arquette, Kevin Bacon (I could see him bringing a level of pathos to fighting a duck) and Lupita N'yong'o- maybe they're two couples (one in the process of falling apart). Andy Serkis and Doug Jones play the lead ducks. Liam Neeson as the grizzled duck hunter (the Quint character of this situation). John Williams to score (budget's already pretty big). Peter Jackson to direct (a triumphant return to his horror roots and another collaboration with Andy Serkis). Chung-Hoon Chung as the cinematographer (some of that swooping It camera work)...Coming to a cinema purely in my imagination: Ducks in a Row.

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