The human condition. It is a tricky and complicated concept for us mortals to grasp in terms of our ugly, unpredictable behaviors. However, when one applies a revealing spotlight on the animal kingdom and takes a look at their on-screen aggression against humans it becomes a whole new ballgame. Occasionally, the source of frustration embedded in these wayward creatures is often times triggered by the psychological prompting of the bad seed humans responsible for their behavioral tirade against nature and man.
In Creature Feature: Top Ten Animals Gone Bad in the Movies we will look at the bombastic beasts gone ballistic in cinematic society. Maybe you have your own selections of haywire critters out to cause random havoc? If so then they probably would suffice within the theme of this movie column when detailing the animals that run amok on land, by sea or in the air.
The selections for Creature Feature: Top Ten Animals Gone Bad in the Movies are (in alphabetical order):
1.) The Birds (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock’s shocking The Birds is a fearful feathered fable that was a psychological disaster film finely tuned with spontaneous suspense and the mysterious motive for these beaked beasts gone awry. At the center of these airborne menaces’ fury is socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hendren) whose venture to a Northern California town to meet up with a dashing man she is interested in romantically takes a sudden turn for the worse. Melanie’s brush with an attacking seagull is just the beginning of a series of furious bird attacks plaguing the region. The body count rises as the deadly birds bombard the sky and swoop down on the helpless humans they choose to harass with mortifying mischievousness. Hitchcock made heightened paranoia of everyday routines and nature (i.e. taking showers in Psycho and the aforementioned evil birds) a weird and warped wonderment.
2.) Cujo (1983)
The frightening four-legged mutt is from the macabre mind of horror guru novelist Stephen King. Director Lewis Teague’s horror movie Cujo tells the terrifying tale of a good-natured St. Bernard named Cujo whose contracting of the rabies disease turns the once cuddly canine into a psychotic neighborhood nemesis that goes on the rabid attack. Brett Camber is Cujo’s minor mop top owner and considers his trusty dog as a best friend and confidant. There is nothing more sad and sadistic then realizing that your affable barking buddy is now the floppy-eared fiend with a gregarious grudge to carry out on an unsuspecting community in crisis.
3.) The Edge (1997)
The Edge was the Lee Tamahon-directed nature survival drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin as they battle the tough Alaskan terrain while trying to keep at bay the ravenous nuisance of an ominous grizzly bear (played by the late legendary animal actor Bart the Bear). In fact, Bart the Bear was in demand in some of the top Hollywood films where filmmakers needed his magnetic presence as either a comedic or ferocious foil. Well, Bart the Bear did not disappoint in The Edge where his scary beastly antics were chilling and put his human co-stars Hopkins and Baldwin to the terrifying test as they braved the surrounding critical elements in addition to holding off the brutal bear’s barrage of instinctual man-eating attacks.
4.) Jaws (1975)
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s iconic action-adventure thriller Jaws made it unsafe to enter the waters. Beach enthusiasts all around the country were hesitant to dip their toes into the tide for fear of becoming immediate appetizers for the Toothy One. Jaws was the ultimate summer blockbuster that fed into the escapist anticipation, suspense and tension of the carnage. Amity Island was never the same when Jaws stalked the waters in search of his blood-thirsty vengeance for anyone that invaded his watery territory. The local law enforcement, marine scientists, experienced fishermen–all tried to match wits with the over-sized finned chomper but it is clear that Jaws was unstoppable in his quest to become the deep sea’s deadly enforcer. Yes, Roy Scheider’s Brody was correct when he said it best about their dire entanglement with Jaws: “We’re going to need a bigger boat!”
5.) King Kong (1933)
Now who can omit the cinema’s most famous great ape of them all? The colossal gorilla captured the imagination of movie audiences starting with the directorial collaboration of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. King Kong is the granddaddy of disaster flicks with a raging beast as the headliner of catastrophe. A film crew visiting an exotic island for filming on location end up sparking the curiosity of King Kong…particularly when his affections are aroused my the movie company’s leading lady Ann Darrow (Fay Wray). Soon, King Kong finds himself in another kind of jungle–the urban jungle of New York where his confrontation with the bothersome human irritants proves tragic as he unwisely covets the attention of his periled pretty performer Ann. There have been Kong rip-offs along the way (Mighty Joe Young anyone?) but in the long run film historians will always reserve a golden banana for the mightiest movie monkey of them all–the incomparable King Kong!
6.) Moby Dick (1956)
It is an old tale that never fails to die…the continual struggle between man and beast. Moby Dick has always been a time tested tug-of-war dealing with many revolving sentiments: redemption, retaliation, resiliency and remembrance. Writer-director John Huston brought novelist Herman Melville’s adventurous classic story to the big screen in the late 50’s as a determined and disillusioned Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck) tries to capture the vicious great white whale that was responsible for the haunting destruction of his beloved ship, disastrous fate of his crew and the personal maiming of his body (specifically, Moby Dick caused Ahab’s leg to be severed permanently therefore hindering the vet seaman with a wooden leg). Peck’s performance as the obsessed Captain Ahab is blessed with tormented conviction. Moby Dick, on the other hand, reigns supreme as one of literature’s (and cinema’s) infamous watery beasts to add further mystery and malice concerning the folklore of the spacious seas.
7.) Orca, The Killer Whale (1977)
Orca, The Killer Whale was the rampaging sea beast hoping to capitalize on the eye-for-an-eye credo when a seaman named Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) causes the death of his mate. Now Orca looks for revenge in getting back at Nolan and other human species that contributed to his saddened loss. Orca kills in retaliation and Nolan and his hangers-on will indeed feel the wrath of the wrecking crew whale. Based on the Robert Herzog novel, Orca, The Killer Whale understandably got an inevitable comparison to Steven Spielberg’s immensely popular Jaws that was released just two previous summers ago en route to a box office bonanza. Regardless of whether Orca was a blatant summer blockbuster Jaws knock-off or not, it was still another suspenseful served dish of an aquatic sea monster ruling the wicked waves while daring the intrusive human violators to enter a potential watery grave.
8.) Snakes on a Plane (2006)
One did not know who was more venomous with their bite in 2006’s airline action thriller Snakes on a Plane–the poisonous pythons slithering about the aircraft or the hysterical Samuel L. Jackson’s acerbic FBI Agent Neville Flynn bemoaning the fact that he has to eradicate these creepy crawlers (“I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHER*&^%ING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHER*&^%ING PLANE!”). The premise is that Jackson’s Flynn must protect the interest of a motorcross-loving witness expected to provide damaging testimony against a Hawaiian mob boss. So in the event to silence Flynn’s escorted witness there are treacherous snakes mysteriously released on the plane. Flynn and the fellow passengers must combat these insidious serpents in the sky where movement is obviously limited. And you thought that the duplicitous snake in the Garden of Eden was a handful!
9.) White Dog (1982)
Perhaps the most controversial animal listed in this movie column has to be director Samuel Fuller’s antagonistic drama White Dog about a trained snowflake-colored racist canine programmed to viciously attack black people. Shocking, outlandish and harshly perceptive, White Dog is a cautionary expose about raw race relations inviting stark debate about whether racist attitudes are learned through societal ugliness or naturally instinctive. Young Hollywood actress Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) stumbles upon a seemingly friendly stray white German Shepard and takes it under her wings to nurture. Eventually, Julie notices the hostility embedded in the highly prejudiced pooch towards its racist, raging reactions to black skin. Now Julie needs to search for a capable trainer skilled enough to deprogram the brainwashed barker and eradicate the escalating hate that lurks inside the wayward white dog.
10.) Willard (1971)
You have all heard about the adage involving a boy and his dog, right? But what about a boy and his rat? In the horror film Willard we find how one lonely and bored young boy named Willard Stiles (Bruce Davidson) forms a close bond with a couple of unassuming rats in Socrates and Ben. At first, the robust rodents provide an unlikely companionship for the sullen Willard whose social circles are non-existent with the exception of his isolated bond with his moody mother inside their decrepit Victorian house. The mother orders Willard to do something about the merging rat problem on their property. Of course Willard cannot see himself harming the furry predators and decides to spare them from a doomed fate. Soon, in the aftermath of Socrates’s death at the workplace Willard decides to wash his hands of Ben and the massive army of rodents that have multiplied into the thousands. Willard will gradually realize the hard way that you do not turn your back on Ben and his massive rat patrol. Willard was instrumental in ushering in the successful box office horror showcases in the early 70’s featuring strident vermin as villainous antagonists to their human adversaries. NOTE: Willard gave birth to the popular sequel Ben.