FANTASTICA Presents: When Animal Films Attack!


In the past, animals have always played an important role in the lexicon of horror. Now, we see animals as some sort of radioactive experiment gone wrong or a total far out way to destroy a city (I am looking at you SHARKNADO). In these contemporary projects, people forget that animals in their natural habitats are often terrifying, and that many people have fears of spiders, sharks and any animal that has sharp teeth and a thirst for blood.  Modern directors’ forays into animal horror are often so over the top that it is not scary; instead, it becomes laughable. But it didn’t always used to be that way, as more realistic animal horrors from fright film history would make people think, “Can this happen to me?”

Just look at JAWS,  a huge horror hit that reached millions in the box office. JAWS was about a freakishly large shark that decided to attack and eat people, and no matter what people did to try and stop it, it would come back for more. Realistically, shark attacks are rare, and when they happen they’re often different than in JAWS, but they nevertheless still happen. So after people saw JAWS, hundreds of horror fans would not go in the water in fear of a shark attack; this writer’s own mom still has the fear of deep water because she saw JAWS at a young age.

JAWS still scares people to this day, and the film was simply about one shark eating people. It was not an alien shark, it was just a huge shark and throughout the years, people have actually found sharks near the size of the shark in JAWS. Steven Spielberg put this fear into his audience and reminded people how terrifying nature can be, so much so that the mere mention of a shark incites thoughts of John Williams’ iconic JAWS score.

Fast forward nearly 40 years later, and modern horror fans have SHARKNADO. I will sum it up for some of the lucky people who have not seen it: there’s a water tornado that sucks sharks up from the ocean and attacks people in Los Angeles. Then you see sharks flying around in this tornado and attacking people while they are in in this tornado. How are these sharks even alive?  Why are there not shark body parts flying around?


But it doesn’t just start and end with JAWS either. CUJO is a big fluffy dog that gets bitten by a rabid bat, only to go crazy from rabies and attack people. This movie is a tragic classic, and it still scares people because dogs can become rabid and exude violent behavior. Is CUJO a little bit over the top with its depiction? Yes, but that is Hollywood, and it certainly doesn’t make the film any less scary. It’s the same with the movie FROGS (now on Blu-ray from Scream Factory), which was was literally people on an island being attacked by snakes, leeches, spiders and alligators. Want to know a secret? These animals actually do kill people. Same with dogs; there are hundreds of dog attacks every year that lead to death.

One contemporary animal horror that still scares me, however, is EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS. Is it a stupid movie? Yes; any film where spiders are exposed to a chemical spill and become the size of a truck usually is. But this writer is terrified of spiders: they are fast, have long legs and you scream when you cannot find where it went after you turned away for a second. Spiders are scary as their small selves, and there is no need to make them bigger. This writer bets people would have still been screaming at EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS if the whole movie had regular-sized spiders alone.

Classic animal movies focused on the animal itself. They focused on what an animal would actually do in that kind of situation.  No enhancing the animals: just animal vs. humans in both their habitats.  But now, we have SHARKNADO, where the title itself is laughable and is unable to strike fear in anyone.

Movies these days need to be over the top to grab the people’s attention, and we need to add all this action in order for people to even watch the movie. If JAWS came out now, people would be so bored with it because the audience would want the shark to have freakin’ laser beams. And maybe it takes people to forget that there’s something in the water to remind themselves of just how scary animals can be without even trying.

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About the author
Carly Knaszak
Carly Knaszak attends Fredonia State University and is studying Journalism and English. This is her first time doing an internship for Fangoria. She has grown up with horror movies. She was deathly afraid of them when she was younger but the fear turned into a passion as she loved the adrenaline rush of them. She attends Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights every year just for the special effects of the haunted houses and to be scared. Carly writes for many different websites including NYS Music, iHorror and Back To The Movies. She is also one of the editors for the entertainment section of her school’s paper. Her horror icons are Elvira, Alice Cooper and Robert Englund.
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