Animals Amok refers to a body of films dealing with animals turning on and attacking humanity. This can either occur in terms of individual animal attacks – as in Jaws (1975) or Cujo (1983) – or in terms of a massed attack by an entire species as in The Birds (1963).
In many cases when the animals are not natural predators, the film comes with an environmentalist theme where it is seen that humanity’s destruction of the animal’s natural habitat has caused them to become feral or even develop an uncanny intelligence and be seeking revenge on behalf of nature. In other treatments, radiation, pollution or some form of toxic waste has caused them to go wild and sometimes mutate. In most of these massed animal attack films, the outlook for humanity is not a positive one.
In cases concerning individual animals, the films are about a fear of animals that are natural predators – sharks, crocodiles, alligators, lions, tigers, bears. In many of these cases, the struggle between protagonist and wild animal becomes a primal one. Often these animals are personified with a calculating intelligence or a viciousness and evil.
For the purposes of this theme, we are not concerned about drawing too fine a distinction between animals, reptiles or aquatic creatures. This topic deals with regular sized animals – for animals and insects enlarged to giant size see Films About Giant Animals. For specific species where there are sufficiently numerous entries, these are given their own listings see Apes and Killer Sharks. For films dealing with the insect kingdom turning against humanity see Bugs. For prehistoric life see Dinosaurs. For all general rampaging monstrosities see Monster Movies.
There were sporadic efforts during the great era of the Mad Scientist Film such as The Vampire Bat (1933) with Lionel Atwill and an army of killer bats, The Devil Bat (1940) with Bela Lugosi sending his enemies an aftershave that his killer bats are trained to hone in on and kill and The Flying Serpent (1946) with George Zucco training a Quetzalcoatl bird to kill.
Probably the earliest treatment of the Animals Amok theme can be traced to the low-budget SF film The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955) in which an invading alien mentally controls all the animal life in the area and turns them against humanity. A key treatment came in the standout The Naked Jungle (1954) with Charlton Heston a South American plantation owner facing an overwhelming horde of ants.
However, the work that started the Animal Attacks genre was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) where the residents of a seaside town find that all around them birds are turning on humanity and viciously attacking. Although people speculate, no reason for the attacks was ever given, while the film reaches a classic uncertain resolution.
Between them, the plotlines set down in The Naked Jungle and The Birds set the template for the genre with humanity standing in the face of an overwhelming onslaught from the animal kingdom.
The 1970s Nature’s Revenge Cycle
Another influential film in the cycle was Willard (1971) with Bruce Davison as a shy downtrodden man who gains revenge against his tormentors by training an army of rats to do his bidding. This led to a sequel Ben (1972) and a remake Willard (2003). It also spawned several copycat films about people and their strange relationships with animals with Stanley (1972) and Fangs (1974), both concerning people who have tamed snakes.
The Birds inspired a series of films throughout the 1970s in which animals turn against humanity in what this site has termed the Nature’s Revenge Cycle. These include the likes of Frogs (1972), Chosen Survivors (1974) with vampire bats attacking survivors in a nuclear fallout shelter, Killer Bees (1974), the extraordinary ant takeover film Phase IV (1974), Dogs (1976), Rattlers (1976), the killer worm film Squirm (1976), Day of the Animals (1977), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), the killer bee films The Swarm (1978) and The Bees (1979), the killer bat film Nightwing (1979), Island Claws (1980) featuring killer crabs, the Satanic snakes film Jaws of Satan (1981), the killer rats film Deadly Eyes (1982), Beaks (1987) with more killer birds, Slugs: The Movie (1988) and the killer dog film Baxter (1989). There was also the highly disappointing sequel The Birds II: Land’s End (1994).
Steven Spielberg had a blockbuster success with Jaws (1975), a powerhouse of gruelling suspense featuring people tackling a killer shark on the open seas. This created another wave of films about man pitted against rampaging animals (not just waterbound ones), spawned several sequels and created the Killer Shark Film, which has produced numerous B-budget entries and deliberately ridiculous mash-ups.
Jaws imitators include the killer bear films Grizzly (1976) and Claws (1977), the killer whale film Orca (1977), the killer dog film The Pack (1977), Piranha (1978), the mutant killer bear film Prophecy (1979), Alligator (1980), The Great Alligator (1979), the killer lion film Savage Harvest (1981), Mongrel (1983), Rottweiler (1983), Wild Beasts (1984), Link (1986) with a murderous chimpanzee, the killer crocodile films Dark Age (1987) and Killer Crocodile (1989), and Shakma (1990) with a killer baboon. There was even Zoltan … Hound of Dracula (1977) about Count Dracula’s dog on the attack in the present-day and The Corpse Grinders (1971) about cats turned into flesh-eating killers after being fed meat with human bodies ground into it.
Some of the better among these include the Stephen King adaptation Cujo (1983) about a rabid killer dog and the Australian killer boar film Razorback (1984). Also standout was Of Unknown Origin (1983), which pits average everyday man Peter Weller against a malevolent, seemingly intelligent rat that terrorises his home. One of the strangest of this era was The White Buffalo (1977), a retelling of Moby Dick (1851) as a Western with Charles Bronson hunting a mythic killer buffalo.
A unique entry among these was White Dog (1982) concerning a dog that had been trained by white supremacists to attack African-Americans. Also of note was Wolfen (1981) about the discovery of a species of hyper-intelligent wolves.
The CGI Animals Attack Film
In the 1990s/2000s, advances in effects technology have seen a revival of the Animals Amok films, either featuring CGI or animatronic animals with films such as Man’s Best Friend (1993), Anaconda (1997), Bats (1999) and the killer crocodile film Lake Placid (1999). Piranha later underwent a gore-drenched remake with Piranha (2010).
On the lower-budgeted front, usually made for video and cable release, there were the likes of the killer snake films Rattled (1996), King Cobra (1999), Silent Predators (1999) and Venomous (2001) and other such as Komodo (1999), Crocodile (2000), Python (2000), Spiders (2000), the killer bat film Fangs (2001), Rats (2003), Black Sheep (2006), The Breed (2006) featuring killer dogs, Mammoth (2006), Kaw (2007) about killer ravens, Flu Bird Horror (2008), Pig Hunt (2008), Blood Lake: Attacks of the Killer Lampreys (2014), the killer dog film The Pack (2015) and Zoombies (2016) about zombified zoo animals, among others. There has even been an entire tv series devoted to animals on the attack with Zoo (2015-7). There was also Prey (2016) about a lion loose in Amsterdam and Rogue (2020) similarly features a group of soldiers facing a killer lion.
The mid-2000s saw a revival of the killer crocodile film with several efforts coming out all at once, including two excellent Australian entries Black Water (2007) and Rogue (2007), as well as other efforts such as Croc (2007), Primeval (2007) and Supercroc (2007), plus subsequent efforts like Freshwater (2006) and The Hatching (2016). . Both Anaconda and Lake Placid released multiple low-budget sequels and then the two franchises crossed over with Lake Placid vs Anaconda (2015).
There have been are several containment thrillers about people trapped in small spaces threatened by animals with Crawl (2019) where Kaya Scodelario faces an alligator in a flooded crawlspace and in particular the gripping Thai-made The Pool (2018) about a couple trapped in an empty pool with a crocodile. One standout effort among these was Burning Bright (2010) about a girl and her brother trapped inside a house with a killer tiger. Also of note was Bullet Head (2017) with three criminals trapped in a warehouse with a killer dog, Serpent (2017) with a couple trapped in a tent with a deadly snake and the Spanish Prey (2019) about a paralysed girl trapped in a house with a killer dog.
In categories of their own, there was also the historical Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) about a reign of terror created by a wolf outfitted in a metal exo-skeleton, and The Swarm (2020) in which a woman raises a swarm of locusts that feed on blood.
Parody, Comedy and Bad Movies
Perhaps the very worst entry in this entire list is Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008), an outright homage to The Birds, made with an ineptitude that is mind-boggling. This led to an equally bad sequel Birdemic 2: The Resurrection (2013). Equally notable in the conceptually ridiculous stakes is Lost in the Pacific (2016) with mutant cats aboard a plane.
Snakes on a Plane (2006) was intended as a parody of the genre. There are assorted parodies of Jaws with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978), which led to a series of sequels, and Blades (1989), a parody of Jaws about a killer lawnmower but both of these extend beyond being about animal attacks.
There was also the comedy Furry Vengeance (2010) in which the animals in an area group together to prevent Brendan Fraser redeveloping their home. In a s imilar vein, there was also MouseHunt (1997) about two idiots being outwitted by an uncannily intelligent mouse.
- The Naked Jungle (1954)
- The Birds (1963)
- Willard (1971)
- Phase IV (1974)
- Jaws (1975)
- Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
- The Pack (1977)
- Piranha (1978)
- Alligator (1980)
- Cujo (1983)
- Of Unknown Origin (1983)
- Razorback (1984)
- Black Water (2007)
- Rogue (2007)
- Burning Bright (2010)
- The Pool (2018)
- The Swarm (2020)
A full list of titles can be found here Animals Amok Films