When Hollywood combines horror movies with animals, not only do we cringe but we might just start a lifelong fear of a certain species.
A movie about rats being used as killers had my skin covered in creepy crawlies for days. A popular shark movie watched at an age probably too young made me scared to go out into the deep water. A man combined with a common housefly? Ick… Those were horrifying images in my mind that are still clear today.
Here’s my list of 10 animal horror movies that pack a fearful and lasting punch.
1. Jaws (1975)
This movie tops this list for good reason: It stars a scary, huge, people-eating shark! The more years that pass, the more the lower quality of this 1975 movie seems like a historical documentation.
I watched this movie as a child — then developed a habit of checking the bottoms of pools and refusing to go into any deep body of water. I know now that sharks aren’t hiding in pools of water waiting to attack me, but I still get squeamish going near the ocean. Scuba diving will probably never get a check on my experience list.
2. Willard (1971)
Rats, mice and other vermin don’t bother me much, but killer rats will get me running and screaming. Socially awkward Willard Stiles keeps having bouts of bad luck that send him further into social exile. That is until he realizes he has a connection with rats. After one of his rats is killed at his work, Willard begins to use his vermin army at home to carry out his violent wishes of revenge. I thought I could hear the pitter patter of little rat feet for at least a week after watching this movie.
3. The Birds (1963)
Birds foraging for food is a common sighting, but this Alfred Hitchcock film will have you looking at them differently. A woman begins what seems like a developing relationship with a man, but the relationship is soon plagued by aggressive birds attacking people. After a neighbor turns up dead from an obvious bird attack, and with the number of aggressive birds seemingly in the thousands, survival becomes a challenge. This movie had me looking up when I walked outside for quite a while.
4. The Fly (1986)
In this 1958 remake of the same name, a brilliant scientist creates a matter transportation system that impresses a journalist. After wooing the journalist with a demonstration, he later decides to enter the transportation pod alone without realizing that a common housefly has joined him. The system is confused by the two species present and combines them for transfer to a second pod.
The really scary parts don’t creep up until later, when he starts developing into a fly. While this movie didn’t instill any fear of flies, the graphic nature of it left a permanent memory of some scenes.
5. Frogs (1972)
A wealthy man on an island isn’t thrilled about the abundant frog population, so he orders employees to begin poisoning them as a means of extermination. As a holiday celebration approaches, it becomes clear that the toxins have angered the frogs and other wildlife living on the island.
One by one, people are picked off by so many predators that the frogs take a back seat as the main antagonist. Poisonous snakes, water moccasins, tarantulas, lizards, leeches, crabs, alligators, seagulls and even a snapping turtle become engulfed in the revenge plot started by the frogs. This film is a creepy collection of killer species that will have you looking twice at your outside environment.
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6. Arachnophobia (1990)
If you scream or jump on a chair at the sight of eight-legged creatures, this is definitely not the movie for you (unless you want to face your fears). A rare and unknown spider hitches a ride in the shipment of a body from South America to the United States after being discovered by a visiting research team. The spider mates with another one to create a new breed, and soon the spiders are reproducing in astounding numbers.
The spiders try to take over what they perceive as their territory, and people start dying. I generally don’t mind spiders, but this movie was enough to give me the chills.
7. Pet Sematary (1989)
Pets don’t live as long as humans, so most pet owners have suffered the loss of an animal. If something exists that can bring back our beloved pets, would you try it? This movie poses that question when a family moves to a home near a pet cemetery. The family is warned of the changes in the resurrected animals — which they ignore — and they use the cemetery to bring back a pet and later their son.
What comes out of the cemetery is certainly different from what went in it. I remember watching this late at night in the dark, and a meow from outside during the movie gave me the heebie-jeebies.
8. The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
Just seeing this title brings back memories of scenes from the movie. Set in 1898 in Africa, the movie tells the story of workers building a railway bridge in Africa. People start disappearing, and it is soon discovered they are being taken by two lions terrorizing the camp.
Lions already look ferocious enough as it is, and this movie definitely conjures up the fear factor. The movie is even more frightening for one important reason: It’s based on a true event.
9. Cujo (1983)
An icon in animal horror films, Cujo deserved a place on this list. This was one of my first introductions to Saint Bernards, and it made me afraid of them (for a while) as a kid. Cujo the Saint Bernard is a happy companion pet until he is bitten by a rabid bat, and the disease soon starts to take its toll. The dog becomes increasingly aggressive and starts hurting people, and it becomes difficult to get away.
10. Piranha (1978)
Summer camps and vacation resorts are great places to enjoy sunny weather and swimming — but only if it’s safe to go in the water. A young couple stumbles across a pond but soon disappears.
Relatives hire a private investigator, who soon discovers the pond. She decides to drain it to find out what is inside. A local resident explains that the water contained piranha that were altered in an experiment to be ruthless killers capable of living in cold waters. The piranha are now headed downstream to the resort and summer camp, and the race against time to warn the vacationers begins.
There are countless other scary animal movies. I chose these based on their lasting fear factors from my own experience. Which films are on your list?