Serial killers, demons, and the occasional killer robot aren’t the only things out to get our woefully unprepared protagonists in horror movies – oftentimes, the perpetrators are hiding in the water, in the sky, even in our own homes, masquerading as adorable critters who are apt to turn murderous at the drop of a hat. Sometimes, the animals are a metaphor for mother nature lashing out at a harmful humanity. Sometimes, they’re a metaphor for society becoming more removed from the Earth thanks to technology and social climates. Sometimes, they’re just there to be terrifying. Either way, here’s ten that will make you think twice before giving a scratch to that dog down the street.
Note: Spoilers ahead!
10. Mimic: Giant, Human-Shaped Cockroaches
In this 1997 sci-fi horror movie (one of Guillermo del Toro’s first big-budget films), a group of scientists create a new species of cockroach to combat a strain that is spreading diseases to children. However, the new Judas cockroaches evolve well past the point of being helpful, eventually becoming gigantic and mimicking that creepy homeless guy you always pass on the way to the subway station. A group of scientists join forces to infiltrate the subway systems of Manhattan to take out the bugs once and for all.
If you ever walk down the street and see some weird, trenchcoat-wearing dude staring off into the distance and don’t know what his deal is (Is he after you? Is he from the government?) you should probably stop reading this article and look into that – but also, these bugs will play perfectly into those fears. Their design is pretty ingenious – like phasmids or phylliidae that blend into their surroundings, only blending into the already creepy atmosphere of the subway stations. Definitely not the sort of thing you want to see on the way back from the mall.
9. Black Sheep – Killer, Bloodthirsty Sheep
In one of the most hilarious under-the-radar horror films to come out in the last decade, Black Sheep pits the residents of a small New Zealand town against the forces of evil in the form of a flock of aggressive sheep. It doesn’t help that one of the main characters has developed a crippling fear of sheep due to a childhood incident.
These sheep are nothing to baa about – they’ll tear through doors, make flying leaps for your throat, and brush off shotgun blasts. Forget the days of Babe – these sheep will be true to one thing, and that’s chewing your face off. And if that doesn’t make you want to run out and see this movie, honestly, I don’t know what will.
8. Anaconda – Big-Ass Snake
For those of you who grew up in the ’90s, you’ll remember that there were a lot of horror films set in swamps and jungles, thanks to the success of Jurassic Park. Many movies would come out to bank on the particular vibe of the jungle as a set piece (Congo, anyone remember that?), but for all intents and purposes, the first real animal-horror-themed-swamp-and-jungle-movie distinction (which I hope is a real award somewhere) goes to Anaconda.
The film’s plot is loosely tied around something having to do with Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube making a documentary in the jungle and then HOLY SHIT THAT SNAKE IS HUGE! That’s basically all you need to know going in. The anaconda itself is very menacing, being able to swim and climb trees, and also being really, really big. Also, it has the distinction of swallowing Owen Wilson and Jon Voight whole, so you know it’s not messin’ around.
7. Lake Placid – Big-Ass Alligator
Alligators are already pretty dangerous creatures – there have been sixteen real-life deaths from alligator attacks from 2000 to present – so you could imagine how bad it would be running into a giant version of these tooths-a-plenty reptiles.
Loosely inspired by the real life killer croc Gustave (who still remains at large – no pun intended – to this day), Lake Placid follows a team of researchers discovering and eventually attempting to capture the giant gator. The infamous cow-on-the-helicopter moment alone makes the Lake Placid alligator one for the books – he would go on to star in a spin-off movie against Anaconda’s titular snake.
6. Willard – Intelligent, Rabid Rats
Rats have oftentimes been portrayed in film as a sign of bad tidings to come; or in the case of Indiana Jones movies, just kinda tossed onto actors and making them scream for mercy. In Willard, the rodents do a little bit of both, being controlled by the titular troubled man played by Crispin Glover at his most side-combed. His friendship with his rats starts out simple enough – training them, talking to them, taking them to work, the usual – but eventually a rude run-in at work forces Willard to take matters into his own hands – and his new friends’ fangs.
The rats in this movie are really only deadly around the second half of the film, when Willard realizes the power that he can wield with his new friends (with a little influence from Ben, the biggest rat of the bunch), but nonetheless, the rats are numerous and brutally effective at their task. Moral of the story: if you know your love interest likes rats, do not give them a cat. Seriously. It’ll really save you a lot of time down the road.
5. Arachnophobia – Spiders. Period.
Spiders are just the worst, aren’t they? Sure, they help to kill ants and flies, and generally aren’t super confrontational, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t secretly plotting to crawl into our beds at night and… you know what? I’m just gonna stop there.
The original “Holy shit! Spiders everywhere!” movie, Arachnophobia attempted to ease viewers into things by toting itself as a horror comedy. While John Goodman’s exterminator character is brilliant, and adds much-needed comic relief, this movie is still about spiders. Killer spiders. Don’t think there’s much more that needs to be said here. Hold on, I have to take a shower real quick…
4. The Birds – Slasher Seagulls and Killer Crows
One of the most terrifying aspects of animal-horror is the idea that you don’t know exactly what’s causing everyday animals to suddenly decide that this is the day to suddenly ruin your life. What’s worse about The Birds – a classic horror tale by Alfred Hitchcock – is that you realize how many of them are in a particular town only when they start gunning for you.
Only a true master could make something so innocent – crows hanging out on a playground – suddenly become so sinister. Their behavior is never really explained, either; there’s no toxins in the water, no sound-waves, no evil plot by scientists. There’s just a bunch of really pissed-off birds, and you, with breakable windows and peck-able faces. The noises they make are truly the stuff of nightmares.
3. Cujo – Good Dog Gone Bad
When I was a kid, I would always go up to dogs and let them smell my hand. “Dogs are cute! Dogs are fun! I like dogs! Beethoven is a great movie!” Oh, to laugh with the hubris of youth.
For reference, here’s what Saint Bernards look like when they’re sitting around, chillin’ like they’re the friendliest piles of fur on the block:
And here’s what they look like when they, well, aren’t:
Holy shit! It looks like a nightmare mix of a bear and a honey badger! Unfortunately, that’s what Donna and Tad have to deal with in Stephen King’s classic tale of what happens when bats and dogs hang out in caves.
Spoiler: They get rabies. That’s what happens.
2. Jaws – Big Fish With Teeth
If you hear a cello when you’re out swimming… you should probably check what movie universe you’re in.
The worst part is that this movie – in which a great white shark messily devours no less than six people – is rated PG. Really?! Was this considered a family film back in the ’70s? Or maybe because the serial killer is a shark, they figured, “Hey, how bad could it be?” Bad enough to give people fears of showering, apparently. But hey, at least Land Sharks wouldn’t be around for another few decades…
1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail – That Damn Rabbit
Say what you will about which is scarier, but this is basically the ultimate of killer animals in film. Watching it soar from neck to neck like a knight-seeking-missile is actually pretty brutal. Plus… “Look at the bones!”
(Author’s Note: RIP Don LaFontaine, whose voice narrated a large portion of the trailers listed here. You are sorely missed.)