You think climate change fear mongering is something new? Well, then you never watched a nature gone wild movie from that gloriously gritty decade, the ’70s. When we weren’t terrified that the Rooskies were going to strafe us with A-bombs, we were pretty damn sure the ozone layer would be gone any day and the end of the world was nigh. The ’70s is when we got woke that we were making a mess of the planet, and the ensuing guilt had to find an outlet, a way to make us pay for our wrongdoing. Or at least pretend to pay, just like Earth Day is when we pretend to be nice to the world.
Thanks to legends like Samuel mother effing Z. Arkoff, Bert I. Gordon (or as I call him, the real Notorious B.I.G,), William Girdler, Joe Dante and even John Sayles, mankind was on the run from everything from giant rabbits, toxic waste-eating ants, killer piranha, hordes of rats, swarms of bees, slimy toads and pissed off bears. Mankind had been unkind to the environment, and it was time for a little comeuppance, animal style.
Sure, titles like Night of the Lepus, Empire of the Ants, Frogs, Sssss, Kingdom of the Spiders and the like elicit snarky giggles when said aloud in 2020. What the craft beer-swilling hipsters today don’t realize is that what made these movies great was how straight they were played. Anything close to a modern animals attack flick is a humorous trifle pumped out by the SyFy channel starring reality show “celebrities” with the occasional down-on-his-luck former TV star. There was an earnestness to the way the ’70s treated these revenge movies that still makes for compelling viewing.
These movies were a veritable who’s who of old Hollywood. Talk about star power. Going through the ’70s catalog, you’ll be entertained by the likes of Ray Miland, Kevin McCarthy, Ida Lupino, Joan Collins, William Shatner, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun and my favorite one-two punch, Christopher George and Richard Jaeckel, who team up for Grizzly, which was Jaws on land, and Day of the Animals. Side note, if you proclaim yourself to be a card-carrying horror fan and don’t know who Christopher George is, hand that card over. Then go see his ’80s work in Pieces, Mortuary, Graduation Day and City of the Dead. They were hard times for the man, but a boon to horror hounds.
Speaking of Day of the Animals, I saw it was playing at my local Alamo Drafthouse a week ago and jumped on a couple of tickets. What’s better than a late-night viewing of a movie I’d only ever seen on TV or videotape while drinking overpriced beer and eating fresh popped popcorn with actual melted butter, not buttery flavor? The entire decade of animals attack movies can be summed up in Day of the Animals. The movie starts with a preamble about the discovery of the hole in the ozone in the early ’70s and how it will allow for all kinds of dangerous rays to bombard the planet. The story that follows is something that COULD happen. Man, did the audience laugh at that one.
Christopher George is a nature guide who is taking a band of people who should never leave their homes into the mountains. He’s joined by, of course, Richard Jaeckel, his gorgeous real-life wife, Linda Day-George, Andrew Stevens and — wait for it — Leslie Nielsen. If you’ve ever wanted to see Sergeant Frank Drebin shirtless in the rain, pushing older women around, kicking kids, trying to rape a terrified cutie, murdering a Hardy Boy and tackling a crazed bear, you’ve come to the right place. In Day of the Animals, those mind-altering rays from the sun have turned all animals into cold blooded man killers. They may have also driven Leslie Nielsen crazy, but considering he starts out as a racist pig, I think his inner asshole was just waiting for the right moment to come out. Birds follow their every move and report their location to bears, bobcats, vultures, wild dogs and anything else in the area that wants to tear into some ripe human flesh. It’s a death march with crazy kills and the ultimate ’70s cast. It was also the inspiration for my novel Tortures of the Damned, a post-apocalypse tale that starts with chemical and EMP weapons and ends with rabid animals acting as the cleanup crew. Dreaming up various battles between man and beast made my editor and I giggle like school boys.
As a little kid, crazy animal movies were some of my favorites. Empire of the Ants, where a real estate deal goes horribly awry when enormous ants eat the prospects, and Them solidified my love for ant madness. Hmm, might be why I own every Adam and the Ants album. I saw a double feature of Jaws and Grizzly when I was eight or nine. Grizzly was my very first beheading. Weirdo me loved it instead of being properly repulsed like my dad. I assumed every animal was secretly watching us, waiting for the right moment to take us down. And I was prepared. I had a pocketknife and access to aerosol cans and my father’s Zippo lighter. Just let them try. I have to admit, I actually wanted the food chain to flip itself so I could engage in a battle for humanity. This was one of my richest fantasies, at least until I saw Dawn of the Dead (with The Kentucky Fried Movie — how’s that for a double feature for a 10 year old!). Boobs and gore may have utterly reworked my brain and DNA) and replaced maniac animals with zombies.
If I’m feeling sick or low and seek comfort from my television, I’ll pop in Food of the Gods (Mommy Earth lactating some milky goo that creates giant rats, wasps and a cock or two) or Frogs (global warming is going to ruin a rich old bastard’s birthday party in the bayou) and feel my youth returning. Or if I’ve had a few too many to drink, I’ll treat myself to a one-degree-of-Star-Trek combo of Night of the Lepus (huge rabbits storm a ranch, possibly the bloodiest of the bunch with a crazy, electrifying ending) that features DeForest Kelley, and Kingdom of the Spiders starring icon William Shatner. My Monster Men partner Jack does a great impression of Shatner pulling spiders off his body. You have to see it to believe it.
What shocks me is that with all of the climate change dementia gripping people today, we haven’t seen a resurgence of animals attack films or books. These are must-watch movies that I worry are going to be lost to time. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of gems to check out:
- Night of the Lepus
- Day of the Animals
- Food of the Gods
- Empire of the Ants
- The Swarm
- Kingdom of the Spiders
- Phase IV
- Tarantulas, the Deadly Cargo
- The Bees
If you feel yourself getting addicted and need more of a fix, I highly suggest you check out the book, When Animals Attack: The 70 Best Horror Movies with Killer Animals, edited by Vanessa Morgan. There are enough movies in there to melt your eyeballs. Or if you want to dive into angry nature books, Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix has an entire section dedicated to animals attacks books from the ’70s and ’80s. Just try not to salivate at those covers.
Most of all, be kind to animals. According to what I hear, we’re nearing zero hour thanks to our wanton ways. The sky is falling, the seas are rising, and the end is nigh thanks to all you fuckers who sip from plastic straws and eat burgers and steaks from farting bovines. Is your dog looking at you funny? Do you find the birds chirping with increasing aggression? Christopher George and Richard Jaeckel aren’t here to save you. Better grab your best girl — because there’s always a best girl in these scenarios — and get ready to fight!
Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal—he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. You can follow his madness at huntershea.com.