Slugs 1988 - Eco-Horror
New World Pictures

The film Angry Asian Murder Hornets was released on June 1st, 2020, within mere months of the Asian Giant Hornet arriving in the U.S. To be fair, I have not seen this eco-horror movie. I actually just searched “murder hornet movie” to see if one was in development when I started researching this topic. Imagine my ironic delight when I found out a movie had already been shot, wrapped, and released! It’s indicative of the revolt-of-nature subgenre to take a reasonable fear of nature and magnify it to extreme proportions, resulting in a cautionary tale with the general statement of “treat nature well…or it’ll come bite you in the ass.” Some call these “animal attack” films or “nature run amok,” but I personally like revolt — because as much as it’s about the beasts, it’s more about their opposition to the authority of us. 

When it comes to revolt-of-nature as a subgenre, H.G. Wells first touched on it in 1905 with Empire of the Ants, in which an organized collective of ants takes over as the dominant species on Earth. In film, we can look to 1925’s The Lost World to introduce everything from an Allosaurus to a three-toed sloth standing in for the loss of nature by the intrusion of man. Ultimately, these films serve to show how the animal world is a fascinating mystery, full of unknown and terrifying beauty, and it’s ripe for monster-horror cheese. Endearing, gratifying, silly, spooky cheese. 

There’s a myriad of revolt-of-nature movies out there, from wide release to made-for-TV fare, and we’ll be touching on the biggest, baddest, most renowned beasties to hit the screen and terrorize small towns the world over, then take some time to ponder what animal seriously needs a revenge flick…

Creepy Crawlers 

‘Them!’ (1954) / Warner Bros. Pictures

Bugs are probably the most ripe and ready for revolt-of-nature fare, and let’s face it, they deserve their days of death. The idea of bug invasions can be sourced biblically, with plagues of locusts and swarms of flies destroying towns, crops, and livelihoods. And, it seems like since then, we’ve been trying to get rid of them. Aisles upon aisles in stores are dedicated to the eradication of spiders, flies, mosquitoes, wasps, bees, and the like. So, their revenge is pretty much inevitable at this point. 

Starting in the 1950s with Cold War Atomic Monster flicks, we had buggies enlarged and in charge with films like Them (1954), a straight-forward “atomic testing mutated ants to enormous size and with a taste for human flesh” premise that catapulted an undeniable love for the genre. Others followed, like Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), The Black Scorpion (1957), and Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), all starting with a slow burn attack phase and ending with a bang that leaves you desperate for more. 

As atomic fears cooled into the 1970s, the genre itself mutated to swarm-horror, and films like Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) cause our collective skins to crawl. The only thing larger than the number of killer spidies is William Shatner’s performance as concerned local veterinarian Dr. Robert Hansen. There are explosions, panicked crowds flocking the streets, gratuitous spider stomping, and all the camp of a 1980s summer slasher. The panic continues in The Swarm (1978) and The Bees (1978), replacing spiders with, duh, bees. Phase IV (1974) kicked off the swarming subgenre with, yet again, a fear of ant invasion. Though nothing may beat a meteor from a black hole unleashing a race of killer spiders led by gigantor tarantula hinged on the chassis of a VW bus (Looking at you, The Giant Spider Invasion [1975]). 

RELATED: ‘Arachnophobia’ Still Has 8 Legs After 30 Years

The evolution has been a hybrid of scientific experiments gone awry to simply exploring beyond where man should go (a pretty standard dichotomy of all the animals on this list). The Nest (1988) saw experiment gone awry roaches turn into man-eating mutants, whereas Arachnophobia (1990) brings a newly discovered, deep forest species of deadly spiders to a small town to terrorize Jeff Daniels’ family. Ticks (1993), Mosquito (1994), and Slugs (1988) are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to titular cooties just waiting to crawl all over humanity as we know it. And like cockroaches, these cooties will continue to have their stay in insect-revenge films. 

Ravenous Rats 

‘Willard’ (1971) / Cinerama Releasing Corporation

When insects need to hitch a ride to a new territory, they grab onto the course little fur of worm-tailed vermin with their cute little noses and bugged-out eyeballs. These furry freaks have long sent shivers through spines, historically bringing plague and sometimes accompanying vampires, dwelling in the murkiest muck. Their destructive tendencies were well-known long before the 1970s, which saw the first rat revolt movies.

Willard (1971) nailed down the fine line between pet and pest as a socially-distant man uses his rats to exact revenge on those who have tormented him. Remade in 2003, it was a spine-chilling new direction on revolt of nature films and how shaky the truce between man and beast truly is. Ben (1972) was a weak follow-up, while The Food of the Gods (1976) took a more traditional approach with untouched lands invaded by vacationers, and Deadly Eyes (1982) dressed up dachshunds as mutated rats in Toronto for the classic mutation-creation feature. Rats: A Night of Terror (1984) is an Italian-American production best described as Mad Max meets rats, while Graveyard Shift (1990) grapples that ever-difficult Stephen King adaptation and delivers a genuinely enjoyable creep factor. 

One of the best comes as Of Unknown Origin (1983), in which the always-endearing Peter Weller finds a deadly rat in his recently-renovated home while his family is away and becomes utterly consumed by plotting its destruction. A psychological thriller as much as it is a beastly horror, it tips the scales and proves that revolt-of-nature films span a wide array of premises, and there are many yet to be explored. 

Repulsive Reptiles 

'Anaconda' (1997) / Columbia Pictures
‘Anaconda’ (1997) / Columbia Pictures

Another animal that’s high on the general creep meter for most normal people is those scaly, slithery reptiles, even before they became 30 feet long with razor-sharp fangs. The largest snake ever recorded was 33ft long and weighed over 800 lbs. The largest croc? 20ft and over 2,000 lbs! Their prehistoric heritage ties them to predatory mythos, they are eons old adversaries that we have little recourse in defeating. Most reptilian rivalries feel like they would be better left underwater. Historically, there were precious few “natural” reptile movies as they mostly lived in the idea of an ancient beast out of time has been brought back or lands invaded (see: any kaiju movie ever). 

Outside of resurrecting ancient beasts with atomic bombs, 1972 gave us a true nature’s revenge reptile film in Frogs, followed years later by Lewis Teague’s Alligator (1980). Alligator’s titular predator was once a household pet, flushed into the NY sewer drains, and now returning for revenge. Then, it took another 10 years for the natural to come back in crocs, gator, and snake stories. 

Anaconda (1997) kicked off the reptile renaissance with a poorly executed but delightfully bad take, with a star-studded cast that proved at least some of them should stick to music (and that Jon Voigt shouldn’t do accents). Crocs and gators faired better, with the odd but enjoyable Lake Placid (1999) and Primeval (2007).

However, Aussies rule the day of giant killer crocs with Rogue (2007) and Black Water (2007), both of which have genuinely terrifying suspense and thrills. Most recently, Alexandre Aja’s Crawl (2019) was a stunning addition to the genre, taking a page from Of Unknown Origin and building as much psychological terror as physical as a father and daughter attempt to escape a house hit by a hurricane and a growing hoard of gators. 

Infested Waters 

‘Jaws’ (1975) / Universal Pictures

When it comes to revolt-of-nature movies, there’s one film that truly swims above all others, defining not only the entire genre but the very basis of “summer blockbuster.” The film, of course, is Jaws (1975). While the ‘70s were a wealth of animals-run-amok films, Jaws broke the mold of budget, star power, stellar story, and dominant scare tactics. There’s little argument that it’s the ultimate shark movie. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the only shark movie. Or underwater beast in general.

The unknown terrors of the deep, and the known ones, have haunted oceans, lagoons, lakes, and bays for decades. Mako: Jaws of Death came out the very next year, The Last Shark (1981) and the Jaws sequels carried shark horror through the ‘80s, then slowed into the ‘90s until the gluttonously so-good-it’s-bad Deep Blue Sea (1999). With TV movies and DTV releases dominating, only the creme-de-la-creme rose to the top delivering Open Water (2003), The Reef (2010), Bait (2012), The Shallows (2016), and The Meg (2018). 

RELATED: Looking Back at ‘Orca’ – A Story of Revenge, Not Rip-offs

But sharks aren’t the only fish in the sea, and it didn’t take long for other aquatica to get their 15 minutes. Orca (1977) played the “fish can take revenge” angle long before Jaw IV. Piranha (1978) knowingly took the Jaws formula and threw it in a bay, adding in a mutated twist. Barracuda (1978), Tentacles (1977), and Killer Fish (1979) all hit in the late ‘70s and cast a wide net over the sea of natural horror. And, much like the ocean itself, that’s really only the surface of the subgenre. 

Scary Bears

‘Grizzly’ (1976) / Columbia Pictures

Bears are my favorite animal. They’re adorable, cuddly, playful, and seriously ferocious to the point where you shouldn’t cuddle or play with them (Grizzly Man, anyone?). They’re also kings of the forest, apex predators of the woodlands, and revenge started for them in 1966 with The Night of the Grizzly with evil grizzly, dubbed Satan by town locals, killing livestock and ranchers just for the fun of it. It took 10 years for a solid follow-up with Grizzly (1976), directed by William Girdler.

Essentially just “Jaws, but with a bear,” with park supervisor Kitteridge (Joe Dorsey) refusing to close the park to tourists and Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) playing woodsy outdoorsman dressing up in animal fur to track deer, whose so close to Quint but just missing his USS Indianapolis story. It’s easy to see the bankable similarities between the two films, but Grizzly has that endearing drive-in quality of cheap imitation, gruesome kills, and convenient nudity, and fun-fur slashin’ paws! 

Eco-horror hit a new peak in 1979 with Prophecy, delivering one of the most mesmerizing creature hybrids ever conceived and a baby one to match. A clear inspiration for South Park’s “Man-Bear-Pig,” Prophecy catapulted angry bear pics into obscurity until the late ’90s and 2000s. The Edge (1997), Blackfoot Trail [aka Backcountry] (2014), and Into the Grizzly Maze (2015) brought back terror bears in the standard fashion: man intrudes and bear bites back. 

Demonic Dogs 

‘Man’s Best Friend’ (1993) / New Line Cinema

Oh yes, man’s best beast gets its own spot as latent fears that our domesticated darlings will turn on us brew through the decades. And if you want charming kill machines, Dog (1976) is where it’s at. Taking place in a lovely SoCal suburb, the puppers cast here are adorable, despite the narrative’s constant assertion that they’re slobbering menaces turning on their owners. It is more playful than punchy and laughably serious with all the cute doggos.

Just a year later, Robert Clouse’s The Pack (1977) does a far more efficient job of casting the canines. The Pack is also a surprisingly well-shot film about domestic dogs abandoned by their owners while vacationing on an island and banding together for coordinated revenge. Featuring a brazen performance from the broad-stroked Joe Don Baker (Congo/The Living Daylights), the film is a must see for the dog-revolt subgenre. The Breed (2006) does a solid job updating The Pack, taking the loose concept and working it for a modern audience exceptionally well — right down to using well-trained mutts instead of falling back on 2000’s CG. And the Aussies went ahead and remade The Pack in 2015 with an outback backdrop. 

RELATED: 20 Years Later: ‘Ginger Snaps’ is Still a Top-Tier Werewolf Flick

Dismissing the pack mentality, 1984’s Cujo grabbed that King string again for the claustrophobic, terrifying, and iconic tale of a rabid St. Bernard trapping Dee Wallace and son in a hot car, battling hunger, heat, and the dog itself. Baxter (1989), adapted from a novella of the same name, also centers on a single pooch, a sociopathic Bull Terrier becoming more murderous and aggressive as he searches for the perfect owner. And dogs go super-charged in Man’s Best Friend (1993), which is best described as a horror-comedy with an over-the-top concept and performances by Ally Sheedy and Lance Henrickson. The dogs have definitely had their day, and I wouldn’t be surprised with more to come. 

Primeval Pigs 

‘Boar’ (2017) / Shudder

Do you know what’s crazy about pigs? Domesticated porkers can revert back to their hairy, aggressive, tusk-wearing hog roots in a matter of months after being released into the wild. If you watched The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs episode viewing Hogzilla (2014/2020), you’ll know piggies are a real rampant problem when run amok. From giant hogs to man-eating swine, pigs-in-revolt films pretty well center on the idea of what we eat could eat us. After all, the other white meat is just waiting for a gnaw on that other, other white meat… Pigs (1973) went along with this idea by pitting a hoard of man-eating piggies as the top tool of disposal for a mentally unstable young woman’s killing spree. 

Razorback (1984) capitalizes on the eerie outback for a Tobe Hooper-esque desert mystery with the backdrop of wild boar chomping at its heels. But the true fun and spirit of “giant pig in the Outback” comes from Boar (2017). If you haven’t seen Boar, go to Shudder and watch it. Right now. I’ll see you in 96 minutes…

Welcome back! The hairy happiness of Boar comes from its use of practical FX for the mangy brute. With genre greats like John Jarrett (Wolf Creek), Bill Moseley (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), and Nathan Jones (Charlie’s Farm) helming major roles in the cavalcade of characters that make up this slice of Aussie cheese — it’s a wild romp through the outback. The coupling of giant beast and man-eater is in full force in the Korean film Chaw (2009), directed by Jeong-won Shin. While not the greatest showcase of cinematic art, it’s certainly worth a watch for those who love big beasties! 

Killer Kittens

‘Prey’ (2016) / Dutch FilmWorks

Despite their condescending disposition, which is ripe for revolt, cats haven’t exactly been the deadly animals associated with revolts-in-nature films. At least the domesticated variety. Many cats in horror appear as omens or familiars, being far from likely to hack and slash you into canned tuna bits. But if you look hard enough, you’ll find our sneaky little felines have had their day of terror.

Italian ‘Master of Gore’ Lucio Fulci directed The Black Cat (1981), off a very loose adaptation of the Poe story of the same name. The film centers on an apparently supernaturally-imbued black cat whose presence in a small town causes locals to die in mysterious accidents. With less grue than Fulci’s normal fare, The Black Cat has a seriously creepy murder mystery vibe that lives up to the “black cat” superstition and lore. 

RELATED: AI Gone Awry: 10 Horrific Films about Artificial Intelligence

Now that that’s out of the way, the real killers here are the big cats. The wild ones. The ones we were all collectively obsessed with earlier this year when Netflix introduced us to Joe Exotic and, more importantly, Carole Baskin — who renewed our spirits that cats can be used as an efficient tool to dispose of your murdered husband. Big cats have been clawing at our bootheels for decades, like cougars in Day of the Animals (1977). Black Zoo (1963) falls into the Willard category of a zookeeper training zoo animals, like tigers, to kill those who have slighted him. Jacques Tourneur turned his hand to animal mayhem in both Cat People (1942) and The Leopard Man (1943), the former fitting into more a folklore/transformation vibe than animals actually “in revolt.” More recently, Burning Bright (2010) sees the home invasion genre supplant the standard “evil intruders” with a tiger. 

Ostensibly, the most well-rounded bunch of big cats who’ve had enough of humanity is the mighty lion. Savage Harvest (1981) is perhaps the most brutal, showing the true nature of the beast instead of some mal-adaptation, mutant spawning, or other ludacris plot reason. Roar (1981), however, is the most thrilling, with a myriad of real-life lions, tigers, panthers, jaguars, and pumas swarming the screen. With its supernatural insinuations, The Ghost and the Darkness (1997) fits neatly into the genre, as two terrifying lions attempt to stop urban development on their land. Dutch film Prey (2016) has a monstrous lion terrorizing Holland – though it suffers from a GC menace that, while creating great off-screen fear, does little when his visage is actually present. 

Brutal Birds 

Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds 1
Universal-International Pictures

Other than Jaws, there is really only one truly outstanding entry on the animal attack list that surpasses any kind of camp or circumstance and delivers pure, outright terror with no exception. Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal horror flick The Birds (1963) is damn near the perfect formula for revolt-of-nature flicks. With no reason or justification, killer flocks reign terror down on the citizens of Bodega Bay. The moment when Lydia (Jessica Tandy) finds her neighbor’s eyeless corpse will always be burned into my brain. While we’ll never see a display of bird horror quite like Hitchcock portrays, it is by no means the only foul fowl on celluloid. 

Beaks (1987) attempts the same formula on the farm, with chickens and other poultry gunning for the necks of their masters. Kaw (2007) showcases the “black cat” of birdom when a flock of ravens bears down on a small town – working together to destroy civilization as locals know it. Most recently, Birdemic (2010) graced us with a bunch of CGI bird cheese that brought back a bit of the old horror that a flock of terror is more dreadfully inescapable than a single terrifying animal. But that’s for you to decide! 

What Other Animal is Due for Revenge in Eco-Horror?

Obviously, I haven’t been able to hit every kind of “revolt-of-nature” film on the list (a notable exception being worms, which has at least three solid entries in the subgenre). And there’s a plethora of one-off animal attacks movies that couldn’t get their own spot. Cemetery Gates (2006), a “so-bad-it’s-good” entry, finds a mutated Tasmanian devil stalking a film crew in a cemetery. Bats get a good showing in Nightwing (1979) and a much less amicable viewing experience in Bats (1999), in which, yet again, bad CGI tears a hole in what might have been a pretty neat feature. Primates have a strong place in history, as well, with Monkey Shines (1988) Ella causing all kinds of chaos, and LINK (1986) giving the super-intelligent, titular ape a murderous streak. 

With speculation abounding, I would say the animal most deserving of a revolt-of-nature film would be the opossum. These guys eat ticks for us, and ticks are downright evil (see: Ticks 1993). The Virginia Opossum is America’s only marsupial (not a rodent), and they have incredible immune systems which make it really hard for them to contract things like rabies. Not only all that, but they’re literally prehistoric – been around since dino days. And you know what, we treat them pretty terribly. If any animal deserves his film getting some serious revenge on humanity, it’s these critters. 

RELATED: ‘The Day of the Triffids’ 60 Years Later: A Sci-Fi/Eco-Horror Classic

I imagine the plot being something like: a family taking a camping vacation in a rural, backwoods town in their Winnebago and, upon arriving, realize they’ve forgotten an important cooler with all their frozen foods. The father visits the local store, and on the butcher’s menu is “roadkill,” upsetting his urban sensibilities. His reaction offends the store owner with a comment like “Possums ‘r’ clean eatin’.” After the father leaves the store, the owner is attacked by an unknown entity skittering about his store. Other random deaths occur as the family sets off on standard camping activities.

The daughter, hating being outdoors, wanders off to find cell phone service to call her “boyfriend” and is attacked by a mass of possums! She escapes, but the family soon finds themselves in a no-go situation as the possums flatten the Winnebago tires and surround their campsite. They’re able to escape by luring the possums close and rigging the Winnebago’s gas tank to blow up, narrowly escaping the explosion on their 4-wheelers (or something equally ridiculous). As they race away, a possum jumps into the road, and the father swerves to avoid it. The son says, “Why did you do that, Dad?” and the Dad says, “This was never our road, Son.” The end…

So, what animals do you think deserve their revolt?

We’re hardworking geeks that love to geek out, but we can’t do it without you! If you enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, please consider tipping our writers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.