In 1985, drug smuggler Andrew Thornton dropped a batch of cocaine over the Georgia woods from his plane, where it was found by a 175-pound black bear. In real life, the bear died after ingesting the drug, but what if it didn’t? Hollywood boldly answers that question this month in Cocaine Bear, a film about a drug-fueled ursine rampage.
But there’s a long-standing Tinseltown tradition of finding terror in mild-mannered fauna. Snake and shark movies are a genre unto themselves, so here are a few of the most pulse-pounding non-snake/shark (snark?) animal attack films the movie industry’s ever cranked out.
Based on a true story, Adam MacDonald’s Backcountry is a cautionary tale about the importance of staying on the trail and following outdoor safety rules. When struggling couple Alex and Jenny go off in search of a picturesque lake, they instead find a ravenous bear. Stranded with no supplies, no map, and a bloodthirsty apex predator on their trail, they’ll have to use their wits to survive the wild and make it back to civilization.
Man’s best friend becomes the Trenton family’s worst nightmare when mother Donna and son Tad are trapped in their Ford Pinto by a rabid St. Bernard in this early Stephen King adaptation. The titular Cujo is only one of the horrors Donna must contend with, as the twin specters of dehydration and heat stroke rear their ugly heads. While it’s easy to imagine bears and alligators as the antagonists of these films, turning a beloved household pet into something to fear is a masterstroke on King’s part.
Idris Elba stars as widower Dr. Nate Samuels in this South Africa-set survival flick. After his wife dies, Samuels takes his two teenage daughters on a trip to see the village where their mother grew up. During a trip deep into a wildlife preserve, the Samuels family encounters a rogue lion. Can they survive the lion, the unforgiving bush, and the poachers responsible for the lion’s rampage?
Natural forces converge in this Alexandre Aja-helmed thriller when a category 5 hurricane hits south Florida, leaving University of Florida swimmer Haley Keller trapped in her family home with her unconscious father and a horde of hungry alligators. After several notable real-life weather disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the wild premise of a movie like Crawl seems all the more plausible.
The Grey (2012)
An Alaskan wolfpack finds itself on the receiving end of Liam Neeson’s “special set of skills” in this man vs. nature drama. Depressed sharpshooter, John Ottway’s job is to kill wolves who threaten the men who work on oil rigs. After a plane crash, the survivors must band together to make it out of the wilderness. Perhaps best known for the scene in the trailer where Neeson fashions makeshift Wolverine claws from liquor bottles, the film is surprisingly sober and philosophical otherwise. Many survival films take the goal as a given, but The Grey instead chooses to ponder what, if anything, Ottway is surviving for.
A newly-discovered species of prehistoric and highly venomous spiders plague a California town in this early ‘90s horror comedy romp. Jeff Daniels’ Dr. Ross Jennings has recently moved to the small town of Canaima to take over the practice of a retiring physician. He’s also deathly afraid of spiders. Luckily John Goodman, playing exterminator Delbert McClintock, is along for the ride to help him overcome his fears and rid Canaima of the infestation. Bonus fun fact, this film also helped launch the career of Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame!
Bill Mosely and family run afoul of a gigantic, rhino-sized boar in the Australian outback. While inherently implausible (the biggest boar ever killed was a boar/pig hybrid clocking in at 800 pounds and 7 feet long, quite a bit smaller than what’s on screen here), there’s great fun to be had in watching a ridiculously-oversized boar knock over Land Cruisers. Director Chris Sun smartly keeps the tone tongue-in-cheek, delivering a few solid laughs in addition to the gory porcine kills, along with some stunning shots of the Australian outback.
Surprisingly, there are relatively few horror flicks featuring Bengal tigers, one of the world’s preeminent—and photogenic—predators. Syfy Original Maneater, featuring professional lunatic Gary Busey, is one of the few. While the acting is, uh, on par for SyFy, the film does feature an actual Bengal tiger, shying away from CG in favor of practical--and often heavily implied--effects. Confusingly, the movie is part of a 28-film series also called Maneater, some of which feature real animals like army ants (The Hive) and monkeys (the amazingly-titled Blood Monkey), while others focus on mythical creatures like wyverns and swamp monsters.
In the Shadow of Kilomanjaro (1985)
An astonishing 90,000 baboons ravage Kenya after a severe drought in this ‘80s film. Ostensibly based on a true story and starring John Rhys-Davies of Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings fame, the movie centers on the small hamlet of Namanga. After a series of murders and disappearances, the town is beset by baboons. Stretching credulity at times (a baboon stows away on a plane in order to attack the pilot), Kilimanjaro is nevertheless a singular viewing experience and easily one of the more unique entries in the “natural horror” genre.
Day of the Animals (1977)
And finally, this list wouldn’t be complete without 1977’s Day of the Animals, in which every sort of animal attacks everyone in sight. Director William Girdler, who made the previous year’s Jaws-influenced bear horror Grizzly, ups the ante here with a mass psychosis induced by ozone layer depletion. Prolonged solar radiation has made every animal at 5,000 feet and above openly hostile to humans, specifically a group of campers (including Naked Gun goofball Leslie Nielsen). Wolves, rattlesnakes, raptors, mountain lions, grizzly bears, rats, dogs, and more sink teeth, claws, and talons into the hapless hikers. While the effects and plot might leave something to be desired, this film promises an onslaught of animalistic terror and delivers it in spades. All without the benefit of cocaine (for the animals, at least)!