An insidious entity lurks within the dark recesses of VRV. An unholy apparition, an indescribable thing from the depths. Ancient texts — inked in blood and bound in flesh — prophesied its arrival. They called it…Shudder, the premier human-curated horror streaming service, its vast catalog of films waiting to be unleashed upon humanity like a plague.
Terrifying, no? But that’s why I’m here: to guide you down the shadowy corridors, holding a cobweb-covered candelabra up to one horror sub-genre at a time. So join me, join me and gaze at the horrors of… When Animals Attack!
Listen, I love my dogs, but if I stayed still long enough they’d eat me. Nature’s disdain for humankind has been captured in popular entertainment for centuries, but it was in 1974 that Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws sunk its teeth into the New York Times Bestsellers List — staying latched on for forty-four consecutive weeks. A little over a year later, Steven Spielberg — eschewing the book’s mafia subplot and incredibly detailed sex scenes — transformed it into the first modern blockbuster.
A bucket of chum had been dumped in the water, and it lured the deadliest predator of them all: opportunistic Hollywood producers. In its wake came Piranha, Barracuda, Orca; there was Grizzly — about a rampaging grizzly bear — and Prophecy — about a mutant rampaging grizzly bear. Each beast bigger or more bloodthirsty than the last, each film more bargain basement and derivative than the one before. None managed to reach the creative or financial heights of Jaws, and tales of murderous sharks and giant crocodiles are now mostly relegated to the world of the SyFy original movie.
But we’re here to talk about what’s on Shudder. We’re here to talk about what’s good, what’s great, and what’s downright ugly. Watched separately, each of these picks offer a unique viewing experience. Watched together, they may just take you on downward spiral into madness…
An opening crawl informs us that aerosol spray cans are eroding the ozone layer, and that the following motion picture is what COULD happen if we don’t stop it with the big hair. Specifically what could happen to a band of weekend warriors hiking through the mountains.
Our obnoxious crew includes macho tour guide Steve Bucker (Christoper George), feisty anchorwoman Terry Marsh (Linda Day George), a wealthy suburbanite and her young son (actually just a small adult man), and bigoted big city ad exec Jenson (a scenery-scarfing Leslie Nielsen). A strong case could be made for why each and every one of them deserves to be eaten.
Fortunately for us, the unshielded sun has given the local wildlife a hankering for human flesh. It starts innocently, with a lizard giving the stink-eye, before graduating to a wolf treating a woman in a sleeping bag like a grande burrito. But everyone’s primary concern is that “she’s pretty, I hope she isn’t scarred for life.” It’s only after one of them is tossed off a cliff by a flock of birds that they start taking things seriously, and split up into smaller, more bite-sized groups.
It reaches its peak when future Naked Gun star Nielsen proves he is all of us by going shirtless, daring God to strike him dead, and engaging in a mud wrestling match with a bear. Director William Girdler may not have been a great filmmaker, but he undoubtedly was a genius.
A snake-crazy rich kid accidentally orders a black mamba (just roll with it), and then his maid (Susan George) and chauffeur (a clearly drunk Oliver Reed) conspire with a German terrorist (a clearly insane Klaus Kinski) to hold him for ransom. But the plan goes belly up when the maid is bit on the face, and Reed shotguns a British bobby off the porch. Before you know it, the police have the place surrounded, and it becomes a hostage negotiation thriller where everyone inside is crap-scared of a venomous snake.
It’s then that the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur. Klaus Kinski reportedly caused original director Tobe Hooper to have a nervous breakdown, while Oliver Reed apparently entertained himself between takes by antagonizing Kinski. So when a scientist arrives partway through to explain how the black mamba is “unpredictable, paranoid, especially in a confined space,” she could very well be describing much of the cast. A shot of the snake hissing next to a bottle of whiskey could very well be a recreation of how the crew found Oliver Reed that morning.
This tension translates to the screen, with the end product being a thriller with bite. As well as a thriller where a snake bites a man’s penis. Probably the best film of 1981.
We’ve seen animals driven to murder due to the ozone layer, and by being trapped in a house with Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski, so the next logical step is to get them high on angel dust. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this one without reservations. Hell, I can’t in good conscious recommend it at all. The following is less an endorsement, and more me informing you of its heinous existence.
Sexy saxophone music accompanies shots of foamy water and used syringes. Lots of used syringes. I believe this is known as “foreshadowing,” because the water flows directly to the local zoo where the animals lap it up. And then the director’s credit smashes onscreen over the image of a severed horse head.
Yes there’s PCP in the water, yes the zoo’s security system is about to shut down, and yes, like many Italian genre films from this period, animals are getting hurt for reals. I was repulsed, but also in the throws of delirium. Try as I might, I could not look away.
I’ll do my best to recount the essential plot points: a VW Bug is chased by a cheetah; a herd of elephants trip balls and send a car crashing into a lamp emporium before downing a 747; a sock puppet shrieks into a telephone; our only hope is a man named Rip Berner.
In watching this, I went too far. The fact that this was made means that we, as a species, went too far. Perhaps humankind deserves to be devoured by nature. But perhaps there’s still hope. Maybe it doesn’t have to end with us shirtless and wrestling a grizzly in the mud. Maybe that hope lies here, on VRV. Maybe by watching these animal attack films on Shudder, we can learn to change our ways. Maybe, just maybe…