Creature Features: The history of real animals in horror films
|I'm coming for you|
In the news this week, a new crazy monster film is getting tons of press with the release of it's trailer. Beaver Zombies! Yes - Zombeaver the movie. Other than the furry beaver jokes, the internet media is happily slapping its tail over this horror film about undead beavers looking for furry vengeance against some campers. Using animals as instruments of horror and death in film - either creating real fear or laughter or both - is not a new concept as we all know: Who has not seen Jaws?
The first horror films made used the supernatural to create fear. The Lumiere brothers in 1895 used dancing skeletons in their spooky tales. Georges Melies created the first horror film we have evidence of in 1896 with a normal assortment of traditional fairy tale characters, devils and ghosts. This continued through to the talkies era of the 1930s with Frankenstein and Dracula. Through the 1930s and 40s, humans morphing into animals became a common trope. Films like the Wolfman and Cat People scared audiences with makeup and early special effects.
King Kong (1933) was one of the first animal as perpetrator horror films, the giant ape made surreal. The real influx of animal based horror films came after World War Two. Many have argued that escapist film began because people wanted to escape the real horror story of war. Giant animals and bugs continued their creature feature prominence with THEM and The Wasp Woman. Evil squids then came onto the scene in 1955 with It Came From Beneath the Sea, and in the same year more arachnids with Tarantula. The scary animal and bug fetish culminated in The Fly in 1958.
|How am I going to go to the bathroom...oh that's how flies do it|
One 1960s horror film with really terrifying animals stands out - The Birds from 1963. The real terror of Tippi Hendren and the cast is felt in every scene with the blood-seeking birds. No other film before captured how innocent and beautiful birds could peck someone to death on screen. I dare you to watch this clip and laugh. Unless you like birds trying to kill you.
Why are we so fascinated and horrified over animals in horror films? One theory is that it's an ingrained fear in humans that have kept us alive - animals were trying to kill us for dinner as one of the many slow moving primates on this planet for ages. As mentioned earlier, Jaws in 1975 scared the bed-wetting pants off most people and still does, because none of us still want to be alive while being eaten.
|I'm just fulfilling a evolutionary role here buddy.|
|Excuse me sir, but have you seen your dog anywhere?|
Oh yes it did. God damn squirrels.
Sources and Further Reading:
FilmmakerIQ - a brilliant site on all things film, the best one of all of these!
Horror Film History - A decade by decade guide
Natural Horror Films - a long list of films by wikipedia
Best Horror Films - Wired's recommendations, with no animal films making it