Happy First Day of Spring! The snow is melting, the ground is starting to thaw, and nature is waking from its slumber. But before you head outdoors to enjoy the sunshine it’s a good time for a reminder that nature doesn’t like us. Environmental fears have been a recurrent theme in horror for decades. Natural or EcoHorror films emerged in the 1950s. Following World War II and the atom bomb, horror-science fiction films like Godzilla, Them!, and Tarantula exploited film-goers fears of atomic energy in the midst of the emerging Cold War.
Concerns about energy, over-consumption, and pollution increased in the 1960s and 1970s. Likewise, the 1980s and 1990s saw concerns broaden to include acid rain and dwindling natural resources. Over the last 20 years, we have become increasingly worried about the genetic modification of foods, climate change, and global pandemics.
Specifically, the EcoHorror film is a morality tale where nature takes revenge against humanity for its transgressions. These films are warnings to audiences about the consequences of environmental neglect. As a tribute to the Spring Equinox, take a moment and enjoy this list of memorable EcoHorror films spanning from the 1970s to present day.
Frogs was one of those movies that always seemed to show up on rainy Sunday afternoons. In this EcoHorror genre entry, the Crockett Family has abused the Louisiana swamp with pesticides and pollution. As a result, frogs inexplicably communicate with other swampland creatures and “organize” a revolt. Spiders, snakes, geckos, and alligators attack members of the Crockett clan. Of course, the frogs signal these attacks with unintentionally hilarious croaking. Frogs even includes an animated frog with a human hand in its mouth during the closing credits.
Jeff Lieberman (Just Before Dawn, Blue Sunshine) directed this fun schlockfest about carnivorous worms. In Squirm, a powerful storm knocks down hydro power lines. The resulting electrical surges drive hordes of earthworms up from the soil to take revenge on the local townsfolk. Legendary make-up artist Rick Baker provides the film’s special effects. In addition, if that isn’t enough to get you to watch, the flesh-eating earthworms make a screeching sound; I don’t know if that’s possible, but it’s hilarious.
Food of The Gods (1976)
Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells published a book entitled, The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth. This science fiction-horror film from American International Pictures (AIP) is a loose adaptation. A very loose adaptation. Briefly, farmers feed their livestock a mysterious substance that’s surfaced from underground, on an island. This ‘food from the gods’ causes alarming growth in the local wildlife. Soon afterwards, unsuspecting visitors must fight off giant rats, wasps, and chickens. On one hand, the special effects are woefully outdated. Conversely, Food of the Gods so badly misses the mark that it hits an entirely unintended target – pure hilarity.
Piranha (1978) is the one film on this list that’s in on the joke. Roger Corman produced and Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling) directed this horror-comedy that riffs on the box-office success of Jaws. Giant piranha engineered and forgotten as part of a forgotten military experiment escape and terrorize a summer camp. Cheese and gore go hand-in-hand with this 1970s classic. In this case, the humour accompanying the carnage is intended. This Joe Dante offering is a cult film deserving of being considered a classic. In addition, Piranha is one of the rare cases where its remake captures the fun of the original.
Orca is most definitely not in on the joke. This film about a killer whale seeking revenge on the fisherman who killed his mate takes itself very seriously. Clearly inspired by Jaws, Orca features no less than two Oscar-nominated actors. In addition, the legendary Ennio Morricone developed the film’s score. Surprisingly, the film’s special effects hold up fairly well. Unfortunately, Orca’s heavy-handed melodrama inevitably sinks this water-logged rip-off. It’s hard to pick just one moment or piece of dialogue that makes this film a cult classic. Maybe it’s the repeated close-ups of the enraged orca’s eye. Or it could be Richard Harris screaming, “What the hell are you?” On the plus side, the killer whale does bite off Bo Derek’s leg.
Razorback is an example of what film critics call ‘Ozploitation’. In this low-budget Australian chiller, a giant mutant razorback terrorizes the outback. Elaine Benes wasn’t far off when she said the dingo ate her baby; this film opens with the giant razorback snatching a baby. Of course, the real villlains of the film are a pair of local hunters illegally poaching kangaroos. Director Russell Mulchay wisely keeps the razorback hidden for most of the proceedings. Despite a low budget, Razorback is a surprisingly fun B-movie and definitely worth checking out.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Steven Spielberg made the best shark movie of all time. Director Renny Harlin arguably made the second best shark film with Deep Blue Sea. Briefly, scientists on a deep sea laboratory have genetically altered the brain density of Mako sharks all in a bid to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Unfortunately, the treatments have made the sharks super intelligent and hungry for revenge against their human captors. In addition to an impressive cast, Deep Blue Sea features one of the best death scenes in film history. You will jump out of your and laugh out loud at the same time given just how how unexpected and over-the-top it is.
Black Sheep (2006)
Black Sheep is a New Zealand horror-comedy about sheep that have genetically mutated into carnivorous monsters. Horror and intentional comedy are two difficult genres to blend. Jonathan King wrote and directed Black Sheep and is more than up to the challenge. All in all, Kings does an admirable job mixing Eco-Horror and zombie themes into a wickedly funny film with gross-out horror that may remind viewers of Peter Jackson’s early work. Perhaps the best scene in the film involves a massacre at an outdoor wedding. It’s the film’s irreverent blending of deadly seriousness with gleefully gory violence that makes it such a fun entry to the Eco-Horror genre.
Was your favorite Eco-Horror not included in our list?
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