This may be because we are no longer exactly in tune with nature, or we don’t like being reminded that we slip a few links in the food chain from time to time, but the killer animals remain. a popular theme for horror movies. and your bloodiest brand of outdoor adventure tale.
Written and directed by Wolf creekit’s Greg McLean, Thug is a Top End terror that sees a mix of familiar faces (Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell, Sam Worthington, Mia Wasikowska, Stephen Curry, John Jarratt) end up on a massive reptile tasting plate after a tourist boat capsizes on Kakadu infested fangs. It is a small, tense, polished work, often quite brutal, which takes pleasure in nibbling its whole one by one.
The spiders, by director Tibor Takács (all from The door To Sabrina the Teenage Witch To Mansquito) is a much more fantastic, sometimes downright nerdy affair that sees Patrick Muldoon (Starship Troopers) and William Hope (Aliens – and how’s that for a crossover?) Dealing with an infestation of mutant alien spiders on the New York City subway, delivering thrills, spills, and B-movie kills to fans of genre food without pretension.
And they’re both, more or less, animal attack movies, a sprawling and loosely defined subgenre that reached their apotheosis with Jaws in 1975. As Jaws, Thug postulates a marauding beast that is ostensibly natural, just very tall (and for our purposes, “bigger than ever seen in the real world” still constitutes “seemingly natural”). Jaws being one of the greatest financial successes of all time, it sparked a series of … well, “tributes” might be the polite term, with various species replaced in place of Spielberg’s great white shark: a killer whale (Killer whale, 1977), a bear (grizzly, 1976), an alligator (uh, Alligator, 1980, although this one is a mutant), and so on.
Crocs and gators being what they are, they come back a lot in this little ghetto of the genre. As Thug, Black water by Andrew Traucki is an Australian movie about crocodiles that came out in 2007 – maybe they sometimes travel in packs after all? They are preceded by Arch Nicholson’s Dark period (1987), in which John Jarratt again deals with a threatening crocodile, and Black water has a continuation, Black water: Abyss, in 2018.
Really, however, so far, everyone since Spielberg in 1975 has lifted their dramatic and directing techniques, cinematically. Jaws owes a massive debt to Alfred Hitchcock The birds (1963), if not the first film “When Everyday Animals Go Crazy”, but certainly one of the most important.
The spiders, on the other hand, draws inspiration from nuclear paranoia and the giant insect films of the 1950s, the first and best being the 1954s Them!, in which Los Angeles is terrorized by irradiated ants reaching a giant size. (The star of that movie, James Whitmore, was going to get a bite to eat in the 1997 Underrated The relic – but this is a monster movie, not a killer animal movie.)
The defining characteristic here is ordinary animals driven mad and made monstrous by science, pollution or other man-made nonsense, an often heavy metaphor for fear of the future. These movies are also called eco-horror for this reason: Frogs (1972) sees swamp creatures strike back at a polluter (but no frog actually kills), while the classic Ozploitation Long weekend (1978) sees a couple on a secluded beach being punished by local wildlife, apparently for the crime of bringing their domestic drama into the bush. that of John Frankenheimer Prophecy (1979) sees its casting, including Rocky‘s Talia Shire, threatened by a hideous beast who turns out to be a mutant bear, while The deep blue sea (1999) and its consequences may seem Jaws– look alike at first glance, but their creatures being genetically engineered sharks for the size of the brain places them in the camp of “atomic animals”.
But these categories are loose and rather permeable, and the key to animal attack movies is that they are largely based on the animal in question acting in a way that no animal would ever do. . Sometimes we give a reason, whether it is an infection (Cujo, 1983), motivation (Jaws: revenge, 1987, which postulates that a shark may not only want revenge, but will travel to obtain it) or simply be out of its environment and safe from ecological pressures (the spiders of the 1990s Arachnophobia are simply a hitherto unknown species doing its job in Smalltown USA). But generally, filmmakers rely only on the ignorance of the public; wolves at Joe Carnahan Grey (2011) are about as realistic as the killer bees of Swarm (1978) – and yes, even shark predation in Jaws are about as likely as those of The birds.
And yet it still works on a primitive level, because no matter how sophisticated we get, part of our inherited monkey brain is convinced that we will end our lives with a flash of teeth and a throaty growl, being part of the little one. -full lunch of a creature. As long as people are afraid of being eaten, bitten, stung, or otherwise shipped by our fellow animals in the animal kingdom, these movies will keep coming.
Thug Airs at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, October 7 on NITV. It will air on SBS On Demand after it airs.
The spiders will air at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 9 on NITV.