For most people, when they hear the term “creature feature”, a few things come to mind. Who could forget the classic image of Roy Schneider going head-to-head with a massive great white in Spielberg’s 1975 classic Jaws? Or how about Tippi Hedren’s frightening struggle in the attic in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds? These films left an impact on humanity and our relationship with our non-human counterparts, setting the standards quite high for other films attempting to successfully capture this terror. Although nothing can be as iconic as the classics that precede them, these films are certainly worth mention, and, unless you are as avid a creature-feature seeker as we, you may have missed them over the years.
1. The Reef (2010)
When it comes to creature features, sharks tend to dominate, and for good reason. Those of us who relish in the terrifying world that these magnificent toothy creatures create crave a well-made shark film. With so many poorly executed CGI-dominated shark films that seem to pop up much too often, it is truly a breath of fresh air to see movies such as 2010’s Australian horror film The Reef. Based on a true story, The Reef delivers a sense of realism that makes the audience feel the pain and extreme terror that the five main characters undergo after their boat is capsized, forcing them to swim to safety in the dangerous waters of The Great Barrier Reef.
The writing and directing by Andrew Traucki combined with the superb performances by the cast not only keep you on the edge of your seat, but really make you feel for these characters as they look death in its black, menacing eyes. The shark shots are excellent and not overdone, but used appropriately to create a suspenseful atmosphere, leaving the characters and audience alike anxiety-stricken during the occasional placid moments of the movie. They know—as do we—that if the waters are calm, they won’t be for long.
2. Backcountry (2014)
This Canadian horror film, written and directed by Adam MacDonald, will make you think twice about embarking on your next camping trip. When a young couple, Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym), set off for a thrill-seeking adventure in the wilderness, they aspire to leave all technology and modern advancements—including cell phones and even a park map—back at their vehicle as they enter the vast depths of the woods. As it turns out, the two encounter more thrills than they bargained for as a true man vs. nature scenario unfolds when they encounter a vicious black bear.
Backcountry succeeds in generating suspense and sheer terror, with grisly and unsettling images that instill a primal fear in the audience. The use of sound effects—combined with excellent performances, most notably by Missy Peregrym—create an unbelievable sense of realism to the point that we almost forget we are watching a film as opposed to someone’s real-life trauma. The movie explores mankind’s arrogance when it comes to taking on the elements of nature, and frighteningly depicts just how ruthless mother nature can be.
3. Frozen (2010)
No, this is not the famous lighthearted Disney film by the same name, although about an hour into the movie you’ll find yourself wishing it was. While 2010’s American horror film Frozen is not a creature feature in the traditional sense—where the creature is the main focal point—it is most definitely an accurate and frightening depiction of the human struggle for survival. Much like Backcountry, the film focuses primarily on the unrelenting elements of nature itself, with the creature acting as a perfect ornament to really up the scare factor.
Three friends are having a fun weekend snowboarding at a New England ski resort, until they push their luck too far by asking an attendant to let them on the slopes after hours. Unbeknownst to them, a storm is coming in and the resort is forced to shut down, leaving the three friends stranded at the top of the ski lift.
Although the first half of the film focuses on the three characters stranded in one spot, there is never a dull moment as they rapidly grow more desperate, terrified, and, well, frozen. The cast as well as writer/director Adam Green do an excellent job of conveying sympathy by giving each character a real sense of depth and humanity, so when the tension escalates and the three are faced with more obstacles—such as the hungry wolves directly below them—we feel for these people and have a genuine concern for their fate. A truly terrifying flick, Frozen will undoubtedly send chills down your spine.
4. Black Water (2007)
Imagine: trudging through dark, murky waters, unable to see the killer creatures that dwell below, although you know they’re there. As your heart pounds in your chest, you know it’s not a matter of if the creatures will strike, but when. And who. It is precisely this fear that Andrew Traucki, director of The Reef, explores as a group of people attempt to survive in the mangrove swamps of Australia after a crocodile overturns their boat.
Using many of the same tactics as he did for The Reef, Traucki conveys the pure intensity of human fear at its core as we follow a close-knit group who find themselves completely out of their element in an environment dominated by hungry crocs. Like The Reef, we find ourselves rooting for this likable group and biting our nails from the nonstop anguish and utter horror the film impresses upon us. Perhaps one of the best crocodile movies out there, Black Water is a suspenseful roller coaster of a film that will make you terrified to come into contact with the frightening reptiles it depicts.
5. Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)
What happens when a group of people on a quest for the fountain of youth find themselves stranded in the jungle amidst hundreds of enormous hungry snakes? Nothing good. It’s mating season, and the anacondas are larger than life and more vicious than ever in this sequel to the 1997 success.
Alright, so this movie has gotten a lot of heat for its use of CGI, at times bizarre dialogue, and improbable plot line. Having said that, I really like this movie. It packs more thrills and is an improvement to the original Anaconda—the characters are surprisingly likable and interesting, and the special effects and use of CGI are pretty decent. Many find fault with the fact that the snakes are inaccurately depicted in the Anaconda films, moving at lightening speed, towering in the air and overturning boats, acting more like the mythical Loch Ness Monster than actual anacondas. That may be true, but is this necessarily a bad thing? A lack of realism doesn’t have to make for a bad movie. Monsters such as Godzilla and King Kong have stood the test of time. Even Jaws is feared and revered despite the fact that the film’s toothy antagonist doesn’t act—or look—anything like a real great white shark.
The plot—albeit a little out there—isn’t terrible, and does a nice job of justifying the strength and size of these massive serpents. A group of researchers go on an expedition in hopes of finding a sacred flower, the blood orchid, which they believe will allow humans to live a longer and healthier life. Of course, everything that can go wrong does, as they soon find themselves lost in the immense, treacherous forests of Borneo. The group’s new mission is to survive and find their way out of the jungle before they fall to the mercy of its vehement monsters. This is no easy task, as it is mating season and the anacondas are plentiful and more bloodthirsty than ever.
All in all, this film may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is certainly worth a viewing for those willing to keep an open mind. What the film lacks in plausibility and artistic merit it definitely makes up for in entertainment value. Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid is a fine choice for any creature feature lover who knows not to take it too seriously and is just excited to go along for the ride.
Did your favorite creature feature make the list? What animal inspired horror films break away from the pact? Leave your comments and suggestions below, and be sure to follow Mr. and Mrs. Halloween for the best scares and latest Halloween trends!