10 Crazy Animal B-Movies Worth Way More Attention Than Sharknado

If you're going to make an "animal attack!" movie, there are two ways to go: you can take the "serious" route and try to emulate at least a fraction of the cool class and calm intensity of Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975), or you can plant your tongue firmly within your cheek and try to be silly and scary at the same time. One would argue that the former approach is decidedly more difficult to pull off than the latter, and that you need only to switch over to Syfy for proof. That's where you'll find all the Crocosauruses, the Giant Octopi, and of course the Sharknadoes: frequently chintzy and sometimes willfully bad movies that ask you not to play along with a silly premise, but to actually laugh at the ineptitude being splattered across the screen.

With that in mind, let's shine a small spotlight on some of the crazier animal B-movies that, while frequently quite silly, all strive to be seen as legitimate comedic thrillers; films that ask to be laughed with, not at.

1. Squirm (1976)

Squirm, the directorial debut of Jeff Lieberman—a low-key horror hero who went on to helm Blue Sunshine (1978), Just Before Dawn (1981), and Satan's Little Helper (2004)—is about a small Georgia town that finds itself overrun by electrified, carnivorous earthworms. Yes, they pour out of shower heads, flood cellars, and get into the food supply. It's all pretty gross.

Although frequently quite straight-faced, Squirm seems to get a bit more silly and self-deprecating as the worm feast lurches on, plus you'll get to see some great early work from FX master Rick Baker, a few wonderfully over-the-top acting performances, and more worms than you'd ever want to experience in real life.

2. Piranha (1978)

When it comes to filmmakers who love movies, you simply won't find anyone like the genre-blendin', fun-lovin' child-at-heart known as Joe Dante. Long before he gave us matinee classics like The Howling (1981), Innerspace (1987), and both of the undeniably awesome Gremlins movies (1984 & 1990), Dante was hired by the legendary Roger Corman to do something kinda, sorta just like Jaws.

Fortunately the director was way too creative to construct just another tiresome rip-off. Backed by a clever screenplay by John Sayles, in which ravenous fish invade a summer resort, Piranha is clearly inspired by Jaws (and its massive financial success) but also has its own distinctly satirical edge. It's arguably the best of the Jaws copycats, specifically because it's already poking some fun at the genre's various tropes, themes, and cliches. Plus it's got some memorably creepy kills.

3. Prophecy (1979)

It would be an understatement to call the late John Frankenheimer an eclectic filmmaker, but it seems that the director of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), and Grand Prix (1966) had a little trouble tackling the "animal attack!" sub-genre back in 1979. Although clearly intended as a dead-serious statement about pollution and the plight of Native Americans, Prophecy is a bit too stone-faced for its own good, and the result is an earnest but goofy monster movie in which an impressive cast is left wandering around in a forest while a freakish mutated bear picks them off one by one.

While the set-up is a bit slow, and the screenplay by David Seltzer (The Omen) often takes itself way too seriously, it's still sort of fun to see a basic B-level monster movie that was put together by Paramount, Frankenheimer, and a cast that includes Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Richard Dysart, and Armand Assante. Also there's a death scene involving a sleeping bag that you simply must see to adequately disbelieve.

4. Alligator (1980)

Although director Lewis Teague would go on to direct a considerably more intense killer animal flick with 1983's Cujo, it's the weird wit and sardonic tone of 1980's Alligator that elevate it beyond most movies of its ilk. Like Piranha, Alligator is both a full-bore nature-run-amok horror flick and also sly parody of horror movies in which nature runs amok, which only makes sense since both films were written by screenwriting demigod Sayles (he also wrote 1981's The Howling).

In addition to its colorful balance of nasty horror and wise-ass humor, Alligator also boasts some pretty decent special effects and an acting ensemble that includes Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Dean Jagger, and Henry Silva having a great time in the "Quint" role. Keep your eyes peeled for the infamous swimming pool sequence, which inspired nightmares in at least a million pre-teens throughout the 1980s.

5. Roar (1981)

Although best known for her work in a movie about killer birds, Tippi Hedren should also be remembered for producing a film that required her to live alongside wild lions for the better part of a decade. Although all but forgotten these days (though it's about to get a re-release), Roar was relatively notorious for being a monumental flop at the box office—but it's easily one of the most insane films you'll ever see.

Produced by Hedren and her then-husband/thoroughly inept writer-director Noel Marshall, and starring all of their kids (including a young Melanie Griffith), Roar is a virtually plotless mish-mash of barely-connected sequences in which the filmmakers frolic, romp, and wrestle with a wild menagerie of lions and tigers and elephants. (Oh my.) Despite some beautiful cinematography, Roar frequently feels like a horror film that thinks it's a family film. The combination of good intentions, (mostly) bad filmmaking, and outrageously misguided tenacity make Roar one of cinema's most WTF!-worthy films.

6. Slugs (1988)

In the annals of Spanish cinema history, Jean Piquer Simón is a true original, as evidenced by this wildly unpredictable tale of garden slugs who suddenly turn homicidal. Of course it would be absurd to spin this type of yarn with a straight face, and Slugs does not disappoint in the over-the-top department.

Not only does the film offer the obvious threat—that being "slugs that eat people"—but it also features some truly disgusting moments involving slug salads, exploding heads, and all sorts of random carnage that has no logical place in this type of movie, but sure is fun to witness all the same. 

7. Man's Best Friend (1993)

Written and directed by John Lafia (Child's Play 2) and starring Ally Sheedy, Lance Henriksen, and a genetically-modified Tibetan Mastiff, Man's Best Friend plays a little bit like 1986's Short Circuit (which also starred Sheedy), only instead of a sweet-natured robot with a crush, the plot centers on a super-smart, super-strong, and frequently ferocious mega-dog who escapes from a lab, befriends a nice woman, and quickly starts eating people left and right.

The humor stems from a clever skewering of dog-related clichés and a slyly satirical tone that pops up in between moments of canine-related carnage. Man's Best Friend might not be the best killer dog movie you'll come across, but it might just be the most (intentionally) amusing.

8. Willard (2003)

Film buffs love to scream about how remakes are always inferior to the original film. Until you mention something great like The Fly (1986) or something good like Glen Morgan's stylishly nasty reboot of the (not very good) 1971 rat-laden Willard. Then they'll concede that, OK, sometimes remakes aren't all that bad.

What is it that elevates Willard beyond the trappings of a typical remake? Its dark sense of humor, fantastic Shirley Walker musical score, some nifty rodent-related visual effects, a supremely villainous R. Lee Ermey, and (of course) an admirably weird—but also sort of touching—performance from the patently unique Crispin Glover. The 1970s were rife with "misfit strikes back" horror movies (the original Willard even predates Carrie, which is sort of the template for this type of horror tale), but this unexpectedly clever remake adds a welcome dash of dark humor, which makes the admittedly bizarre premise feel just a little more accessible.

9. Black Sheep (2006)

Now here's a perfect example of a movie that strikes a balance between horror and humor: obviously it'd be impossible to make a "serious" movie about man-eating sheep, but that doesn't mean you have to deliver something overtly broad, stupid, or sloppily made. In fact, the New Zealand import known as Black Sheep was impressive enough to earn itself a spot in the Toronto Film Festival's prestigious "Midnight Madness" slate.

Writer-director Jonathan King strikes a great balance between character-based humor, sheep-related lunacy, and enough over-the-top gore to keep any horror fan appeased, but what works best about Black Sheep is its self-mocking tone and energetic presentation. It's all very silly, of course, but it's also very well made, and it stands as a great example of how to go broad, silly, and even ridiculous—without skimping on quality or treating viewers like imbeciles.

10. Big Ass Spider! (2013)

Although frequently (and erroneously) lumped in with junk-drawer movies like Mega Shark and Dinocroc, this low-budget, high-energy giant spider romp is actually an admirably on-point homage to a sub-genre that spawned The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), and the still-fantastic Arachnophobia (1990). (If you haven't seen Arachnophobia, queue that one up immediately.) And feel free to toss Eight Legged Freaks (2002) onto the list as well.

Although obviously broad and frequently silly, Big Ass Spider! is also a B-movie in which a surprisingly witty cast tries to save Los Angeles from—you guessed it—a big ass spider invasion. And while it certainly shows a few budgetary constraints and typical low-budget glitches, Big Ass Spider! still earns a lot of points for asking the audience to laugh with its goofy antics, but never at them. Which is the main the difference between low-rent pop culture "product" and an actual "movie." (Also, the spider FX are really cool.)

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Pop Culture
What Would It Cost to Operate a Real Jurassic Park?
Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. and Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC.
Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. and Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC.

As the Jurassic Park franchise has demonstrated, trapping prehistoric monsters on an island with bite-sized tourists may not be the smartest idea (record-breaking box office numbers aside). On top of the safety concerns, the cost of running a Jurassic Park would raise its own set of pretty pricey issues. Energy supplier E.ON recently collaborated with physicists from Imperial College London to calculate how much energy the fictional attraction would eat up in the real world.

The infographic below borrows elements that appear in both the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World films. One of the most costly features in the park would be the aquarium for holding the massive marine reptiles. To keep the water heated and hospitable year-round, the park would need to pay an energy bill of close to $3 million a year.

Maintaining a pterosaur aviary would be an even more expensive endeavor. To come up with this cost, the researchers looked at the yearly amount of energy consumed by the Eden Project, a massive biome complex in the UK. Using that data, they concluded that a structure built to hold winged creatures bigger than any bird alive today would add up to $6.6 million a year in energy costs.

Other facilities they envisioned for the island include an egg incubator, embryo fridge, hotel, and emergency bunker. And of course, there would be electric fences running 24/7 to keep the genetic attractions separated from park guests. In total, the physicists estimated that the park would use 455 million kilowatt hours a year, or the equivalent of 30,000 average homes. That annual energy bill comes out to roughly $63 million.

Keep in mind that energy would still only make up one part of Jurassic Park's hypothetical budget—factoring in money for lawsuits would be a whole different story.

Map of dinosaur park.
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Comics
20 Things You Might Not Know About Garfield
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Everyone’s favorite lazy, lasagna-loving cat made his debut 40 years ago, but Garfield is still just as popular today. The comic strip spawned a TV show plus a number of video games, feature films, books, and, of course, holiday specials—not to mention one very memorable car window craze. We sat down with Garfield creator Jim Davis to nail down a solid list of 20 things you might not know about the wisecracking feline.

1. JIM DAVIS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO FOCUS THE STRIP ON JON.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I ran some early ideas at a local paper,” Jim Davis tells Mental Floss, “to see how I felt about it and I called the strip Jon. It was about him, but he had this wise cat who, every time, came back zinging him. He always had the great payoff. At the time, I worked for T.K. Ryan—the cartoonist for Tumbleweeds—and I showed it to him and told him how every time I got to the punch line the cat zings him. And T.K. said, 'Well, what does that tell you, Jim?'" he laughs. “The strip must be about the cat. Go with it.”

2. JON WAS A CARTOONIST IN THE VERY FIRST COMIC STRIP, BUT IT WAS NEVER REALLY MENTIONED AGAIN.

“I didn’t want to tread on the fact that Jon’s a cartoonist because my biggest fear was getting a little too inside," Davis says. "That it would be a little too easy for me to write. I didn’t want to lose the readers just for my own enjoyment, or for a handful of peers. Also, I purposely gave him a job right off the top for the reason that The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet never explained what Ozzie did for a living. Nobody ever knew because he was always in the house with Harriet and Ricky and David. Just hanging around. So I thought I would give Jon a job right off the top to avoid being asked what he does for a living in interviews.”

3. GARFIELD WAS NAMED AFTER DAVIS'S GRANDFATHER, JAMES A. GARFIELD DAVIS ...

... who was named after President James A. Garfield. That’s quite a connection. Now just imagine a fat, wisecracking, lasagna-eating cat as the President of the United States of America. (Sounds like a dead-ringer for William Howard Taft!)

4. GARFIELD IS SET IN DAVIS'S HOMETOWN OF MUNCIE, INDIANA, BUT THAT'S ALSO MOSTLY LEFT UNSAID.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I would like for readers in Sydney, Australia to think that Garfield lives next door,” Davis says. “Dealing with eating and sleeping, being a cat, Garfield is very universal. By virtue of being a cat, really, he’s not really male or female or any particular race or nationality, young or old. It gives me a lot more latitude for the humor for the situations.” The farm that Davis grew up on reportedly had 25 cats, several of which he based the Garfield character on.

5. DAVIS MAINTAINS COMPLETE CONTROL OVER GARFIELD'S FINAL PRODUCT, BUT HE NO LONGER DRAWS THE DAILY COMIC STRIP.

“I’m sitting here working on the writing right now,” he says. “I see gags and I work with assistants on the strip and stuff like that. We do roughs and it all filters through me so that it has one voice. We all get together occasionally in the same room and draw and work on shapes of fingers and gestures and expressions and things like that so that if any one of us draws it, you can’t tell which one did it.”

6. HE REGRETS AT LEAST ONE LICENSED GARFIELD ITEM.

According to Slate, Garfield merchandise brings in $750 million to $1 billion annually. Davis’s creation has been adapted and licensed more times than anyone could probably count, and of all of those items, there's one that Davis isn't thrilled with. “A few years ago there was a Zombie Garfield,” he says. “It was really gnarly and I thought, 'Oh, this will be fun.' So I did it and it sold okay. It was really interesting. But then I looked at it later and I go, ‘It did nothing for the character’s advancement.’ I figured I just did it because it was cool and everybody was doing it at the time. I just didn’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling after doing it. But those T-shirts go away," he laughs.

7. GARFIELD HOLDS THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR BEING THE WORLD'S MOST WIDELY SYNDICATED COMIC STRIP.

Garfield is syndicated in more than 2500 newspapers and journals. The cat also has more than 16 million fans on Facebook. That’s one seriously popular feline.

8. GARFIELD'S CHARACTER DESIGN HAS CHANGED MANY TIMES OVER THE YEARS.

There's one constant, though: The fat cat has always been—and will always be—fat. “If he lost weight, that would effectively end Garfield as we know it,” Davis says. “Garfield sends a healthy message in that he’s not perfect. He knows that and he’s cool with that. He’s happy with himself. If everybody were, there would probably be fewer disorders of all natures. He’s not perfect. In fact, he’s the imperfection in all of us underneath. I think that makes him probably easier to identify with than a slim, athletic character in the comics.”

9. DAVIS REALLY ENJOYED SCARING KIDS WITH GARFIELD'S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE.

"It was such a challenge to try to think of something that could be scary, but fortunately we got to work with animation—we could marry scary sounds with scary music and scary images, and set the stage for a scary experience," Davis says. "Even down to the use of the actor’s voice. C. Lindsay Workman [who voices the old man that tells Garfield and Odie about the vengeful ghost pirates] was just a great character actor. I think we took our time to build to a scary scene where the ghost pirates invaded the house to look for the buried treasure. We tried to throw as many elements together as possible to create a situation where, at least for a few minutes, it could create a scary situation for the young viewers."

10. CREATING THE GHOST PIRATES IN THE HALLOWEEN TV SPECIAL WAS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.

“We did it in our own art department (here at Paws, Inc.) because we wanted to make it just right,” the Garfield creator told us. “It was done with a white, chalky pencil on a rough texture so that everything would be really grainy. Back then, we animated on real film, so in order to get that glow we did what’s called a double burn. We exposed the film twice to overexpose the ghosts, and that gave it that eerie glow. We were totally in control of the process and the results turned out very well.”

11. IN 2011, A FULL-LENGTH STAGE MUSICAL CALLED GARFIELD LIVE WAS STAGED IN MUNCIE.

The musical was supposed to start touring the United States in September 2010, but was delayed until January 2011, when it premiered in Muncie. Davis wrote Garfield Live, while Michael Dansicker and Bill Meade handled the music and lyrics.

12. DAVIS LOVED THE CASTING OF BILL MURRAY AS THE VOICE OF GARFIELD IN 2004'S GARFIELD: THE MOVIE.


Muncie Magazine

“It was because of Bill Murray’s attitude [that he was cast],” Davis tells us. “It wasn’t really so much his voice. It was the fact that he embodies the attitude that Garfield has always displayed in the strip. Lorenzo [Music] obviously wasn’t a choice since he passed away years ago, and when the producers said, ‘Bill Murray would like to do the voice,’ I thought, ‘Oh, cool.’ My biggest concern about doing a CGI Garfield with live action was that people wouldn’t buy into the fact that this was our Garfield—the Garfield we’d known all these years. But I thought that as soon as they heard Bill Murray’s voice they’d get it. There will be that emotional tag going with his voice. That will establish the fact that, ‘Yes, this character has attitude.’”

13. THERE'S A GREAT LINK BETWEEN GARFIELD VOICE ACTOR LORENZO MUSIC AND BILL MURRAY.

Lorenzo Music provided the voice of Garfield in all of the cat’s TV specials from 1982 to 1991, as well as during the 1988 to 1994 run of Garfield and Friends. Music also provided the voice of Peter Venkman in The Real Ghostbusters. Murray, of course, played Venkman in the Ghostbusters films and would, in 2004, provide the voice of Garfield in Garfield: The Movie. “I didn’t know about the relationship with Ghostbusters until years later."

14. THE MACY'S PARADE ONCE CITED SHAMU THE WHALE AS THE PARADE'S LARGEST BALLOON, BUT DAVIS SAYS GARFIELD WAS LARGER.

“In the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, they had published that their biggest balloon ever, by volume of gas, was Shamu the Whale with over 18,000 cubic feet," Davis says. "The fact is that the Garfield balloon was filled with 18,907 cubic feet of helium. So we just confirmed that the Garfield balloon, in fact, was the largest one by volume of gas.”

15. THERE ARE ONLY THREE COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD WHERE GARFIELD IS NOT NAMED GARFIELD.

“In Sweden, Garfield is known as Gustav,” the Garfield creator says. “There are only three countries in the whole world where he’s not Garfield and they’re all in the Nordics.” The other two are Norway and Finland.

16. THE STUCK ON YOU GARFIELD PLUSH WITH SUCTION CUPS WAS THE RESULT OF A MISUNDERSTANDING.


Amazon

In the 1990s, it wasn't unusual to see a number of cars with little Garfield plushes stuck to the windows with suction cups. But that wasn't the original design—or the intended use. “I designed the first Stuck on You doll with Velcro on the paws, thinking that people would stick it on curtains,” Davis says. “It came back as a mistake with suction cups. They didn’t understand the directions. So I stuck it on a window and said, 'If it’s still there in two days, we’ll approve this.' Well, they were good suction cups and we released it like that. It never occurred to me that people would put them on cars.”

17. THE GARFIELD COMIC STRIP BOOKS HAVE BEEN HUGE HITS.

“The 11 Garfield comic strip books have all been number one on the New York Times Bestseller List,” Davis says. “At one time there were seven on the list simultaneously. At that point, they changed the way the list was done because other publishing houses were complaining that their authors couldn’t get on the list because of Garfield. Garfield at Large (1980) was number one for two solid years. Over 100 weeks.” The title of every compilation book is a reference to either food or Garfield’s weight.

18. STEVEN SPIELBERG AND STEPHEN KING ARE AMONG THE MANY CELEBRITIES WHO OWN ORIGINAL GARFIELD STRIPS.

They both contacted Davis personally for the strips; the cartoonist happily obliged.

19. DESPITE GARFIELD BEING INSANELY POPULAR FOR DECADES, DAVIS IS STILL MOSTLY ANONYMOUS.


Muncie Magazine

“Being a cartoonist, you really enjoy a lot of anonymity,” he says. “You take a half-dozen of the biggest cartoonists and walk them down any street, nobody would notice them. They only know their characters. So I just hide behind Garfield. The only time anyone knows the name or spots me is if I’m out on book tour and I’m meant to do publicity. We don’t suffer any of the kind of attention problems that I think people do on TV or in movies. It’s not a big deal. I’m sitting here in the countryside of East Central Indiana, so it’s pretty quiet.”

20. DAVIS'S FATHER'S FAVORITE COMIC STRIP WASN'T GARFIELD.

Davis's father and namesake, who passed away in 2016, liked Garfield but preferred another comic strip: Beetle Bailey. “Nobody else knew that until today,” Davis tells us.

This article originally appeared in 2014.

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