Tag Archive: animal horror


Brute ForceI’m happy to announce that my book Brute Force: Animal Horror Movies has been published in hardcover and ebook editions by State University of New York Press.

It’s always been a wild world, with humans telling stories of killer animals as soon as they could tell stories at all. Movies are an especially popular vehicle for our fascination with fierce creatures.

In Brute Force, Dominic Lennard takes a close look at a range of cinematic animal attackers, including killer gorillas, sharks, snakes, bears, wolves, spiders, and even a few dinosaurs. Lennard argues that animal horror is not so much a focused genre as it is an impulse, tapping into age-old fears of becoming prey. At the same time, these films expose conflicts and uncertainties in our current relationship with animals. Movies considered include King KongJawsThe GreyThem!ArachnophobiaJurassic ParkSnakes on a PlaneAn American Werewolf in London, and many more. Drawing on insights from film studies, art history, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology, Brute Force is an engaging critical exploration—and appreciation—of cinema’s many bad beasts.

  • Brute Force is available now from Amazon and SUNY Press in hardcover and ebook versions. SUNY Press have made the introductory chapter (sans endnotes) available for free download; if you’d like to try it, click their link above, then “Read an excerpt” for PDF.

LENNARD_FIGURE

Other films discussed include:

The Reef (2010), Open Water (2004), Orca (1977), Bait 3D (2012), Sharknado (2013), Dark Age (1987), Black Water (2007), Rogue (2007), The Shallows (2016), Day of the Animals (1977), Grizzly (1976), The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), The Edge (1997), Them! (1954), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Phase IV (1974), Eight Legged Freaks (2002), Bug (2006), Godzilla (1954), The Fly (1958 and 1986), Jurassic World (2015), The Birds (1963), Wolfen (1980), Anaconda (1997), Venom (1981), The Thing (1983), Cujo (1983), Werewolf of London (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), The Howling (1981), Wolf (1994), Bad Moon (1996), Cat People (1942 and 1982), Ginger Snaps (2000), and more!

“The brilliance of Dominic Lennard’s Brute Force is not only that it is long overdue, but one didn’t realize it was due in the first place! Yet upon reflection and, of course, through Lennard’s engaging book, one realizes not only the ubiquity of animals in horror, but their utter centrality to so many classic horror films. In reading this, we can hear the distant rumble of footsteps of a genetically reborn Tyrannosaurus or the hurried pounding of our beloved Rover who has decided that he wants more than kibbles and bits for dinner—and we look mighty appetizing. ‘Groundbreaking’ is often overused, but in this case it truly fits.”

— Emeritus Professor David Desser, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 

DARK AGE (1987)
Dir. Arch Nicholson

Darkage1987poster.jpgCrocodilian chaos in Australia’s Northern Territory: When one particularly big brute starts snacking on humans, it’s up to wildlife ranger and conservationist Steve Harris (John Jarratt) to bring it to heel. With a sensible respect for the local wildlife, Steve wants to stop the killer croc while preventing a crew of mad hunters (eager for an excuse to indulge their bloodlust) from hitting the creeks for a pump-action killathon.

Aboriginal elders warn Steve that this ain’t no ordinary crocodile: In addition to its size, this creature is “proper old” and “wise,” they say.  He’s also a figure in their Dreaming and they refuse to participate in killing him. The initial attack is provoked by the incursions of racist poachers, and Dark Age carries a strong anti-colonial subtext, evoking a land stolen and its ecology ignored and degraded.

The largest reptile on earth, and with the gnarled look of a nasty dinosaur, the saltwater croc’s menace is wonderfully evoked with reference to its prehistoric origins (hence the film’s title), as well as its role in a timeless Aboriginal spirituality. In a nod to Jaws, the local bigwig (played by Home and Away veteran Ray Meagher) is concerned about tourism: Japanese investors set to build the town up mustn’t be scared off. 508Ultimately, Dark Age depicts an outback culture whose powerful players are in hot pursuit of modernization and money, trying to leave behind an indigenous historyand presentto which the creature is connected. The subtext comes on a little strong at one or two points, but amid numerous less imaginative Jaws-imitators it’s refreshing to see a film so brimming with ideas.

darkage_5609604f06a83The film’s score, heavy on the synth drums, is at times distractingly dated, and can’t always summon the intensity required (especially during a Jaws-like pursuit of the predator). The crocodile effects are also limited and sometimes log-like: one shot of the croc on the water’s surface seems to terminate because the model is slowly drifting off to the left. Shots of the brute in motion could have been livened up with some strategically edited and inserted stock footage. That aside, the film invests properly in its human drama, and tensions within the town (and culture more broadly) are played out through strong performances. As implied above, though, the film is perhaps most effective in its evocation of Australia as a kind of haunted land: a place with an ancient identity of which its white inhabitants are ignorant, but which nevertheless bursts violently forth from the past—and bites.  3.5 / 5

Review: Congo (1995)

T7QY2nwLJ5s.movieposterCONGO (1995)

Pulp adventure and primate horror—how could they miss? For a start, with dull/miscast characters and poorly orchestrated suspense sequences. The above aren’t the only types of film vying for expression either, and Congo struggles to set a tone that will juice the most out of such a patchwork of material. Hardly woeful—there are flashes of great potential here—but this gorilla-flick never gets up a full or frightening charge.  2.5  / 5