File under animal films: Classic creature movies

It was embarrassing, there’s no other way to spin it. On a recent Friday night, I was hunkered over my tablet like a kid studying for a quiz seeking answers to this question: Is (fill in the blank) an animal?

And that leads to your questions.

1) Shouldn’t an adult already know the answer?

2) Why would anyone research that in the first place?

Blame it on social media. I wanted to take part in one of those fun Twitter questions/polls, but was hesitant to give a “wrong” answer. The topic: movies with an animal in the title – no proper nouns allowed. So  “Lassie” was out, but “Reservoir Dogs” was in.

As a fan of creature horror movies, I had to participate. It would be a chance to draw attention to these entertaining movies.

“Tarantula,” one of my favs, came to mind first but was quickly shot down by doubt. A tarantula is a spider which comes from the arachnid family so does being an arachnid negate it from being an animal?

Once I thought about it, my mental capacity dropped to that of a preschooler. Doubts were everywhere as I questioned each movie title in my head.

“The Fly.” “Deadly Mantis.” “Black Scorpion.” “Attack of the Giant Leeches.” “Giant Gila Monster.” “Attack of the Crab Monsters.”

Is “The Fly” an insect, an animal or both?

What was an animal and what wasn’t? Is an insect solely an insect or an animal, too? I grew more embarrassed with each search, but kept going.

Well there’s a good reason for the confusion – the kingdom Animali is massive and includes mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, amphibians and fish for starters. As it turns out, many of my favorite horror movies are animal films. Victory was mine – and I was off to watch “Tarantula.”

If you’re wondering, here is the tweet that started it all with my final list. (With thanks to Classic Film TV Cafe (@classic_film) for letting me play along.)

Animal movies to watch

To continue the movie challenge, here are some fun B-movie animal films. My list doesn’t include “big names” like “The Fly” and “Cat People” because you probably already know them. Though I usually concentrate on classic films, I snuck in a newer one, too.

An underwater cave holds victims in “Attack of the Giant Leeches.”

 “Attack of the Giant Leeches” (1959). A moonshiner’s story of a swamp creature and a growing number of mysterious disappearances lead a doctor, his daughter and her boyfriend/game warden on a search for the truth. All expenses were spared in this low-budget film made over eight days. In the public domain, the print I’ve seen is very worn, dark and scratchy but  watchable. Still, I find the underwater cave scenes creepy. Executive producer is Roger Corman; produced by his younger brother, Gene. The MST3K guys had fun with it, too.

Multiple giant scorpions attack a train in “The Black Scorpion.”

“The Black Scorpion.” (1957). Mr. B-movie Reliable Richard Denning is a scientist researching a volcanic eruption in Mexico only to learn it has unleashed a slew of giant scorpions. I enjoy many aspects of this film: the multiple scorpions, the fact that they are giant (not just oversized), talk of the “demon bull” and the use of a high-pitched sound to signal the creatures. While B-horror often has deaths off-screen, this is memorable for multiple shots of people meeting their deaths in a scorpion’s claws.  Bonus: Willis O’Brien (“King Kong”) was the special effects supervisor.

The lovely Barbara Shelley learns of her tragic fate in “The Cat Girl.” Note the stuffed cats with prey in their mouths behind her.

“Cat Girl” (1957). This American International Pictures film is an unofficial “remake” of the Val Lewton 1942 classic “Cat People.” Barbara Shelley is the newly wed Leonora who is summoned to her uncle’s mansion where she learns of the family curse involving the leopard caged in his study. (The room is filled with stuffed cats of all sizes – each with a dead prey in its mouth.) Leonora is reunited with a past love (Robert Ayres), now a psychiatrist. Though he doesn’t return her feelings, he does treat her growing anxiety, putting himself and his wife in danger.

A giant mantis awakens from a cold sleep in “Deadly Mantis.”

“Deadly Mantis” (1957). A volcanic explosion in the South Seas causes the ice to melt in Greenland, unleashing the title creature buried in ice for millions of years. This is a cool monster, but unfortunately there is a lot of exposition including a lengthy opening sequence involving a map and lessons in radar. Don’t let that stop you from watching. Craig Stevens and William Hopper star with Alix Talton.

The title creature happens upon a barn of dancing teens in “Giant Gila Monster.”

 “Giant Gila Monster” (1959). Two teens are among those who go missing in a small Texas town, with smashed-up cars the only clue in this interesting hybrid horror/rock ‘n’ roll/hot rod film. Our hero is young Chase Winstead (played by Don Sullivan) a good, hard-working kid who repairs cars to earn money for his little sister’s leg braces. He sings on the side, too, which comes in handy for the big barn dance. The title animal is large enough to derail a train on a trestle bridge. The musical score is almost solely the gila’s rhythmic musical motif.

The title tells you everything in “Sharktopus.”

 “Sharktopus” (2010). Part of the Syfy channel’s infamous shark programming, this is my favorite film title ever because it’s so darn clever and you know exactly what you’re getting. Though a shark is considered an animal, this could break the rules since a sharktopus isn’t real, but it’s super cool and did spawn its own franchise. Plus it’s produced by Roger Corman and his wife, Julie. Eric Roberts stars.

The giant title creature is ready to step over a house in “Tarantula.”

“Tarantula.” This is a well-known B-horror film, but it’s my favorite so I’m listing it here. It’s the greatest spider movie ever and the stuff of my early childhood nightmares. (Honestly, the movie still gives me nightmares.) A well-meaning scientist’s experiment to stop world hunger results in a tarantula that grows to the size of a house. Think about that. John Agar and Mara Corday co-star.

More to read: “Tarantula” or why I’m afraid to look out my bedroom window

 

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