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Survival of the fittest: Hollywood's 10 wildest man vs. beast movies – The A.V. Club

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In the new movie Beast, Idris Elba fights for his life—and the lives of his two young daughters—against a ferocious, man-eating, and very hungry lion. The trailer alone has people recoiling in fear. Of course, this is far from the first man vs. beast battle in Hollywood history. Here are 10 creature face-off films with real teeth (or, in one case, tusks).
2 / 12
There are plenty of great kills in Lake Placid (1999), which earned its R-rating and then some. Steve Miner, whose other horror outings include Friday The 13th Part 2, Friday The 13th Part III, House, Warlock, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, and Day Of The Dead, knows his way around dismembering people. To be fair, the best scene in Lake Placid is probably one in which dear, sweet, psychotic Betty White beckons the film’s monstrous 30-foot-long crocodile to come and get its supper—a cow that gets devoured in a glorious wide shot. But among its human victims, we’ll go with a scene on a boat where Deputy Burke (Jed Rees) leans over the edge and loses his head to the croc while poor Bridget Fonda screams in terror. It’s an impeccably shot sequence built on the misdirection that Fonda or Bill Pullman or Oliver Platt will actually be croc food. Meanwhile, anyone remember who wrote Lake Placid? It was none other than esteemed television writer David E. Kelley!
3 / 12
Cujo is the sweetest St. Bernard on Earth—at least until he’s bitten by a rabid bat and goes bonkers. Lewis Teague, who’d previously directed the low-budget man-vs-beastie gem Alligator, directed Cujo, the 1983 big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. The final showdown between protective mom Donna (Dee Wallace) and Cujo is solid, but predictable. More satisfying is the sequence in which Cujo—bloodied, face oozing gunk—attacks Donna and her son Tad (Danny Pintauro of Who’s The Boss?!!) as they sit helplessly, out in the open, in their broken-down Ford Pinto. Cujo snarls and snaps nastily as he sticks his head through the car’s window and repeatedly rams the car. It’s a violent, claustrophobic sequence that Wallace and Pintauro play to the hilt, which was pulled off with the help of several specially trained dogs, a mechanical pooch, and even a stuntman in a canine suit. And you’ve got to love the kicker line of dialogue: “It’s not a monster,” Donna says, trying and failing spectacularly to calm Tad. “It’s just a doggie.”
4 / 12
Alexandre Aja went balls to the wall with Piranha 3D, his 2010 remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 Piranha, delivering a delirious mix of horror and comedy that’s exemplified by the scene in which kid-hating, coke-snorting, porn-making, world-class asshole Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) finds himself in the water, gushing blood, as a swarm of piranha devour his body. With the help of a nubile babe, Danni (Kelly Brook), he drags himself onto a boat—and we get the big reveal. He’s been chewed to the bone from his waist down, and Danni uses an oar to swat the still-eating piranha off him. O’Connell then delivers the line of the movie: “They took my penis!” Gory and twisted and funny as hell, Derrick’s demise is intercut with Jessica Szohr frantically dodging piranha on the boat itself, while a couple of little children take it all in. And everything, including Derrick’s dick floating in the water, is all in glorious 3D!
5 / 12
Moviegoers have been treated to lots of movies pitting man against arachnids and their genetic cousins, including Kingdom Of The Spiders, Eight-Legged Freaks, Big Ass Spiders, Lavalantula, and Spider-Man, of course. But if we’re talking about the most memorable movie moments/scenes, we’re team Arachnophobia. Frank Marshall, making his directing debut, never quite decides if his movie is a horror tale or a comedy—Disney billed it as a “thrill-omedy,” but he builds tension in scene after scene as an old man puts on his slippers, a football player dons his helmet, until eventually, spiders burst through a bathroom sink, pop up in a toilet, and terrorize a teen as she showers. But best and creepiest of all is the final sequence in which Dr. Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels), who’s spent most of Arachnophobia cowering at the sight of spiders, takes on masses of them in the cellar of his home. Marshall shot most of the scene in the dark, in a tight set, with real and fake spiders creeping along, and he captures Jennings’ fear beautifully, including the a-ha moment in which Jennings realizes, “Oh shit, I’m in the goddamn nest.”
6 / 12
Bears, like spiders, are a big-screen staple and they’ve served as particularly formidable antagonists in Grizzly and The Edge. But nothing, and this bears repeating, nothing beats Backcountry. Young couple Jen (Missy Peregrym) and Alex (Jeff Roop) head into the woods for an adventure he plans to cap with a marriage proposal. But when he injures his leg, suddenly he’s bear bait. The bear attacks Jen and Alex in their tent, clawing at them, baring its teeth. Alex can barely fight back. Jen fires bear spray at it, but that only briefly holds the bear off. It then snags Alex, yanks him out of the tent, and eats him until the anguished screaming subsides. Director Adam MacDonald gives viewers time to know and like Jen and Jeff before putting them through seven minutes of hell. The scene, realized with a real bear and puppets, delivers a master class in ratcheting tension. MacDonald shot it hand-held in a Blair Witch/shaky-cam style with a mix of close-ups and wide shots, and from inside and outside the tent. And he doesn’t stint on the gore, as the camera captures Jeff’s mangled face and then his gutted, bloodied body.
7 / 12
The Ghost And The Darkness, Stephen Hopkins’ 1996 adaptation of the non-fiction book The Man-Eaters Of Tsavo by John Henry Patterson, pits Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer against the title characters, a pair of male lions that terrorized workers in and around Tsavo, Kenya, in the late 1800s. There’s a cool scene in which the Ghost and the Darkness—those are the lions’ names—attack Douglas and Kilmer, and another well-executed sequence in which the lions massacre a makeshift hospital. But the man-vs-beast money shot comes at the very end. Douglas is dead and so is one of the lions. The surviving lion chases Kilmer, who climbs up a tree. He tosses a rifle which flies through the air—in slo-mo, natch—and hits the ground. Kilmer jumps down from the tree, rolls towards the rifle, and kills the lion just before it can kill him. There’s no silly celebration, just a sigh of relief. It’s exciting stuff, nimbly cut together, and complemented by sound editing so good it won an Oscar.
8 / 12
Luis Llosa knew his way around a good action scene, as he’d proven with Sniper and The Specialist. And he delivered a bunch of them in the surprise hit Anaconda, in which the biggest fucking snake you’ve ever seen attacks the crew (Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Kari Wuhrer, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson) of a documentary being shot in the Amazon. Supposedly helping the crew is a jerk of a snake hunter named Paul (Jon Voight). Wilson dies a pretty good death, squeezed by the snake and pulled into the water, but Voight’s demise is one for the ages. The snake is coiled around Lopez and Cube, who are already tied up (by Voight, using them as bait), constricting tighter and tighter. Voight shoots at it, and it chases him up a ladder, which then comes crashing down. The snake, with an assist from Cube, coils around Voight. And here’s where the fun starts. Llosa goes in tight on Voight’s face nearly popping, then to a close-up of the pissed-off snake, then back to Voight’s head, then to Lopez and Cube, and to an overhead shot of the snake unhinging its mouth and closing in on Voight’s head. Then, Llosa delivers one of the nuttier shots ever, as we’re now inside the snake’s mouth! Finally, we get a wide shot of the snake devouring Voight whole. And it just keeps going, as the snake regurgitates a venom-mutilated Voight … who winks at Lopez before finally dying. It’s five solid minutes of bravura, batshit-crazy filmmaking (realized in large part with practical effects vs CG).
9 / 12
Everyone around John Ottway (Liam Neeson) is dead, picked off one by one by wolves after their plane crash-lands in the wilds of Alaska. Ottway, in the closing moments of Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, realizes he’s sitting in the middle of a wolves’ den, with the alpha wolf eyeballing him. It’s been Ottway’s job to kill wolves, and now they’re ready to return the favor. But this is Liam Neeson, and he won’t go down without a fight, right? Right. Though, wisely, we don’t see the fight. Carnahan shows Ottway making his peace, flashes back to memories of his wife (a key reveal) and childhood, lets him quote a poem (“Once more into the fray/Into the last fight I’ll ever know/Live and die on this day/Live and die on this day”), and depicts him grasping a knife and strapping broken mini-bottles of liquor onto his hands. Then, Ottway’s eyes narrow, he begins to lunge forward, and… fade to black. It’s a stunning final scene, unrushed, elegiac, and given added emotional heft by Marc Streitenfeld’s spot-on score. Truth be told, though, we’re still not sure what to make of The Grey’s short post-credits scene.
10 / 12
Russell Mulcahy made his feature directing debut with the Australian horror flick Razorback. Yes, it’s about a massive murderous pig. Two scenes vie for best-of honors. The opening sequence starts with an older man sweetly putting his grandson to sleep in a crib when the boar wreaks havoc. It’s fast and fiery and violent, and Mulcahy immerses you in the explosive action. Even more powerful is the grand finale. The film’s central character, an American named Carl (Gregory Harrison), has already contended with the death of his wife, the actions of two local jerks, and attacks by wild pigs and the killer boar, when it all boils down to a battle between Carl and the raging razorback in a cannery filled with hanging animal carcasses. Carl draws the creature onto a conveyor belt, which deposits it into a meat grinder, where it screeches horrifically as it’s pulverized. The oversized pig is a practical wonder, and Mulcahy doesn’t stint on the gore, thereby making the film’s ending, as noted, even better than its exhilarating beginning.
11 / 12
We thought for a moment about going with the insane scene from Deep Blue Sea in which a genetically engineered shark snuffs out Samuel L. Jackson in the middle of a rousing speech. Jackson was billed as the star, and his death left the audience stunned. The gasps were audible. But if we’re talking sharks, we’ve got to go with Jaws. And if we’re going with Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic, we’ve got to highlight the intense “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” sequence. Sure, there are more visceral scenes. Yes, the kills and jump scares are thrilling. But this scene prefaces most of what’s to come. There’s the priceless interaction between Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), Quint (Robert Shaw), and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) on the boat. Brody tosses chum into the water, prompting the shark to spring into view right in front of him. Shocked and silent, cigarette still in his mouth, Brody walks backward toward Quint and utters the famous line. The shark then swims toward the boat, accompanied by John Williams’ iconic dun-dun-dun-dun score, and circles the boat, letting Hooper, Quint, and Brody size up the enemy: 25 feet long and three tons. The scene, like the whole movie, is sublime.

12 / 12


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