When nature wants to strike down on man - via retribution for folly or just for the heck of it - one of its deadliest tactics is enlarging, or unleashing a prehistoric, gigantic variant of, an animal or insect. From the latest attack via those enormous worms in the TREMORS series, to earlier battles with Kongs (dad and son), ants, grasshoppers, gila monsters and, naturally, shrews, man's history is littered with scars from super-sized beasts. CINESCAPE has decided to take a look back at a smattering of the battles between man and giant beast, and while most retrospectives cover ten, well, this goes to eleven.
As a special addition, we've added a Beer Meter - that is, how many beers would it take for the viewer to see each opus as a four star film. (Note: the films are listed by year of release and not by quality.)
1) THEM! (1954), directed by Gordon Douglas
Beer Meter: Sober
From the man who brought you the immortal SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP-OFF, itself a tremendous rip-off of THE BIG HEAT, comes a tale so horrible, so terrifying, that its creatures could only be referred to by the ominous, nondescript name THEM! Actually, they're giant ants, a sad result of A-Bomb testing around New Mexico (soon to be called Dead Mexico if these ants get their way, that is if ants have a way). The solution to this problem? Team THE THING FROM ANOTHER PLANET (James Arness) up with Santa Claus (Edmund Gwenn) to kick monster ant butt - which they do. Notorious for actually being quite good as much as for scaring people from hanging out in sewers.
2) TARANTULA (1955), directed by Jack Arnold
Beer Meter: One
Leo G. Carroll is experimenting with artificial food that makes animals grow larger - same thing as when you eat Peeps. Naturally, a lab assistant who partakes of the stuff goes crazy and unleashes a monstrously sized Tarantula. This arachnid heads its way to town - probably not a conscious decision - and must be stopped! Will it be? Of course it will, but that won't stop you from watching and uttering the famous words, "Hey, that was Clint Eastwood," when the then-unknown thespian makes his brief appearance.
3) THE BLACK SCORPION (1957), directed by Edward Ludwig
Beer Meter: Four
As is wont to happen when a volcano erupts in a Mexican desert, giant scorpions are unleashed and make a move toward Mexico City. Willis O'Brien, of KING KONG fame, helps with the effects and demonstrates his vast knowledge of insect biology by having the scorpions drool. It's like looking at them under a microscope, but you don't have to cause they're huge!
4) THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957), directed by Nathan Juran
Beer Meter: Four
As the Artic is apparently the hot spot for giant prehistoric animals just waiting to thaw out and wreck havoc, it should come as no surprise that in 1957 one of those dreaded gigantic praying mantises you've read so much about in natural history texts broke free of its icy prison and headed for New York. And why not?! New York is one swinging town! Unfortunately, size does matter and the darn bug just can't help but - gasp - kill people and must be destroyed (hence the "deadly mantis" title and not the "friendly mantis"). Oh, if only giant bugs would learn to step more lightly...
5) BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), directed by Bert I. Gordon
Beer Meter: Six Pack
Poor Ludlow, Illinois. Thanks to radiation its grasshopper population has, well, gotten too big for their britches. As cities start to fall under the wrath of these pesky pests, only one man can save the day: Peter Graves. He prevents a last minute nuking of Chicago (damn) by figuring out how to lure these monsters away via a trick that was later utilized in the multiple Oscar winner THE SWARM. You just can't beat Bert I. Gordon when it comes to giant critters. However, you can beat him, and should, when it comes to those glorious 17 cent special effects. Take the wonderful scene in which the giant grasshoppers are shown crawling their way all over a photograph of Chicago - sometimes actually on a building, other times gracefully walking on air. There has never been another scene in film history to top that.
6) ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959), directed by Bernard L. Kowalski
Beer Meter: One
Thanks to atomic fallout from nearby rockets, the leeches in the Florida swamplands are, well, giant, which reveals a little-known leech secret: they use oxygen tanks to breath. Well, never mind that. Do mind the nasty little revenge fantasy of a jilted husband that gets one-upped from the original plan when his sleazy wife and her lover get sucked to death by humongous leeches. A nice and dark little number heightened by a tasty scene in which the leeches torment their unfortunate victims. Did James Cameron see this?
7) THE KILLER SHREWS (1959), directed by Ray Kellogg
Beer Meter: Six Pack
A man, on a secret island, experiments on shrews and the shrews get big, turning into dogs in fur coats with voracious appetites. Oh, the folly of it all. Not the best film ever made, no sir, not at all. James Best (a.k.a. the Duke boys' arch nemesis Sheriff Rosco - guge, guge, guge) stars. Enough said.
8) THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (1959), directed by Ray Kellogg
Beer Meter: Fifty
Rock music and a Giant Gila Monster - what could be better? When the hit (?!!) tunes are sung by Don Sullivan, the answer is pretty much anything. Never has the ukulele been so mistreated! Oh, and there's the Giant Gila Monster, causing a ruckus and ruining a perfectly good barn dance. Thank God Don Sullivan packed his hot-rod with nitroglycerin so that he can drive it into that beast! Nothing but nothing can stop his show and live to tell about it. Ray Kellogg directed this and THE KILLER SHREWS in the same year - not the best resume builders. By the way, when is Rhino Video going to get off their ass and release a Don Sullivan anthology?
9) NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972), directed by William F. Claxton
Beer Meter: Ninety-Four
Three words: giant killer rabbits. Who green lights that? Janet Leigh creates a breed of oversized rabbits that go on a rampage. The scenes in which these enlarged rascals attack must be seen to be disbelieved. DeForest Kelley demonstrates there is no life outside STAR TREK by appearing in this obvious turkey.
10) FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), directed by Bert I. Gordon
Beer Meter: Six Pack
Based on an H.G. Wells story, animals have started to grow to enormous size thanks to their consuming a special brand of chicken feed. These animals then use their new size to attack the poor saps at a nearby cabin. The film delivers the goods in the "so bad it's great" sense - one look at the giant chicken and you'll be off to gigglesville. The general air of gross incompetence can only mean one thing: directed by Bert I. Gordon, the Fellini of schlock.
11) EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977), directed by Bert I. Gordon
Beer Meter: I don't believe there's enough beer
Toxic waste dumped in the ocean winds up on an island and makes the ants really, really big and the property value really, really small. Prospective buyers are gobbled up and so is uber-bitch real estate agent Joan Collins. The ants wind up forcing, via telekinesis, the survivors to feed them. Mostly forgettable except for Ms. Collins' famous "death by giant ant" scene - whether or not that is a tragedy is open for some pretty serious debate. Bert I. Gordon strikes again. Does this guy make any movies that don't feature a giant creature?