What Scares Me? Volume One: Animals

In the (not quite) immortal words of the Kurgen, “Happy Halloween, Ladies!” (and gentlemen.)

There are quite a few horror movies that I am almost proud to say I don’t find scary. The Exorcist? I adore it, but it doesn’t perturb in any way. The Shining? It leaves me colder than Jack Torrance out there in the snow. I can, however, be spooked. There are some oddly specific filmic features that make me put my hands over my face and squirm about in childish discomfort and become uncomfortably lodged in my mind like a nasty mental splinter. Let’s talk about animals.

I know what you’re thinking. Animal horror? It’s gotta be those big creature-feature monster movies like Anaconda (1997) and Arachnophobia (1990). Nah-ah. For me it’s much more subtle. The sort of film that might not make you jump out of your seat in shock, but manages to infiltrate your perspective on the natural world around you. Hitchcock knew what he was doing with The Birds (1963) by taking a less obvious source of animal horror and pushing it to its very limit. One can’t help but be reminded of The Birds whenever you walk near a densely populated clump of pigeons in the street. Then there’s The Fly (both the 1958 and the 1986 version) which will forever make you slightly wary that the bug batting itself against your net curtains may not be just a bug… Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) took advantage of many people’s natural aversion to rats and did Orwell’s vision proud. Pet Sematary (1989) recreated that bedraggled and distinctive look of a dead-cat-cat-walking – every neighbourhood has one.

Pigs can also be unnerving; I think it’s to do with their desperate insatiable hunger. I once worked as a grotto Elf on Santa’s Farm and when I had to retrieve something from the pig pen they eagerly pulled at my trouser legs like they were after my flesh. It’s a possibility they didn’t like me eating a pork pie in front of the earlier at lunch but that’s neither here nor there, I’m the victim here. I think part of this fear might have come from the overreaction of the farmhands when Dorothy falls into the peg pen in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Pigs are also used as a symbol of disgusting greed in Spirited Away (2001) when Chihiro’s parents are transformed; their pink piggy pork bulging underneath their human clothes as they lap food from bowls, before they go ‘total pig’ and Chihiro is tasked with telling her parents apart from the real thing.

The most unpleasant film ever to stalk this Earth – bar none – is Watership Down (1978). I came to this film very young, it was leant to me by the irresponsible parent of a primary school friend (the same woman who leant me David the Gnome with its horrifying finale). With a very solid childhood foundation in late eighties and early nineties Disney, I was not best pleased to see so many bloodied bunnies, or so many salivating evil rabbits. The animation has a sketchy roughness to it which makes every scene a waking nightmare. Possibly worst of all is Art Garfunkel’s haunting delivery of ‘Bright Eyes’ the sound of someone trying to lure you over to the other side.

And then there’s Pinocchio (1940). The horrified bray of Pinocchio’s new found friend Lampwick as he transforms into a donkey after being a naughty boy is infamous. Watching as Lampwick’s hands decay into rigid little hooves and his crestfallen expression as he howls for his ‘mama’ has been forever imprinted into the minds of all good Disney fans.

I conclude my ‘scary animals’ section by ever so briefly mentioning live action abomination Tusk (2014) in which a young and very annoying podcaster is abducted by a crazed man who once had a powerful friendship with a walrus called Mr Tusk and wishes to replicate that relationship using his captive and some rudimentary surgical skills (goo goo g’joob). It is thoroughly grotesque, offers a cluster of nasty visuals and has Johnny Depp in a cameo that will put even the most hormonal of frustrated school-gate mums off him for life. To my mind, a horror film should be horrifying, but it shouldn’t make you feel dirty on the inside. I’m talking worse than Martyrs here (2008).

What have I missed out? Let me know! And remember that no animal is safe!

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