The True ABCs of Death: U is for Untamed

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Suggested Audio Candy:

 

[1] Def Leppard Animal

[2] Boy Sets Fire “Release The Dogs”

[3] The Cure “The Love Cats”

[4] Duran Duran “Hungry Like The Wolf”

[5] John Harrison “Jaws”

[6] Albert Hammond “Down By The River”

[7] Linkin Park “Crawling”

[8] Iron Maiden “Where Eagles Dare”

[9] The O’Jays “Love Train”

 

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The food chain is there for a reason. Every one of God’s little creatures knows its place, from lowly algae to fearsome grizzly bears and the like. Generally it works out pretty well and each breed has some idea where they fit into the pecking order. Humans, being the arrogant species that we are, believe ourselves to be higher ranking than any of the organisms that make up these numbers, despite the fact that I wouldn’t like our chances if pitted against a killer whale one-to-one. Foolishly, we claim that we’re above nature’s law and, every now and then, are made to pay for such insolence. I’m sure I’m not alone in stating a desire to watch Matador come a cropper when waving the one colored item you really shouldn’t present to an embittered bull, right before its snout. Alas, it’s destined to end badly for the bull in question as, win or lose, their fate has already been decided.

The classic poster image from the first release of the film Jaws.

Is it any wonder that nature fights back on occasion? Animals have rights too, regardless of whether or not they can express them eloquently. Thankfully, the media of film provides them a platform from which to voice their annoyance and we love nothing more than to watch the tables turned on our own kind. The seventies saw a particular flourish as man vs. nature movies became commonplace and virtually every last link in the chain was afforded its fifteen minutes of fame. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws arrived in 1975 and became known as the original summer blockbuster. Suddenly, this sub-genre was deemed big business and the latter part of the decade witnessed a flurry of like-minded fare, all hoping to milk the fiscal teats while the going was good. Suddenly, nature ran amok, just as it had previously in the fifties and this coincided rather conveniently with my own evolution.

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I have decided to look back over some of the films that have taught me to respect mother nature and all of her subjects, no matter how insignificant they may appear. The selection before me is simply too vast to cram into a single article, thus I shall cherry pick a few of the creature features that have had a bearing on my own filmic development. Some are good, others regrettably less so, but my aim is to cover as many species as humanly possible so as not to provoke any wrath. I guess the best place to start would be domestic pets as they are more likely to read this over their owner’s shoulder and won’t have to travel from deepest Africa to distribute their swift reprisal. Looking at the available options, there seems no more fitting a breed to kick us off than the one deemed as man’s best friend.

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It just has to be Cujo. The St. Bernard is widely regarded as one of the most agreeable canines on the planet and has a rich history of assisting mankind when the odds are stacked against us. Known for their selfless alpine rescues, they also make for rather splendid four-legged companions. That is until they contract rabies and become our very worst nightmare. Lewis Teague’s 1983 film, adapted from a Stephen King novel of the same name, offered that precise scenario as suburban housewife Donna and her five-year-old boy endured a torrid time after the mutt in question took a bite from an infected bat. After being ambushed by the foaming fiend, mother and son were forced to take refuge in her Ford Pinto, much to Cujo’s annoyance.

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To make matters worse for them, the extreme summer sun offered secondary threat with heat stroke and dehydration both playing their part in whittling down their defences. Meanwhile, 200 lb of murderous mongrel was growing increasingly vexed at being snubbed for its daily petting and made its point by ramming the stationary vehicle until Donna eventually caved into its request, learning a thing or two about the rules of baseball in the process. After achieving a home run and seemingly sending poor Cujo straight to doggie heaven, she thought the ordeal was over. However, St. Bernards are also known for their obedience and playing dead just happened to be Cujo’s party trick. I was ten when I watched Teague’s film and, oddly enough, I have never really been much of a dog person.

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In truth, the damage was done long before that. Richard Donner’s The Omen had already done a number on me when introducing me to possibly the last nanny on earth you would want to gatekeep your infant. Having said that, when the child in question is evil incarnate, it suddenly becomes the kind of match only hell could ever dream up. The hired help proves a constant thorn in the side of the wife of the US Ambassador, Katherine. While her husband was out gallivanting with his new pal Jennings, Baylock was doing the devil’s bidding from their family home and getting ideas way above her station. Worse still, she came as a package deal and her twin Dobermann were just as disagreeable as their owner.

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While his hapless wife was recuperating in hospital from an unfortunate “accident”, Robert and Jennings decided to take their bromance to the next level and there seems no more fitting a locale for some male bonding than a local cemetery. Boys will be boys. However, after egging one another on to prove their mettle and dig up a grave or two and being less than encouraged by their findings, they decided it may be time for a swift exit. Presumably they didn’t hear the words “sick balls!” as their departure was then soundly hindered by a pack of unruly dogs led by a black rottweiler. Whatever happened to Poker Night? If you ask me, the Thorns had it coming as their family pet was also of the same breed. It’s all fun and games until you run out of dog biscuits. I think that was the point when I stated my preference for cats. Turns out I was shit out of luck there too.

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It all started inconspicuously enough. The 1985 anthology Cat’s Eye, ironically directed once again by Teague, introduced us to General and my preference was looking pretty justified by the time our feline friend turned up at North Carolina and was taken in by the adorable Amanda, against her mother’s better judgement. Turns out that it was a shrewd decision on the young girl’s part as something sinister was lurking in her bedroom baseboard and its intentions were far less than honorable.

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Every night as she slept, her unwanted visitor emerged from the darkest recess of her room and pilfered from her lung supplies, right under her nose. Mercifully, General was on-hand to fight for her honor and, after a fierce ongoing battle, sent the troll packing in no uncertain terms. A happy ending then? Perhaps until after the credits rolled as General didn’t give a fuck about her. He just wanted her last few breaths for himself.

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That’s right, cats aren’t to be taken lightly either. If you want further proof, then wait until your beloved moggy croaks and bury its remains at the Pet Sematary. Renowned for its rejuvenation properties, this particular burial ground will have your cat flap swinging again in no time, therefore alleviating your concerns over explaining to little Timmy that the dish of milk on the front porch is no longer necessary. While it may come as an initial relief, the whole turnaround process is still in need of a little tweaking. Granted, your cat will be back in front of the log fire in no time, but it is a brave man who will attempt to put on its flea collar. Louis Creed probably should have considered other avenues before selecting this particular plot for his young child’s final resting place. If he’d have googled it, he would have found the nearest Boy Sematary just a few clicks south. Not sure I’d trust that either mind.

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So cats are out too then. It is no less than we should expect as the horror genre has traditionally welcomed them with open arms and I could write a whole piece about their furry vengeance. Fret not feline fans as I don’t plan to stray too far. Our next undesirable house guest belongs to the same family, although I’m not sure they make a flap large enough to accommodate this cantankerous kitten. Carlos Brooks’ 2010 thriller Burning Bright pitted Kelly Taylor and her autistic brother Tom against the cat in question in close quarters and, while that may sound like a fairly one-sided battle, the fact that it was a famished Bengal tiger didn’t exactly help to even up the odds. Kelly would be within her rights to feel aggrieved as it’s one thing finding a stray alley cat stowed away in your living room but entirely another when it should be chasing down wayward elks 15,000 km away. The next time I return home with my groceries, I shall be on the lookout for any opportunist panthers lurking in my pantry. Sheesh!

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Wolves suck too. Adam Green took a well-earned Hatchet hiatus in 2010 to bring us the exceptional Frozen and prove there was far more in his repertoire than soiled swamp saps with chips on their shoulder. For snowboarders Dan, Parker and Joe, getting stranded on a ski-lift some way from terra firma while Mount Holliston shut down for winter break would appear to have been the worst stroke of misfortune conceivable. Sure it sucked but dropping to ground level wasn’t totally inconceivable. After all, the soft snow would break their fall right?

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Yes it would and compound fractures heal in time so it appeared more favorable than sitting tight and catching the inevitable frost bite. That shit is supposed to smart like a bitch. Unfortunately for them, while the fall didn’t appear fatal, any jutting bone tissue would alert a nearby pack of ravenous baying wolves and they are known for both their strong nostrils and poor etiquette. I’d still take scavenging wolves to having Victor Crowley extract my spleen through my rectum but, after observing the pack in action, it would be a close-run thing.

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With skiing holidays now out of the equation, it would appear that the best place to spend your leisure time is on the beach, soaking up the rays. As long as you pack your Factor 50, you’re laughing, and any necessary safety is provided by sheer numbers. I know what you’re thinking and I would be lying if I said that a certain toothy terror hadn’t been in my forethought when opting to go coastal. However, even the lost tribes of Haiti know of Jaws and they haven’t even got access to Netflix. Sorry sharks but I refuse to lay down the chum line. That goes for piranhas too as these pint-sized predators seem like easy bait and I have another fishy in mind altogether. I bet you didn’t know that there has been a movie about savage salmon did you? Think again as Roger Corman spent made his career out of exhausting every last option and, lo-and-behold, in 1980 he cast out his rod and reeled in some particularly meddlesome monsters.

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However, these weren’t your everyday salmon. No sirree, these suckers were more than up for a spot of cross breeding. You can always bank on science to throw a firecracker in the bunsen and the locals of quiet fishing village Noyo were about to suffer some decidedly mixed fortunes. While the titular Humanoids From The Deep were certainly part salmon, it was the remaining percentage that made them such slippery customers. The last time I googled it, salmon aren’t great out of water. Neither are they known for their sexual potency and ability to prioritize their victims. Hell, their elected prey consist of the kind of quarter-assed algae that populate the very bottom of our chain. Somebody forgot to tell that to Corman.

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His mutated free-standing sea monsters despised canines and subtracted these from the Noyo population first. Next up were the inhabitants and I’m I know what sex I would rather have been when the watery words “get ’em lads” washed in on low tide. Any males caught skimming stones were torn asunder post-haste, whereas female skinny dippers were praised for their ovaries and set upon in a far different manner. I often wonder what sex would be like with a sea monster and the answer is always the same. However, one of the fishermen must’ve been cranking up his Luther Vandross vinyl collection as they learned a thing or two about seduction out on the ocean waves. Actually, it was more likely Sid Vicious. While being thoroughly fondled by fish fingers, the humanoids dropped anchor and allowed a few of their sailors to walk the plank. Fertile little buggers as well. They would have made a killing at the sperm clinic but paternal instinct was just too overpowering and the pitter patter of tiny webbed feet was an ever more dominant possibility.

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Scientists have a lot to answer for and, while the beaches evidently weren’t safe, John Frankenheimer’s 1979 eco-monster movie Prophecy reminded us that things were no better upstream. The Androscoggin River must’ve seemed like a harmless enough dumping ground for toxic waste and that is precisely what transpired. Unfortunately for anyone inclined to lumberjacking in the dense surrounding woodlands, bears get thirsty from time to time and 7Up is hard to come by in these parts. After quenching from polluted waters and providing itself with a pretty hefty mercury fix in the process, this particular grizzly came down with a lot more than loose stools. The natives had a name for him already prepared and the Katahdin wished to remunerate them for this mark of respect by going postal and annihilating all-comers.

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The priceless scene that has replayed on perpetual loop in my mind for thirty years now involved an unfortunate family of backpackers resting up for the night after a hard day’s tree etching. The harsh fate of Mr. and Mrs. Nelson didn’t surprise me in the slightest but the swift and decisive demise of their pre-pubescent son Paul, on the other hand, I simply wasn’t prepared for. As the terrified boy attempted to bounce away in his sleeping bag, the Katahdin wasn’t having any of it and performed a quick side swipe.

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You know what it’s like to be swiped by a recalibrated grizzly? Paul knew – for the 0.75 airborne seconds before being dashed on a rock face braces first. I watched a lot of Steve Martin movies as a kid and even The Jerk never incited this much of a chorus from my lower abdomen. Feathers everywhere. Paul everywhere. Tears streaming. Precious memories stored. Job done.

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Shit, I’ve really opened a can of worms here haven’t I? Speaking of which, all this mud wrestling with the Katahdin has lifted the top soil and revealed our next menace. Pluralize that, about a million should do it, as that is the ballpark figure of the amount of carnivorous sand worms that Jeff Lieberman dug up for his mildly diverting 1976 B-Movie Squirm. After a tempestuous storm took out the power lines in Fly Creek, any expelled voltage aggravated the living shit out of every last wriggler in the vicinity.

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While the average six-year-old may be provident enough to bag themselves maybe half a dozen worms for their daily mud pies, a few feet beneath the clay it’s like a Pink Floyd gig for invertebrates. Moreover, these scoundrels weren’t big on progressive rock and decided to ascend topside and vent their indignation on the locals. I guess we can indirectly blame science for that one too. Pesky tremors. Yikes, now I’ve done it.

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If Ron Underwood is reading this then he’ll be wearing the widest piss-guzzling grin in the room right now as he knows a thing or two about Tremors. Four sequels in and the seismic shock waves are showing no signs of slowing any time soon. 30 ft long, more girth than mirth, and able to hear a gnat fart from a country mile away, the garrity grubs in question had the locals of Perfection, Nevada praying for a malfunctioning ski-lift. Have you ever attempted to tip-toe across burning hot desert sand in bare feet? Thankfully, handymen Val and Earl packed their shit kickers and Kevin Bacon hadn’t forgotten the moves he’d gotten down to pat at the Footloose academy. The result was one of the finest creature features of the nineties and a pretty good reason not to take up line dancing.

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We all know that roaches suck and I’m tempted to dip into George A. Romero’s Creepshow as there were enough of them creeping up on Upson Pratt to write a hardback about. Sorry George, I’ll make it up to you when we get to monkeys, but another movie has me busting brow veins right now and I simply cannot allow this moment to pass. In 1988, with horror winding down for its extended hiatus, Terence H. Winkless catered for these crispy-coated critters and the result fell largely on regrettably deaf ears. Arriving straight to video where it was swiftly consigned to oblivion, The Nest was a cracking B-Movie far more worthy than its snubbing suggested.

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Cockroaches can be persistent little blighters at the best of times and laugh in the face of moccasins and suchlike swatting devices. While most leading insect repellants would ordinarily halt their march, science was up to its old tricks once again and this didn’t bode well for the small island town of North Port. Not well in the slightest. If John Carpenter’s The Thing greased your pistons, then it’s high time you get on this roach trail.

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While these terrible ticks were proving hard nuts to crack, a mass of more malleable marauders were leaving their tacky trails in another sleepy rural town. Juan Piquer Simón’s Slugs snugly fitted guilty pleasure categorization and provided gastropods with a rare starring vehicle. Work is somewhat scarse for these slimy slitherers as their timekeeping really is atrocious. However, thanks to a toxic spill no less, the slugs here were more than happy to pose for the camera. One scene in particular rivaled the Katahdin for cunning kicks and involved a hapless couple embarking on a little harmless copulation in the cozy confines of their bed quarters. After being made privy to the sneak attack, the pair simply accepted their fate, where I’m fairly assured you can outrun a posse of slugs with relative ease. Perhaps the leg cramps were too severe.

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Time to take to the skies and, once again, I am feeling the need not to point out the obvious. Alfred Hitchcock may have supplied us with The Birds but James Nguyen went one better in 2010 and started a full-blown Birdemic. In the forty-seven years following the release of Hitchcock’s suspenseful thriller, technology was bound to move on considerably and indeed it did. Someone forgot to mention this to Nguyen, whose feathered fiends had the hovering with intent part down to pat but were struggling to get to grips with the all-important swoop.

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Made for a measly $10k, it possibly would have been a shrewd move for Nguyen to invest some of that in bird seed as the only frequent flyers in this particular “demic” were super-imposed and heavily arthritic. Boasting no more than three frames of animation and all the presence of tissues in a wind tunnel, their rampage went on to become the stuff of legends. Say what you will about Birdemic: Shock and Terror and be sure to save a few words for its equally appalling sequel, but more people know about this than The Nest so Nguyen has every reason to accept a dash of smugness with his shame.

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I’ve got one more in me and I’m sure that’s the last thing Lindsey and Jenny wished to hear as Japanese tourist Katsuro unwittingly took sightseeing to a whole new level. The meat in a decidedly dour sandwich, he acted as go-between for Tom Six in 2009 as he constructed The Human Centipede. While Jenny had to suffer the indignity of having his laughing gear sewed to her anus, at least her flatulence found an audience. For the desperately unlucky Lindsay at the tail-end of this particularly unsanitary love train, shit out of luck doesn’t even scratch the surface.

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Third-hand defecation was all she had to look forward to and there’s a good reason why excrement isn’t considered a delicacy. Mercifully, the term “eat shit and die” proved applicable as she was the first to become dead weight. Meanwhile, the other two had to drag her decomposing corpse as they attempted to scuttle to the nearest exit and Katsuro’s sphincter must’ve looked like a meteor crash site by the time those stitches came out. Suddenly three-ways seem far less appealing.

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My apologies to Romero as his raging primate appears doomed to sit on the sidelines. He can console himself in the knowledge that his monkey could still shine later down the line as there are a number of other creatures yet to feature. Pigs, frogs, alligators, rats, ants, arachnids – all have every right to feel aggrieved at their lack of representation, while I dread of think of the punishment any Zombeavers have planned for not making the short list. Please don’t shoot the messenger, blame it on the Birdemic. Perhaps soon I will be primed to do battle with nature once again but after all this talk of makeshift man-made arthropods, I’m off to gargle some mouthwash. Hopefully the slugs won’t beat me too it. Those bastards sure creep up on you.

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Click here to read U is for Underdog

 

 

 

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