The summer of 1975 gave us JAWS and the quintessential blockbuster summer movie. In turn, JAWS left a trail of celluloid for both A and B list filmmakers to follow. Man vs. Beast movies are nothing new to the movie industry (from King Kong to Them to Lake Placid) but JAWS gave the green light for a plethora of new copycat films using the same basic formula but substituting bears, big cats, spiders, snakes, piranha, giant squid, and just about every other scary animal you can think of. Lacking Peter Benchley’s book and script and Steven Spielberg’s directing, the majority of these movies are mostly forgettable, but some are well done and I am a fan of them all.
Honestly, I don’t watch much television and when I do, it is usually a bit of the world and local news or the outdoor channels on cable. However, my one guilty TV pleasure is killer animal films. Knowing what I do about the behavior of real, live animals these films are simply high entertainment as they depict animals performing the most unbelievable stunts, all dreamed up for my viewing enjoyment.
Let’s explore fiction and fact behind a few of my favorite killer animal movies.
A lone, 25 foot great white attacks multiple swimmers off the coast of Long Island, sinks boats and seems to possess a calculating mind beyond the average shark that basically just wants to swim, eat and make baby sharks.
The book and movie are based on real events that happened off the Jersey coast in 1916. Experts still argue whether it was a bull shark or a young great white but people lost their lives and America learned there are things in the water that can eat you. The record great white is 21 feet. A big one is about 16 feet. A great white has never sunk a boat the size of Quint’s boat the "Orca." Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters debunked many of the other feats of super shark strength in one of their episodes.
Fiction: An eighteen foot tall grizzly attacks campers, grabs a helicopter and pushes over an observation tower.
Fact: Yes, grizzlies have attacked, and eaten, human beings. They stand about eight feet high on their hind legs, almost ten feet for a huge bear. Grizzlies have attacked two people at once but a rampage of serial killing has not been documented.
Fiction: A thirty- six foot alligator is living in Chicago’s sewer system.
Fact: The record length for an alligator is a touch over 19ft. Most bull gators are in the 12-14 range. Despite urban legends an alligator has never been documented living in the sewer system of any northern city.
THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS (1996)
Not much fiction in this film, but the white hunter, Remington, was a role fabricated for Michael Douglas. And lions do not create a lair of bones from their kills.
The movie is based on a true story, “The Man-eaters of Tsavo” by Colonel John Patterson. Two adult male lions did kill, depending on the report, anywhere from 40 to 140 people in southern Kenya in 1898. The lions did pull the railroad workers out of their tents and proceed to devour them in close proximity to the camps. They did elude Patterson for months until he finally outwitted and killed them in December of 1898.
The snake in the film is a 40 foot monster that devours a research team one by one in a relatively short time.
There are reports of some large snakes consuming human beings but only a few are verified. These are basically shy snakes; researchers have to feel around in the muck to even find one. Anacondas, or any other large constrictor for that matter, don’t grow to 40 feet. An eighteen footer is a big one. Once they eat a large food item they will rest for weeks. Anacondas don’t chase their prey through the rainforest. Nor do they don’t slide up ship poles or hang off waterfalls to grab their prey out of mid-air. (Some boas, however, have been documented hanging near the entrances of caves to snatch bats from mid-air.)
LAKE PLACID (1999)
Fiction: In the cold waters of a Maine lake a thirty-foot crocodile devours recreationalists, researchers, and cows that a local woman feeds it.
Fact: The largest modern day crocodile, the salt water species from Southeast Asia and Australia maxes out at 23 feet. Crocs are tropical animals; a winter in the northeast would kill one. They are man-eaters for certain, especially “salties” and their equally ferocious relative the Nile crocodile. And kill a cow, you bet, but not in one big bite like in this film.
This list is not complete by any means and I encourage readers to create a conversation here by adding your favorite flicks to this exchange of animals behaving badly.