POLL: Top five killer animal flicks

FILE - In this 1975 film publicity image originally released by Universal Pictures, Roy Scheider, left, and Richard Dreyfuss are shown in a scene from the movie 'Jaws,' 1975. (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

FILE - In this 1975 film publicity image originally released by Universal Pictures, Roy Scheider, left, and Richard Dreyfuss are shown in a scene from the movie "Jaws," 1975. (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

What is the best killer animal movie?

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FILE - In this undated publicity photo originally released by Lionsgate Films, Timothy Treadwell is seen in a scene from 'Grizzly Man'. (AP Photo/Lionsgate Films)

FILE - In this undated publicity photo originally released by Lionsgate Films, Timothy Treadwell is seen in a scene from "Grizzly Man". (AP Photo/Lionsgate Films)

Animals are our furry, cuddly companions, unflaggingly loyal and pure of spirit — except for when they want to eat us, that is.

With “Piranha 3D” swimming into theaters and zooming right into your face, here’s a look at the best of what happens when animals attack:

■ “Jaws” (1975): It defined what we’ve come to know as the summer movie season. It was the first blockbuster — which, in retrospect, seems like a quaint notion. But its thrills and chills and suspense are just as fresh now as they were 35 years ago. Sure, the mechanical shark that preys on Amity Island looks a little, well, mechanical compared to the CGI effects that are available today. But in his youth, Steven Spielberg was wise enough to know that it’s what you don’t show — what you just suggest — that’s even more frightening. And John Williams’ startling score was simplicity itself. Clearly, it still isn’t safe to go back in the water.

■ “The Birds” (1963): Ah, Bodega Bay ... so tranquil, so scenic. Until the killer birds come swooping in to peck everyone to bloody bits. The screeching noise alone that these creatures make is frightening in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, but it’s his use of silence that’s truly, deeply disturbing. The staccato unpredictability of their movements adds to the sense of unease, the fierce darkness of the crows’ feathers providing a sharp contrast to Tippi Hedren’s blonde, creamy features. And then there’s that last scene, where the birds are just sitting there peacefully, watching our heroes drive away ... is it a sign of the apocalypse? Or just a good excuse to be unnerved? Either way, it’s still scary as hell today.

■ “Cujo” (1983): Man’s best friend becomes his most fearsome, furry enemy in this thriller based on the Stephen King novel. The name alone is so synonymous with killer canines, it’s become shorthand. And it’s not like some yippy, annoying dog that turns into a monster, like a Yorkie or a Chihuahua. No, this is a friendly, lovable St. Bernard, a breed that’s traditionally been known as a reliable caretaker, who goes wild after he’s bitten by a rabid bat and wreaks havoc on a small town. It’s sort of a squeamish thing, the idea of having to fight and take down an animal that’s traditionally considered a family member, but “Cujo” suggests that primal survival instincts will always win out in the end.

■ “Grizzly Man” (2005): And speaking of survival, we know from the start of this documentary that Timothy Treadwell is doomed, but that doesn’t make it any less riveting. Werner Herzog’s film follows the events that led up to Treadwell’s 2003 mauling by a bear in the Alaskan wild, a place this daring and charismatic man chose to call home for a dozen years to surround himself with these hulking creatures. He considered them his friends, shot video of himself frolicking with them, even gave them cutesy names. But as Herzog reveals, who Treadwell really was proved just as fascinating as his horrible fate.

■ “Them!” (1954): Ants — they’re so tiny and harmless, they couldn’t do any real damage beyond making a picnic unpleasant, right? Wrong! Sometimes ants turn gigantic and predatory when exposed to nuclear testing in the New Mexico desert. But we don’t see the big, angry bugs for a while; instead, “Them!” builds suspense on the premise of a mysterious, unknown menace. A reflection of Cold War terror and panic, this black-and-white science fiction classic was nominated for an Academy Award for its special effects and featured a cast including James Whitmore, James Arness, Fess Parker and Leonard Nimoy. But it was also good, cheesy fun.

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