Thanks in part to a steady dose of weekend Sci Fi Channel marathons, horror movies featuring giant animals -- snakes, sharks, rats, insects, mollusks -- have gotten a bad name. For the most part, the reputation might be deserved, but there are a select few that are actually worth a watch -- and maybe even a listen. Note: this list sticks to large REAL animals; thus, no Godzilla villains or mythical creatures.
Full of hammy acting and ridiculous melodrama, It Came From Beneath the Sea makes the list for only two reasons: Ray. Harryhausen. The legendary stop-motion animation wiz provided the special effects in this early film that helped establish his name before he went on to Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, One Million Years B.C., Mysterious Island, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. The imagery of "it" -- a giant squid -- clinging onto the Golden Gate Bridge and later using its tentacle to crush people on a San Francisco street have become iconic in the realm of mega-creature features.
19. Ticks (1993)
With its story of juvenile delinquents on a camping retreat fending off softball-sized ticks bred from a marijuana farmer's secret growth serum, Ticks brings new meaning to the word "camp." How can you not love a movie with Alfonso "Carlton Banks" Ribeiro playing a Zubaz-clad "aggressive dysfunctional" inner-city kid? A young Seth Green stars, probably because he's the only person they could find capable of being intimidated by Ribeiro.
Bert I. Gordon has to make an appearance on this list, having cornered the market on cheesy giant animal/plant/mineral movies with entries like The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth vs. the Spider, Beginning of the End and Food of the Gods. Though made in the '70s, Empire is a remnant of the 1950s Cold War-era movies about giant beasts spawned by radioactivity. This time around, Cadillac-sized ants that, for some reason, scream like little girls sneak up on a group of land investors in the Florida swamplands. If you fast-forward past the soap opera antics of the first half hour, it's a fun film, from the hysterical overacting to the ridiculous psychic plot twist to the fact that Joan Collins is pretty much left to die at that end of the movie.
The first two Anaconda films provided solid popcorn entertainment value (No comment on the David Hasselhoff-led third.), but I give the nod to Anacondas for more snakes, more mayhem and less of Eric Stoltz being incapacitated for two hours. In this sequel, snakes in a Borneo jungle grow to an immense size because they feed on the Blood Orchid, when lengthens their lives. Of course, in real life, these elderly snakes would be toothless with thick glasses and MedicAlert bracelets, but such is the magic of Hollywood.
16. Mosquito (1995)
What happens when mosquitoes feed on alien carcasses? A crappy movie; that's what! Bad action movie dialogue, awful acting, a corny sense of humor and outdated stop-motion animation combine for a campy good time, thanks to a nice level of gore, some frantic action sequences and the hilarious appearance of the rubber mosquito puppets. Plus, you get to see Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) handle a chainsaw one more time. Director Gary Jones might just be the modern Bert I. Gordon, scoring three campy films on this list.
15. Mimic (1997)
Mimic has the only sorta-kinda made-up creature on this list: a hybrid of a termite and a mantis that's bred to kill cockroaches that are spreading a child-killing disease throughout New York. Unfortunately, as happens so often in these movies, the fruits of science veer out of control, and the insects grow to six feet tall and begin feeding on humans. How? Pseudoscience! Director Guillermo Del Toro injects style into the formula, despite relying on the cliché of the poor black guy sacrificing himself to save the stars.
14. Tarantula (1955)
A bit overshadowed by contemporary films like Them! and the Bert I. Gordon and Ray Harryhausen movies, Tarantula more than holds its own. The story concerns a scientist whose experimental growth formula unleashes a spider that grows to mammoth proportions. Unlike the stop-motion of It Came From Beneath the Sea and the large models of Them!, Tarantula uses images of a real-life spider projected to the size of a small mountain -- or a really big molehill. The effect is creepier than its contemporaries, with 3-D angles that have the spider coming right at the screen, moving forward instead of the horizontal movements favored by so many films of this ilk. Plus, it's so darn BIG.
13. Rogue (2008)
12. Razorback (1984)
Another Aussie tale, this one with a giant boar. There's not enough pig action in this tale of an American searching for his missing wife in the Australian Outback, but stylish direction from Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, Resident Evil: Extinction) and the dusty Outback setting give it a Mad Max-ish flair.
I might admit some bias towards spider movies, because those critters creep me out more than any snake or rat ever will. That said, Eight Legged Freaks is particularly effective because of excellent special effects that make a giant spider invasion seem like a real possibility. The humor in this self-conscious monster movie parody lightens the mood enough to prevent any nightmares, though. Whew.