Eco Horror – Mother Nature Strikes Back
Growing up in the 70s, I was exposed to dozens of horror films from the 50s and 60s that centered around man’s environment getting revenge on the beasts who dared tamper with or destroy the world around them. Those movies, along with Universal’s monster movies, were my ‘starter-horror’. They’re what made me what I am today. Not sure if I should thank them or sue anyone left alive who made them.
Guest blogger Spencer Mitchell loves the Eco-Horror sub genre as much as I do. So this week, I’m jumping in the back seat and letting Spencer take the wheel. Take it away, #1 Hellion!
Many popular films and novels feature conflicts involving man vs. man or man vs. beast. But what happens when humans face conflict with the world around them? The world is indifferent to the suffering of humans, but that doesn’t mean the fates of the two are not intertwined. So here are five of the scariest movies that show what happens when we don’t respect the power of planet Earth and the end of the world comes for us.
The idea of nature rebelling against humankind is not a new one. In 1954, just as the world was in full terror due to the Cold War and the rise of nuclear technology, the horror movie Them! provided quite the scare. This movie was one of many “big bug” films that focused on nuclear testing gone awry to create humongous, radioactive creatures. Though it is remembered as little more than a classic black-and-white B-movie today, Them! certainly shocked audiences with its frank portrayal of what could happen to the natural world in the event of an atomic incident. (Hunter’s note, Them! is one of my all time favorite movies.)
In 1976, tiny creatures went rogue once more in the sci-fi thriller The Food of the Gods, loosely based on an H.G. Wells novel. This time, the abnormal growth in animals is due to a miraculous “food” that bubbles up from the earth to provide sustenance for rats, wasps, and worms. This substance (a result of man-made waste) ends up making the animals grow larger than humans, disturbing the gentle balance between man and nature. Though the film was financially successful, it is widely forgotten today – which is actually rather unfortunate since the theme of ecology striking back against industry remains prevalent in our modern world.
In the 2004 action movie The Day After Tomorrow, Manhattan is thrust into a climate-change-induced Ice Age, leaving millions stranded in a polar prison. Though the film dramatizes the effects of global warming, it definitely serves as a potent worst-case scenario. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), drastic climate change is in our imminent future whether we like it or not, forecasting “a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.” This will eventually cause changes in precipitation patterns, droughts, the melting of ice caps, and even stronger hurricanes.
When a horror master decides to take on the subject of man versus nature, you know the result will be a chilling portrayal of what can happen when the world fights back. M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening involves a mysterious plant-based neurotoxin that drives those exposed to it to commit suicide. This film may include more fantasy elements than others, but the message is clear – when science messes with the natural world, the natural world has ways of defending itself and seeking retaliation.
Found-footage horror films have always served to bring the viewer in closer to the subject and make it feel more realistic. This is even more chilling when the subject is a deadly waterborne epidemic that hits a small Massachusetts town during a local festival. In 2012’s The Bay, hundreds of townspeople succumb to a flesh-eating, stomach-turning illness caused by unsafe waste disposal that was covered up by the local government. The entire event is captured on film by a young reporter and presented as a mockumentary. It’s a chilling horror film, but it also shows how far some people are willing to go to deny the effect humans have had on nature.
Though many of these films were made to entertain and frighten viewers, they are not created in vain. They show what could happen to our world if we keep disturbing nature’s delicate balance…and what will happen if we don’t make the changes soon.