History has a habit of repeating itself. And humanity has a habit of shooting itself in the foot.
If you need proof of either of these claims, look no further than the state of our planet’s environment and the “natural horror,” or “eco-horror,” subgenre its horrible treatment has spurred. The central theme of eco-horror: Humans make terrible, selfish co-habitants of Earth and everyone — flora, fauna, and folks alike — suffers for it.
From as early as 1933’s King Kong, humans have been depicted on the silver screen showing up where they really have no business being. But as the years passed, more innovation led to even more technological interference. By the 1950s, horror movies began showing the monster behind the monsters: human beings.
Whether it’s by encroaching on a peaceful creature’s habitat, nuclear fallout, radiation from experiments, or introducing non-native species or chemicals to a previously unaffected area, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. But any way you slice it, the cat is dead, and you have blood on your hands.
To celebrate Earth Day, why not tune in to a classic eco-horror or a new genre staple, switch out any single-use plastics for reusable wares, and separate your trash from your recycling? If you’re feeling terrified and a little bit guilty after watching every movie on this list: good. Nature is healing.
Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
What happens when a geology expedition discovers the missing-link fossil between land and sea creatures? The lead scientist leaves his assistants in the remote Amazon to present his findings in California, of course. Naturally, the living version of the fossil, a curious humanoid amphibian, emerges to inspect the men — and the assistants attack the gill man since men of science are obviously predisposed to engage in combat during first contact.
Check out the ultimate meet-cute mess-up (the “water ballet” scene is a work of art that helped inspire The Shape of Water) and why humans should just leave indigenous flora and fauna alone in this quintessential sci-fi horror. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
Incredibly loyal to their queens, ants will stop at nothing to defend them. Not a problem when they’re smaller than a grain of rice, but what if those ants were … bigger? Enter Cold War-era nuclear paranoia and you have bomb tests in the New Mexican desert irradiating ants to monstrous proportions. Desperate to establish new nests and to protect the queens, these ants attack the very threat that created them (see what they did there?): us.
A scientist offers a prophetic warning after the film’s events which still resonates with today’s technology and advances: “When man entered the Atomic Age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.” (Available to rent on Amazon.)
At present, the world, the internet, and, probably, your roommates can’t stop discussing Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), but why not see one of the films that started it all? (The original King Kong (1933) is also worth a watch, but it’s more of a tragic love story than an eco-horror story.)
Described as an ancient sea creature or a prehistoric dinosaur-like monster, Godzilla awakens after underwater hydrogen-bomb testing begins off the coast of Japan. No doubt an embodiment of Japan’s anxiety about a nuclear holocaust, Godzilla represented the Earth retaliating against technology overextending its reach. Are you seeing a pattern here? (Available on HBO Max.)
The Birds (1963)
You’ve probably heard or seen plenty of parodies of this seminal film, but have you actually sat down and watched various bird species pelt themselves at the glamorous Tippi Hedren? After being pranked by a handsome lawyer named Mitch in San Francisco, socialite Melanie decides to bring lovebirds to Mitch in Northern California’s beautiful Bodega Bay as a reconciliatory gift. Chaos ensues when the local avifauna start attacking.
Toward the film’s end, a distraught Bodega Bay resident blames Melanie’s arrival with the lovebirds as the inciting incident for the attacks. The introduction of a new species has upset the delicate balance of nature — an example of humans importing a non-native species to the detriment of everyone. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
Before its loose remake Piranha 3D (2010), the 1978 Jaws knockoff Piranha released lethal, genetically altered piranha on tourists at a summer resort and the nearby locals. Of course, the lead scientist responsible for the freaky fish eventually divulges that they were created as a military weapon and are uniquely able to withstand cold temperatures in an attempt to infiltrate North Vietnamese rivers. Go figure.
If military meddling and a government cover-up are your cup of tea, Piranha’s the perfect dish to remind you fish are fiends, not food. (Available on Amazon.)
An agent of the Environmental Protection Agency encounters more than he bargained for while reporting on a dispute between a logging operation for a paper mill and a Native American tribe. Along a Maine river, it seems people on both sides of the disagreement have mysteriously gone missing.
The agent and his wife investigate further after discovering environmental damage including salmon large enough to swallow ducks, rabid raccoons, and giant tadpoles. As it turns out, the paper mill’s waste products have also mutated a bear and caused it to go on a homicidal rampage. Another instance of humans bringing terror upon themselves. (Available on Paramount+.)
This Guillermo del Toro–directed sci-fi horror asks what would happen if scientists created a mantis-termite hybrid to combat cockroaches carrying a deadly disease and released them in New York City? The answer, as it tends to be with these situations, is things would go from bad to worse.
Nicknamed the “Judas Breed” because of its ability to infiltrate the cockroaches’ numbers and secrete an enzyme resulting in roach starvation, the name becomes doubly sinister when the Judas Breed begins mimicking human forms to hunt people. Talk about biting the hand that feeds. (Available on Paramount+.)
A young pair of married genetic engineers decide to start splicing in human DNA to their animal genetic experiments and it goes as well as you might expect it to, considering the theme of this list.
After creating a prepubescent female hybrid named Dren, the couples’ parental instincts kick in and they decide to raise Dren as their own. But when Dren goes through puberty and develops various carnal tastes, all sorts of taboos are enacted. This one’s not for the faint of heart, but Splice certainly depicts what happens when a thought experiment is taken too far. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
The Beach House (2019)
Couple Emily and Randall decide to stay at the titular beach house, owned by Randall’s parents, in an isolated vacation town while they decide the future of their relationship. Despite another couple’s presence, Randall and Emily unpack and prepare to enjoy the property when they notice microbes on the beach and a thick, noxious fog approaching.
Later, an emergency alert system and radio broadcast reveal that the microbes, previously preserved in underwater rocks and released by global warming, result in an infectious and deadly disease when inhaled. But Randall and Emily discover other symptoms when they encounter the other couple postinfection.
Perhaps a little too close to home, The Beach House depicts a scary and realistic hypothetical. (Available on Shudder.)