LOS ANGELES - Animals are our furry, cuddly companions, unflaggingly loyal and pure of spirit - except for when they want to eat us, that is.
Hey, cycle of life, man. Sunrise, sunset.
Recently we looked at the best live-action animal movies, such as "Babe" and "The Black Stallion." Now it's time to visit the other end of the spectrum ... if you dare. With "Piranha 3D" swimming in 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 available today. But in his youth, Steven Spielberg was wise enough to know 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 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, such as a Yorkie or a Chihuahua. No, this is a friendly, lovable St. Bernard, a breed traditionally 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 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.