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ecological horror

In honor of Earth Day, the Morbidly Beautiful writers share their twenty favorite ecological horror films of yesterday and today.

Humans have always had a complicated relationship with the natural world — both nurturing and exploiting it, revering it and fearing it. From the birth of the environmental movement at the turn of the twentieth century through the annual Earth Day celebrations, we are rightfully spellbound by the world around us, even as it often serves as the source of our darkest nightmares and deepest anxieties.

We’ve long dreaded the retaliation of a vengeful Mother Nature, for good reason, and this pervasive fear has infused our greatest horror stories for decades. As we contemplate an uncertain future and wonder how close we are to the point of no return, we need these stories now more than ever.

Here are 20 of our favorite ecological horror stories, from the ’50s to the powerful and poignant films of the last decade. While there’s much entertainment to found here, there’s also an important and increasingly urgent message. If we want to keep our horror on the screen and out of our reality, the time to act is now. (- Stephanie Malone)

1. C.H.U.D. (1984)

(Recommended by Danni Winn)

During the 1980s, New York City was viewed by many as a cesspool of crime, corruption, filth, and excess. At the time, the city’s murder rate was one of the highest in the country — along with serious issues concerning poverty, drug use, and homelessness. Urban Legends of alligators and abnormally large rodents found in the sewers ran rampant.

Manhattan and its surrounding four boroughs served as a  backdrop for countless 80’s genre entries. But one flick, in particular, perfectly encapsulated the grime and greed in NYC. That film is Douglas Cheeks’ C.H.U.D.

With some serious acting chops on display, C.H.U.D. has become the diamond in the rough over the years.

Featuring Daniel Stern, John Heard, Christopher Curry, and John Goodman, this B-rated horror movie definitely delivers the goods within this department while presenting horrors that were very relevant for its time — toxic waste and corporate corruption.

Unfortunately, four decades later, we fear much of the same.

Despite the fact the C.H.U.D.s didn’t get the full monster FX they deserved, the mere concept of subhuman entities recklessly created underground and chomping away at city residents was unsettling enough, and has seemingly entertained countless across the globe for nearly four decades.

As an April Fools joke several years back, the immensely respected label Criterion announced that they would give their grand treatment to the 1984 cult film.

Instead of laughs and ridicule, however, Criterion noticed the staggering amount of fan appreciation for the fake endeavor. And they weren’t alone.

Another celebrated label, the British-based Arrow Films, wisely took heed of the fanfare and in November of 2016, presented a much-anticipated Blu-ray release of C.H.U.D.

With a great script and compelling characters, C.H.U.D. is a much better film than you might expect from a low-budget, B-movie monster flick from the 80s. Not only is it wildly entertaining, but it also has an important subtext about the homeless crisis — a topic that was certainly highly relevant in the ’80s but has only gotten worse in the 2020s.

It speaks to how we treat our most vulnerable citizens and the ways we exploit both the planet and its human inhabitants in service to capitalistic greed and convenience.

In the film, photographer George Cooper (Heard) documents the lives of homeless individuals in Manhattan and has noticed their population has become smaller and more fearful.

Soon, the destitute are not the only ones that should be afraid.

Police Captain Bosch (Curry) is desperate to find his wife who vanished one evening while walking their dog. During his frantic search, he enlists the help of a soup kitchen reverend, A.J. (Stern). A conspiracy to hide toxic dumping and radioactive waste is unveiled as the men team up to save their community from an unprecedented threat – C.H.U.D.s (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers).

C.H.U.D. has curiously stood the test of time and risen above its B-movie status as a result of its strong cast, clever script, cool creature effects, and — most surprisingly of all — its impassioned concern for the plight of the homeless and the horrors of government corruption.

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Watch it today, streaming on Prime.

2. The Host (2006)

(Recommended by Laura A. Sloan)

Bong Joon-Ho as a director is much like a musical conductor. He knows how to invoke all the notes of innocence, connection, and the unknown within the waters of the 2006 South Korean film, The Host (Gwoemul).

This riveting horror monster drama also adds a prominent layer of social and political commentary about Mother Earth in the hands of international relationships.

At the Yongson American Military base, against all regulations, hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde are poured down the drains that flow into Seoul’s Han River. With this unthinkable moment, we’re introduced to Bong’s satirical view of the United States military occupation and influence on South Korea.

A few years later, two fishermen discover a small, mutated fish with multiple tails that escapes. The broadening of toxic waste evolving within the water generates the unimaginable. Park Gang-Doo (Kang-ho Song), a father and food kiosk co-owner, joins spectators with his family at the edge of the river as something under the bridge is cocooning like Alien.

The “little shop of rivers” is large and predator-like, very slimy with an eel slither showcasing pure CGI realism. The monster swings and grabs any human in its path for later consumption.

Gang-Doo loses his daughter Hyun-seo (Ko Asung) in the crowd’s chaos to escape the monster running rampant on the banks. In acrobatic movements, it takes Hyun-seo across and under the river.

Both the U.S. and South Korean militaries test and quarantine all who survive the monster’s wrath or display side effects of a new virus transmitted by the creature. It’s unclear what the virus is, but I think of it more as the contagion of denial.

What makes The Host such an emotional treasure is Bong’s intricate way of isolating a character within their environments for them to find a greater scope of self-exploration.

Bong is a visionary genius. I feel as if I’m experiencing the hero’s journey near the river. In contrast, I feel the distinction of being an observer, too.

Family is centered through this heart-wrenching journey; they band together as fugitives combing the sewers to find their beloved Hyun-seo.

The Host captures the vivid beauty, the dark blues, and all-encompassing earth hues of the river, then mixes in the genre influences of Godzilla gone aquatic. What we feed into the waters must come back up to air its grievances.

The ecological consequences of the monsters we create become our polluted waters. Our empathy is stronger than any systems that try to control us; if only we could give the same care of family to Mother Earth, because she needs that more than ever before.

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Watch it on Fubo, Hoopla, or Kanopy. Or rent on most VOD platforms. 

3. Crawl (2019)

(Recommended by Peter Hayward-Bailey)

On the surface, Crawl (2019) could be seen as just another creature feature. And indeed, it hits some great creature feature tropes like unlikely vindictive beasts, very poor human decision-making, and buckets and buckets of the red stuff.

But scratch just under the surface, and the film that Alexandre Aja has presented us with is actually very timely with the rise of adverse weather conditions in the days of the global warming crisis.

We have all watched as the world faces more extreme weather with more frequency because of climate change. And the state of Florida (the setting for this film) has certainly seen a dramatic increase in deadly storms. In fact, some scientists believe that south Florida could disappear underwater within 80 years.

CRAWL couples that poignant backdrop with a good handful of vicious alligators that get a taste for human blood, which makes for a rip-roaring good time.

Though it alludes to the impact humans are making on the planet, at no point is the film preachy.

It all starts with a woman, who is a really very very good swimmer (ridiculously heavy-handed foreshadowing), making the decision to go towards an incoming storm in an attempt to get her father out.

She subsequently gets stuck in the claustrophobic crawl space under his house with some angry alligators and a steadily rising water level.

On its surface, it’s a man vs. nature film — and a damned entertaining one at that. You can watch it without giving any thought to its hidden depth. And if all you really want is some adrenaline-pumping survivalist action and toothy murder, it more than delivers.

But what makes Crawl so chilling isn’t the man-eating alligators (though, the beasts are plenty scary). It’s the prescient nature of apocalyptic, environmental catastrophies and a not-too-distant Florida drowning under water.

In that devastating future, the alligators are actually quite a low-level threat. But it makes for a pretty powerful metaphor about our own horrific choices coming back to bite us in the ass; a metaphor for the tight space we now find ourselves in from which there is likely no escape.

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Rent it on most VOD platforms. 

4. The Stuff (1985)

(Recommended by Laura A. Sloan)

You may consider it ice cream or yogurt, but for most, “The Stuff” is just one killer dessert wreaking havoc on the people who consume it and their environments.

Written and directed by Larry Cohen, the 1985 science fiction horror film The Stuff is a brilliant satire on American consumerism during the Reagan era and examines an agricultural climate easily controlled at the hands of big business.

When miners discover a bubbling unidentified substance blending into the snow, tasting it was their biggest mistake. The Stuff attacks the brain and body, moving through it like a parasitic vanilla shake in its own science.

With The Stuff making its way into every household,  a young boy, a former FBI agent, and a Marketing Director must team up to try to stop the production of the tasty and mutating evil crème before the public can ingest another spoonful of its demise.

Besides being an essential horror-comedy from the genre’s Golden Age, THE STUFF offers witty and potentent social commentary tackling everything from mass marketing to corporate greed to nutrition, as well as taking down the ways we exploit the land — not for survival, but for comfort and profit.

One of the film’s main themes is how quickly and easily we turn a blind eye to dire future consequences in the service of immediate gratification. 

On one level, it’s about our utter disregard for the long-term harmful effects of food additives and chemicals.

Maybe in some way, Cohen was trying to tell us just how much we make Mother Nature out to be a foreign substance with all the artificial creations we build our economics on. He seems to be asking, “If we’re so willing to ingest toxic substances sure to kill us over time, why stop at one that simply expedites the process?”

Of course, it’s not just about what we put in our bodies but rather what we pump into our air and oceans. it’s not not just our bodies; we’re poisoning the entire planet.

In 1985, recycling was limited to pop cans, and the scenes depicting trash piles of The Stuff containers would tell the story of our landfills for decades to come. Let’s face it, waste mutates, and Mother Nature became the casualty of that huge industrial carbon footprint.

From recalled products to pesticides, to the unholy union of government corruption and corporate exploitation — we’re being sold our own demise in a pretty package, and we’re tragically eager consumers. In our choices for our health and the environment, consider David’s question: Are you eating it or is it eating you?

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Stream it on Shudder or for free on Tubi.

5. The Happening (2008)

(Recommended by Conor McShane)

The Happening is not a good movie.

So why am I recommending it for an article about the best of eco-horror? There are a couple of reasons. One, it’s one of the most prominent examples of mainstream eco-horror from this century, and two, it transcends mere badness to become something uncannily delightful.

For a certain type of horror fan, a movie like The Happening can be as enjoyable, if not more so, as a more conventionally “good” film.

While his reputation has improved somewhat in recent years, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan was considered a joke among film fans throughout the 2000s. After the one-two punch of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable earning him “next Spielberg” comparisons, Shyamalan’s career steadily declined, with each release more maligned by critics and audiences than the last.

The Happening might not be the nadir of this period (that would be 2010’s The Last Airbender), but it certainly came close.

It’s a shame, too, because parts of THE HAPPENING are genuinely chilling, particularly in a world where the idea of an invisible, deadly threat carried on the wind feels a whole lot less ridiculous.

While the execution resulted in more groans than gasps, there’s real terror baked into the film’s framework. 

And some of it really works.

The mass suicide sequences, bystanders watching in horror as bodies casually rain from a rooftop, or an extended tracking shot following a loaded gun as it moves from victim to victim, give hints of the movie it could have been.

In the ’70s, disaster movies that pitted man against Mother Nature were popular, but the threat was typically a specific natural disaster (like an earthquake) or a mutant form of some species.

As the terrifying picture of our future on this planet comes closer into focus, eco-horror has evolved to reflect our very real fears. Now, the entire planet is the vengeful and malevolent force. It’s a planet that has grown weary of our destructive presence.

What happens when the host turns against its unwelcome parasite? Films like The Happening explore that horrifying scenario.

Sadly, the great idea is squandered and we get instead is, for the most part, hilariously inept.

Much of the humor comes from Mark Wahlberg as the world’s least likely science teacher, whose attempts to look terrified end up coming across more as befuddled. He shares basically no chemistry with costar Zooey Deschanel, who generally seems like she wants to be anywhere else.

Some of the veteran character actors in the cast dig into Shyamalan’s idiosyncratic dialogue with relish, like Frank Collison delivering a defense of hot dogs. Stage legend Betty Buckley is particularly great as a suspicious old lady who lets the heroes shelter in her farmhouse, delivering her lines with a little bit of the high camp that the movie could’ve used a lot more of.

While The Happening may have failed in its aim to be a convincing piece of eco-horror, its failure ultimately makes it something more special: a disaster of epic, hilarious proportions.

Director M. Night Shyamalan has joked that the quintessential horror film for our time might turn out to be a documentary: AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. The unexpected truth of that statement is far more frightening than anything that happens in THE HAPPENING.

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Watch it on HBO Max.

6. The Feast (2021)

(Recommended by Jamie Alvey)

The Feast is an unabashedly Welsh film. It’s filmed in the Welsh language, filmed in Wales, and stars Welsh actors. Naturally, it’s steeped in the mythology of the land and it revels in the nature there.

The Feast is a veritable feast for the senses, hauntingly gorgeous with one of the most biting condemnations on capitalism and how it destroys nature.

Greed is the true villain here, and nature is coming back for revenge.

Blood is spilled in many inventive and disgusting ways, there’s cannibalism, and even some karma at play for those who were not directly involved in the deal.

The creeping tone of this film is like vines, reclaiming the landscape, sucking everyone and everything in. It’s utterly delicious.

A businessman, his wife, and his sons are throwing a dinner party in order to make a deal with their neighbor to secure rights to drill along the shared line of their properties.

The businessman and his wife, of course, have allowed drilling on their land and subsequently, a cave was found. Smelling the prospect of money, they hope to persuade their neighbor for her blessing.

However, everything doesn’t go according to plan when the young woman the wife has hired to help with the festivities arrives possessed by the spirit of a natural entity that was unleashed as a result of said drilling.

Old legends that were whispered to the wife as a little girl prove true when the entity rumored to have slept in the caves wreaks havoc on the businessman, the wife, the sons, and an unscrupulous guest of theirs involved in their subterfuge and greed. The only one spared is the neighbor, who left long before the carnage started, disagreeing with the disturbance of the land.

The entity that harnesses the young woman’s body and carries out a bloody and grotesque feat of revenge is based on Blodeuwedd, a figure from Welsh mythology that is aligned with nature.

Bloudeuwedd is said to be fashioned from flowers and her name means flower-faced in Middle Welsh. While flowers and nature are innately beautiful, THE FEAST harnesses all of the world’s anger at those who destroy it for profits.

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Watch it on Hulu.

7. The Crazies (1973/2010)

(Recommended by Vicki Woods)

The perfect fodder for any horror film, the atrocities that we humans put our planet through and Mother Nature’s revenge, is a story as old as time.

The Crazies, both the 1973 George Romero version and the more recent adaptation in 2010, illustrate the U.S. Government’s inability to handle an apocalyptic event caused by their own wrongdoing.

Contaminated water is the culprit in this story, turning most of the population of a small town into zombie-like killers. In both films, we examine the reaction of the government to contain a problem that they themselves created when the water becomes contaminated.

When the citizens turn into bloodthirsty creatures, the military quarantines everyone that hasn’t turned into a monster into a cage-like containment area, while the scientists ponder the future and try to find a cure.

Though the films deal with the basic horror trope of zombies, it is important we remember that humans cannot live without clean untainted water.

In other words, the most terrifying horror isn’t always monstrous creatures or supernatural forces of evil. As the old adage goes, man is the most dangerous monster of all.

The film also highlights a deeper concern regarding the ways in which the governments in numerous countries throughout history have attempted to destroy the evidence of their misdoings, by simply eradicating the source of the problem. Plausible deniability no matter the cost. In this case, that cost means murdering humans who are not sick. Collateral damage, right?

The Crazies emphasizes how the waterways on Earth are interconnected and how we share that precious collective resource. One group’s actions can change the world to the point of destruction, and a nightmare like this on film is not so far-fetched from real life.

Whether it’s nitrates from agricultural fertilizer or a bioweapon called Trixie, our waterways are dependent on our efforts to prevent contamination — lest we face the types of horror we see reflected in these films.

Maybe infected water on Earth will not cause us to be raving zombies, but it is a major concern. And on Earth Day, and every day, humanity should think about what they can do to save the planet we depend on.

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Watch both the 1973 film and the 2010 remake for free on Tubi.

8. Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)

(Recommended by Patrick Krause)

As early as the 1950s, sci-fi and horror movies have explored the effects of man-made pollution on the world. In the era of the Cold War and nuclear proliferation, the focus was mainly on the dangers of nuclear fallout from weapons testing.

As the world population increases and technology evolves, there are even more eco-horror stories to tell. And no movie wields the anti-pollution hammer quite like Toho’s 1971 film, Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka Godzilla vs The Smog Monster in the U.S.).

Hedorah is a creature hailing from outer space, which is believed to have originated on a planet of sludge. Attracted by the increasing pollution on Earth, it sees Earth evolving into a planet much like the one it hails from. Hedorah arrives on Earth and begins to feed on the trash, sewage, and nuclear waste of Japan.

Godzilla stumbles upon Hedorah after rising from the ocean and peering with disgust at the trash in the sea along the Japanese coast. Godzilla begins to use his atomic breath to burn away the trash in the ocean when he encounters Hedorah, and the fight is on.

There’s zero subtlety in the movie’s message, but it’s dripping in so much surrealism and fun that the bluntness of the message never feels like sermonizing.

Godzilla vs Hedorah is unlike any other movie in the franchise.

It opens with a new theme from composer Riichiro Manabe, who forgoes the original theme made famous by composer Akira Ifukube.

After a glimpse of the garbage floating in the sea and Hedorah rising from the trash, the film moves to an opening musical number that evokes the classic James Bond opening credit sequences. The song, “Return! The Sun” is sung by actress Keiko Mari and the lyrics cut straight to the heart of the movie — pollution destroying the Earth and a plea for nature to reclaim the planet.

Written and directed by Yoshimitsu Banno, he experiments and expands upon what was being done with Godzilla movies during the Showa era.

Banno has Godzilla communicating telepathically with the child protagonist, Ken Yano (Hiroyuki Kawase), there are images of kittens and babies buried neck-deep in toxic sludge, a hallucinogen trip inside a dance club where the patrons have fish heads, and animated sequences that further the anti-pollution message of the movie.

Godzilla vs Hedorah is probably one of the more divisive of the entire franchise. For some, the music and the tone, slide the monster movie too far toward a children’s film. But, for me, the silliness is part of what makes Godzilla vs Hedorah one of the better entries in the franchise.

As we approach Earth Day 2022, and we watch eco-horror films like GODZILLA VS HEDORAH, it’s hard not to reflect on how little things have changed over the past decades and how much further we need to go to stop catastrophic, man-made changes to the Earth.

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Watch it on HBO Max. 

9. Mimic (1997)

(Recommended by Jamie Marino)

Mimic was beloved auteur Guillermo del Toro’s first English-language film after he gained notice on the arthouse circuit for his debut feature, Cronos (1993). While fresh on the scene, del Toro delivered a monster cockroach epic that failed commercially and critically but introduced his signature visual style and thematic obsessions that would later evolve into more mature and lauded works.

Released by Dimension in 1997, del Toro expressed disappointment with the final product and especially with how it was edited. In 2011, he was finally able to release an extended director’s cut which adds six minutes to the original theatrical release. Though it’s still not the exact vision del Toro had for the film, he ended up being happy with the new cut and went on record saying, “It healed a lot of wounds.”

Despite the criticisms people had with the film, it was impossible not to praise its style and photography.

In Mimic, an unprecedented epidemic known as Strickler’s disease is wiping out the children of New York City. The deputy director of the CDC (Jeremy Northam) and a brilliant etymologist (Mira Sorvino) don their lab coats and get their John Hammond on when they genetically engineer a new species of roach, the Judas breed. This leads to the end of the epidemic, and the etymologist is credited with saving an entire generation of New Yorkers.

Believing the all-female Judas roaches to be benign, the scientists release them into the wild. They soon grow larger than people and breed anyway. Because, you know, life finds a way.

The movie title comes from the fact that if a Judas stands and wraps itself in its wings it looks like a person, even giving the illusion of a face with its folded claws.

MIMIC marks an important evolution in eco-horror. Following a trend in the 70s and 80s for more realistic, scientifically-anchored threats — and more life-sized monsters — the 90s began to give us man-sized monsters. In other words, the biggest dangers we faced walked among us. They were us.

If you’ve already seen Mimic, you know the true star of the movie is Chuy.

Chuy is a little autistic boy with the uncanny knack of imitating the clackety-clack of Judas sounds. Also, due to his caregiver Manny being a shoeshiner, Chuy can identify any pair of shoes just by seeing them. And “Mister Funny Shoes” (Judas roaches) are the only shoes he can’t recognize.

When the etymologist crosses paths with Chuy, they team up, along with some stereotypical cops.

“I didn’t sign up for this.”

“What is this shit?!”

It’s a fairly one-dimensional movie, and the turning of every corner is easily predictable. What makes it an uncomfortable and prophetic movie now is how much we can relate to it. Although, in the past, we may have seen movies with epidemics and taken them for what they were, now we all personally and directly jack into the shocks of what mass loss and disease paranoia feel like.

It can also be looked at as a classic sci-fi/horror cautionary tale about taking science just a little too far with genetic engineering. But the likelihood of that idea becoming a reality is fast approaching.

Unlike many other eco-horror films, the source of horror in MIMIC isn’t capitalistic greed or government corruption. The intentions here are good and the cause is noble. But Mother Nature doesn’t care why you’re messing with her. No matter what the reason, the result is the same; there are always consequences.

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Watch it on HBO Max. 

10. Silent Night (2021)

(Recommended by Stephanie Malone)

If you prefer your bleak and nihilistic, “oops, we f’cked up the world, now we are all doomed” horror with a heaping dollop of wry British humor and peppy Christmas energy, you’ll find a lot to love in 2021’s Silent Night.

I was fortunate to catch the US premiere of writer/director Camille Griffin’s feature filmmaking debut at Fantastic Fest, and I loved every minute of this ambitious apocalyptic film that delivers a strange but endearing mix of “home for the holidays” rom-com and end-times horror/drama.

It begins by giving off Love Actually vibes and even stars one of that film’s key players in Keira Knightly. But the tonal shift about mid-way into some very dark territory is jarring and unexpected.

It’s Christmas Eve, and a group of upper-middle-class friends and loved ones gather at the opulent English estate owned by the family of Knightley’s Nell. It all seems innocent enough until, slowly, the massive elephant in the room begins to be revealed.

Resulting from human neglect and abuse, a massive toxic cloud is sweeping across the planet, with no hope of stopping its destructive path. Now, everyone must decide whether to take government-issued “Exit” pills to end it all quickly without suffering, or to face the inevitable and risk a catastrophic demise.

The threat of impending doom undercuts moments of surface joy and a futile attempt to fiddle while the world burns.

Though the timing of its release made it feel like a perfect pandemic parable, it’s really a cautionary tale about climate change.

Silent Night features some great performances from its stellar ensemble cast that includes Matthew Goode, Lucy, Punch, Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, and Roman Griffin Davis (the filmmaker’s son who wowed as the young star of Jojo Rabbit). As you’d expect, Knightley is a standout, as is the impossibly good Griffin Davis.

There’s plenty of relatable humor throughout. Though the unholy union of fear and merriment co-existing in less than peaceful harmony works to amplify the horror.

Characters are shown laughing, dancing around the room to peppy music, drinking, and opening presents while the countdown to man’s extinction ticks increasingly loudly in the background — creating tremendous tension and unease.

There’s some not-so-subtle commentary baked in about how we as humans seem to be handling the increasingly alarming climate crisis. Characters seem to have accepted their fate with almost apathetic ease as they idle away their last night on earth and wait to die.

Echoing real life, the only real voice of reason is from the youngest among them. While the adults have given up and abandoned their responsibilities, a child asks, “Shouldn’t we be doing something? Isn’t it possible there’s a way out of this mess?”

It’s at once undeniably charming and unflinchingly grim. And the pull-no-punches ending hits even harder after how innocently the whole thing begins.

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Stream it on AMC+, Fubo, or rent it on most VOD platforms. 

11. Prophecy (1979)

(Recommended by Kara Grimoire)

While the practical effects, visible microphone wires, and stiff line delivery in conjunction with cheesy acting have made this ecologically aware film somewhat of a laughing stock, I implore you to reconsider the film’s strong points and the socially conscious message behind this feature.

Prophecy challenges and draws inspiration from the well-loved man vs. nature genre heavily associated with early American writer Jack London. Our film centers on an environmentalist couple investigating a paper mill disposing of waste in the Ossipee River (a body of water that runs from eastern New Hampshire to western Maine and lets out via the Saco River and into the Atlantic Ocean).

The contamination of the local water supply results in a frantic mutated bear  — the inspiration for the most terrifying creature in another modern-day eco-horror film, Annihilation — attacking loggers that have entered its territory.

The unfortunate creature embodies the vengeful Forrest spirit Katahdin, a deity the natives feel is angered. The bear acts as an agent of the Earth as if to say, “I am nature, hear me roar.”

Much like Godzilla (Gojira, 1954), Prophecy was also inspired by a real-life tragedy that befell Japanese citizens. In 1956, it was discovered people living in Kumamoto Prefecture were experiencing symptoms related to methyl-mercury poisoning. Evidence showed high levels of mercury were being leaked into the water supply, via Minamata Bay, by the Chisso Chemical Plant, causing Minamata disease — leading to heartbreaking effects that are mercifully never depicted in Prophecy.

The word ‘prophecy’ is never mentioned in the film, but we can assume it’s meant as a forewarning of an inevitable disaster that could be seen on the horizon more than 40 years ago — a reckoning for the damage we have done to our earth. Sadly, that message now seems more prophetic than ever.

What Prophecy has to say about the consequences of our actions as a species is truly horrifying. 

Directed by John Frankenheimer, the film came out during the cycle of “Nature Run Amok” movies, carried on the wings of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and ignited a feeding frenzy after Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.

David Seltzer, the author of The Omen, wrote the film’s screenplay and the official novelization. Seltzer packs the film with relevant social messages of the time. And it’s not just environmental concerns. The film also tackles heavy issues such as Native People’s rights and the fallout of Roe v. Wade.

Unfortunately, despite the pedigree of talent behind the camera and story ideas rich with meaning and depth, Prophecy seemed to miss the mark in every way. Frankenheimer himself considered it to be a film with far more potential than what he eventually delivered.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. Stephen King himself praised the film for being “comfortably bad” and claimed to have seen it several times at the drive-in.

Flaws aside, PROPHECY holds an important place in the pantheon of eco-horror and deserves credit for how it explores the intimate connection between humanity and the environment. If you are a fan of this sub genre, or even a lover of ‘so bad it’s good’ films, I strongly encourage you to check this one out.

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Watch it on Paramount Plus or rent it on most VOD platforms. 

12. Piranha (1978)

(Recommended by Kelly Mintzer)

Piranha has evolved into a film franchise, and most of the films are not good. The first film, however, the movie that launched a tidal wave of sequels, is surprisingly great.

Piranha is directed by genre icon Joe Dante, an immediate mark in its favor. It’s pretty clear that Piranha is the Friday the 13th to JawsHalloween.

Despite the obvious attempt to cash in on a familiar premise — aquatic man-eater wreaks havoc — Piranha throws an interesting wrench into the formula by having the vengeful, titular piranha be the result of chemical warfare.

Piranha supposes a world where scientists genetically engineered a highly chompy strain of piranha to infiltrate the Viet Cong camps during the Vietnam War. The conflict resolved, a rogue scientist preserves his research in a local reservoir. Following a series of truly awful decisions by various ding-dongs (I assure you, that is the best and most accurate term for these characters), the piranha are released from the reservoir and into open waters.

While the movie is fundamentally silly and leans heavily into Dante’s love of the absurd, it does tap into some very genuine ecological fears. Like JAWS before it, it explores the tense negotiation between human economics and the enduring legacy of our natural world.

There’s nothing far-fetched about governments secretly synthesizing chemical weapons that wreak havoc on the environment and its inhabitants.

Every possible moment of the piranha disaster could have been avoided if humans hadn’t made such terrible decisions.

As human needs encroach upon and threaten natural ecosystems and the species therein, they understandably get angry. Nature can only be pushed so far before it starts to push back.

But in Piranha, nature doesn’t so much turn against man as it is man that turns nature against himself.

Though Piranha was inspired by Jaws, it feels more in line with Jurassic Park. Humans make bad decisions with genetic material that isn’t theirs to mess around with and disaster ensues.

The best decision Piranha makes is to have no real villain; just a wild collection of deeply incompetent people.

For an oddball, often hilarious movie, PIRANHA understands that nothing is more dangerous to the environment than human arrogance and ignorance.

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Watch it on Prime, Tubi, or Shudder (among other platforms). 

13. The Grapes of Death (1978)

(Recommended by Jamie Marino)

Most geographical regions and time periods have different and unmistakable differences, and Euro-horror is no exception. It’s both a haze and mania. It has Moog Organ sensuality, and a blanket of spider webs keeps it warm.

Into this unsuccessful attempt at a description, I bring Poseidon’s trident of Euro-horror: Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, and Joe D’Amato (although I prefer using his actual Italian name, Aristide Massaccesi).

Giallos, exploitation, and lesbian vampires were among the preferred topics of their films. They did get experimental, however. And at the time, zombies were becoming the new unexplored horror puddle to dip their toes into.

I can think of at least three Euro horrors, including Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death (aka Les Raisins de la Mort), that incorporated environmental concerns into their groovy, psychedelic narratives.

In The Grapes of Death, a young woman discovers that the pesticide being sprayed on vineyards is turning people into murderous lunatics.

As a youngster, my mom would always tell me to wash off any fruit from the grocery store. Pesticides that were sprayed on fruit needed to get cleaned off. That used to freak me out. I would wonder why a grocery store was selling poisoned fruit, or at the very least wasn’t more cautious. It seemed like a recipe for disaster — a recipe served up in spectacular fashion by THE GRAPES OF DEATH.

If The Grapes of Death suffers from anything, it’s simplicity.

There are no side-quests and no characters with questionable intentions.

Young Elizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal, yet another supernaturally attractive European actress) travels to the lush wine country of Roubles, in France, to live with her fiancee. The grape crops there have been sprayed with an experimental pesticide. As is the case with most movies about toxic pesticides, the crops and water are poisoned and the wine-crazy townsfolk become mindlessly murderous, pus-oozing zombies.

That is basically the gist of it. Elizabeth spends the running time trying to escape the town, and eventually . . . well, if you like Euro-horror, you know what happens eventually.

Of course, simple doesn’t imply less horrifying. The destruction of the planet itself isn’t complex. We poison the earth, and the earth dies. That’s a rather straightforward path to unspeakable terror and annihilation.

The Grapes of Death has primitive but gag-inducing gore effects. Infected townies grow lesions and sticky-stringy wounds all over their bodies (with that wonderful 70s-era orange blood). They seem to be brainwashed by an indiscriminate bloodlust, yet still, remain intelligent enough to pursue Elizabeth and use stabbing weapons against her.

Though known for his elegant lesbian vampire movies, Jean Rollin stepped outside of the box here and helped create a gruesome and eerie prototype for what would be many eco-conscious horror movies to come.

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Watch it on Kino Now or YouTube

14. Phase IV (1974)

(Recommended by Conor McShane)

Most movies about killer bugs, from classic 50s schlock like Them or The Beginning of the End, to more modern schlock like Eight Legged Freaks, tend to go big with their creatures, turning tiny and largely unthreatening insects and arachnids into blunt-force instruments of destruction.

One of the things that makes the 1974 film Phase IV so affecting is that it takes the opposite approach, creating a far-fetched but still eerily plausible depiction of what would happen if ants gained a human level of intelligence and if we pissed them off.

Phase IV actually has a surprising pedigree: it’s the only film directed by Saul Bass, the legendary graphic designer who created some of the most iconic title sequences in film history, from Hitchcock’s Vertigo and North By Northwest to Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino.

It seems the studio didn’t give him a whole lot to work with, but Bass brings his unmistakable visual sense to the film in different ways, particularly in the dreamlike opening and the incredible macro photography of the ants, which still looks amazing to this day.

An apocalyptic vision of what happens when we push against the elements and they push back — hard, Bass seems to be making a statement with PHASE IV on the foolishness of man and the consequences of our often selfish behavior.

The script from Mayo Simon does a great job of making its ant-agonists (sorry, I couldn’t resist) genuinely threatening.

They’re no bigger than ordinary ants, but they’re unsettlingly clever, trapping the human protagonists in their laboratory, cutting off their air conditioning in the blazing desert heat. It’s well known that ants are some of the most organized and collaborative creatures on the planet, and Phase IV shows just how screwed we’d be if they started to rise up.

The studio made Bass cut out the film’s original ending, a truly bonkers, hallucinatory look at mankind’s future under ant control.

It’s a shame because it’s a truly gobsmacking sequence.

In recent years, the film has been screened with its original ending restored, and you can find bootleg recordings on YouTube. I need someone to get on reissuing this movie on Blu-ray with its original ending as soon as humanly possible.

It’s an alienating but brilliant ending that pulls no punches, unlike the original studio cut, and offers no reassurances about the inevitable triumph of man over his environment. In Bass’ chilling vision, humans don’t stand a chance when a superior intelligence finally organizes and revolts.

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Rent it on most VOD platforms. 

15. The House (2022)

(Recommended by Stephanie Malone)

In January 2022, Netflix quietly released something quite remarkable and surprisingly original. Consisting of three 30-minute segments all written by Enda Walsh and directed by different filmmakers, The House absolutely blew me away, and I’ve been frustrated by its lackluster reception.

Admittedly, this boutique offering was always intended for a very particular type of audience. A surreal, genre-bending stop-motion anthology for adults, it’s somewhat of an oddity.

But that’s what makes it so captivating.

United by an inspired narrative thread, the film transports viewers across different timelines to tell the history of the titular house — from its eerie, gothic origins to its ultimate destruction. The stories are told through the perspective of the house’s inhabitants, human at first but eventually replaced by other species of animal.

Much like Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, The House is rich in allegory and can be interpreted in many ways. Most notably, it’s a tragic tale of the hand humanity has in constructing its own demise.

While the words climate change are never uttered, it’s not difficult to view the film as a parable for humanity’s turbulent relationship to the home we all share: planet Earth.

The first story, and the most overtly horrific of the three, is directed by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels.

Set in the 1800s, a family man, Raymond (Matthew Goode) is ashamed of his humble lifestyle. Thus, when he meets a mysterious old man in the woods claiming to be a famous architect, who offers to build him a lavish new home at no cost, he jumps at the chance.

The family is quickly seduced by all the extravagant trappings of their new abode. But their daughter Mabel (the wonderful Mia Goth who recently wowed in Ti West’s X) senses something isn’t right.

Lush with intrigue and a spooky atmosphere, it’s a riveting opening act that serves as a metaphor for humanity’s greed and pursuit of excess. It may be possible to have it all now, but at what cost to the future?

The second short directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr brings us to the present day.

The humans have been replaced by an anthropomorphic rat (Jarvis Cocker), a struggling contractor desperate to flip the house and turn a tidy profit. However, in the midst of a recession, he’s sunk his life savings into developing a state-of-the-art home he hopes will attract wealthy buyers.

Facing an onslaught of nagging pests — insects and creditors — he thinks his luck is turning around when he meets an elderly couple of possums who are ‘very much interested in the house’. But these potential buyers quickly turn into unwanted guests who refuse to leave.

They are soon joined by a host of other friends and relatives. And the whole Kafkaesque ordeal culminates in an apocalyptic ending symbolizing the collapse of humanity.

In the third and final short directed by Paloma Baeza (reminding the viewer of massive talents like Wes Anderson and Tim Burton), we shift toward the future.

Something has caused a terrible flood that has consumed everything in its path and has now begun to creep into the house itself. The home’s new owner is a cat who has converted the house into a multi-tenant complex, though she currently only has two tenants (one being the incomparable Helena Bonham Carter).

She spends her time trying desperately to restore the mansion to its former glory, wallpapering crumbling walls. It’s a ridiculously futile pursuit that conveys her denial about what’s happening all around her and her inability to take meaningful action. Sound familiar?

The film’s meaningful and thought-provoking allegories, which also include themes of greed and loneliness, are expertly hidden among extraordinary visuals and creative storytelling. Perfectly weird yet hauntingly real, THE HOUSE is a stunning achievement.

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Stream it on Netflix.

16. Spoor/Pokot (2017)

(Recommended by Dax Kurowska)

Based on a book by Noble Prize Winner Olga Tokarczuk and directed by Agnieszka Holland, Spoor is an ecological tale that is unmistakably tied to the Polish identity.

Set in the cold countryside, the film follows Janina, an old woman who spends her time translating William Blake, reading stars, and being a bit of a nuisance as an activist for animal rights in a village where hunters are a-plenty and a fur farm pays well.

When mysterious murders start to plague local hunters Janina forms a hypothesis: that it is the animals who want revenge.

Part folk horror, part eco-thriller, Spoor portrays Polish countryside that anyone raised there recognizes in an instant.

It is a space where everyone fears the mayor, the wealthiest businessman in the village, and the priest, and those three coincidently happen to often be found drinking or hunting with each other. Going against this trinity is not only stupid but blasphemous.

Going against tradition and custom on top of that is enough to become an ostracized outsider.

Trying to change anything about places like this, be it treatment of marginalized people, or even how farmed fur animals are treated, is an exercise in desperation for people like Janina who have little power and status.

It is this desperation that Spoor wants the viewer to sit in.

The desperation that Janina becomes filled with which leads to the finale which while tragic, we cannot help but also see as justified.

The film lacks particular gore, and it juxtaposes human and animal suffering in a way that can be called tender. Instead of showing how cruelty imposed on animals can be as easily imposed on human bodies, it presents how kindness and affection given to people are without question granted to animals.

When Janina finds a shot boar instead of quick shots of blood and guts we are so accustomed to, the film allows for a long moment when the woman lies down and embraces the animal.

That is what makes SPOOR such an excellent eco-thriller: it is a tender horror, in which it is animals who are victims, hunters are the slashers, and an old hag becomes a final girl.

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Watch it on The Criterion Channel or Kanopy, or rent it on most VOD platforms. 

17. The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

(Recommended by Jamie Alvey)

The Creature From the Black Lagoon is a classic for its iconic creature, but it’s also a classic example of white people messing with nature when they shouldn’t be.

This is a trope that happens time and time again in horror films, and it’s one that I frankly never tire of because sometimes humanity should leave well enough alone. I’m not saying you deserve to be murdered by a fish-man creature if you encroach upon his habitat purposefully, but I am also not saying that.

The film follows a group of scientists on an expedition to find the rest of a skeleton of a creature that may provide a length between aquatic animals and land animals. They never expect that any of these creatures could possibly still exist. Regardless, they barge right on down to the Amazon Rainforest like they own the place in search of an exciting scientific discovery that will bring them fame and fortune.

The story is a timeless example of man’s folly and fear of the other. Nature is harmed in the end and, sadly, it’s humanity that is triumphant without seeing the error in their ways.

Over the course of the film, it’s difficult not to feel for the curious Gill-man.

His home has been trespassed upon and his unexpected guests are not very nice.

Of course, his first encounter with some of the research assistants leads them to panic and in turn attack the poor creature. He retaliates and kills them in self-defense. Am I a Gill-man apologist? Yes, yes I am. No one ever attempts peaceful and gentle communication with the creature who is a living marvel.

The cruelty of the scientists isn’t lost on me as a viewer, nor is the humanity of the Gill-man. It provides an interesting ethical quandary, one that Guillermo del Toro would explore more in-depth many years later with The Shape of Water.

There’s a reason that the Gill-man still captivates audiences after all this time. It’s almost an all too prescient parable that still resonates nearly 70 years later.

Though, as the existential threat to humanity becomes more of immediate reality, modern horror films have abandoned the ‘happy’ endings of the ’50s in favor of more nihilistic visions. And that’s ok with me because my heart will always yearn for justice for Gill-man.

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Rent it on most VOD platforms. 

18. The Food of the Gods (1976)

(Recommended by Kara Grimoire)

Based on the writings of H.G. Wells, The Food of the Gods is an excellent entry into the science fiction genre, which serves as a relevant warning of what happens when man meddles in things best left to the natural order.

The environmental message is not subtle. In fact, protagonist Morgan (Marjoe Gortner) delivers it via an opening narration.

A professional football player, he explains that he and his teammates have been given a brief hiatus before a big game. He decides to take his respite enjoying the wilderness of a remote island. During the long ferry ride to get there, he recalls the words of his dad, who constantly warned him that nature would one day strike back.

Finally, that day has arrived, as the island has become ground zero for oversized, mutated rodents and wildlife thanks to a mysterious liquid. The film maintains considerable tension and believability as these gigantic vermin excel at their best instinctual attribute.

A product of the 70s — where fear of our apocalyptic future ran rampant thanks to political scandals, the war in Vietnam, and a nuclear standoff with Russia — the idea that nature would eventually revolt against us was a popular one.

THE FOOD OF THE GODS feeds into that paranoia with vicious bite, delivering nihilism and a bleak conclusion that suggests nature won’t be denied.

An innovative film, The Food of the Gods, incorporates low-budget tactics to achieve its filmed effects.

One may find these facets limited and cheap, but the story and acting are strong enough to allow this B-film leniency.

The end sequence serves as an ominous warning against pollutants (the goopy FoTG — the titular Food of the Gods solution), fed to farm animals, and eventually made its way into the wildlife population.

Labeled glass jars are carried off by the local water supply and are carried upstream to a dairy farm. The next scene depicts school children consuming contaminated milk. This is a notable example of how chemical spills affect numerous ecosystems and species.

Although dismissed as a feeble endeavor by Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, this film still carries a solemn warning for Earth’s inhabitants to be mindful and care for the planet.

The message is relevant as it was in the 70s, or even the early 1900s (when the novel initially saw publication). This should be reason alone to turn down your bedroom lights and lend the film a few moments of your time.

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Stream it on Plex for free or rent it on Vudu. 

19. The Birds (1963)

(Recommended by Kara Grimoire)

Based on a story penned by Daphne du Maurier of the same name, Alfred Hitchock’s seminal horror classic The Birds takes its own artistic license with the story. In fact, the spontaneous avian attacks are really the only connective tissue between the novella and film.

The film also borrows from an actual event occurring on the seashores of North Monterey Bay along the central coast of California.

Sooty shearwaters flew in a disorientated state, crashing into objects and appearing to be launching an attack. The actual cause was not discovered until thirty years later, when the anomaly repeated due to toxic algae.

The Birds hit theaters less than a year after Rachel Carson’s seminal 1962 book “Silent Spring” debuted. In that book, Carson metaphorically addresses the rise of the chemical industry and the destructive effects of pesticides on animals and the environment. She speaks of a strange blight that sweeps over an idealized American town and destroys the delicate balance between man and nature.

In particular, she writes, the birds disappeared. “It was a spring without voices.”

“Silent Spring” played a key role in ushering in the environmental movement. Coincidentally, Hitchcock’s film provided an ominous answer to Carlson’s question: “The birds… where had they gone?”

The Birds offers no explanation for the events occurring in the film.

A seagull initiates an attack on star Tippi Hedron, making her debut film; the same species later strike a residence’s front door, and farm hens refuse to eat.

Although slow to build, the wait is well worth it as the hoard of irrational flocks finally descends upon the quiet town of Bodega Bay.

The shock of swarming events is disquieting and effectively produced. No moment of the film comes off as over-the-top. One can also appreciate the lack of “accidental comedic” moments. Sure, it’s far-fetched — a fact addressed in the film as characters discuss the improbability of birds of different species flocking together.

And yet, it feels frighteningly real as the film quickly transitions into an apocalyptic note and the audience quickly forgets it’s not an entirely plausible threat.

The film’s unresolved end is abrupt, offering no explanation, and it’s undeniably the most chilling aspect of the picture.

The sight of something so benign, the common avian, turning vicious and attacking man terrified audiences of the time and helped reshape the genre. Along with CREATURE, it planted the seed for a new sub-genre: horror films addressing the battle of man vs the natural world. It was a seed that didn’t fully blossom until the 70s when eco-horror truly exploded.

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Stream it on Peacock or rent it on Vudu. 

20. Gaia (2021)

(Recommended by Stephanie Malone)

Gaia is a hallucinogenic, visually intoxicating mind trip that surprises at every turn.

It’s one of the most compelling, hauntingly beautiful, and utterly terrifying modern ecological horror films you may have missed. Expect equal parts del Toro-inspired monster movie, Cronenbergian body horror, and religious-fervor folk horror evocative of Robert Eggers’ The Witch.

Somewhere deep in the Tsitsikamma forest in South Africa, a deadly fungus proliferates at night, with the horrifying ability to rapidly consume its human hosts and spread with the ferocity and velocity of a population-ending plague.

Directed by Jaco Bower, it’s a film that never hides its cards — an impassioned rallying cry against humanity’s destruction of the environment and the tragic “tipping point” from which there may be no escape.

But despite its unmistakable message, the film remains a truly engaging and bone-chilling horror film. And the subject matter is navigated with skillful ingenuity and captivating creativity.

Wasting no time drawing the viewer in, Gaia’s opening scene is striking and disorienting.

An upside-down drone shot, simulating the eye of God, overlooks a river nestled amongst lush forestry. A couple of park rangers — Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) and Gabi (Monique Rockman) — paddle down the river in a canoe on a research mission. Things go awry, as they tend to do in horror films, and the two get separated. While Winston meets a gruesome fate, Gabi finds herself at the mercy of two survivalists with questionable motives and sanity — Barend (Carel Nel) and his son Stefan (Alex van Dyk).

Barend, a former scientist, now prays to the “Mother of creation and destruction”. He writes manifestos and delivers raving soliloquies on humanity’s crimes against nature and the inevitable reckoning at hand.

When night falls, the mysterious forest comes alive, and it’s here the film showcases both its impressive visual effects and its uncanny ability to unnerve. Gabi soon learns something is out there; something bigger than herself, bigger than mankind itself.

Numerous dream sequences, which may portend an urgent and ominous future, are as mesmerizing as they are pure nightmare fuel.

With its atmospheric and immersive world-building, innovative effects, and breathtaking cinematography, Bower effectively translates both the beauty and horror of nature — a life-giving and nurturing mother capable of unspeakable destruction and retribution.

GAIA will surely make you think, but don’t fear some heavy-handed and uninspired lecture. The film’s genius is in the way it fully invests you in its unforgettable, imaginative journey before delivering you to the painfully relevant apocalyptic destination.

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Stream it on Hulu or rent it on VOD. 

Bonus: 10 More Essential Eco-Horror Films

While these excellent eco-horror films just missed making our list, they are all well worth your time — on Earth day and every day.

  1. Day of the Animals (1977)
  2. The Last Winter (2006)
  3. The Bay (2012)
  4. mother! (2017)
  5. Annihilation (2018)
  6. The Beach House (2019)
  7. Unearth (2020)
  8. In the Earth (2021)
  9. Antlers (2021)
  10. Don’t Look Up (2021)

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