Stay out of the water! Beware the dog! Don’t go near that reef! The great Australian outdoors is a blood-curdling world full of sheer menace, as we have been told through decades of cinema that has given us all sorts of reasons to not go camping. Or even go outside. Or anywhere that can’t be safely secured behind a deadbolt. But even then, what if a boar runs into your house? Or a shark swims up to you at the supermarket?
These things can happen … at least in the movies. Here are Australian cinema’s 10 scariest animals.
10. The sharks in the supermarket in Bait (2012)
Having sharks swimming around a supermarket is a preposterously flakey premise but it’s executed with surprising seriousness by director Kimble Rendall, who uses a biblical-sized tsunami to send a couple of great whites into the aisles of a shop in a coastal community.
Bait stars Xavier Samuel as Josh, a heroic lifeguard with a “this time it’s personal” back story, given his brother was killed by — wait for it — a shark! This material cries out for sassier direction, preferably with a few more money shots, but the film may satisfy if expectations remain low. After all, it does have sharks in a supermarket.
9. The giant kangaroo in Welcome to Woop Woop (1997)
Writer/director Stephan Elliott followed up his massively successful The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert with an outrageously camp and kitschy satire sending up Australian national identity. Johnathon Schaech’s protagonist Teddy gets trapped in a town full of Aussie grubs far off the beaten track, under the rule of a tap-dancing and tinnie-drinking despot named Daddy-O (unforgettably played by Rod Taylor).
During the film’s climactic final stretch, Teddy and a fellow escapee (Dee Smart) are chased along a desolate freeway at night. Suddenly, apropos of nothing, a giant menacing kangaroo — the size of a huge dinosaur, for some reason — attacks Daddy-O and his daughter (Susie Porter), helping the hero escape before disappearing as quickly as it arrived. Daddy-O responds with that most Australian of proclamations: “Fuck me dead.”
8. The water monster in Frog Dreaming (1986)
This one’s cheating a little, given the beast in Brian Trenchard-Smith’s charmingly Spielbergian family film might technically not be an animal, for the mystery of what exactly is haunting the pond at Devil’s Knob National Park teased out until the very end. But the film certainly reads from the creature-feature song sheet, beginning with flashes of what appears to be some sort of water monster attacking an old coot, who responds by chucking a stubbie bottle in its general direction.
Perky young lad Cody (ET star Henry Thomas) is determined to discover what’s really in the water, coming up against annoying adults who tell him not to bother. Every creature feature must eventually show the beast; Trenchard-Smith and co. get bonus points for coming up with a narrative justification (in the form of a last minute plot twist) for why their beast looks particularly dodgy.
7. The great white shark in The Reef (2010)
When a handful of attractive Australians head out on a yacht trip to Indonesia, it’s initially all laughter and sunshine — but a ravenous great white shark will wipe the smile from their faces. When their boat capsizes, keeping out of the water is the preferred modus operandi — given the presence of said shark — but proves rather difficult, with the vessel slowly sinking and the swim to shore considerable. Like the crocodile in Black Water (see below) vision of the predator, revealed late in the runtime, is realistically integrated by writer/director Andrew Traucki.
6. The dingo in Evil Angels (1988)
The scariest thing about the dingo in Fred Schepisi’s classic drama (retitled A Cry in the Dark outside of Australia and New Zealand) is, of course, that it existed in real-life, running off with Lindy Chamberlain’s baby daughter at an Uluru campsite in 1980. Listening to Meryl Streep deliver that famous line – “The dingo took my baby!” – still sends shivers up your spine. Partly because it’s a chillingly staged scene — Schepisi resists overdoing it, barely showing the animal — and partly because those words are delivered by Streep, who nails the (notoriously difficult) Australian accent.
5. The crocodile in Black Water (2007)
Three holidayers — Adam (Andy Rodoreda), Grace (Diana Glenn) and Lee (Maeve Dermody) — learn the hard way that you should never trust any river tour business called Backwater Barry’s. The plot of Black Water is simple: the trio get stuck up a mangrove tree while a hungry crocodile swims around below. Co-directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich extract nerve-shredding tension from this threadbare premise. And the crocodile is really several actual crocs. According to a 2018 interview, about 10 were used for the film, including one that was drugged and pushed up and down in the water.
4. The crocodile in Dark Age (1987)
We all know that legendary line from Jaws about needing a bigger boat. But the vessel those blokes had is pretty bloody spacious compared to the dingy used by John Jarratt, David Gulpilil and Burnum Burnum to capture a 25-foot “Dreaming Croc” in Dark Age. Arch Nicholson’s energetically directed film is ideologically a cut above your common creature feature, in that the plan isn’t to kill the croc — a rubbery-looking thing called Numunwari, which has the respect of local Aboriginal people — but to move it into a sanctuary, enabling both highly spirited action sequences and a pro-conservation message.
3. Every living creature in Long Weekend (1978)
This is the “Murder on the Orient Express” of killer Australian animal movies: they all did it! Or, admittedly, maybe none of them did it. The genius of Colin Eggleston’s highly original horror and environmentally conscientious horror flick is that it never directly says all of nature has turned against the central couple (John Hargreaves and Briony Behets), who have embarked on a camping trip to try and save their marriage. But Mother Nature has seemingly recruiting all her minions to attack them after they continuously disrespect the environment (tossing a cigarette butt out the car window, for instance, and running over a kangaroo).
Eggleston builds a wild and dramatically escalating atmosphere, with potential threats found everywhere—from insects to birds, snakes, dogs, and even coastal breezes. The spooky-sounding man on the trailer gave fair warning: “Challenge them and every living creature, every blade of grass, will turn against you.”
2. The bull terrier in Babe: Pig and the City (1998)
George’s Miller’s criminally underrated sequel to Babe has the beloved titular pig trotting off to a big scary metropolis to save Hoggett farm. Innocently sniffing around in a dark alley, hoping to make friends, Babe instead encounters a vicious bull terrier who chases him through the city’s surreal canal-like streets with raw pork on its mind. Then something even more terrible happens: the dog accidentally manages to hang himself upside down, his chain dangling over a bridge and his head suspended in water, certain to drown, unless a hero emerges to save him …
Enter Babe! That paradigm of kindness and decency takes pity on the meanie who wanted to maul him, retrieving a rowboat and saving him. From that moment the gangster-like pooch is a Babe devotee, demanding all the other animals “thank the pig.”
1. Razorback in Razorback (1984)
And speaking of pigs … Russell Mulcahy’s hyper-stylised cult classic sure has a doozie. Pitched as “Jaws on trotters,” the film indeed has similarities with Spielberg’s classic — notably an animatronic villain that, shall we say, isn’t the most realistic. This sounds like a drawback but it actually improves each film, forcing the directors to cut around their slightly stiff-limbed creature and prioritise atmosphere over effects.
One key character is an old codger (Bill Kerr) whose son is taken away by the rampaging, rhino-sized razorback. This turns the grieving man into a Captain Ahab-type, determined to track down the hideous creature with tusks as large as cricket bats. Old mate Razorback is a thoroughly iconic villain: a mite camera shy at times, but ultimately unafraid to get amongst it. And the film is gold, from go to whoa.