Hot on the taloned heels of witnessing the Hitchcock/Truffaut documentary, comes a reading of Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds on the BBC Radio iPlayer. Predictably, it’s all the motivation this site needs to contemplate genre themes around nature turning against us en masse.
The Birds, first published in 1952, set a high benchmark for all emulators that followed and, as a result, output ever since has been pretty dire in comparison. From the low rent Killer Bees (2002) to the big budget, but equally risible, The Happening (2008), success has been more about tight narratives as opposed to special effects or the way nature chooses to dispatch us.
Probably the most compelling and Sci-Fi orientated trilogy in this space is James Herbert’s The Rats (1974), Lair (1979) and Domain (1984). While the story begins with all the typical tropes in place – ecological issues, a prolific creature and a small group of involved individuals – by Domain we’re experiencing a post-apocalyptic world in which the human survivors battle against the vermin for some kind of subterranean existence.
Insects provide another suitable threat to humanity but, once again, with mixed results. Even the writing of Arthur Herzog III, the directorial skills of Irwin Allen – fresh from The Poseidon Adventure (1972) – and the inclusion of Michael Cain as leading man couldn’t bootstrap The Swarm (1978) above average. Nicholas Edwards’ novel Arachnophobia had a better transition into film in the same year as the book was published (1992). However, it’s Saul Bass’ Phase IV (1974) that makes it onto the Drozbot hit list. Even today its favouring of ideas over thrills, bold cinamatography and Dali-esque Surrealism creates something that can’t easily be dismissed. Plus, it’s just become available on Netflix in the UK.
We could delve deeper and consider works that employ both dogs and cats as potential threats – such as David Fisher’s The Pack (1976) – but the general outlook remains one for improvement. There’s plenty of room to revisit this sub-genre and the increasing ecological threat of humanity upon our planet, offers an interesting twist with the premise of a vengeful Gia. It’s a bug infested baton buried in the middle of a rat-king, but there’s creative potential there for anyone brave enough to reach in and pick it up.