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THE B-LIST: It's a creature feature extravaganza!

Movies packed with teeth that bite, claws that catch

As your dependable local purveyor of all things horror, I'd be remiss if I didn't shine a spotlight on one of its greatest, yet often underappreciated, subgenres: the creature feature.

Vampires, ghosts and slashers are great. I'll never get enough zombies or werewolves.

But sometimes you just want to see nature — or nature that's been Frankensteined by really stupid scientists — decide it's had enough of human interference and take a bite outta somebody.

The following is hardly a comprehensive list of the best creature features out there. But it's a nice sampling of animals that attack by land, by water and by air. Here there be scales, fins, feathers, shells...

And plenty of teeth.

6. "PIRANHA" (1978). A school of mutated piranha bred by the government during the Vietnam War is accidentally released into a lake, where it promptly attacks a summer camp. If heroes Grogan (Bradford Dillman) and Maggie (Heather Menzies) can't find a way to stop the Franken-fish before they reach the delta leading to the ocean, the piranhas will spread across the world.

Sure, it's a blatant rip-off of the far superior "Jaws." But this Roger Corman-produced, Joe Dante-directed schlocker is the best of the aquatic menace imitators; it even earned filmmaker Steven Spielberg's thumbs up of approval.

The effects are laughable, but since the movie doesn't take itself too seriously, that's just part of its charm. And there are plenty of fun in-jokes for horror buffs.

5. "MIMIC" (1997). A manmade insect, designed to eradicate disease-bearing cockroaches in New York, has evolved into man-sized man-eaters that now infest the abandoned subway tunnels beneath the city. The entomologist who created them, Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino), and her CDC director husband Paul (Jeremy Northam) have to eradicate them before they flood the surface.

Guillermo del Toro's first American film is infamous for its embattled production and remains the director's worst professional experience; "Mimic" almost made del Toro swear off working with American companies completely. The end result is a movie that would've been stronger without constant interference with the director's vision.

Still, while it's not as great as his Spanish-language films, it's an atmospheric chiller that offers plenty of ick moments sure to creep out anyone with a thing about bugs. The subway setting is evocative, there's some interesting meta about parenthood (it's telling that Susan is essentially the "mother" of these insects, and yet her and Paul's efforts to conceive have been for naught), and Norman Reedus and Josh Brolin both turn up for memorable moments.

4. "ANACONDA" (1997). A crew filming a documentary on a lost Amazonian tribe find themselves in a tight spot when they cross paths with obsessive poacher Serone (Jon Voight) — and the mythic giant anaconda he's been tracking.

Haters to the far left — I adore this ridiculous, camptastic slither flick. It's got Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube teaming up to thwart Angelina Jolie's dad, who's doing his best crazy-eyed imitation of Captain Ahab. Only his white whale is a train-sized snake.

Oh, and Owen Wilson gets swallowed whole. What's not to love?

3. "THE BIRDS" (1963). Bored socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) meets handsome lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a pet shop and decides to play a practical joke on him, following him to Bodega Bay. But not long after her arrival, flocks of birds begin to randomly attack the town, leading to mass panic.

Birds aren't inherently scary, not even when they swarm in giant flocks. Yet Hitchcock still manages to make this a tense creature feature by pairing the attacks with small spaces (Melanie in the phone booth, then in the climactic bedroom scene) while never offering even a hint of an explanation as to why. And that eyeless farmer sure is a shocking image.

2. "LAKE PLACID" (1999). When a ginormous saltwater crocodile starts eating scuba divers in Maine's Black Lake, Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson), Fish and Game officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) and mythology professor Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) team up to capture — or kill — the beast.

What an absolutely charming gem this movie is. It's a horror-comedy throwback in the best way, brimming with snarky dialogue. The killer croc comes courtesy of special effects maestro Stan Winston. Platt, always delightful, is an especial standout as the kooky Hector.

But the real selling point is everybody's favorite foul-mouthed nonagenarian Betty White, who nearly steals the show as the aptly named Mrs. Bickerman. "I'm rooting for the crocodile. I hope he swallows your friends whole. You might want to arrest me for that, too. Is that a crime? To wish the chewing of law enforcement?"

1. "TREMORS" (1990). Handymen Val McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) have to rally their tiny desert town of Perfection, Nev., when subterranean sandworms begin devouring the isolated populace.

Ahhh, Graboids. An American variation on the Mongolian death worm, the chunky, snake-tongued monsters proved popular enough to spawn an entire franchise of direct-to-DVD movies (which I proudly own). But you truly can't beat the original, thanks to the combination of Bacon and Ward as ride-or-die BFFs, good ol' boys who may not be geniuses but are still clever and gutsy when it counts.

We mustn't forget Michael Gross as Burt Gummer — the world's most gung-ho disaster prepper — and Reba McEntire as his gun-toting wife Heather, either. The real charm of "Tremors" is its superb cast of likable characters and fine balance of goofy comedy and bloody mayhem. When it comes to creature features, you can't do better than Perfection.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at

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