Monday, December 17, 2012


by Lee Gambin
The ‘nature amok’ movie has always been one of my favourite genres of horror cinema (ever since I ventured into the city as a kid and saw a double-bill of Squirm and Food of the Gods at the old Dendy cinema in Collins St), and considering its popularity amongst fans, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a book exclusively devoted to it until now.

Authored by Melbourne based writer (and regular Fangoria contributor) Lee Gambin, Massacred by Mother Nature is an exploration of the natural horror film, tracing its roots through King Kong and such 1950s gems as Tarantula, Them!, Godzilla and Earth Vs. the Spider – where nature usually had a helping hand from human experimentation or atomic test fallout – and on into the 60s (The Birds, The Deadly Bees), before the genre really exploded in the 1970s, which was definitely the decade when nature ran berserk on cinema and drive-in screens across America (and many other parts of the world, Australia included).

In the first half of the seventies, it was the smaller forms of life like frogs (Frogs), spiders (Kiss of the Tarantula), rodents (Willard and it’s sequel, Ben ) and worms (Squirm) that were causing the most mischief onscreen, before a little movie called Jaws came along in 1975 and – along with The Exorcist a year earlier – helped to redefine modern horror cinema and brought the genre (for better or worse) into the realm of reputable studio prestige productions. Exploitation producers followed suit, and the phenomenal success of Jaws resulted in films like Grizzly, Orca, Day of the Animals and Piranha. The 50s trend of insects and wildlife enlarged by the meddling hands of man continued in films such as Night of the Lepus, Prophecy and Food of the Goods, while even the Italians got into the act with Killer Fish and the blatant Jaws inspired Great White (which Universal successfully took action against to prevent it’s US release).

Nature horror films continued into the 1980s and beyond (remember Cujo and the down under terror of Razorback?), but the seventies were clearly the golden years for the genre.

Eschewing the A-Z formula of most film books of this type, Massacred by Mother Nature is written in an entertaining, breezy but informative and knowledgeable style which reflects Gambin’s genuine love for – and unique take on - the genre. Chapters are divided into themes (such as The Bad Doggies of Cinema, The Discreet Charm of the Creepy Crawly and – one of my favourite sections – Stock Characters of the Ecological Horror Film). The book concludes with a series of brief interviews with various actors/composers/writers/directors (Dee Wallace, Jeff Lieberman, Charles Bernstein, Belinda Balaski, Joe Dante, etc.), who discuss their work in the ecological horror field.

Heavily illustrated throughout with black & white stills and often lurid poster art, and featuring introductions by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, Dee Wallace, Veronica Cartwright and director Bert I. Gordon, Massacred by Mother Nature is a highly recommended and thoroughly welcome addition to any horror fan’s library.
(Midnight Marquee Press/USA/2012/220 pages)
Review copyright John Harrison 2012

Massacred by Mother Nature is avaialble from Amazon or direct from the publisher (Mdnight Marque Press) at Also check out the Facebook page devoted to the book at