Deadly Man-Eaters of Fact and Film-
Frightening, human-devouring creatures have been a part of storytelling since mankind's oldest myths. It's no wonder that there is an entire genre of "Animals Eating People" films. It's a major category of "Monster Movie", and one that I'm particularly fond of. However, what's even more interesting is the fact that some of these films have been inspired by real-life situations and events.
Often cited as "the father of the summer blockbuster", 1975's Jaws was invaluable in spawning the film genre that we are discussing. Jaws is the story of a large great white shark, the men who want to kill it, the town officials that would like to ignore it and the beach going public that it prefers to snack on. The film largely focuses on the island community's local Police Chief Martin Brody (played by Roy Scheider) and his
efforts to deal with the "situation" (that's code for "the huge shark that keeps sneaking up and devouring tourists"). The film was based on a novel by Peter Benchley and was directed by Steven Spielberg.
New Jersey Shark Attacks (Fact)
Benchley's novel was inspired by a series of shark attacks that took place in July of 1916 on the coast of New Jersey (because Jersey's reputation isn't already bad enough...). This is the stuff that horror movies are made of! Shortly after he was attacked, the second victim was pulled from the water and into a boat by a pair of lifeguards who quickly discovered that the entire bottom half of his body was missing.
The next victim was an eleven year old boy who was attacked, not in the ocean, but in a creek that was 16 miles inland. It seems that the shark decided that only attacking people in the actual ocean was too predictable and so it got creative. Some of the boy's friends witnessed him being taken under by the shark as they were swimming and they went to get help. One of the people who arrived on the scene was a local business owner who went into the creek to try to find the boy's body. He was also attacked by the shark, in full view of many of the townspeople and bled to death as a result of his injuries. 30 minutes later the shark went
after yet another boy, but he managed to survive (thanks to his friends engaging in a "tug-of-war" with the shark; with the boy as the rope!) There's still speculation as to what type of shark was responsible for these incidents and how many were actually involved.
It's interesting to note that despite being an inspiration for Jaws, the New Jersey Shark Attacks is the only real-life entry in this list that doesn't end in a climactic "Chief Brodyesque" style showdown, with a single pursuer taking out the offending creature.
The Ghost and the Darkness (Film)
The Ghost and the Darkness is a 1996 film starring Val Kilmer as Col. John Henry Patterson, a British military engineer who is sent to Kenya to get a massive railroad construction effort back on track. While many projects may run behind schedule due to things like poor organization or lack of employee motivation, Patterson's challenges are a little bit more complicated; namely the two African male lions that keep eating his workforce! That's definitely the sort of
thing that will keep your average Project Lead awake at night. This movie was based on accounts written by the real John Henry Patterson, as was the 1952 film, Bwana Devil.
The Tsavo Man-Eaters (Fact)
"The Ghost" and "The Darkness" were names given to the two lions that were responsible for killing an estimated 135 railway construction workers in the Tsavo region of Kenya in 1898. These lions were so brazen as to walk into the workers camp at night and drag people screaming out of their tents. Some workers reported hearing the crunching bones of their friends being eaten just feet away from them, as they lay there trying to sleep. Talk about a hostile work environment!
They tried to put up barriers around the camp to keep the lions out. Didn't work. They tried to ambush the lions on one side of the camp and the predators would just grab someone from the other side. After months of this kind of nightly frustration and horror, Patterson was finally able to hunt down and shoot both lions. Their remains are now on display in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois (image top right).
Yellow Fangs (Film)
Yellow Fangs is a 1990 Japanese film about a murderous bear and its pursuers. The bear kills several men and carries a woman into the mountains, with her daughter seeking revenge on the creature. In a similar vein, there is an American film called Grizzly (1976), about a killer Grizzly bear that terrorizes a National Forest until it is climactically brought down.
Sankebetsu Incident (Fact)
The Sankebetsu incident occurred in December of 1915 in a newly settled area Japan and was the inspiration for "Yellow Fangs". Within a period of less than a month, an 8ft. tall brown bear known to locals as "Kesagake", killed seven people; often at their homes. This included one incident in which the bear attacked and killed a woman's baby and then dragged the woman herself into the woods to be devoured. Only her head and parts of her legs were ever found (though technically, some human remains were found in the bear's stomach after it was killed, sooo...). After a number of attempts to hunt down the bear by multiple hunting parties,
Kesagake was eventually brought down by an expert bear hunter named Yamamoto Heikichi, who had reluctantly agreed to go after it. This was the worst case of bear attack in Japanese history.
Brotherhood of the Wolf (Film)
Released in 2001, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a French film directed by Christophe Gans. It is among one of the highest grossing French-language films to be released in the U.S. The story is a historical drama involving the hunt for a mysterious creature that seems to be on a bit of a killing spree in the rural mountains of central France. Responding to this problem, King Louis XV of France sends one of his knights (Grégoire de Fronsac, played by Samuel Le Bihan), and his foreign pal out there to go deal with this. From there
the story takes a series of twists and turns and includes political deceit, secret societies, Vatican spies posing as prostitutes, horrible maulings some by some sort of unknown animal that is obviously way too big to be a wolf but is assumed to be one anyway, and an array of martial arts moves that I'm fairly certain did not exist in western Europe during the 1700s (I don't know, maybe the Native American dude that keeps hanging out with Fronsac, taught it to them or something...).
Beast of Gévaudan (Fact)
Something attacked an estimated 210 people in the former province of Gévaudan, between 1764 and 1767. The creature was typically described as being a large and strange looking wolf (some reports claiming that it was almost as big as a cow), but other guesses as to the animal's identity have ranged from an escaped hyena, to the last remnants of an extinct species, to a werewolf. What we do know is that some large predatory mammal went around deliberately killing and eating a lot of people in that region of France, often ignoring other animals and livestock and going straight for their owners (it's not bad enough that you have to be a poor
rural farmer, but then you have to deal with this; things really were tougher in the old days). In true horror film fashion, the creature would come lurking out of the dark forests of the Margeride Mountains and brutally seize its human prey. These attacks were not only brazen, but bloody and savage.
Many of the overly religious locals at that time believed that their community was being assaulted by a demon as an act of divine punishment for something. Normally I frown on that type of ignorant superstition, but under those circumstances, deciding that "God hates you" seems like a surprisingly reasonable conclusion to come to. Multiple professional hunters and even the army were sent after the monster and it managed to evade them all. The killings only stopped after a local farmer named Jean Chastel encountered the beast. Tradition says that he killed it with two silver bullets.
I know that to many people these days, killer animal films can seem very campy and even silly. But the next time you go see an Animals Eating People film and someone says "oh, that only happens in the movies"; you'll know better.
- False Prophet