There’s an old cliché that scientists in films never seem to realise the dangers of their most outrageous experiments. Why was Jurassic Park’s Richard Attenborough so surprised when his island full of genetically modified dinosaur clones became the scene of violent carnage? Did Robin Williams really expect Flubber to be anything other than slimy green evil?
But there’s more truth to these fictional stereotypes than one might assume. This week, US scientists sparked an ethics row after declaring that they had successfully grown interspecies “chimeras” using part-human and part-monkey embryos.
Despite concerns from critics that the experiment may have opened “Pandora’s Box” when it comes to interspecies genetics, Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of California’s Salk Institute has argued that it’s truthfully quite brilliant. “These chimeric approaches could be really very useful for advancing biomedical research not just at the very earliest stage of life, but also the latest stage of life,” he explained in a statement on Tuesday (13 April).
A pop-culture fan he is presumably not, since cinema, literature and television has a long history of exploiting the concept of interspecies experimentation for all its horrifying potential. So for these scientists to look Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus right in the eye and not yield its ghoulish warnings isn’t just foolish, but plain dangerous.
Here are just six of the scariest interspecies thrillers we’d be wise to keep fictional.
The eternally smooth Jeff Goldblum even managed to make gooey insects uncomfortably sexual in this classic 1986 horror movie. Directed by David Cronenberg, The Fly stars Goldblum as an eccentric scientist who has developed a pair of teleportation pods. Unfortunately, Goldblum’s character steps into one of the pods just as an everyday housefly buzzes into the other – fusing together Goldblum and housefly until they are one.
In Sharktopus (2010), the US Navy develops a weaponised killer shark with the tentacles of an octopus and the brain of a human – albeit only when it is controlled using a special device attached to its neck. Shockingly, this device comes loose, with the titular Sharktopus wreaking havoc across the world’s oceans. His story would continue over a series of movies: 2014’s Sharktopus vs Pteracuda, and 2015’s Sharktopus vs Whalewolf, from director Lasse Hallstrom.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending (2015) is far less fun than a movie starring Mila Kunis as an intergalactic cleaner named Jupiter Jones should be. It does, though, feature Channing Tatum as a half-man, half-dog named Caine Wise, who has some adorably lupine ears to go with his really cool space boots.
The Island of Dr Moreau
HG Wells’s 1896 novel may be a shameless knock-off of Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, but we won’t hold that against it. It revolves around a stuffy Englishman whose ship crashes on a mysterious island occupied by a disturbed scientist and his many half-human/half-animal creations. Don’t bother with the notoriously disastrous 1996 film adaptation, which featured Marlon Brando swaddled in bandages and regret.
The Amazing Spider-Man
This doomed Spider-Man reboot, released in 2012, served as a kind of karmic punishment for the time Rhys Ifans called the paparazzi on Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. Here he plays scientist Curt Connors, who accelerates his experiments into cross-species genetics and ends up transforming into a giant lizard-man. Despite the massive budget, though, the poor CGI used to turn Ifans into an enormous beast is enough to make Godzilla shrink in shame.
A staple of any late-Nineties school library was this sci-fi book series about high school students who can morph into any animal they touch. “Horror, war, dehumanisation, sanity, morality, innocence, leadership, freedom, family, and growing up are the core themes of the series,” reads Animorphs’ very dramatic Wikipedia page, which was presumably written by 10-year-old me after someone made fun of how stupid the book jackets were.
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