Malacological representativeness in eco-horror movies

Anna C. de A. Salles1, Marcelo P. G. da Silva2 & Cléo D. de C. Oliveira3

1Programa de Pós-Graduação em Zoologia, Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 2 Laboratório de Entomologia, Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 3 Laboratório de Malacologia, Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Emails: annacasalles (at) gmail (dot) com; marcelopeixotogs (at) gmail (dot) com; cleo.oliveira (at) gmail (dot) com

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Humanity has always found ways to manifest and remember its culture and history. Films, as audiovisual productions, are an important tool for dealing with complex issues, critically portraying reality, and allowing reflection on social, political, economic, and environmental issues. In addition, when linked to scientific education, they play an important role in expanding the worldview of society (Arroio, 2010).

Film productions of the horror genre illustrate the fears and anxieties that plague a particular generation at some specific moment in history, metaphorically and allegorically establishing a relationship between the real and fictional world (Marchi, 2010).

During the Cold War period (1947–1991), several films starring giant monsters represented the atomic threat (a.k.a. Godzilla, 1954; Fig. 1), while at the end of the 1970s, with the growth of the environmental movement, the approach took on another focus and reflected man’s concern about its impacts on the environment, represented by films in which animals and plants take revenge on the human race for the abuses against the planet (a.k.a. The Day of the Triffids, 1962; Fig. 1), establishing the eco-horror subgenre (Chagas & Almeida, 2015).

Figure 1. Left: poster of Godzilla (1954). Right: poster of The Day of the Triffids (1962). Source: IMDb.


To verify the malacological taxonomic representativeness (that is, mollusks) in eco-horror films, a survey was carried out in five cinematographic database sites: Internet Movie Database (IMDb); Movie Monster Fandom; The Movie Database (TMDb); The TV Database (The TVDB); and Rotten Tomatoes. The following keywords were used for the search: Octopus; Tentacles; Squid; Molluscum; Mollusk; Slug; Snail; Oyster; Clam; Mussel; and Shellfish. Words were searched for both in English and Portuguese.

Movies from horror, thriller, and science fiction categories were selected, which contained some of the keywords chosen in their titles, and/or in which mollusks were graphically present in their publicity poster, and/or, still, in which the synopsis of the film demonstrates the participation of a mollusk in the plot. The searches were closed when the results started to be repeated in the consulted databases.

The films found were organized in a spreadsheet containing the following indexed information: Original title of the work, year of release, country of origin, genre, director(s) and the represented mollusks in the movie.


Thirty films were found that fit the eco-horror genre in which mollusks were present (Table 1). Cephalopods were the most represented mollusks in 90% of the analyzed films (Fig. 2).

Table 1. Relation of movies found, sorted by release date.


Figure 2. Posters of movies released in the 50s, and 70s starring cephalopods. Left: Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954). Center: It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). Right: Tentacles (1977). Source: IMDb.

Among the countries with highlights in releases, the United States produced more than half of the films found, followed by Japan. In the early decades, films were released briefly and most animals showed gigantism.

The vast majority of analyzed films were released from the 2000s and 2010s onwards, still using mainly gigantism narratives, but now with the plot linked to the impact of human actions on the environment.

Bivalves and gastropods had a punctual presence in the observations, represented in only 3.4% and 6.6% of the films, respectively (Fig. 3), while for the remaining groups of Mollusca, there is no production available.

Figure 3. Posters of movies with the least represented mollusks in eco-horror movies. Left: Slugs (1988); source: IMDb. Right: ManClam! The Shell from Hell (1962); source: Behance.


Regarding the most producing countries, the leadership of the USA, followed by Japan, may be associated with the historical context of the Cold War and the fear of the advancement of science linked to the war industry. The greater production of films from the 2000s is related to the growing concern with environmental issues resulting from the relationship between humanity, the environment and its organisms, in addition to also being related to the advancement of computer graphics technologies, which made it possible to explore new audiovisual resources in the film industry.

Most selected films have direct representations or refer to organisms of the Cephalopoda class. The predilection for these animals may be linked to greater knowledge accumulated about the group by society, in addition to their presence in different types of cultural manifestations, such as food, literature, music, and their presence in cinema. This represents yet another reflection of the fascination that these animals exert on us, whether when linked to intelligent, dark, or dangerous beings, such as the species Vampyroteuthis infernalis, Dosidicus gigas, and Architeuthis dux (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Three species of cephalopods commonly associated with dangerous and dark animals: Left: illustration of Vampyroteuthis infernalis (vampire squid). Top right: Dosidicus gigas (Humboldt squid). Bottom right:  Architeuthis dux (giant squid). Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Cinematographic narratives carry great potential for disseminating and popularizing the impacts of human action on the environment. Also, when it comes to malacology, they offer the opportunity to learn about the groups of mollusks in opposition to their fictional versions, also allowing a reflection on their diversity and preservation.


Arroio, A. (2010) Context-based learning: a role for cinema in science education. Science Education International 21(3): 131–143.

Chagas, A.C.C.S. & Almeida, E.A. (2015) Identificação taxonômica dos animais evidenciados em filmes de eco-horror e a expressividade dos vertebrados. Anais do XII Congresso de Ecologia do Brasil, pp. 1–3.

Marchi, M.E. (2010) Guerra Fria, sangue frio: as conexões entre o cinema de terror e a paz armada. RUA 1(16): 146–173.


 MSc Anna C.A. Salles is a PhD student in Zoology working on the taxonomy and phylogeny of terrestrial gastropods. Mythology, painting, and cinema are her favorite hobbies, and she always links these subjects with science.

MSc Marcelo P.G. da Silva works as a science teacher and his research is on the taxonomy of Amazonian neotropical leafhoppers. He is also interested in education, scientific dissemination, and cultural zoology, focusing on films, music, video games, iconography, and general culture.

Dr. Cléo. D. C. Oliveira is a professor of Zoology at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, studying the taxonomy, evolution and morphometrical variation of major malacological groups. He is interested in movies, especially those of science fiction, cultural zoology and scientific dissemination through the work of great authors, e.g., Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and Neil Shubin.

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