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Monday, November 3, 2008

Day of the Animals (1977) review


Christopher George (Steve Buckner), Leslie Nielsen (Paul Jensen), Lynda Day George (Terry Marsh), Michael Ansara (Daniel Santee), Richard Jaeckel (Professor Taylor), Jon Cedar (Frank Young), Paul Mantee (Roy Moore), Walter Barnes (Ranger Tucker), Andrew Stevens (Bob Denning), Ruth Roman (Shirley Goodwyn)

Directed by William Girdler

The increased depletion of the Ozone Layer causes animals living above altitudes of 5,000 feet to become extremely violent turning on, and ultimately attacking and killing humans. A group of vacationers hiking in the mountains fight for their lives to survive the ordeal, the horror of which has reached the town below and isn't necessarily restricted to animals.

Girdler returns to the killer animal genre with his superior follow up to GRIZZLY (1976). I never thought much about this movie when I saw it years back but upon seeing it again this time back to back with Girdler's GRIZZLY (1976), it's the better film. Girdler shows a more assured hand in the character and suspense department. He manages to pull off some truly fine sequences of horror with the stand out being the attack on the survivors by a pack of wild dogs during the finale. A more difficult film to tackle just for the sheer number of animals wrangled including a group of vultures, rats, wolves, snakes, dogs and an encore by an attacking grizzly.

There are a couple of mistakes in the movie. On two occasions you can see the camera--once in a crane shot, the camera is visible in the windshield of a car, and the other, the cameraman is visible in the window of a door at 16:48 in. Another mistake is revealed at the conclusion. As the pack of wild dogs chases after the last few survivors, two crewmen are seen atop the hill in plain view as the dogs pass by.

Christopher George is again the hero this time essaying the role of Mountain guide, Steve Buckner. George's co-star from GRIZZLY (1976), Richard Jaekel also returns in a smaller role and has little to do this time out. Andrew Prine, who also starred alongside George and Jaekel in the previous film, was offered the role of Frank Young, but turned it down. The role eventually went to Jon Cedar.

Christopher George gets strong support by the fine actor of television and screen, Michael Ansara who also played the good guy medicine man in Girdler's final film, the astonishing THE MANITOU (1978). Michael Ansara was born in Syria and after migrating to the United States, he later became a theater actor sharing the stage with personalities such as Charles Bronson and Carolyn Jones. Ansara was an intimidating and stoic presence on screen in his numerous television and theatrical movies. One of his best was his role as the Klingon leader, Kang in the 'Day of the Dove' episode of the original STAR TREK. He played an Indian twice with director William Girdler in DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) and the following years THE MANITOU.

The stunningly beautiful Lynda Day George is on hand as her off screen husbands love interest, Anchorwoman, Terry Marsh. Much like Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland, the George's (having met in 1963) often starred together in their films. She also featured alongside her husband in the Made For TV horror flick, CRUISE INTO TERROR (1978). The same year of DAY OF THE ANIMALS release, Lynda also starred in IT HAPPENED AT LAKEWOOD MANOR (aka ANTS 1977).

In 1981, Lynda worked with George on the Italian-Spanish co-production, PIECES (aka 1,000 CRIES HAS THE NIGHT). She didn't enjoy her time on this film and also wanted no part of Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980). She also starred in her husband's last production, the dreary MORTUARY (1983). Among her TV credits, Lynda also played a villainous Nazi that takes on the guise of a second Wonder Woman in the series of the same name starring Lynda Carter. While filming DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977), Lynda had nothing but good memories working with the late director, William Girdler, although the finale was rather uncomfortable for her; she was terrified during the dog attack sequence.

What could arguably be the most memorable part in the entire picture would be the scene stealing performance by Leslie Nielsen. He plays the obnoxious and bigoted businessman, Paul Jensen. Once the animals attack, Jensen causes a rift in the group resulting in the hikers taking sides. A group goes with George's character and the other splits with Jensen (Nielsen). They soon grow to regret it when Jensen reverts to savagery killing the younger man played by Andrew Stevens and raping his girlfriend just before taking on a grizzly bear in a death struggle during a massive lightning storm!

Nielsen is great here and unlike any of his other performances including his villainous turn in CREEPSHOW (1982). His usual purposely deadpan delivery is absent here substituting malice for laughs. Truly a jaw dropping, stand out performance, Nielsen would forever be etched in comedic infamy for his role as Frank Drebin on the short lived POLICE SQUAD tv show and the NAKED GUN movies. Despite his over the top portrayal, Nielsen was said to be a constant joker on set. However, the actress that is raped by his character said Nielsen got a little carried away during this sequence.

Andrew Stevens (Left)

Producer, Director and actor, Andrew Stevens has had an incredibly successful career in Hollywood. He's starred in a number of horror and exploitation classics such as the possession-revenge horror MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (1976), THE FURY (1978) from Brian De Palma and TEN TO MIDNIGHT (1983) starring Charles Bronson. He also co-starred in THE SEDUCTION (1982) alongside Morgan Fairchild. This Erotic Thriller began a long running string of similar movies later in Stevens career many of which Stevens performed duties both in front of, and behind the camera. Stevens also worked extensively with Roger Corman and his Concorde-New Horizons company.

Walter Barnes (right)

Former football player and actor Walter Barnes has had an amazing career in film having starred in a number of European pictures most notably some entries in the West German 'Winnetou' series. Barnes also had co-starring roles in THE GREATEST ROBBERY IN THE WEST (1967) and THE MOMENT TO KILL (1968) both starring George Hilton. Barnes also found work in films from Clint Eastwood such as HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) and as Tank Murdock in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978).

Susan Backlinie, the first victim in JAWS (1975) is also the first victim here, as well as being the animal wrangler. For the scene in which the vultures attack her character sending her tumbling off of a cliff, the birds were tied all over her body to give the impression she was being clawed to death. According to Backlinie, a Grizzly bear was used for the film in addition to a North American Cinnamon Bear. The film was shot in the Mountains of Northern California.

The ending is very well done by director Girdler and agreeably vague as the white suited decontamination squads enter the town to begin the clean up operation. They find all the animals dead but are unsure as to why, or if this type of deadly incident will happen again leaving the viewer with some unanswered, but frightening notions. The whole storyline is told in such a way that it is entirely believable that such a terrifying occurrence could indeed happen and on a much grander scale.

Another interesting touch implemented by Girdler is that anybody can die at any time. Many people you think will live in fact die at the hands of the rampaging animals. Judging by the way the movie ends, the groups decision to split up and either head back down the mountain or make for the ranger station proved to be an equally dangerous endeavor.

When the film was released in 1977, it didn't fare as well as GRIZZLY (1976) and died quietly at the box office only surviving for years as a regular on television broadcasts. A shame as it's a better made and acted movie than the more popular grizzly movie. There's two versions on the Shriek Show/Media Blasters DVD--a theatrical print bearing the title SOMETHING IS OUT THERE that's in bad shape but is represented in 2:35 widescreen. The TV version under the DAY OF THE ANIMALS moniker is in much better shape but in 1:85:1. The only difference I noticed between the two is some minor damaged film that cuts off some pieces of dialog and a long stretch between the opening credit crawl and the start of the film on the theatrical version.

DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) is a taut, sometimes suspenseful nature-gone-amuck picture for nostalgic horror fans who are sick of the onslaught of bad CGI killer animal movies crowding the weekend lineup of the Sci-Fi Channel. DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) is a well made little horror picture from a director who was taken from tinseltown far to early.

This review is representative of the Media Blasters/Shriek Show Special Edition DVD.


TheReverendDoom said...

Even though I am biased to Grizzly this is a great semi-followup movie. Having several of the same actors in it and Leslie "Don't Call Me Shirley" Nielsen overact like there's no tomorrow is classic. This is a definite must see for nature attacks fans. Girdler's two movies are what converted me to the sub-genre.

venoms5 said...

Again, I agree with you completely, Rev. Leslie threatens to rename the movie, THE DAY OF NIELSEN, with his wildly OTT performance. But in the context of the film, that it's what is happening isn't limited to animals makes it all the more plausible.

It was also nice to see former WINNETOU and SW actor, Walter "Dick Murdock" Barnes here as the sheriff.

TheReverendDoom said...

I want to get some of the Winnetou movies one day as well.
You going to review Manitou anytime soon? Totally underrated imo.

venoms5 said...

I did a preliminary review for it back when it came out on DVD. It's coming. I thought that was easily Girdler's most accomplished movie even if it was incredibly cheesy in places but it had a great energy and showed a director with one hell of an imagination if only he'd lived to realize his full potential.

TheReverendDoom said...

I have to watch Manitou now...

venoms5 said...

Michael Ansara was awesome in that. He first caught my attention as the Kang, the Klingon Captain on the 'Day of the Dove' episode of the original STAR TREK. A wonderful actor. He also played the main villain in GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

Jay Shatzer said...

This film has taught me that Leslie Nielsen can be a great raving lunatic. I love his drastic descent into a sex craved madman leading up to his duel with a grizzly bear. What a scene! Day of the Animals is a favorite among my circle of movie friends.

venoms5 said...

Yeah, Nielsen was a major highlight of this one. I like it a bit better than GRIZZLY. I think it's better made, too, despite a few gaffes on screen.

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