Day of the Animals

The REAL inconvenient truth!
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1977
Director: 
William Girdler
Starring: 
Christopher George, Leslie Nielson, Lynda Day George, Richard Jaekel, Ruth Roman
The Setup: 
A bunch of animals attack because of the hole in the ozone layer.
Discussion: 

With the same director, producer and star of Grizzly comes Day of the Animals, a similar movie, but this time with a bunch of animals attacking, instead of just a bear.

We begin with an ominous warning about how there’s a hole in the ozone layer, and no one knows what its effect will be. Then we find out that “this motion picture dramatizes what COULD happen IF we fail to” heed the warning or whatever [emphasis theirs]. Yes viewers, this is virtually a true story. In fact, this is a story that COULD be true IF anything like this were remotely plausible.

So the hunky Christopher George of Grizzly is gathering a bunch of people to go to the top of this mountain and hike down. We have lots of character-building material about each individual parties’ backstories, like in a disaster movie. Only in this movie, none of these stories later come into play at all. Filling the common disaster-movie role of ‘guy who antagonizes the leader’ is Leslie Nielson as a New York advertising executive. We know instantly that he is evil because he is both from the city and in advertising, and this will soon be borne out by the shocking storyline.

The music here is by Lalo Schifrin, who follows in the mold of Grizzly's Robert O. Ragland, the world’s worst composer, by playing seductive saxophone music while the party is hiking down the mountain. This is intercut with a lot of nature footage, trying to convince us that the animals are massing around our heroes. You will notice that animals they are capable of training get a lot more play than those they cannot, most notably a hawk that receives extensive coverage.

The shocking revelation that this movie contains elements that are actually pretty GOOD comes during the first genuinely eerie scene, when the hikers notice that all of the animals in the forest have gone quiet. Then a big vulture comes and lands right next to the little boy. That’s it, go for the tender morsels first!

I was surprised to discover that a quote I had found on an internet site and used on a homemade CD comes from this movie: “God sent a plague down on us because we’re just a bunch of no-good fellas.” First there’s a fairly creepy bird attack, occurring after the hikers look around and suddenly see a ton of hawks in the trees all around them. It’s not long after that the little boy’s mother utters: “I should be back in Beverly Hills where any civilized person would be!” This mother is played by Ruth Roman, of The Baby, The Killing Kind, and Go Ask Alice.

That night at camp a woman is attacked by a wolf. This woman is played by Susan Backlinie, who played the first victim in Jaws, the first victim in Grizzly, and the first victim here. Girl needs to worry about getting typecast. They decide that she should go down the mountain separately to have her wounds attended to, and she is accompanied by a guy in a striped shirt. She becomes increasingly hysterical at the animal sounds they hear on the way down, then she becomes hysterical to the point of being immobilized, at which point she is set upon by about four hawks. It’s actually pretty scary! This leaves stripes guy wandering down the mountain alone.

I’m not sure how well Steve attended to the needs of his hikers, as seemingly hours after they have landed on the mountain they are out of food. This serves as fuel for the inceassant needling of Leslie Nielson, who relentlessly refers to Steve as “Hotshot” and his Native American assistant as “Kemosabe.” This continues unabated until he finally totally cracks his nut and takes off in his own direction with the mother and kid and some female hottie. They go their own way, but soon the mother figures out that this moron has NO idea what he’s doing and they are no closer to getting any food, at which point Nielson TOTALLY BRUTALIZES the little kid, and makes to rape the hottie, shortly after delivering a soliloquy to GOD. Note how the mother and son are only too happy to knowingly allow Nielson to rape the hottie once he mentions that without him they’ll never get down the mountain.

Dear reader, this is Leslie Nielson as you have NEVER seen him. Shirtless, sweaty, brutalizing kids, and being a total soliloquy-delivering loudmouth asshole. If you’re a fan, your knowledge of his work will NOT be complete without viewing this essential film. The movie could have spun it that Nielson, like the animals, is going crazy because of all that ultraviolet light, but this is not explored. Nielson goes out in a blaze of glory I wouldn’t dare spoil here.

Back at the bottom of the mountain, the mustachioed local sheriff is just trying to enjoy some leftover ham hock when he discovers that he has a bit of a rodent problem. What he DIDN’T know is that these rats are on strings, and the slightest yank will lend the unconvincing impression that the rats are “jumping” on him.

Meanwhile, things are not going so well for Steve and co. They are beset by all sorts of beasts on their hike to freedom, so badly that even the newscaster lady [Christopher George’s wife in real life], who has up to now been very belligerent about how everyone needs to take her seriously as a professional, is reduced to cowering and mumbling “No! …No! …No!” Thanks for the help, miss. I should also mention that not ONE of these fools ever thinks to pick up as much as a stick, let alone carve it into a useful weapon. But you know, maybe the attacks will just magically stop.

SPOILERS > > >
But what of mister stripes? He has encountered a proto-Newt, a little girl who presumably watched her parents be reduced to a steaming pile of organs and viscera right in front of her [not shown], and now has teamed with Mr. Stripes. And get this, bitches! This was the same girl who played the "child of Proteus" at the end of Demon Seed! This girl is seriously SO MUCH like Newt, even looks exactly like her, that I can only assume Cameron had this film in his head when writing Aliens. Anyway, poor Newt has to watch her NEW protector die a horrible death right in front of her, which will certainly lead to extensive psychological scarring and an ill-advised string of affairs with abusive older men later in life. She gets an early start on this at the end when she spots a guy in a chemical suit, and goes off with him, the movie implying that she’ll be just fine. Kids are so resilient!

So Steve and co. face a massive animal attack, and finally escape by clinging perilously to the side of a raft, with two hungry wolves riding on it. You, like me, may be wondering: “What will they do to get out of this?” Well, the way they get out of it is that the screen fades to black. And… you thought I was joking when I said maybe the animals will just magically stop attacking? Well… the next day the animals are all dead. That’s it, the end! Huh, so I guess we don’t have to worry about that ozone layer after all!
< < < SPOILERS END

Remarkably, this movie is not that bad. Okay fine, it’s terrible, but many of the animal attacks are handed fairly well, and the whole sense of the animals massing and hunting the humans in concert is quite effective. With a few fixes, this would make for a totally viable remake.

This was directed by William Girdler, who apparently has quite a reputation as a purveyor of cheese-o-riffic trash. In addition to Grizzly, he gave us Abby, Sheba, Baby, and Three on a Meathook. I just love saying that. Doesn't it sound like a romatic comedy in which three sexy singles have a love triangle while hanging in Leatherface's basement?

There are apparently a few different versions of this movie floating around, one rated R and one PG. I assume I saw the PG one, because nothing was that gory. This disc, though, has NOTHING but the movie on it. Not even a menu. So remember, next time you see “interactive menu” and “scene selection” listed as “special features...” they really are.

Should you watch it: 

Yes! I found it totally fun and appealing and would happily watch it again right now!