Christopher George - Steve Buckner
Leslie Nielsen - Paul Jenson
Lynda Day George - Terry Marsh
Richard Jaeckel - Prof. Taylor MacGregor
Michael Ansara - Daniel Santee
Ruth Roman - Mrs. Shirley Goodwyn
Jon Cedar - Frank Young
Walter Barnes - Ranger Tucker
Andrew Stevens - Bob Denning
Running Time - 97 Minutes
Genre - Horror/Thriller/B-Movie/Bad Animals
So it's finally Summer, and as usual, I decided to focus much of the season on those "animal run amok" films we all love so much, whether they're good or truly shitastic. However unlike previous years, I'll save the shark film stuff probably within Shark Week itself this August [unless it's like SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE, which arrives late July]. This time around, I plan on focusing on all sorts of animals and insects to give the theme a bit of variety.
And there's no better film to start with than 1977's DAY OF THE ANIMALS, which features a bunch of human characters getting outsmarted and terrorized by bears, lions, birds, snakes, wolves, and even dogs! They're probably not as scary as a shirtless Leslie Nielsen attempting to rape women, but I'll get to that shortly. Still, DAY OF THE ANIMALS isn't as classic by any means, but it's sure a fun way to spend 90 minutes.
Due to us environmentally conscious folks, the ozone layer has been destroyed and ultraviolet rays are effecting animals in strange, deadly ways. This doesn't seem to bother a mountain tour guide named Steve Buckner (Christopher George), who enjoys showing people the beauty of the wilderness without the use of technology and material things. This tour, however, may be more troublesome than most since it includes a racist advertising executive (Leslie Neilsen), an annoying socialite (Ruth Roman) and her son, couples trying to keep their relationships alive, and more. Besides a hawk following them around everywhere, things go well until wolves and lions start attacking them. The dangerous tour and lack of food is creating strife within the group, which is making this DAY OF THE ANIMALS a very memorable, and cheesy, one.
Ever since JAWS made killer animals popular to moviegoers in 1975, a bunch of these films were made and released ad nauseum. DAY OF THE ANIMALS is one of the better "animal run amok" features to have come out during this era, attempting to create campy entertainment through a serious message about the depleting ozone layer and how it could effect the Earth if it continues. Unlike a film like THE FOOD OF THE GODS or FROGS, you gotta give credit to DAY OF THE ANIMALS for taking itself pretty seriously while unintentionally making us chuckle and laugh through its storytelling and direction.
Let's get this out of the way: the environmental message of the film is just there to give us a reason to watch DAY OF THE ANIMALS. It doesn't tell us how to stop damaging the ozone layer. It doesn't show us how it's damaging the planet. It's just there to give these animals a reason to go crazy and kill humans. And it's not really a bad thing, as it gives an excuse for why things are happening without bogging the story down with expository dialogue or a long winded prologue that's just there to pad time. I have to applaud the film for taking a topic that's still relevant today to base its story on, rather than just using the typical toxic waste, or nuclear bomb deal that would have these animals become more aggressive than usual.
So instead of a film trying to send us an important message, DAY OF THE ANIMALS is nothing more than your standard "animals run amok" flick. We have a group of characters on a mountain tour, many who have trouble getting along for whatever reason. One dude is an angry racist who seems to want to be the leader. We have an annoying Beverly Hills socialite who complains about being a single mom, as she constantly nags at her rebellious teenage son. We have a couple in love and a couple who can't really get along. We have the hero, who doesn't seem to understand why the tour isn't going as smoothly as it usually does. There's also a lost little girl, who is caught in the madness as well. As the humans deal with their own issues, animals stalk them and attack when necessary. Nothing more, nothing less. And some of these characters are so annoying, you'll want the animals to get their way. It's like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD - just with animals instead of zombies, while it takes place outdoors rather than indoors. It's a B-movie survival film, with cheesy moments that will keep audiences entertained for the most part.
The animal attacks in the film are pretty tense, surprisingly enough. The initial wolf attack while the characters are sleeping is pretty creepy. The lion attack is tense. We get a scene where a man is attacked by a group of rattlesnakes, following by a vicious dog. There's the infamous jumping rat scene, where a group of rats hop on the local police officer, attacking his face. That scene is more funny than anything, but it's surely memorable. And we get the classic Leslie Nielsen fights a grizzly bear in a Death Battle, with no stunt double used amazingly. A lot of these "animal run amok" films have fake looking animal attacks, but DAY OF THE ANIMALS does them convincingly. I was digging it.
The direction by William Girdler, who had also directed 1976's GRIZZLY and unfortunately passed away in 1978 after directing THE MANITOU, does a pretty good job in capturing the film's premise visually. Girdler obviously uses stock footage of the animals roaming and flying through beautiful landscapes, edited quite convincingly with scenes with the actors dealing with nature getting revenge on them. The animal attacks are shot well, and quite amusing to watch. I do wish there was more variety in terms of the attacks, as they do get repetitive after a while, but Girdler gives you what many would expect from a film like this visually. And the one use of green screen is hilarious terrible in every way. What an eye sore. There are some nice moments of tension, and the flow of the film is well done as the movie flies by. Girdler makes sure the audience is never bored, which is why I got some fun out of DAY OF THE ANIMALS. I'm sure many prefer GRIZZLY, but I think this film is slightly better.
The acting is a mixed bag. Christopher George is good as the hero, Steve Buckner. There's nothing really special in terms of his performance, but he's just a likeable presence on film and brings a certain charm. His wife, Lynda Day George, is alright as the stereotypical love interest. Surprisingly, husband-and-wife don't share many scenes together, which is strange. A young Andrew Stevens is okay, probably distracted by the thought of having softcore porn sex with Shannon Tweed down the road. Ruth Roman is really annoying as Shirley Goodwyn, playing the whiny socialite who complains about being a single mom and nagging at her son constantly.
The highlight of the film, without a doubt, is Leslie Nielsen's performance as Paul Jenson. For those expecting comedic Nielsen, ala AIRPLANE! and THE NAKED GUN, will be completely shocked by Nielsen's villainous performance. Nielsen is great as a racist, sexist douche who becomes power hungry once the animals start attacking the group, feeling he knows how to survive the ordeal. Watching him slap women around, choke out children, and even attempt rape on a female character at one point while shirtless just boggles the mind. And the classic Nielsen vs. Grizzly Bear fight scene has to be seen by anyone who has one perception of the actor. I wish Nielsen had done more roles against type before his passing. While he made a lot of money being really funny, he also had great dramatic acting chops that I feel were underused. Nielsen is a great antagonist in DAY OF THE ANIMALS.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE STAYING GREEN SO ANIMALS DON'T GET MEAN
- Due to fluorocarbon gases seriously damaging the Ozone Layer, this film depicts what could happen in the future if this continues. That explains the popularity of the Jersey Shore, the Kardashians, and those Real Housewives shows. Damn UV rays...
- A curious hawk eavesdropped on a conversation, pinpointing the destination of the trip. With his animal partner, oh what a rush it will be when this Legion of Doom puts these humans in the Doomsday Device.
- Mrs. Shirley Goodwyn complained about being both a mom and dad to her son. If this was South Park, this wouldn't be an issue.
- A sleeping character was attacked by a wolf. Doesn't anyone listen when they're warned, "Keep Clear of the Moors"?
- Paul Jenson is racist towards Native Americans. With that kind of ignorance, it's no wonder he didn't know how to speak Jive up in that plane.
- A bunch of hawks attacked and murdered someone. She must have been on the production team for that BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR film and they wanted revenge. Totally justified.
- Rats jumped and scratched Ranger Tucker's face. Like everyone else, rats do like the taste of bacon.
- The characters were attacked by lions. Man, can you feel the love tonight?
- Paul Jenson is a real bastard - hitting women, threatening children, trying to rape women, and even fighting bears. Judging by his behavior, maybe OJ Simpson wasn't the killer...
THE FINAL HOWL
DAY OF THE ANIMALS is a pretty entertaining "Animals Run Amok" flick that uses a message on the destruction of our environment by having random animals attack and kill people due to the Ozone Layer. It's nothing but fluff, with decent use of stock footage and a bad use of green screen. But it's paced really well and the actors are game for whatever, especially a great villainous performance by Leslie Nielsen - which includes him trying to molest women and fight bears. That alone is worthy of a recommendation. Not the best "Animals Run Amok" out there, but it's a harmless 90 minutes that I had more fun with than it probably deserves.