Saturday, September 22, 2012

Day of the Animals (1977)



          While it has a certain schlocky appeal, Day of the Animals is a significant comedown from director William Girdler’s previous critters-run-amok flick, Grizzly (1976). Whereas the earlier movie is a shameless Jaws rip-off, Day of the Animals is a mishmash of Hitchockian avian terror, eco-themed sci-fi, and generic “something is out there” spookiness. (The movie’s blunt alternate title? Something Is Out There.) The premise is that ultraviolet radiation released via ozone-layer depletion has transformed animals living at high altitudes into killers, which means a group of hikers on a remote mountaintop path become fodder for nature gone wild. The denizens of a town at the base of the mountain also fall prey to rampaging creatures. Day of the Animals features attacks by bears, birds, dogs, mountain lions, rats, snakes, and wolves, but these events are nonsensical—at some points, the picture suggests that animals have formed an army, and at other times, critters simply attack independent of each other. In other words, any old plot contrivance that helps endanger and/or kill a given character at a given time is acceptable to the filmmakers, who couldn’t care less about consistency.
          As with Grizzly, Girdler’s comin’-at-ya jolts and sturdy widescreen compositions ensure that Day of the Animals basically delivers the goods. Nonetheless, the movie runs out of gas far before its 97 minutes are through, although there are a few campy highlights. For instance, the bit in which rats leap from a turkey carcass like tiny acrobats is particularly goofy. The movie’s “best” moment, however, is the climax of Leslie Neilsen’s performance as one of the hikers—crazed with fear and hunger, Neilsen strips to the waist, screams about how he’s the god of his own life, impales a fellow hiker with a walking stick, tries to rape another hiker, and wrestles a bear. Good times. Christopher George plays the rugged leader of the hikers, and his gritted-teeth performance is entertainingly cheesy, while Richard Jaeckel plays it straight as a professor. Also present are B-movie fave Michael Ansara (playing the movie’s resident Native American) and actress/animal handler Susan Backlinie, best known as the skinny dipper in the opening sequence of Jaws.

Day of the Animals: FUNKY

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