Lynda Day George
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Day of the Animals (1977)
21st May 08
Leslie Nielsen hits kids and goes all rapey while Mother Nature gets pissed off at we useless human types again.
From the 70’s revenge-of-nature cycle, this combination of disaster movie and paranoid ecological horror flick continues the apocalyptic themes at the core of Frogs and The Birds to name but two. It also does a better job than director William Girdler’s later Grizzly in its animal attack set pieces (both the movies feature Christopher George as a friendly bit of rough). Girdler is best remembered for dying horribly at the age of 30 in a helicopter accident, though he should be remembered for making the definitive three-girls-on-a-meat hook movie (Three On A Meat hook) and for directing the best ever Evil-Medicine-Man-Born-Out-Of-A-Giant-Tumour-On-Susan-Strasberg’s-Back movie (that’s The Manitou).
Despite the promise of the title and a title sequence featuring prowling owls, lions, bears, et al, the movie itself, presumably finding technical difficulties with most species, has to make do with a few screen-hogging canines looking a bit annoyed (perhaps they’d just heard they’d been cast in Dogs, also released in this period). Other rampaging beasts make mere cameo appearances, and there is sadly an absence of gory moments involving llamas, sloths and “Animal” from The Muppets. Talk about missed opportunities!
An opening crawl typical of alarmist 70’s exploitation movies talks about the damage done to the ozone layer and warns “This motion picture dramatizes what could happen if we continue to do nothing….”. As with most of its type, the movie is sneery of the human race as a whole, almost encouraging us to root for the animals as it constantly reminds us what callous bastards we all are for letting the world and its creatures get into this state. This misanthropic attitude is reinforced by the fact that nearly all the characters are thoroughly deserving of the fates greeting them.
The film’s mixed-bag ensemble cast (wot, no Shelley Winters?!) play a bunch of city-dwelling hikers who chose the wrong time to experience the great outdoors. The nominal star is Lynda Day George, at the start of a run of horror flicks, as an anchorwoman for the evening news. Day George, wife of Christopher, would go on to a range of diverting roles in amiable slop like Beyond Evil and the sublime Pieces, a movie that would be the highlight of any career and features a moment of Pure Acting in which she shakes her fist with rage and yells “You bastard!“ repeatedly to express fury at the mystery-killer. Day George was also particularly good at wearing cleavage-revealing, gravity-defying outfits, and she never won an Academy Award. (feel free to shake your fist with rage and yell “You bastards!“ in the direction of the Academy to express your fury at this injustice).
Filling out the cast are such laugh-a-minute folks as a stuffy professor, a couple with a rocky marriage, a wise Indian, a divorcee with a precocious son, etc., yaddi yadda. You won’t care about any of them because the movie is merrily stolen by a pre-Airplane! Leslie Nielsen as an ad executive who pisses everyone off by arguing with decisions, making “kemosabe” jokes to the Indian and even roughing the kid up (hooray!).
As in other genre movies of the time, the end of the world is brought to you by Jacob’s Cream Crackers : TV and radio news reports talk ominously about a sudden, devastating worldwide crisis caused by ozone layer depletion. The locals dismiss it as a War of the Worlds style hoax but soon it becomes clear that the ozone factor is turning various animals hostile…and having a negative effect on Leslie Nielsen’s sanity for some unexplained reason.
“I should be in Beverly Hills where any civilised person would be!” a character says at one mildly satirical point during Day of the Animals, emphasising the recurring 70’s theme of pampered city types finding that nature hates them and that they should have stayed in their world of sidewalks, bulimia and plastic surgeons. Girdler, a workmanlike director, never evokes the kind of slow-burning dread created by the best of this sub-genre (notably The Birds and Long Weekend) nor does he go all-out with outrageous animal-rampage scenes like the marvellously wacky Italian contribution to the cycle Wild Beasts. He does, however, succeed in crafting an effectively ominous build-up, conveying the sense of nature oppressively watching and waiting in between lovingly scored (by Lalo Schifrin) helicopter shots of The Big Country.
This movie has enough of a following to ensure a recent two-disc Region 1 DVD release bringing it to your home for the first time in its original wide screen format (the only format acceptable for viewing Linda Day George’s cleavage). So what does your hard-earned cash buy you? There’s a rattlesnake attack, a Sheriff gets his face chewed off by rats and Jaws victim Susan Backline is ravaged by vultures before falling off a cliff in an embarrassingly poor process shot. A few pounds of your dosh seems a small price to pay, however, for the opportunity to watch Leslie Nielsen transforming before our eyes into a bare-chested murderer and would-be rapist who hits children and threatens women. You may feel that you’ve waited your whole life to see a movie in which Mr Nielsen ill-advisedly challenges a grizzly bear to a wrestling match. Watch Day of the Animals and feel fulfilled at last.
Versions Available from Shriek Show in its original 2:35 aspect on Region 1 DVD. Other older versions are around but these are full screen, including the Evil Animals Triple Feature version.
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.