Grizzly. It was a surprise success at drive-ins with fans to the point that a year later the stars and director returned with a similarly schlocky, generally pretty bad flick again dealing with some angry killer animals. Here we go with 1977's Day of the Animals.
In the mountains in northern California, experienced trail guide and outdoor enthusiast Steve Buckner (Christopher George) is readying to take a group of hikers on a several day hike. It's a mini-vacation offered away from society with little in the way of supplies, a way of getting back to nature. His group includes about 15 people, most of them city folks enjoying their time away from city life. But being dropped off by helicopters high up in the mountains, Buckner and his group quickly discovers something is very, very wrong. Animals are attacking them at an almost non-stop pace. What's going on? Can they survive or will the waves of animals wipe them out? They don't know it, but down below in the lower altitude towns, the population is dealing with exactly the same issue. Humanity....seems....doomed!!!!
Yikes, what a dumb, really dumb movie. Having directed Grizzly the year before (with George also starring and returning), director William Girdler is at the helm of another ultra-low budget drive-in special. It was made for cheap and intended for some cheap thrills. Can't go wrong, right? Well, you would think so. I liked the B-movie/disaster movie potential, but it never comes together. What exactly is driving the animals mad? The possibility that humans use of aerosol cans is ripping apart the ozone layer (Okay, we're doing a good job of that) and....lets radiation beat down on the Earth that turns animals into vicious, unstoppable killers. Oh, and some humans too but not all humans because that would make the story rather predictable, wouldn't it? I like my B-movies ridiculous and over the top, but don't hit me with a message!
Still, I figured there was enough going on here to make it watchable. Following the disaster movie formula, 'Animals' brings together a group of disparate individuals and lets us start guessing as to who will survive and who is just fodder for the vicious animals. No huge star power here, but definitely some familiar names. Going back to TV's The Rat Patrol, I've always been a fan of George, and he's having fun. His friendly, charming trail guide doesn't stretch any acting muscles, but it's not meant to be. Some of his hiking group include Richard Jaeckel as a bird-watching, photography-loving professor, Leslie Nielsen as an advertising executive with some anger issues, Michael Ansara as the wise Indian who knows all, and Ruth Roman has a Mom trying to bond with her nature-loving son.
That's as far as the name recognition goes, but there are some other interesting parts. Mrs. Christopher George, Lynda Day George, plays a TV newswoman trying to get away from work, Paul Mantee as an aging NFL star with a serious medical issue, and everyone else from a married couple looking to mend some wounds, a young couple in love, and Roman's son who needs a father figure. Who will make it? Who won't? Will anyone? That's part of the fun.
It cracked me up more and more as the movie went along. The premise is pretty cool, a variation on the Lost Patrol idea with a group of individuals banding together to survive, an enemy hovering all around them waiting to pick them up. Something never clicks though. The low budget most affects the actual animal attacks with some very cheesy special effects. For the most part, the sense of doom works better than anything. We see animals moving parallel to George's group, waiting to strike. Cheap filmmaking technique? Animals can look pretty scary just filming them so all Girdler had to do was film animals walk around and set those scenes to impending doom music from composer Lalo Schifrin (his score a bright spot). There are some scares along the way, but never as good as it could have been.
That's the entire movie. I wanted to like it, but it doesn't work. It's mindlessly entertaining but it's also a tad sluggish and never really picks up any momentum. Sure, it's cool to see character actors like George, Jaeckel, Nielsen and Ansara get their shot, but there's a limit. My limit? Nielsen's ad executive progressively getting hit with radiation. That translates to him taking his shirt off (All that is MAN!!!) and threatening to kill the men, rape the women and fight all the animals. By far, the funniest scenes in the movie.
Day of the Animals (1977): * 1/2 /****