Day of the Animals
For centuries they were hunted for bounty, fun and food... now it's their turn.
Year of Release: 1977
Also Known As: Something is Out There
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time: 97 minutes (1:37)
Director: William Girdler
Christopher George ... Steve Buckner
Lynda Day George ... Terry Marsh
Leslie Nielsen ... Paul Jenson
Michael Ansara ... Daniel Santee
Richard Jaeckel ... Professor MacGregor
Ruth Roman ... Shirley Goodwyn
Bobby Porter ... John Goodwyn
Paul Mantee ... Roy Moore
Jon Cedar ... Frank Young
Susan Backlinie ... Mandy Young
Andrew Stevens ... Bob Denning
Kathleen Bracken ... Beth Hughes
Michelle Stacy ... Little Girl
A group of hikers on a two week survival mission soon find themselves trapped when they realize that the animal population of the Sierras slowly congregates around them.
Day of the Animals, remindin' us that disregard for the opinions of experts isn't the new concept some people think it is. I mean, here we've got a flick from 1976, where a wilderness survival expert an the only guy in his group with a master's degree agree on the best course of action after bein' attacked by every cantankerous critter in the woods, an STILL, half the goddamned group runs off to follow the marketing executive. Course, the '70s were still considered the early days of sellin' wholesale confirmation bias to the gullible, cause back then they hadda spend more time tryin' to figure out how to get people to buy Earth Shoes an Disco records. But these days, so long as you know where to look, you can always find somebody who'll sell you the "correct" point of view, with exactly who to blame for everything thrown in at no additional cost. It's like that plot I was readin' about in Privacy Monthly about how these Lawn Nazis prowl around America reportin' landscapin' infractions to the authorities in the name of "fire suppression," forcin' you to cut down your bull thistle privacy hedge. They want you to THINK they're lookin' out for your safety, but that's a load of BS an they know it.
An speakin' of people gettin' way too much sun exposure, I hadda spend half my Saturday tryin' to coax Bernard McGowan down offa the roof of his A-Frame after Billy Hilliard noticed 'im sleepin' up there like Snoopy. Bernard's got this illegal pot grow operation goin' on in his barn, an tends to sample a little too much of his product from time to time. I guess he also pulled a coupla tours in Vietnam too, so he was already a little paranoid to begin with, but to give you an idea of how this guy thinks; he's plannin' to vote for Jill Stein cause he claims Hillary Clinton's a Reptilian, an that Donald Trump's hairpiece is actually a Tribble that's taken over his mind, like in The Brain Eaters. He musta hit the bong pretty hard this time though, cause it took 20 minutes of Billy an I shootin' 'im with our wrist rockets just to wake 'im up, an when we finally did get his attention he said he wasn't comin' down cause the government'd built an underground base beneath his bomb shelter to find out what he knows about their clandestine program to breed mutant killer gophers to serve as the vanguard of a future invasion of Canada. We tried tellin' 'im that Sheriff Hardassian was gonna turn the place upside down an find his bumper crop if he didn't get his hinder down, but that didn't work. Then we called Shanghai Muttley out on the pretense that there was a cat on a hot tin roof that needed rescuin', an when he realized he'd been duped he was so P.O.'d that he slung that doggie noose he carries around over Bernard's ankle an tried draggin' 'im down just to watch 'im crack his head on the garden gnome. That didn't work either, cause eventually we hadda stop tuggin' when Bernard tried chewin' his leg off to get loose. Now, I don't like to play offa people's psychoses, but after about two hours of failed psychiatry an brute force in the blazin' hot sun, I'd had about enough of that crap. So I told 'im that he was extremely susceptible to abduction by outer space aliens bein' as high offa the ground as he was, an once that thought penetrated the pot resin coatin' his brain, he came slidin' offa there like a busted TV antenna. Afterwards we found out that Bernard'd been sprayin' a little too much DDT on his crops in an effort to kill off the super-intelligent mosquitoes that're tryin' to collect DNA on the country's population to take back to the Men in Black, who apparently sell diabetic testin' supplies or somethin'... I didn't quite get that part, cause that's about the point where Bernard started slobberin' like his canine namesake an singin' the theme song to My Little Pony. The doctor says he'll be alright after a few days of detox, at least as long as Bernard minds his manners. Guy didn't seem real keen on Bernard's theory that he's secretly Josef Mengele.
Gettin' back to the flick though; Day of the Animals is one of the best Nature Goes Nuts flicks ever to air on TBS at 2:30 in the mornin', even though it's a little heavy-handed in the ole environmental subtext department. The good thing about that, though, is that it's actually got a plot. Cause I hate those movies where everything's goin' tits up but you never find out why cause the writer spent half his time gettin' high sniffin' the contents of the red light district laundry bin or somethin'. Here, we know exactly what's goin' on; we're all a buncha uncaring jerkolas who don't care what we do to the planet, which starts the brains of our furry friends sizzlin' like a rib-eye on the barbecue, an results in us gettin' taught a little lesson in humility. An in light of Will Girdler's short, but unwavering dedication to our beloved genre (he also did Grizzly, Asylum of Satan, Abby, Three on a Meathook, an The Manitou), I'd like to quickly go over a few of the more stellar insights into modern America that Will threw into this thing for us, an to remind everyone that Gird is still the word. First, havin' a hole in your ozone layer's like havin' a hole in your o-ring, cause if either one starts lettin' anything through when you're not expectin' it, you're in for a world of shit. Second, when you've got hordes of wild animals tryin' to tear off your snausage, it's prolly okay to break into somebody's house to find sanctuary. I'm thinkin' the cops'll prolly cut you a some slack under the circumstances. Goin' all over town lookin' for somebody dense enough to hide a key under the doormat is a real good way to get mauled by a pack of rabid park squirrels, so just try to forget all that crap they drilled into you back in the 1950s about etiquette. An third, 9 out of 10 Americans can't tell a Syrian from a Seminole. But after watchin' this thing, there's somethin' I'd like to throw out there that mighta saved everybody a whole lotta chewin'. Now, lemme just preface this by remindin' everyone that I ain't no kumbaya-singin', Exxon-hatin', otter-scrubbin', hippy enviro-mentalist, but it seems to me that there was a simple way around all this Mother Nature on the rag nonsense. See, what I figure I'll do when the ozone layer finally busts open like John Hurt's chest in Alien, is just shave Shankles an Apollo an slather some sunscreen lotion on 'em. I mean, that's all you've gotta do, right? They're gettin' too much UV exposure, so you shield 'em from it. Doesn't anybody else ever think about this stuff? We don't needa do anything drastic, like quit usin' diesel to burn mounds of anthills into ash, we just need a little American ingenuity. Your pet's brain starts marinatin' inside its pan, you slap a little Coppertone on there. You'd think that I'd make more'n $5 an hour comin' up with all these cost effective solutions for alla life's little irreversible problems, but I guess life ain't fair sometimes.
The movie begins with this text about how the female population of planet Earth is destroyin' the ozone layer with the overuse of aerosol hair spray, an that what we're about to see is what might happen if we don't straighten up an fly right. So we open with this survival guide (Steve) takin' a buncha city slickers an Barbara Eden's husband up into the woods to teach 'em how to prepare pine cone-kabobs an demonstrate why it's a bad idea to wipe your hinder with poison oak. We got the bitter middle-aged couple tryin' to save their marriage (Frank an Mandy), the young couple who'll eventually turn into the middle-aged couple (Bob an Beth), the weenie professor whose mama still packs his lunch (MacGregor), a broken down has-been football player with a halibut sinker where his patella used to be (Roy), the hysterical Jewish mother (Shirley) an 'er son (John), the eye-on boobs TV news anchor lady (Terry), the wise old Indian (Santee), an Leslie Nielsen as the jerk. So Steve flies everybody out to where the wild things are an starts leadin' everybody towards the first campground while he makes awkward bumpkinese passes at Terry, until Santee gets all paranoid about how it's quieter'n Ryan Lochte's first dinner back home after his little international incident. Leslie says Santee's just been doin' too much peyote, but pretty quick the group finds itself surrounded by more hawks an vultures than John D. Rockefeller's death bed, an by the time they get goin' again the whole damn forest is followin' 'em cause Shirley can't go more'n about three minutes without goin' completely meshuggenah. Then they find an abandoned camp with the fire still goin' an quickly put it out before Smokey the Bear sees it an starts interrogatin' people with his teeth, at which point they set up their own camp a little ways away. I hate people like that. Whole goddamned forest an they gotta camp right next to you. I hope their tents're all sittin' right on top of big granite deposits. Anyway, upon realizin' that 'er kid's doin' the kinda kid things that he never gets to do in the city, Shirley starts goin' apeshit an Santee hasta offer up some ancient Indian parental advice that involves 'er shuttin' 'er damn trap an givin' the kid a chance to grow up without a gut fulla ulcers. Chuck-E-Cheeses ain't the only place where a kid aughta be able to be a kid, damnit.
Then everybody goes to bag, only Mandy's sleepin' a little too far away from everybody else, an pretty quick she gets attacked by Wolf Bitzer who proceeds to gnaw off part of 'er restin' bitchface. It ain't too bad, so the next mornin' Steve an Santee send her an Frank down to the grassy knoll so they can get picked up by a chopper an taken back to town to alert the enviros about all the blush the wolf ingested so they can send out a search party for it, while the rest of the group frantically searches for enough cowboy toilet paper for the moment Steve's seared skink fillets inevitably stop sittin' right. Then Leslie starts talkin' like the Indian version of Amos an Andy an Santee gets this look on his face like there's about to be a sudden drop in the Nielsen ratings. Elsewhere, the tenuous husband/wife alliance starts goin' to pot when they notice a buncha buzzards circlin' overhead, an next thing you know Mandy gets Tippi Hedren'd off a cliff an onto the rocks below. Then Frank finds this little girl an they hafta get the heck outta there cause a P.O.'d golden eagle keeps swoopin' down on 'em an tryin' to kill 'em for their dried banana slices. Meanwhile, John's tryin' to listen to this fuzzy radio broadcast about ozone depletion an how everybody aughta leave the higher elevations on account of 'em bein' closer to the sun, but Shirley ends up knockin' it into the creek when the kid refuses to turn it back to Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Eventually, Steve an his snotley crew make it to their next pre-established base camp where their Dinty Moore an Van Camp rations've been dropped in like a U.N. care package, unfortunately, the place's been ransacked by Bigfoot in the meantime, an Leslie's real P.O.'d. Later that night, Sheriff Chunky Hump gets a call from his deputy sayin' that the Army's arrived an started roundin' people up to be taken to the FEMA gas chambers cause Mother Nature's gone off 'er Prozac, an to get his ham hocks into town pronto. Course, he can't even change the channel on the TV without gettin' a snack first, so he pulls out some rump roast an starts diggin' around for the Crisco to butter his bread with, an when he turns around the table's completely covered with rats that start launchin' themselves at 'im like Simone Biles offa the vault. Left with the prospect of facin' down such a fierce rodent assault, he reluctantly abandons his pork. Meanwhile, Steve's dependents're gettin' attacked by cougars out on the mountain, which is a lot less fun (though no less dangerous) when they're literal cougars instead of undersexed divorcees. The next mornin', Santee catches a whole mess of fish for breakfast with his bare hands, but Leslie ain't easily impressed cause he once saw a guy back at the office flick a paper football 10 feet through the air into his receptionist's coffee cup, an so Steve hasta bury his fist into Leslie's Nielchin.
Then Leslie uses his marketin' savvy to convince half the group (Shirley, John, Bob, an Beth) that goin' 15 miles uphill to a ranger station is better'n walkin' 30 miles downhill back to town, while Steve sits in stunned silence upon realizin' how payday loan companies manage to turn a profit. Not surprisingly, Leslie's expedition hits more snags than a treble hook in a slash pile, an within' about an hour he's gotten P.O.'d an clubbed three quarters of his party with a stick, gored the remainin' quarter (Bob) in his porterhouse steaks, declared his intention to clear-cut Beth's virgin forest, an extended his shirtless arms to the thundering sky like Tim Robbins after his prison break in Shawshank Redemption. Then Leslie goes for the groceries, only before he can get to the meat counter a bear shows up an invites Leslie into his big poo house. Shirley he didn't think the censors were gonna let him get away with that when the movie's rated PG. What a dink. Anyway, the next mornin' Frank an the little girl make it back to town, only the first vehicle they find is fulla Billy Graham's angry venomous sermon props, an they end up climbin' into another truck that won't start. This's a little known trick that us rural folks like to use to dissuade car thieves, cause by the time they've jimmied open all eight of the vehicles on the lawn tryin' to find the one that runs, we're usually up an ready for our mornin' porch coffee with shotguns in hand. Unfortunately, now Cujo's waitin' outside the rig slobberin' an waitin' to get a piece of Frank's furter, an when he slips out with a claw hammer lookin' to check on the crankability of another car, he gets chomped by a rattler in its driver's seat an subsequently mauled by The Pack as the little girl watches the dog food episode of How it's Made without even needin' a TV set. Elsewhere, Shirley, Beth, an John've wandered down to a clearing where they find a whirlybird that no longer whirls an climb inside, while The Bloodhound Gang chews on the pilot's all you can eat duffet. Back down the hill a ways, Steve an company have located a buncha summer camp cabins an started rootin' around for any life-sustainin' beef jerky or pickled hog's feet that might still be good. Cept before they can find anything, they discover the entire camp's been booked by this gang of P.O.'d German Shepherds who don't take kindly to the group's attempt to horn in on their summer retreat, an next thing you know the humans're trapped inside a single cabin tryin' to hold off the impendin' maulocaust snarlin' at the front door. Gonna cut off here an avoid spoilin' the ending, but I gotta say, things aren't lookin' so good for Steve's tour business.
Ya know, there's just no beatin' the 1970s for these "animals run amok" flicks. They kept makin' them into the '80s, but by then the slasher craze had pretty well taken over, so I say the gritty '70s successfully outshines the '80s as the best decade for nature goes nuts flicks. Day of the Animals came out around the peak of that cycle, about two years after the box office returns on Jaws made these kinda flicks extremely popular, and even though it's not ever gonna have the kind of broad public appeal that Jaws does, it's one of my favorites. Granted, it's got some pretty heavy handed subtext about man destroying the world because he likes the noise the engine on his Dodge diesel makes when he revs it up really hard, but those kinds of things don't bother me. All I care about is whether or not the plot is at least plausible; as long as it is, there's really no reason to get bent outta shape about the politics of certain movies. You don't have to condone Clint Eastwood's version of police procedure to enjoy Dirty Harry, ya know? Getting back on point though, I particularly like these psycho critter movies where you've got a wide variety of different animals tryin' to eat the cast, just for the fact that they're a lot less common, and less predictable. Of course, this subgenre is one of the oldest in the history of horror, having established itself in 1933 with King Kong. Kong still holds up alright, because in that flick the ape is gigantic, but a lot of the killer ape movies from the 1930s have kinda gone to pot, because in general, apes are pretty placid animals. It's kinda like makin' a movie about killer cows, just doesn't make much sense if you're playing it straight. Selecting the species of your rampaging animal(s) is a pretty important step, and it generally proves to be the difference between the flicks that slip and the ones that grip. Another crucial aspect that helps this movie stand out from a lot of the others is the fact that it has something resembling a budget, because movies from this subgenre tend to suffer more than others from a lack of cash. Reason being, you wanna have the most realistic looking attack sequences you possibly can, and for that, you've gotta have both real animals and guys who can get said animals to do what the director wants them to. Now, I realize that just about all these flicks have a few scenes of people wrestlin' with stuffed animals, but as long as you intersperse those with enough footage of real critters, it can generally be overlooked. When there's no budget for animal wranglers, you can end up with some really hilarious stuff, like taxidermied (and sometimes even mounted) specimens standing in for living creatures. I'm not saying there aren't a few instances of people wrestling stuffed animals, or fighting guys in bear suits in this one, but on the whole, those instances are pretty minimal, and well concealed by fast cuts.
In any event, let's inspect the inner workings of this thing and make sure the director didn't spend as much time in the sun as his four-legged supporting cast. The plot is pretty good, despite the fact that the movie ends up being an accidental period piece because of it. The whole ozone layer depletion scare was just coming into the public eye when this flick was released, and I think it was an excellent gimmick to explain why the animals are attacking. Sometimes when you put a different spin on a well established concept, you breathe new life into it, and I think Girdler managed that to some extent here. Granted, you might well ask why it wasn't affecting people as well, since we're part of the animal kingdom too, but I can see my way past that little omission. Sides, if it affects us too, we've got no movie. The acting is decent as well, with Christopher George playing the good natured man's man called upon to save the day for the three dozenth time in his all too short career, and his wife, Lynda Day George co-starring as the sassy, but frequently imperiled Terry Marsh, as the central characters. You've also got Ruth Roman doin' a pretty good job as the stressed out hysterical Jewish mother, Michael Ansara as the likeable Syrian playing a Native American, and of course, Leslie Nielsen as the bastard who goes completely out of his cracker and tries raping the attractive gal. It's kinda funny to watch these days, because Day of the Animals was released a few years before Leslie went into comedy. If they'd had anybody else in the cast playing the heavy, it'd be an unpleasant scene to watch, but because it's impossible to see Leslie Nielsen as anybody but Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun, or Dr. Rumack from Airplane, it just comes across as bizarre. So among the cast, those were the performances I felt stood out, and none of the unmentioned members were a detriment.
Here's who matters and why (besides Leslie Nielsen): Christopher George (Pieces, Graduation Day, City of the Living Dead, Mortuary, Grizzly, Whiskey Mountain), Lynda Day George (Pieces, Beyond Evil, Ants, Mortuary, Fear No Evil), Richard Jaeckel (Starman, Blood Song, The Dark, Mako: The Jaws of Death, Grizzly, The Green Slime), Michael Ansara (Dr. Strange, The Manitou, It's Alive 1974, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy), Ruth Roman (Echos, Impulse 1974, The Baby), Jon Cedar (The Manitou, Capricorn One, Asteroid 1997, Kiss Daddy Goodbye, Time Travelers), Paul Mantee (Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Lurking Fear, The Manitou, Helter Skelter 1976), Walter Barnes (Pigs), Andrew Stevens (Mongolian Death Worm, Venomous, The Terror Within I & II, The Seduction, The Fury, Massacre at Central High), Susan Backlinie (Jaws), Bobby Porter (Return of the Living Dead Part II, Night of the Comet, Human Experiments, Battle for the Planet of the Apes), Michelle Stacy (Logan's Run, Demon Seed, The Night that Panicked America), Michael Andreas (The Manitou), Gil Lamb (Nightmare Circus), Garrison True (Countdown), Mike Clifford (The Lord of the Rings 1978, Grizzly, Village of the Giants), Walt Gorney (Friday the 13th 1, 2 & 7, King Kong 1976. And for all you pot-stirrers out there who've got nothin' better to do than slander these fine actors' good names, here're the mainstream credits your parents probably know them for. Michael Ansara was the voice of Warhawk on the Rambo cartoon series, as well as Abu Sofyan in The Message, Ruth Roman played Anne Morton in Strangers on a Train, Paul Mantee would be best known as Al Corassa on Cagney & Lacey, and Bobby Porter was Stink in the '90s Land of the Lost series. But if I could be anyone in the cast, it'd definitely be Michael Ansara, cause he got to see Barbara Eden in the buff regularly during their 16 year marriage.
The special effects are pretty good, although there are a few scenes that come across as tacky, due to some inadequacies. As I mentioned earlier, there are a few shots with guys wrestling stuffed animals or actors in suits, but they really are pretty minimal, and I think the good shots outnumber the bad ones at least 10:1. Of course, being rated PG as it is, there aren't any explicit gore shots, or even much blood to speak of. You've got the rat attack on the sheriff, the wolf and birds tearing up/knocking Susan Backlinie off the cliff (which is at least better than what happened to her in Jaws), and beyond that, very little. Still, I'd say the worst thing is neither the bear suit, nor the stuffed cougars, but the god awful rear projection used behind Susan Backlinie as she plummets off the cliff onto the rocks down below. Other than these things, the rest of the flick is pretty solid, with well trained animals providing a legitimate sense of menace (less the extremely happy German Shepherds riding on the raft near the climax). The shooting locations are great, having been shot in Long Barn and Murphys California, in and around the Stanislaus National Forest. Long Barn, as of the 2010 census, had a population of 155, while Murphys was a bustling metropolis of 2213, which is why the single street in town looks so authentic. Of course, the wilderness area is what really shines, and the cinematographer does an excellent job of bringing out the area's natural beauty. The wildlife shots are exceptional as well, with most of them being new footage shot specifically for the movie. You can usually tell when they start throwing stock footage at you, and I didn't see much of that here. The soundtrack is another high point, despite being one that tends to skulk around in the background without attracting too much attention to itself. Composed by the great Lalo Schifrin, who's done over 200 compositions for movies and TV (including Cool Hand Luke, The Cincinatti Kid, Enter the Dragon, THX 1138, The Amityville Horror, and Class of 1984), it's got elements from the Planet of the Apes soundtrack, a portion very similar to what would later become the signature sound of the Friday the 13th movies, and other sections that are uniquely enjoyable. All very good tracks that benefit the movie in its quest to generate a suspenseful atmosphere, and all very easy on the ears. Overall, I find Day of the Animals to be one of the more under-rated entries in the "animals run amok" subgenre, and definitely recommend it to anyone looking to take a step away from the mainstream titles and into the lesser known entries. Definitely check it out.