May 21, 2014

DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1978) - Leslie Nielsen in the follow-up to GRIZZLY

(1977, USA)

When animals attack... and keep on attacking!

A large group of happy campers prepare for a long trek in California's High Sierras. But after they're dropped off high on a mountain by helicopter, a warning goes out that an anomaly in the ozone layer could alter animal behaviour, and even be dangerous for humans. As the evacuation begins of all the towns at high altitude, the campers aren't expecting it when the many wild animals start behaving strangely...

This wouldn't have been made if it wasn't for Jaws, but like Joe Dante, director William Girdler knows his audience and tries to add surprises to the horror genre, rather than relying on cliche. With the theme of atmospheric damage, this also has a strong dose of sci-fi. It has a grindhouse vibe, but is too well made to be labelled as such.

Director William Girdler started off making really cheap horror films (like Three on a Meathook and Asylum of Satan) but rapidly progressed to mainstream releases. He rarely strayed from horror films, but maintained a fun creative sense, injecting what are now known as 'WTF moments' that make his later films must-sees. I looked forward to them, and was saddened when he died accidentally at the ridiculously young age of 30.

Day of the Animals, Grizzly and The Manitou deserve to be remastered on blu-ray. At the moment there's only a blu-ray of Grizzly in France and Day of the Animals has just had a special edition blu-ray in the USA, from Scorpion Releasing.

When I first saw this, on a double-bill with The Car, it didn't impress me nearly as much (see my review of The Car here). Watching it again on DVD did little to improve my opinion, but it was a really terrible presentation. Now, seeing it again in 2.35 widescreen, superbly restored, has elevated Day of the Animals to a worthy support feature for Grizzly, which I rate very highly. It could be argued that there's some continuity between the two stories. Day of the Animals could be a prequel, explaining why Grizzly ran amok. The animal attack theme certainly binds these two films together, made in consecutive years. It's certainly a better partner than The Car.

The new blu-ray showcases the production from the opening shots. Even the title sequence looks good, with so many wild animals sitting, waiting patiently in frame for their prey to arrive. The many wild animals on show are impressive because none of them are stock footage. The excessive lens flares and slightly 'hot' overexposure, with some additional filters, cleverly transmit that there's something not quite right about the sunlight. 

When the animals start to attack, it looks convincingly fierce. Girdler and his team must have met up with the right people during the making of Grizzly, to be able to film so many different co-operative animals. 

While the stuntwork is still very convincing, The budget can't extend to ambitious visual effects, some of which haven't aged well. It's also hard to take the film too seriously with Leslie Nielsen playing a racist bully, shortly before he appeared in Airplane! 

Both Christopher George (City of the Living Dead) and Richard Jaeckel (The Green Slime) return fresh from Grizzly, but as quite different characters. Girdler certainly hangs on to the actors he likes. Similarly, Michael Ansara later appeared in The Manitou.

Susan Backlinie was most famous for being the first victim in Jaws, and here he uses her both as stunt performer and an actress. Bobby Porter also performed stunts, but being under five feet tall, he usually doubled children. He also acts and plays a child in this, even though he was 25 at the time! Porter also had a major role as the young chimp in Battle for the Planet of the Apes and memorably a child zombie in Night of the Comet.

Andrew Stevens has a small role in this, just before he landed a major role in Brian De Palma's The Fury. There's also Paul Mantee, star of George Pal's Robinson Crusoe On Mars. He and Jon Cedar are interviewed on the blu-ray edition, adding considerable background to the making of the film and William Girdler's way of working.

As I mentioned, the US DVD of Day of the Animals is ghastly, a blurry, pan-and-scan 1.33 crop from a 2.35 widescreen image.

The new blu-ray shows off the how good the production actually looked, especially it's scenic cinematography, digitally mastered from the interpositive. There's a new 5.1 audio mix of the original elements and a unique isolated soundtrack of Lalo Schifrin's music. All this and reversible cover art.

An action-packed 'animal attack' movie at the height of that craze, and a predictive tale of eco-disaster, I finally loved watching this again. 

To see how Day of the Animals looks on blu-ray, visit DVD Beaver for their review and gallery of screengrabs.

For much more about the films of William Girdler, go to fan site

1 comment:

  1. I love this movie!!!! I have the blurry release, it looks horrible on my flat screen. I can hardly wait to get the HD/widescreen version......did anyone else almost hard not to laugh at Leslie Nielsen even though he played an a$$hole, LOL?