Creature Features in Review: Day of the Animals (1977)
The Seventies were packed to the brim with animal attack movies. Name your critter. Snakes, bears, earthworms; all creatures, great and small, had their own chance at cinematic revenge against the human race for mucking up the environment. Film lovers had a tendency to root for the animals, which was justified. We were destroying the planet with Aqua Net fumes and pollution. We were killing ourselves, never mind the woodland creatures around us. Hell, the Cuyahoga River caught fire and the response from those responsible was a resounding, “Well, that’s weird.” The eco-horror genre was always meant to hammer out a warning about the dangers of botching the biosphere. However, using just one kind of animal wasn’t hitting a wide enough audience. If you lived in a high-rise, then you weren’t going to be too worried about chemically imbalanced grizzly bears mauling you on the eightieth floor on your way home after work.
In 1977, producer Edward L. Montoro got the bright idea to create a movie where all the animals went nuts, got smart, and began working together to take humans down. “Day of the Animals,” which is sort of an Al-Qaeda recruitment film for wildife, pits an unlikely group of people on a guided survival hike (no weapons, minimal food) against all manner of furious furry and feathered things. They even have to fight each other to stay alive. There’s always one in every group, and in this movie, it’s Leslie Nielsen, giving perhaps the greatest performance of his career. He’s a blustering racist jackhole who attempts to usurp command of the hikers. His leadership skill are not good. But if you, like most people, have ever harbored a desire to see a shirtless Nielsen fight a grizzly bear during a nighttime thunderstorm, then this is the movie for you.
He’s not the only drive-in flick stalwart here, though. Christopher and Lynda Day George are on this hell hike, along with Richard Jaeckyl, Michael Ansara, and Andrew Stevens. The cast is the A-List of B-Flicks, and they all ham it up as much as possible.
But the real stars here are the animals. The film makes sure to show us what’s happening on the hike, back in town, and all over the world via news reports. Bobcats, bears, wolves and condors vex the hikers. Dogs, rats, and snakes wreak havoc at home. Even insects and iguanas get in on the action.
“Day of the Animals” isn’t a particularly well-written movie. It has one of the absolute worst optical effects ever created by man; it’s a laugh out loud showstopper, and you’ll know it when you see it. What it does have going for it is excellent editing. Carefully created sequences allows us to perceive what the animals are planning, almost as if they’re communicating telepathically. This helps raise the tension in a movie that is essentially a travelogue. The scenery is gorgeous to look at, even with all those humans in the way.
There’s something else about “Day of the Animals” that makes it essetial viewing. It has an audacity to it, a sense of barely controlled madness, that makes it more than a thinly plotted nature show. The concept is thinly rooted in scientific conjecture, but the animal attack scenes are insane, effective in their weird violence and ferocity. One gets the sense that the filmmakers, especially genre veteran director William Girdler, were willing to try anything, do anything for the shot, including place the talent in actual physical danger. There’s no CGI here, no stunt animals or mechanical mountain lions. As ludicrous as the whole thing is, it feels real.
There may be better films in this particular niche, but none of them reach as high or try as hard as “Day of the Animals.” This movie is nuts. It’s infected with a zany nihilism, yet it never veers too far from its own sense of realism. It lays down its own parameters and stays within them. Understand, though, that those parameters are really far away from each other, leaving a giant sandbox to play in. That alone deserves respect. They just don’t make movies like this anymore. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether that’s a good thing.
Jeffery X. Martin is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elders Keep universe. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work, including his latest novel, Hunting Witches, on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. When Mr. X is not writing creepy mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and review sites, including but not limited to, Popshifter, Kiss the Goat, and the Cinema Beef Podcast. He is a frequent contributor to Machine Mean, reviewing for us The Wolf Man(1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and Squirm (1976) and Kingdom of the Spiders (1977).
Enter Jeffery’s world of Elder’s Keep in his terrifying new novel Hunting Witches!
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