Day of the Animals (1977)


Day of the Animals (1977) is sincere with its science. The opening crawl reminds us that…

In June 1974, Drs. F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina of the University of California startled the scientific world with their finding that fluorocarbon gases used in aerosol spray cans are seriously damaging the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Thus, potentially dangerous amounts of ultra-violet rays are reaching the surface of our planet, adversely affecting all living things.

I’ll buy that, and since then, we’ve learned (if we’ve so chosen) a few things about climate change and global warming. The movie doesn’t then back away from the science; it embraces the fiction…

This motion picture dramatizes what COULD happen in the near future IF we continue to do nothing to stop this damage to Nature’s protective shield for life on this planet.

Wow, there are capital letters and underlined words!

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Perhaps the most unbelievable thing about the science or the fiction of Day of the Animals is that neither is questioned. Television and radio news shows matter-of-factly state that the deteriorating ozone layer is causing animals to run amuck. Nobody denies that it’s happening, least of all the unfortunate members of a survival hike with limited food and no weapons led by Steve Buckner (Christopher George), one of the characters about which we know nothing.

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Because of this “angle” and the diverse cast, Day of the Animals plays more like a 70s disaster movie than a “nature gone wild” movie. In fact, it’s almost an ahead-of-its time parody of disaster movies with the sheriff (Michael Andreas) literally reading the list of character types as they prepare for their hike:

Come on now, Steve. Ever since you’ve been up here, I’ve never seen a group like that… young kid, his mother, and the Indian, and the cripple, for Christ’s sake… what the hell’s he doing here?

Politically correct, it isn’t. 1977, it is. If you include the sheriff, you also have an overweight man that Steve reminds isn’t good for his heart in the high altitude. Other types include: arrogant advertising executive Paul Jenson (Leslie Neilsen), spunky reporter on vacation Terry Marsh (Lynda Day George), amateur photographer Professor MacGregor (Richard Jaeckel), young couple Bob Denning (Andrew Stevens) and Beth Hughes (Kathleen Bracken), and unhappy couple Frank Young (Jon Cedar) and Mandy Young (Susan Backlinie.)

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From the sheriff’s roll call, we have “young kid” John Goodwyn (Bobby Porter) and his mother Shirley (Ruth Roman), “the Indian” Daniel Santee (Michael Ansara), and “the cripple” Roy Moore (Paul Mantee.) Some of these characters have more depth to them than others. Their dramas selectively surface as things literally and figuratively heat up. It may have been less annoying to share the subplots among all the characters instead of only a few.

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I saw Day of the Animals when it was released in theaters and, unlike others who say they lovingly remember it, I was incredibly bored, rarely revisiting it during the 40+ years since then. So, what do I do when Severin releases a beautiful Blu-ray special edition with slipcover? Of course, I buy it. It’s still very slow-moving for me with more shots of wildlife watching people rather than attacking them. At 97-minutes, I say it is at least… at least eight minutes too long.

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On the other hand, this wildlife footage is incorporated extremely well. I never felt like the animals weren’t, like Terry Marsh comments, “all over the place.” Professor also states, “My god, they’re like an army; they’re everyplace.” They’re not, but the illusion is that they are. The potential for attacks is always greater than the actual attacks, which does sustain a slow burning sense of suspense. Kudos to editors Bub Asman and James Mitchell.

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The only cheap-looking shot doesn’t even involve the animals. It happens when Frank and Mandy leave the group after she’s playfully mauled by a wolf during the night. The bickering couple moves through a clearing where birds are, you guessed it, “all over the place.” Poor Mandy; the writers really don’t like her. The birds attack her and she can’t hang on to the edge of the cliff with her bloodied hands. She falls slowly into a bad special effect.

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The cinematography by Robert Sorrentino looks great on Blu, although the landscape becomes dull because it looks pretty much the same throughout. I was grateful when the story moved back to town for a while to provide a change of scenery. The music by Lalo Schifrin is lovely, strong at the beginning, but oddly quiet during the climactic scenes. The direction by William Girdler (Grizzly, The Manitou) is fine.

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About 2/3 into Day of the Animals, the movie makes a logical and interesting assertion: if this phenomenon is causing animals to misbehave, it could do the same to humans. (We are animals, too, I believe.) It then turns the spotlight on Mr. Leslie Nielsen, who, although his character is hungry, gets to feast on the scenery. He yells at God and wrestles a bear while shirtless. It’s an unexpected highlight of the movie.

Written by William W. Norton & Eleanor E. Norton

Directed by William Girdler

Starring Christopher George, Leslie Nielsen, Lynda Day George, Richard Jaeckel, Michael Ansara, Ruth Roman, Jon Cedar, Paul Mantee, Andrew Stevens, Susan Backlinie, Kathleen Bracken, Bobby Porter, Michelle Stacy, Michael Andreas

RT 97 min.

Released May 13, 1977

Home Video Severin Films (Blu-ray)

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