"Lynda knows SOMETHING IS OUT THERE" but it's not a slasher or a demon, its nature striking back in William Girdler's DAY OF THE ANIMALS, remastered courtesy of Scorpion Releasing.
Fluorocarbons have eroded the ozone layer causing animals at high elevations to go berserk. This is unfortunate for the "disaster movie" cross section of humanity populating the survival hike run by Steve Buckner (Christopher George, MORTUARY): bickering Frank (Jon Cedar, THE MANITOU) and Mandy (Susan Backlinie, JAWS' first victim), headstrong anchorwoman Terry Marsh (Lynda Day George, PIECES), studious professor MacGregor (Richard Jaeckel, WALKING TALL PART II), Native American character who senses something unnatural right away Santee (Michael Ansara, THE DOLL SQUAD), corporate alpha male jerk Jenson (Leslie Nielsen, PROM NIGHT), young lovers Bob (Andrew Stevens, THE FURY) and Beth (Kathleen Bracken, THE MAN WITH BOGART'S FACE), benched jock secretly dying of cancer Roy (Paul Mantee, ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS), and bellyaching divorcee Mrs. Goodwyn (Ruth Roman, THE BABY) and long-suffering son John (Bobby Porter, BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES). Under the watchful eyes of eagles, vultures, mountain lions, bears, and wolves, the subplot dramas of the various members of the party unfold until the animals get hungry and take a chomp out of poor Mandy. When the attacks get fiercer, Steve decides they should hike back down to civilization; but Jenson tries to rally support in favor of getting up to the ranger's station and a helicopter back to town. The group splits with Steve's party braving more attacks while Jenson's party is at his mercy as the degraded ozone layer seems to be increasing his aggression to dangerous extremes. Unbeknownst to both groups, civilization is already under attack by the more local beasts.
The second "animals attack" film of William Girdler – who sadly died in a helicopter crash at age thirty while scouting locations following THE MANITOU – DAY OF THE ANIMALS is as technically slick as GRIZZLY (which also featured George and Jaeckel) but the better effort. Although sketchily scripted, Girdler builds up an effective atmosphere photographically – apart from a back projection death fall that was laughable in older, cropped, soft, washed out transfers and is even more so in the enhanced resolution of the HD-mastered transfer – with the animals believably "collaborating" across species in their stalking of the hikers (the film's second unit photography was the work of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE's Daniel Pearl and Disney nature cameraman Tom McHugh). The score of Lalo Schiffrin (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR) is a tense blend of orchestra and electronic sounds. Although the animal attacks are vicious and some twists mean-spirited, the film stays within the bounds of a 1970s PG rating. The climax sort of peters out, but it matters little after spending ninety minutes fine 1970s exploitation cast (particularly Nielsen going "ape" and wrestling a bear).
My first viewing of DAY OF THE ANIMALS was an early 1990s late night TV broadcast, and I'm sure the Media Home Entertainment and original DVD issue – on the "DVD Video" label that also released Film Ventures' THE GRIM REAPER and KILL AND KILL AGAIN – approximated that experience (without commercials) with their washed out panned-and-scanned transfer. Media Blasters' released the film on DVD in 2-disc set in 2006. I have not seen this version, but the two transfers (a scratchy, splicey anamorphically-enhanced 2.35:1 version under the SOMETHING IS OUT THERE reissue title and a 16:9-cropped fullscreen TV master) reportedly leave a lot to be desired; however it does include an audio commentary with Lynda Day George and Jon Cedar as well as a twenty-minute retrospective featurette. Unlike the previous transfer, Scorpion Releasing had access to the film's original IP for their HD master, and the results are stunning. What looked like an indifferently-shot low budget exploitation film in its cropped version reveals just how much Girdler improved in terms of his visuals over his earlier films including GRIZZLY (you can definitely see the progression from DAY OF THE ANIMALS to THE MANITOU in terms of technical slickness). Not only are the compositions beautifully composed and lit (with a few crane shots that must have taken a chunk out of the shooting schedule as well as close-ups of the animal co-stars that could rival just about any nature film from the period), but the IP has been lovingly preserved with nary a hint of damage. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is clean and vibrant when it comes to the animal cries and the subtleties of Schiffrin's score, and the disc also includes a welcome 5.1 remix that is limited by the original mix but suitably enveloping (Scorpion's Blu-ray edition also features an isolated score track sadly not included here).
DAY OF THE ANIMALS is not a "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" title, but hostess Katarina Leigh Waters does pop up for a self-contained "Fun Facts and Trivia" featurette (7:21) which commences with one of her parody skits where she is attacked by various wild stuffed animals before she highlights the film's prominent cast and crew members. Actor Jon Cedar (who died in 2011) appears in a video interview (17:57) in which he discusses his involvement with Girdler that extended beyond DAY OF THE ANIMALS and THE MANITOU. In addition to acting, Cedar also ran a script service and had a working relationship with Girdler over the phone during his earlier Kentucky-based productions. Girdler originally offered Cedar the role of the sheriff since he had Andrew Prine (who had been in GRIZZLY) in mind for the role of Frank (Cedar had to be approved by producer Ed Montoro when Prine dropped out). Cedar has fond memories of the cast members (including child actor Michelle Stacy, quoting her most notorious line from AIRPLANE), and also mentions falling and ripping open his thumb to the joint during Backlinie's death scene (he also mentions that the actress was married to the film's animal wrangler Monty Cox and had experience with animals). He also mentions collaborating with Girdler on the adaptation of THE MANITOU and, for better or worse, takes credit for the STAR WARS-esque visual effects ending.
Actor Paul Mantee (who died this year) also appears in an interview (9:40) in which he discusses how the role was a change of pace from his then string of supporting criminal parts. He also recalls his on-set friendships (particularly with Jaeckel) as well as a couple of his other memorable roles from ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS to BREAKOUT with Charles Bronson. The disc only includes a DAY OF THE ANIMALS TV Spot (0:31), although it would have been nice if they had been able to source a trailer or spot of the SOMETHING IS OUT THERE reissue which does not hint at all at it being a "nature revolts" movie and utilizes electronic music heard in the prologue of Film Ventures' earlier release BEYOND THE DOOR. Also included are trailers for the thematically relevant DOGS and Girdler's GRIZZLY, along with Jack Hill's SORCERESS, THE POWER (from the makers of THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD), Roberta Findlay's LURKERS and the 1970s yawner DIE SISTER, DIE (a Scorpion double feature), Greydon Clark's THE RETURN, Danny Steinman's slasher THE UNSEEN, and the post-Amicus anthology THE MONSTER CLUB. (Eric Cotenas)
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