The year of 1977 in the horror genre, came with a mix bag, most recall Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Hills Have Eyes, Suspiria, The Sentinel, and even The Car, however it also showed a growing interest in eco-horror subgenre, these movies were of environmental contamination variety. Among them, The Pack, Orca, Empire of the Ants, Kingdom of the Spiders, and then Day of the Animals, a film from director William Girdler, his second venture into the subgenre after Grizzly (1976). Day of the Animals was Girdler’s second to last film of his young ambitious career, with The Manitou becoming his biggest success, but never realizing it as he did passed on early 1978, following a helicopter crash. While this movie’s budget had an impressive budget for $1.2million, it failed at the box office, languishing for many years, however slowly earning a cult following, yet with popularity due to the posters and one of the stars who also passed on Leslie Nielsen. In fact, the film is not without its own controversy dating back to the Film Ventures International (FVI) with founder, Edward L. Montoro, a producer of this movie, who’s own life worthy of a documentary, however he and his defunct company didn’t stop Scorpion Releasing from releasing a Blu-ray in 2012.
Hence on May 13, Day of the Animals marks another chapter in the subgenre of eco-horror and now more known as Killer Animal flicks, transcending from the 1970s to modern day. These movies, some believed hatched from Jaws (1975), however actually The Birds (1963) fits the timeline slightly better. It finds themselves curious about it, noting the original Piranha (1978), of toxics or genetic testing to create ravenous results against of humankind, as was in Eight Legged Freaks (2002). However, one needs to note that the term or keywords “Animal Attack” will not achieve the proper search for these eco-horror films, the grouping finds itself quite muddled on the IMDb, by mixing in zombie-dogs and vampires too. As for some of the best in this grouping regardless of year The Food of the Gods (1976); Frogs (1972); and Long Weekend (1978), clearly showing nature running amok drove the industry throughout the seventies and then DVD series called Maneater or most recently Stung (2015).
The storyline presents itself in believable manner, aside from some the b-movie qualities and logical mistakes, but many films include these errors, therefore one cannot hold it against the movie, as the attacks become more terrifying as the flick progresses. A problem arises with an issue involving ozone-layer depletion, causing animals over 5,000 feet in altitudes becoming extremely violent and fearless in their attacks on humans, for some critics, they find themselves dismissing the rationale of anything over a certain height from causing any problems for anymore. First, remember the rule, it’s just a movie, and second Sickle Cell, harmful to people exerting increase activities in higher terrain, but leave that aside, in the movie toxins from the sun’s radiation the culprit, though not revealed what caused it. In lies some individuals problems, they need to why, sometimes the why unimportant, some zombie movie they move slow other super-fast, other don’t speak while scream for brains, needless to say in the horror genre the why-questions find themselves less important. Remember it’s just a movie, for entertainment sake.
It opens with a group of inexperienced (for the most part) vacationers hiking up into the mountains to reconnect with nature and relieve stress, however stress least of their future problems. During the hike the audience gets a series of inductions, some viewers may recall seeing them in Grizzly, or on television series, the biggest name (perhaps not at the time) Leslie Neilsen, more about his contribution later. Steve Buckner (Christopher George from Grizzly) an experienced hiker leads them without any rifles to defend themselves into the wilderness, slowly enough, but once they’ve moved from the safety of the area surrounding the town, things get ugly fuzzy reports heard on a transistor radio. These hikers have no cell phones, or GPS, only folding maps, a compass and one’s own wits to combat the elements, most though traded for modernization, abandoning their primitive ideologies. Soon enough the attacks start, and the first oops in logic, Buckner allows a bickering couple known as the Young’s, to venture back down the mountain with no protection or communications. Fret not one of the key folks, Susan Backlinie (Mandy), the same swimmer who was the first victim in Jaws becomes the first one here too, her husband Frank (Jon Cedar) carries onward after finding a little girl (Michelle Stacy) in a state of shock all in efforts of reaching civilization. Meanwhile on the trip Lynda Day George portrays newscaster Terry March, love interest to her off screen husband (Christopher) along with Richard Jaeckel as Professor MacGregor (also starred in Grizzly). Nearly all species engage in attacking the hikers and residents in the mountainous area, especially from snakes, various species of birds, dogs and rats, in fact Lynda she was terrified during the dog attack sequence. By the way, purely trivia, look for Walt Gorney’s, role most knew him as Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th movies.
Before Nielsen became the top officer in the Naked Gun series as Frank Drebin, he consistently did gags and jokes on sets, he starred in Airplane (1980) and dramatic roles, he portrayed villainous twice, one in Creepshow (1982) and here in this flick as Paul Jensen. As the animals go crazy with regard to issues to environment and hence more sensitive to the changes in it, it seems to affect Jensen, altering his personality shifts his attitude dramatically, reaching the primordial part of his brain. This time, he believes he’s god’s gift to women, and narrowed bigoted business executive constantly trying beats his chest and undermining Buckner’s position and authority. As the attacks increase, he rallies part of the group with him, only to commit further despicable acts (murder and rape) upon others and even takes on grizzly bear.
The lush, full score from legendary composer Lalo Schifrin enjoyably cheesy set pieces some character development and freedom granted to the actors to ad-lib their roles, all assisting with a tad more tension, culminating it all to deliver gripping moments during dog attacks and extended silence especially in the abandoned town scene.
This movie contains a b-movie moments, and along with something refreshing for the horror fans, no CGI, actual animal wranglers on set using as many realistic scenes as possible, terrifying to those fearful of the wilderness and dogs in general. William’s movie takes a straight path to seriousness, it makes for many comical moments, and understanding to those that celebrate the film’s accomplishments in the eco-horror entry with its 40th anniversary.