Having recently watched and reviewed 1976’s Grizzly, it only makes sense that I’ve moved on to the next year’s Day of the Animals, given that a) it was directed by the same man, b) it stars the same man, and c) it’s the same damn movie. Director William Girdler made a career of taking hot properties at the time (The Exorcist, Jaws) and “borrowing” their premises for his own versions (Abby, Grizzly). This time around, probably due to the success of Grizzly, Girdler essentially rips off himself…something that Tower Farm condones and actually strives to do with each and every review.
Christopher George, the rugged, tobacco-stained star of Pieces, Graduation Day, and Grizzly, is back this time as a cowboy hat-wearing country boy leading a group of hikers on a mission through the California mountains. Readers are no doubt aware that I’m a huge fan of Christopher George, having incredible respect for any man who parlays a decent career in television into starring in some of the schlockiest B-films ever made as well as a spread in “Playgirl.” Here, our Chris seems to have even more trouble remembering his lines than normal, and his country accent is about as realistic as the stock animal close-ups that pad out the first fifteen minutes of the film.
Also along for the ride is Lynda Day George (Christopher’s real-life wife), looking even more like a Muppet here than she did in her unforgettable appearance in Pieces. Lynda, sporting an impressive mane of yellow cotton-candy hair, also happens to be playing a news “anchorwoman” – a particular weakness of mine. And in a hilariously un-PC conversation, we find out she came into her profession after having an affair with a journalism professor in college, murmuring, “The affair was a dud, but the course was terrific!” Take that, Barbara Walters and your strong work ethic!
Speaking of news anchors, we’re treated to a very long television report in which this attractive anchor drones on for what feels like fifteen minutes about ozone depletion and how it’s especially bad in high altitude areas.
So, apparently overnight the ozone layer has pretty much disintegrated and now animals have suddenly gone hog-wild (we know this because, again, we keep getting shots of really mean-looking birds flying toward the camera). An explanation for this is never given, but since it is the late 70s, and people were using lots and lots of aerosol hairsprays, I don’t find the plot too far-fetched. Not that I’m pointing any fingers, LDG:
The animals start attacking about a half-hour in, and as we’ve come to expect from William Girdler, the visual effects don’t disappoint. The first murder involves several large raptors literally flying a woman off a cliff, and ends in a rear-screen projection fall that must be seen to be believed. Equally enjoyable are the few seconds after the death, as the woman’s boyfriend stands at the top of the cliff screaming “MANDYYYYYYY!” with his hands in the air.
Meanwhile, our hikers are the whiniest bunch of twits this side of Tower Farm; long before any of them realize they’re being stalked by every animal on the mountain, they’re bitching and moaning and about the heat and the lack of food as though they’ve been forced to participate in the hike at gunpoint. The worst offender is none other than Leslie Nielsen, who turns in the most irritating performance of his career – well, until he made his next movie. Anyway, a young Andrew Stevens is also part of the crew – this, of course, long before Shannon Tweed and straight-to-VHS sex thrillers changed his life.
The attacks continue with some poor schlub in his bathrobe who’s targeted by – I’m not kidding here – jumping rats. Soon the whole nearby town’s going nuts, undergoing a mass evacuation that several people, for some inexplicable reason, seem to be managing by foot while walking in single-file lines.
Forget about law and order...if animals were attacking and we didn’t have a car, JM and I would be trampling over mothers and their children to get out of there!
But the last half hour of Day of the Animals really ups the ante on nuttiness, as Leslie morphs from being an annoying bigot into a completely crazy, shirtless, Lord of the Flies-ish dictator. Nielsen really goes into overdrive here, suddenly deciding to rape a young woman and beat up the rest of the campers for no apparent reason. Naturally, his hammy overacting immediately won me over – and I found myself almost rooting for him more than my beloved Christopher, especially in his strangely erotic fight-to-the-death with a bear.
Other than a few comical moments – including an instance where a man tells a crying little girl “I’ll never leave you again” only to leave her alone about twenty seconds later – things are all downhill after Leslie’s death. The problem with a movie like this, of course, is that it can’t possibly end well; as The Birds taught us, the best we can hope for is a depressing open ending in which we know things are only going to get worse after the final credit, right?
Well…amazingly, Girdler does it again. He tosses out a final curveball, having all the animals suddenly dying because ozone levels are correcting themselves! Does this make any sense at all? No. Do we care? Hell no! The only important thing is that we end with Lynda Day George saying “It’s over.” Now that’s an ending! These poor people go through death and destruction only to learn it’s basically the environment’s great big practical joke! I love it. Thank you, Mr. Girdler, for giving me faith in not only Leslie Nielsen…but in Mother Nature, too!