Day of the Animals (1977)

This movie is not to be confused with the never released Grizzly II. It may seem strange that the two get compared, but Day of the Animals and Grizzly both featured much of the same crew, including the same director and producer, as well as both actors Christopher George and Richard Jaeckel. Only instead of fighting a single giant bear in this movie, they’re now up against every animal living upwards of 5000 feet in the mountains of Northern California. And I do mean every animal.

The hole in the o-zone layer is terrible, and the ultra-violet radiation that is able to enter the earth’s atmosphere now has a new side effect: making things ultra-violent. While people may or may not be affected, animals aren’t so lucky, and they become able to coordinate across species and tactical in their bloodlust. Unfortunately, nobody has figured out this is what’s going on, so it seems like a perfect time for local guide Steve Buckner to take a bunch of city slickers on a multi-day hike where they don’t pack their own food. Soon enough, the animals being their assault, human nature gets the worse of the group, and different folks end up splitting off from each other, with relatively few survivors. And the locals don’t fare much better, with everyone evacuated and the few staying behind ending up dead.

Oh yeah, it’s eco-horror at its most blatant. The film even begins with a direct message about how the film is a possible scenario if damage to the ozone layer continues. The movie does seem to waver on whether people are directly impacted on a mental level, but by the end a lot of dirty folks have some nasty sunburns along with their dirty animal bites and stings. Oh, and Leslie Nielsen fights a bear.

Yes, you read that right: Leslie Nielsen plays a racist asshole advertising exec who turns into a murderous, rape-hungry sadist with no shirt on and who tries to fight a bear with his bear hands. In terms of great moments in killer bear movies, it’s not quite as good as the exploding yellow sleeping bag of Prophecy, but it’s up there. Unfortunately, it’s also the only place the bear gets used. Everyone else is killed by birds, dogs, snakes, attacked by wolves, and mauled by mountain lions. They saved the big guy for Nielsen.

While the film does as best it can showing folks get attacked by animals with limited gore (this sure ain’t Roar, folks), at times it is laughably bad at what it does. A particular scene of a woman falling off a cliff while being attack by hawks uses some really bad superimposition shots; a falling dummy with fake birds attached would probably have been more realistic. I guess this soured them, so nearly all the other deaths are handled offscreen. But this doesn’t get into the awkward treatment of the one Native American character, played by Michael Ansara. While Nielsen’s character makes a lot of racist jokes towards Ansara’s, we also get the stoic, nature-understanding, wise Native stereotype too. At least most of the characters defend against the jokes when they hear them.

While I mentioned Grizzly earlier, there are some other great movie connections with this one. Susan Backlinie plays a character in this who is the first to die…much like she was the first to die to the shark in Jaws. And while Leslie Nielsen is here, so is Michelle Stacy; both appeared later in Airplane!, and Richard Jaeckel appeared in Airplane II: The Sequel. Is any of this important? God no, but it sure is weird.

Day of the Animals ends with a golden eagle swooping at the camera to attack. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. Fantastic.

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