Monday, December 21, 2015

#1,953. Day of the Animals (1977)

Directed By: William Girdler

Starring: Christopher George, Leslie Nielsen, Lynda Day George

Tag line: "The terrifying movie of a world gone mad!"

Trivia: Aside from her on-screen role, Susan Backlinie worked as an animal trainer, and served as Lynda Day George's stunt double for this film

In June 1974 Drs. F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina of the University of California startled the scientific world with the 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 attacking the surface of our planet, adversely affecting all living things.

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

And (with the above scrolling text) so begins Day of the Animals, a 1977 cautionary tale directed by William Girdler (who also helmed 1976’s Grizzly) in which the planet’s animals, from giant brown bears to small, furry rodents, turn the tables on mankind, grouping together to unleash a fury so terrible that it threatens to destroy everything, and every one, in its path.

Steve Buckner (Christopher George), an outdoorsman who makes his living as a tour guide, embarks on yet another trip to the nearby mountain with his next round of clients. They include: arrogant ad man Paul Jensen (Leslie Nielson); Reporter Terry Marsh (Lynda Day George); Native American Daniel Santee (Michael Ansara); A university professor named MacGregor (Richard Jaeckel), injured pro football player Roy Moore (Paul Mantee); Bickering couple Frank and Mary (John Cedar, Susan Backline); young lovers Bob and Beth (Andrew Stevens, Kathleen Bracken); and recently divorced housewife Shirley Goodwyn (Ruth Roman) and her adolescent son John (Bobby Porter).

After being shuttled to the top of the mountain by a pair of helicopters, the group begins their trek downward, which is scheduled to last a few days. What they don’t know, however, is that harmful rays seeping in through a hole in the ozone layer are having an adverse effect on animal life, causing creatures in the higher elevations to become violent. Following a nighttime attack by some angry wolves, Buckner and the others realize they’re in a ton of trouble, and, cut off from the rest of the world, they have no alternative but to continue their long walk back to civilization, one short step ahead of some very pissed-off animals.

Director William Girdler kicks off this “man vs. nature” showdown with a subtle, yet creepy scene set high atop the mountain, where, all of a sudden, Steve and his clients realize everything has gone mysteriously silent (only the wind can be heard rustling through the trees). After a few moments, the silence is interrupted by a bird’s screech, followed by another… and another... and another. It’s then that the group notices the surrounding trees are filled with birds of prey, one of which glides down and brazenly lands on a rock right next to young John Goodwyn. From this point forward, the encounters grow increasingly more violent, and as you’d expect, not everyone makes it out alive. Along with the perilous conditions on the mountain, Day of the Animals features several scenes set in the town below, where the Sheriff (Michael Andreas), after receiving the news that the military just declared martial law in the area, has a confrontation of his own with some ornery rats.

While the science that inspired Day of the Animals may seem a bit naïve nowadays, the movie itself is still very effective, weaving a terrifying tale of survival in which characters have no idea what creatures are stalking them, or from which direction the next attack will occur. In often grisly fashion, director Girdler and his talented cast show us what might happen if the animals of the world joined together to fight mankind, and if this movie is any indication, they’d make for one hell of an adversary!

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