Even though I like “nature kicks ass” movies from the 1970s, I know better than to hold them to very high artistic standards (rather, I regard them as “good baloney” in the words of Stephen King). But while I can usually overlook a movie's flaws if it gives me angry critters noshing on B actors, I can't give Day of the Animals much of a break. It's not just bad, it's inexcusably dull.
Steve Buckner (Christopher George) and his Native American buddy Santee (Syrian actor Michael Ansara) fly two helicopters with hikers of varying degrees of obnoxiousness high up into the mountains, with the intention of hiking back down to civilization, camping out and living off the land. There's just one small hitch. Seems that ozone depletion is making animals at high altitudes crazy mad at the humans and their aerosol deodorant-loving ways. (Think about that next time you spritz on the Right Guard!)
So while the city folk try to make their way out of the boonies, assorted critters are stalking them and even working together to pick off people. We've got attacks by mountain lions, turkey buzzards, hawks, snakes, bears, wolves, and a rogue pack of German Shepherds.
It all should be fun but it isn't, probably because unlike Frogs, which recognized the ludicrousness of the premise and served up its horror with a knowing wink, Day of the Animals plays things mostly straight, starting with its oh-so-serious opening credits crawl that says what we're about to see COULD happen IF ozone depletion continues. I'm as in favor of keeping the ozone layer strong as the next person, but this had me rolling my eyes so hard I bumped my brain.
The acting, with one exception, is lackluster. The exception is Leslie Nielsen, who plays an advertising executive who's the most obnoxious of the hikers. He's an asshat from his first appearance, calling George's character “hotshot” and Ansara's character “Kemosabe”. As the situation gets dire Nielsen and a few idiots split off from the main hiking party; things get really fun as Nielsen goes “Lord of the Flies”, takes off his shirt, and starts shoving people around, spitting out insults like “bitch” and “cockroach”. He kills one hiker, delivers a loony rant to/against/at God, and then tries to rape another hiker. Fortunately her honor is saved by a chivalric bear – Nielsen decides bear rassling is more fun than rape and tries to kill the bear, with the expected results. Unfortunately after this wacked out scene, the movie resumes its dull progression towards improbable deaths and a Deus Ex Machina ending.
To be fair, Day of the Animals was trying to educate us about ozone depletion. And I did learn a few things from the movie:
• If you can't get your transistor radio to work, try throwing it in the river.
• If you've got painful bone cancer, a strenuous hike through the middle of nowhere will make you feel ever so much better.
• If your wife won't let you save her from being attacked by vultures, it's a safe bet that the marriage cannot be saved.
• You can survive an attack by a wolf or mountain lion with nothing more than a few scratches. However, if a German Shepherd attacks you, you're toast.
• Khaki leisure suits and heels are the ideal gear for mountain treks. Top it all off with a Gilligan hat.
• Rats can fly!
The DVD is the worst I've seen. There are no extras, no chapter stops, not even a menu. You put the disc in and the movie starts. That's it. The transfer is terrible, even taking into account this was shot in those faded, hazy 1970s. The print is so washed out and fuzzy that I needed sunglasses to watch the daylight scenes. The pan-and-scan is awful – characters hold conversations with no one we can see. Painful.