You couldn't go to a drive-in during the 1970's without eventually running into an entry in the popular "nature's revenge" subgenre of films. Day of the Animals is a fairly typical example in which a group of people from various walks of life are attacked by animals from various taxonomic classes. Most such movies concentrate on one animal (Jaws) or one species (Food of the Gods), but Day of the Animals posits that all of the animals on a mountain are mad at humans (and only humans).
Most of the movie takes place on a remote mountain used for hiking trips. Steve (Christopher George) and his Native American friend Santee (actually Syrian actor Michael Ansara, instantly recognizable as the voice of the animated Mr. Freeze) are leading the most diverse camping trip in the history of commercial guides. Among the people on this expedition are Terry (Lynda Day George), a perky news anchor; Frank and Mandy, a troubled couple; Mrs. Goodwin (Ruth Roman), a wealthy Beverly Hills matron and her son, John (Bobby Porter); a bird-watching professor; and Jensen, a jerk of an ad executive played by Leslie Nielsen!
"Good evening. I may or may
not be Howard Cosell."
There isn't much to be said for the first half of the film, which is reserved completely for character development. Or maybe we should say character establishment, because we know everything we need to about the characters from the first time they open their mouths. After that, character traits are just reinforced by repetitive dialogue scenes. We kept waiting for the snobby Mrs. Goodwin to complain about a lack of a hairdresser on the mountain, but she was more intent on smothering her son and telling anyone who would listen about her inability to understand men.
Similarly, the rocky marriage of Frank and Mandy (she thinks he spends too much time at his law practice, he thinks a camping trip can solve their problems) is merely a backdrop for the subplot in which they are separated from the group. A wolf mauls Mandy, and as Frank tries to get her to some medical attention ("Hey, 'Bataan' is a pretty strange name for a Ranger station...") they are attacked by a flock of hawks. Mandy, too distrustful of Frank to even allow him to help fend off the birds, dies a horrible death falling into some matted film footage.
"You call me Tonto one more
time, I'll drop you like bad milk."
In the pantheon of William Girdler films, Day of the Animals is an odd, uh, beast. Despite Girdler's own statements that he aspired only to be a populist filmmaker, the movie begins with a rather preachy scrawl about the dangers of ozone depletion and the human race's failures to heed environmental warnings. This may simply be a smokescreen to excuse the plot, or perhaps Girdler thought that he'd be striking a nerve with audiences, but it hardly seems in an action director's best interests to start a film with a scrolling lecture. The "ozone-depletion-drives-'em-mad" premise also doesn't explain why the animals are cooperatively attacking people and not going after each other. Maybe a supernatural explanation would have worked better.
That said, this flick has the unmistakable trappings of '70s conservationism moviemaking the plaid flannel garb, the flyaway hair, the oh-so-ironic deaths of those too used to the comforts of civilization. It also has the tongue-clucking common folk who knew that these factories would be the downfall of the city-slickers...
"Calgon, take me away!"
No, wait, we can do a better job on delivering that last paragraph. This time we won't snicker all the way through it. Promise. It's just that even the likeable characters are portrayed so poorly that it's tough to feel much sympathy for them. The fact that birds of prey, bears, and mountain lions are apparently working in concert to kill them doesn't do much to abate the ludicrousness of the situation. And don't even get us started on the dialogue:
Terry: I spent most of my time reporting about life not experiencing it. Now it's like the report's about me and I've wasted so much time. Steve, I'm really scared!
Once the animal killings begin, the movie picks up a lot. Especially fun is Leslie Nielsen's descent into Lord of the Flies territory. When the group splits up (wasn't Steve contracted to get them through the trip safely?), Jensen becomes head gorilla of the loser troupe, barking orders and eventually going completely off his nut.
"You lily-livered punk! I'm running this camping trip! I take what I want and I give ya what I wanna give ya. (Points to nearby woman.) And right now I want that! C'mon baby. You're gonna have a real man now!"
In fact, things became so completely absurd that we suspect Nielsen ad-libbed portions of his performance.
"My father who art in heaven, you made a jackass outta me for years, it's never been you for me! Melville's God, that's the God I believe in! You see what you want and you take it! You just take it!"
This is still less dangerous
than co-starring in three movies with O.J. Simpson.
Presumably Girdler became desperate to get Nielsen off the set, because he felt the need to set a bear loose on the actor and then film the results. Take it from us: you haven't lived until you've seen Leslie Nielsen stripped to the waist and wrestling a bear. We feel that the reason Nielsen moved to comedy filmmaking is that he felt he could never top the raw emotional impact of that scene. When you have reached the apex of your craft, what is left but to try something new?
Finally, we'd like to mention the scenes that take place in the small town at the base of the mountain, most of which feature the town sheriff. This sheriff fights off a horde of jumping killer rats, shuffles his wife off to safety, and contends with a panicky town while battling other malicious animals. Why wasn't the movie about this guy, for Pete's sake? The town's other notable resident is Michelle Stacy, the limpid-eyed little girl from the Peter Pan peanut butter commercials and Logan's Run. Here she plays yet another sad little victim who is plucked from the aftermath by a guy in a biohazard suit. If only there had been someone to pluck us from the aftermath of this movie.