Friday, May 14, 2021

DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-Free
Duration: 97 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Dual-Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: William Girdler
Cast: Christopher George, Leslie Nielsen, Jon Cedar, Lynda Day George, Richard Jaeckel

Nipping at the heels of his own animal-attack classic Grizzly (1976) drive-in director William Girdler and producer Ed Montoro again teamed-up for eco-terror Day of the Animals (1977), a popcorn muncher cut from the same cloth and pumped up with more berserker animal mayhem, and a larger cast of slightly past their prime primetime players.

Set in the Northern California mounyains Day of the Animals (1977) brings back the ever-sturdy Christopher George (City of the Living Dead) as mountain guide Steve Buckner, who along with his native American compare Santee (Michael Ansara, the voice of Mr. Freeze from TV's Batman: The Animated Series) lead a group of city folk on a mountain nature hike. The group includes quarrelling married couple Frank (Jon Cedar, The Manitou) and Mandy (Susan Backlinie, Jaws), TV anchorwoman Terry Marsh (Lynda Day George, Pieces),  anthropologist Prof. MacGregor (Richard Jaeckel), jerk-off ad-exec Jenson (Leslie Nielsen, Prom Night), teen couple Bob (Andrew Stevens, The Fury) and Beth (TV's Planet of the Apes) Kathleen Bracken), former pro-footballer Roy (Paul Mantee), and the overbearing  Mrs. Goodwyn 
(Ruth Roman, The Baby) and her harangued son John (Bobby Porter).

The group starts off from a small town at the foot of the mountain, where Buckner chit-chats with Sheriff Burt (Michael Andreas) about how the birds and animals are acting a bit weird, and later we see news reports that the ozone layer has been depleted by the use of CFC aerosols, and how the increased UV radiation exposure is having an ill effect on the temperament of wildlife at elevations above five thousand feet. The group then hop aboard two choppers and are dropped off  in a clearing high up on the mountain,  where they are left to embark on a two week wilderness excursion. 

Almost immediately things seem strange, with the group discovering an abandoned  encampment with the fire left unattended and food is at the ready. They settle in for the night assuming the campers are on a hike and will return, but they never do. That night while sleeping Mandy is attacked by a wolf, and the next morning she and Frank depart by themselves headed to a ranger tower located further up the mountain to tend to her wounds and radio the chopper. 

The group pick-up radio reports about the ozone depletion threat but don't get all the details, due to the radio accidentally being knocked into a creek. Meanwhile personalities continue to clash within the group, spearheaded by the racist ad-exec who continually demeans Santee by calling him "kimosabi", and he later comes to odds with an irritated Buckner when the shit starts to hit the fan, discovering their food rations have been pillaged by marauding animals. 

After a pair of mountain lions attack the group while they sleep,  when Jenson falls asleep on his night watch, the group becomes increasing split about how to proceed, with Jenson continuing to butt heads with Buckner, looking to take over as the leader of the group and casting doubt on Buckner's ability to get them about of their increasing predicament. The next morning the group split into two factions, with Bob, Beth, Mrs. Goodwyn and her son Johnny following Jenson up the mountain towards the ranger tower, while Santee, Roy, Terry and MacGregor continue on down the mountain towards the village below with Buckner, but both paths are fraught with consequences.

Now in charge of his own troupe Jenson becomes completely unhinged with no other alpha males to reign him in, and seemingly driven mad by the UV radiation. Ripping off his shirt he becomes a tyrant, slapping around Mrs. Goodwyn and roughing up her kid, then cold-bloodedly killing teenager Bob, and later attempting to rape Beth during a torrential downpour, only stopping when a ferocious bear emerges from the woods. He's so out-of-control and demented that he bare chested fights the beast - and it's a scene for the ages! 

We also follow what's happening in the town below which is not immune from carnage,  the animals have also begun to assault the villagers, with leaping-rats ruining the Sherriff's midnight ham-snack! The villagers are also attacked by pests of the slithery and venomous variety, and a menacing dog with a rabid looking grin causing a bit of mayhem. All this leads to the government sending in hazardous materials suited troops to evacuate the village and secure the area. 

Day of the Animals is a semi-cheesy but highly entertaining eco-thriller with a ton of cool animal attack sequences, including a well-staged assault on a cabin by a pack of vicious dogs. All of it well-directed by William Girdler who does good work building suspense and atmosphere throughout. I love the eco-horror set-up and the ensemble cast, plus the onslaught of animal attacks are well done, even if at time you can spot a actor wrestling with a stuffed animal or bird, but that's all part of the charm of these nature-gone-mad survival movies.

Audio/Video: Day of the Animals (1977) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Severin Films in 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1 widescreen, sourced from a new 2K scan of the internegative elements with new color correction. It's an attractive looking presentation, film grain can be a tad chunky and uneven at times, and there's some white speckling and very minor age-related wear evident at times, but on the whole this is a rock solid image. I don't have the previous Scorpion Blu-ray to compare it to, but I am impressed with the Severin release, the colors and skin tones appear natural and well-saturated, and the black levels are appropriately deep throughout. There's definitely a bit of gauzy filtering happening with the cinematography that saps fine detail and clarity, but that is no fault of the transfer. Be sure to checkout the the over fifty screenshots from the Severin Blu-ray at the bottom of the review. 

Audio on the disc comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 dual-mono with optional English subtitles, it having been restored from the optical track negative. It's a clean and well balanced presentation, the sounds of the mountaintop forest and the aggressive, animal growls, shrieks and bird calls come through potently, while dialogue has a nice directness. The score from Lalo Schifrin (Rollercoaster) adds a lot of mood and menace, and its presented here uncompressed and full-bodied. 

As with their release of Grizzly Severin go above and beyond, we don't just get a superior A/V presentation but a slew of new extras, kicking off with an audio commentary with film critic Lee Gambin, Author of “Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film” - who is a go-to guy when it comes to eco-horror. We also get a vintage commentary with actors Lynda Day George and John Cedar moderated by Evil Dead 2 co-writer Scott Spiegel. 

The 21-minute Stephen Thrower on the Career of Distributor Edward L. Montoro gets into the notorious life and career of Edward Montoro, getting into his early life, starting with being nabbed and serving a few years for counterfeiting, then working as a TV repairman, and surviving a plane crash, before getting into film with the low-budget crime film The Losers. The making the sexploitation film Getting into Heaven. He then launched Film Ventures International, initially importing and distributing foreign movies beginning with Italian western Boot Hill, and striking it big after acquiring Italian Exorcist knock-off Beyond the Door. Then into the legal problems with both Beyond the Door and Jaws rip-off The Last Shark. Thrower notes Montoro's keen eye for promotion and saturation marketing, as well as his reputation for short-changing his partners, including William Girdler on both Grizzly and Day of the Animals.
Thrower caps it off with other acquisitions Montoro distributed like Pieces and Grim Reaper, noting that he sort of went from counterfeiting money to counterfeiting films, and then into his mysterious disappearance during a bitter divorce.

Nature Boy is an 18-minute interview with actor Bobby Porter, who plated the kid Johnny.  He discusses working with the seasoned cast who were all so good at their craft, and Girdler's ability to hold the cast together, and getting into his specific interactions with each of the cast, including being man-handled by Nielsen. He also gets into having to hide from the animals during a few intense scenes, and how a few reels of film were stolen on their way to the lab, which meant they had to reshoot the mountain lion attack scene.

In the 13-minute Against Nature actor Andrew Stevens talks about being cast, the comradery on set, recalling the outdoorsy shoot, the atmosphere on set, the cookie-cutter script, one-dimensional characters, and noting that it was a terror film that takes place mostly in daylight, but that the Lalo Schifrin score really enhanced it. Stevens also gets into what a cut-up Nielsen was behind-the-scenes, apparently a real practical joker who was fond of fart gags. He also tells stories about producer Montoro, his mysterious disappearance, and a drunken mountaintop car ride. 

Monty Cox Unleashed is an 18-minute interview with Stunt Coordinator/Animal Trainer Monty Cox who is quite a character and a helluva talker, too. He gets into the time he went skydiving with his father while they were both tripping balls on acid, how he got into working with animals, and tons of anecdotes about the making of Day of the Animals. He gets into what an average day on set was like, and loving working with Girdler, plus telling a story how he got the original second unit director canned because he was a jerk, and he took over after that. He tells a bunch of great stories, a very interesting guy, this guy needs a documentary unto himself!

In the 5-minute Lynda and the Animals actress Lynda Day George briefly remembers the ensemble cast, her marriage to Christopher George, and her interaction with Teddy the bear.

We also get the archival Something Was Out There: Day of the Animals 30 Years Later – interviews with actors John Cedar, Paul Mantee and actress/animal trainer Susan Backlinie that first appeared on the Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD. The disc is buttoned-up with a a 1-minite Alternate Opening Title Sequence: Something Is Out There, a selection of TrailersTV spots, and a Still Gallery. The single-disc release arrives in a spiffy black keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring a pair of vintage illustrated movie posters, and the disc art is an excerpt from yet another illustrated movie poster. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Film Critic Lee Gambin, Author of “Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film” 
- Audio Commentary with actors Lynda Day George and John Cedar moderated by Evil Dead 2 co-writer Scott Spiegel
- Stephen Thrower on the Career of Distributor Edward L. Montoro (21 min) 
- Nature Boy – Interview with Actor Bobby Porter (1 min) 
- Against Nature – Interview with Actor Andrew Stevens (13 min) 
- Unleashed – Interview with Stunt Coordinator Monty Cox (18 min) 
- Lynda and the Animals - Interview with Actress Lynda Day George (5 min) 
- Something Was Out There: Day of the Animals 30 Years Later – Interviews with Actors John Cedar, Paul Mantee and Actress/Animal Trainer Susan Backlinie (22 min) 
- Alternate Opening Title Sequence: Something Is Out There (1 min) 
- TV Spot (2 min) 
- Trailer (1 min)
- Reversible Sleeve of Artwork 

This seems to be the more popular of the pair of animal attack flicks Girdler made, but I still prefer the animal-slasher thrills of Grizzly myself. That's no knock of Day of the Animals though, this is a terrific watch, and Nielsen totally steals the show an an unhinged, murderous jerk-off, the eco-thriller might be a bit ham-fisted and goofy in some of its execution, but its still plenty entertaining, is chock full of animal carnage, and makes for a helluva mini Girdler-thon with Grizzly (1976). 

Screenshots from the Severin Blu-ray: