Color, 1977, 97m.
Directed by William Girdler
Starring Christopher George, Leslie Nielsen, Lynda Day George, Richard Jaeckel, Ruth Roman, Andrew Stevens
Scorpion (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Media Blasters (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Hot on the heels of his immortal trash-classic Jaws copy Grizzly, late drive-in director William Girdler decided to up the ante by taking the popular nature-strikes-back subgenre to its loopy, logical conclusion with Day of the Animals. Sort of a Destroy All Monsters for the Irwin Allen crowd on a very low budget, this kinda-star-studded bash takes place in an idyllic mountain community where the rapidly-diminishing ozone layer caused by rampant aerosol use is causing all of the wildlife to turn nasty and vent its frustrations on any humans in sight. Thus the screen is filled with pissed-off dogs, rats, birds, and, yes, bears lunging after the actors, drawing as much blood as a PG rating will allow.
Most of the action centers around a group of hikers whose trek into the wilderness turns horrific as a result of very bad timing, with anti-gun tour guide Steve Bucker and anchorwoman Terry Marsh (that unbeatable team of Christopher and Lynda Day George) guiding the rest of the cast around the rampaging critters. Unfortunately the destructive atmosphere also has an unpleasant effect on Jenson (Leslie Nielsen, pre-Airplane!), an ad exec whose more barbaric tendencies result in a hilarious bear-wrestling climax.
Loads of fun without being even remotely "good" in the traditional sense, Day of the Animals marks another Girdler attempt at creating a pseudo-studio film with expansive Panavision framing and slumming guest stars (a tactic he took to even dizzier heights with his next and final film, The Manitou). Nielsen really steals the day as the reprehensible Jenson, whose abusive behavior tops anything the animals manage to pull off. Even the normally hammy Ruth Roman can't hope to compete with him, and his big bear scene really should have been the climax of the film. Instead you get a bonus finale reminiscent of Food of the Gods complete with an extra menagerie in a cabin, but that's a minor complaint in a film otherwise brimming with unexpected surprises (some intentional, others not so much). And believe it or not, the music score comes courtesy of Lalo Schifrin, dipping his toes into the horror territory he would soon explore more famously in The Amityville Horror.
For decades video consumers were subjected to a wretched, blurry, pan-and-scanned transfer of this film, but in 2006 Day of the Animals gets a bit of an upgrade from Media Blasters on DVD, albeit still with a massive share of issues. The disc contained two viewing options, starting with the original theatrical version (presented under the alternate title of Something Is Out There) with its full 2.35:1 framing intact. Girdler never really uses the spacious framing in an imaginative way, but at least it's nice to watch the film without half of the speaking actors cropped offscreen. Alas, the print (one of the few left surviving) suffered from plenty of wear and tear, with hairline scratches visible throughout and more than a few splices. A much cleaner but softer TV print (under the more famous title) was also included, but it's cropped on the sides and zoomed-in to 1.78:1 for anamorphic televisions. Neither version features exclusive footage, so you're not missing anything either way (apart from visual information in the second case). However, the TV print does include a fun but rather idiosyncratic commentary by Lynda Day George, actor Jon Ceder, and fan/producer Scott Spiegel, moderated by Walter Olsen. Most of the anecdotes are quite enjoyable, with the animal tales obviously getting the biggest laughs. Also included is a video featurette, "Something Was Out There," in which Cedar, Paul Mantee and animal trainer/wrangler/thespian Susan Backlinie share their thoughts about the making of the film and their memories of working with one of the wildest directors of the '70s. A still gallery and a dupey-looking trailer (that looks an awful lot like the TV spot that's circulated for years on trailer comps) round out this first official digital go round for the film.
Now jump forward seven years later, with the Media Blasters disc out of circulation and the film moving over to Scorpion Releasing for a 2013 reissue on both Blu-ray and DVD. Though it seemed impossible a few years ago, what we have here is a drastically improved transfer from an interpositive, meaning this is the first complete scope version in good condition ever released on home video. The film itself was shot with some gauzy filters during some daylight scenes (which is why Christopher George and Andrew Stevens' shirts make them look like they're in a shampoo commercial), but the transfer looks much sharper and cleaner than ever before. To put it mildly, you can consider the past versions obsolete from an a/v standpoint. On the audio end you get a spacious 5.1 DTS-HD mix with the score and effects carried over to the rear channels, plus the regular mono (2.0) version included for the original theatrical mix (which purists will probably prefer). In a particularly welcome gesture for film music fans, Schifrin's score (which has never been released before in any format) is also included as an isolated track, which will make this worth grabbing for his fans alone. Regular Scorpion hostess Katarina Leigh Waters offers the usual intentionally ridiculous wraparounds (in standard optional opener and closer format on the DVD and a single "trivia segment" on the Blu-ray), starting off with a happy walk through the woods that turns nasty thanks to a stuffed eagle. She runs through the usual interesting aspects of the major players from the film, with lots of animal and nature gags along the way. Then you get video interviews with Cedar (17 mins.) and Mantee (9 mins.), which are longer standalone versions of the ones edited into the featurette on the Media Blasters disc. Both of them run substantially longer and include more info about their careers outside the film, playing very differently as well without the interjections from Backlinie. The usual short trailer is also included along with a bonus one for Grizzly. Perfect viewing for the next Earth Day, or any other day for that matter.
Updated review on November 4, 2013.