Another from the big nature horror period herd of the late 70’s that brought you everything from Grizzly to Jaws. In May 1977, the “Monster Island” of animals-gone-awry pics landed on television as Day of the Animals! Lock up the dog, and watch, as Leslie Nielsen and other co-stars trek up the side of a remote mountain, the very day that an ozone breach has caused everything in the wild to turn on MAN!
If you bring up Day of the Animals to an adult 40 years and older, chances are they’ll reply enthusiastically. “Hell yeah, Day of the Animals – remember that?” Much as Sharknado had it’s 15 minutes of fame, and 40 years from now not a kid in the world will understand “Why?” – DOTA brushed elbows with most people when it was run on television as a new, primetime movie (after running in theaters for about a week as Something is Out There). Back then things were a little different than today – no cable, no internet – and you took what you could get from ABC’s Movie of the Week. There was lots of Disney, and campy crap like Land of the Lost, etc – but horror on television was about unheard of. So when DOTA came on TV, genre brethren loved it. For many, it was their introduction to the “dwindling cast being eaten alive and killed” scenario that became so prevalent throughout the 80’s. So when you say “Day of the Animals” or “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” – that is primarily why you get the reaction that you do.
Tour guide Steve (played by Grizzly‘s Christopher George) is headed up the mountainside with an untypically large group, which includes kids, couples, young and old, and an unusually mean spirited and sarcastic Leslie Nielsen, who we’ll save a special paragraph for later. They take camp that night, never knowing the dilemma at hand – that the overuse of fluorocarbons have ruptured the atmosphere, causing animals above a certain sea level to become thirsty for human blood.
Being rated PG and running on television in the 1970’s, you can imagine that the graphic violence wasn’t at the level of other R rated theatrical nature-horror films. Like Kingdom of the Spiders, DOTA is driven more by the scenario and dilemma at hand. But there are several deaths, and while the kills are inferred, if you let your imagination fill in the gaps, the violence really does go over the top – especially for something that ran on television. Wolves shredding people as they lay in their sleeping bags, cougar and vulture attacks, people falling from cliffs and cracking their head open on the rocks, people trying to save children, only to be bitten by rattlesnakes and eaten alive by a pack of dogs. None of it at any time, coming even close to what Leslie Nielsen’s character pulls off.
To this day, the primary reason I go back and rewatch this faded piece of nostalgia is because of Nielsen’s character, Paul Jenson, the skeptical antagonist that eventually wriggles away half the group to follow his lead off the mountain. Most people who remember him from Airplane and Police Story will be shocked to watch him racially / verbally rip apart an American Indian who went along for the trek (the majority of which had been coarsely edited for obvious reasons), but not before tearing his shirt off, beating a pre-teen kid in front of his mother, killing a man and then raping his girlfriend. All this, before wrestling a massive brown bear in a bare-fisted brawl!
It’s worth taking a look back at. While faded in hues of 70’s yellow, the story is a familiar one, and Leslie Nielsen will not disappoint. While you have to fill in the blanks when it comes to some of the kills, you’ll remind yourself that the animals used in some of the attack scenes are real stunts, as opposed to CGI. Well, except for when that one lady falls off the cliff – that was pretty cheesy – but to a level of amusement. Like it or hate it, Day of the Animals holds up a totem pole on the timeline of horror evolution, along with Dark Night of the Scarecrow, as helping break that television barrier for the genre.
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