Day of the Animals Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: May 18, 2021
Audio: English DTS-HD Master 2.0 mono
Run Time: 97:43
Director: William Girdler
When a hole in the Earth’s ozone layer triggers bloodthirsty madness throughout the animal kingdom, all mankind – particularly a group of tourists on an overnight hike – will become their prey. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is arguably the most ripped-off movie in contemporary film history. Comparable, genre-defining movies – like George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), or Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) – were mimicked in parts, be it in their style, imagery, plot twists, or cast members. Jaws, on the other hand, was lifted wholesale time and time again, to the point that a Jaws rip-off doesn’t require a killer shark or even a killer animal of any kind, though unique variants, like Roger Donaldson’s Dante’s Peak (1997), which replaced the shark with an angry volcano, are rarities in the “Jaws Minus the Shark” canon. One of the first and most blatant JMtS movies (perhaps even the first) was William Girdler’s Grizzly, released a year after Jaws in 1976. Grizzly was a shameless cash-in, but it was very popular and ended up setting box office records as an independent release, so there was plenty of room for another William Girdler killer animal joint when Day of the Animals was released the next summer (1977).
Day of the Animals, as the title implies, ups the ante on the number and variety of critters attacking hapless humans, but the increased scope didn’t necessarily mean Girdler and writers William & Eleanor Norton were going to come up with an entirely original screenplay. Having already borrowed everything they could, aside from an actual shark and seaside location from Jaws, Girdler and the Nortons aimed to lift additional concepts from the A-list eco-horror classic, Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), as well as Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies (aka: Code Name: Trixie, 1973). The specific connections to Grizzly extend further to actors Richard Jaeckel and Christopher George. They made up for the loss of Andrew Prine by hiring Susan Backlinie, aka: Chrissie from Jaws, to appear as their first human victim (she doubled as animal trainer). Modern viewers will probably ignore these factoids, though, instead choosing to focus on a pre-comedic career appearance from Leslie Nielsen, who doesn’t only play the sole bad human, but revels in the character’s cruelty without so much as a hint of irony.
Grizzly is arguably more fun, at least in the company of rowdy friends, but its script is barely functional, its ambition is tiny, and it lacks the goofy pseudo-science that helped make the previous generation’s giant animal B-movies so enjoyable. Day of the Animals makes up for the latter with a clever and environmentally conscious reason for the animals to be attacking – it’s not toxic waste or a voodoo curse, but a depleted ozone layer that drives the animals insane. At the time, science had only just recognized the dangers of depletion due to CFCs, so the Nortons can’t be blamed for the scientific inaccuracy of their story. Frankly, the audience didn’t know that ozone holes wouldn’t turn animals into psychopaths. Further script issues and technical shortcomings are somewhat mitigated by scope of the story. Likely inspired by the big blockbuster disaster movies of the era, such as Ronald Neame’s Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Mark Robson’s Earthquake (1974), Girdler attempts to create a similar ensemble structure that follows multiple cast members along overlapping storylines. It doesn’t work on the same scale as those famously bloated movies, but the effort proves more engaging than Grizzly, which dumps half of its cast during the third act.
Day of the Animals is nowhere near as violent as its predecessor, but it reconciles the loss of gob-smacking gore with a genuine sense of atmosphere that makes it easier to overlook the fundamental silliness of the situation or fact that some of the film’s animals are clearly acting, either looking at an off-screen trainer, eating a hunk of meat left as a stage mark, or, in the case of the rats, being physically thrown at actors (poor little rats). The most effective sequences feel like they’re being experienced from the animals’ point-of-view, rather than that of the human victims. And, when we break from that POV to focus on the people, we’re still very aware that the animals are watching, waiting, and hunting these largely hapless doofuses. It’s less like Girdler’s biding his time between attack scenes and fake-out scares, as he does throughout Grizzly, and more like he’s actually developing tension as the threat slowly escalates to implied apocalypse levels.
Grizzly spawned its own series of rip-offs and cash-ins, while the less popular Day of the Animals was lost in a sea of killer animal flicks. The one film that it almost definitely inspired was Mondo shockumentary godfather Franco Prosperi’s Wild Beasts (Italian: Belve feroci, 1984), which pushed the limits of real onscreen danger in that way that only Italian exploitation could. Girdler only directed one more movie, a unique and bizarre Native American-themed Exorcist pastiche called The Manitou that was released less than a year after Day of the Animals. Sadly, he died in a helicopter accident while scouting locations for his next movie the same year.
Like Grizzly, Day of the Animals has had a healthy life on home video, from VHS to Laserdisc to DVD and Blu-ray. Also like Grizzly, it was previously put onto North American Blu-ray by Scorpion Releasings, which I don’t have on hand to do a side-by-side comparison. Either way, Severin’s disc features a new 1080p transfer made from a 2K scan of an original internegative source. Unlike Grizzly, Day of the Animals has a definitive and deliberate cinematic ‘look,’ which accounts for most of the transfer’s inconsistencies. As a HD remaster, there’s little reason to complain. There is print damage throughout and the cleanliness ebbs on occasion, but the clarity is top notch for type and the lack of compression/digital artifacts is impressive. Issues arise where cinematographer Robert Sorrentino’s photography is concerned. Most scenes have a foggy, soft focus look as Sorrentino aims to capture as many sparkling lens flares as he can, seemingly in order to convey the danger of the ozone leak. Detail levels can vary considerably from sequence to sequence and chromatic aberration pops up throughout. Again, these are largely intended effects inherent in the original material, not shortcomings on Severin’s part.
According to imdb.com specs, Day of the Animals was originally released with mono and 4-Track Stereo mixes and the Scorpion disc included a 5.1 remix that I supposed might have been based on the 4-Track masters. Severin’s remaster includes only the mono mix in DTS-HD Master Audio – no 4.0, 5.1, or stereo options. Assuming the specs are correct and Scorpion’s remix was effective, this could be considered a negative, but the uncompressed mono track is plenty clean and occasionally quite dynamic for a single channel affair. Dialogue is consistent in terms of clarity and volume levels, whether characters are softly conversing or screaming in terror. Day of the Animals also has a slightly more experimental audio slant than Grizzly, especially where its music and non-incidental sound effects, like animal noises, are concerned. Composer Lalo Schifrin’s (the guy behind the Mission: Impossible theme song) eerie themes and punchy cues rarely sound crowded and don’t peak at high volumes, either.
Commentary with film critic Lee Gambin – The author of Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film (2012, Midnight Marquee Press) guides listeners through the history and making-of Day of the Animals, other aspects of Girdler’s career, and the careers of other cast & crew members, while also providing greater context for the eco-horror/animals-run-amok genre and making valuable, critical notes. The track is well-researched and packed with content from stem to stern.
Commentary with actress Lynda Day George, actor Jon Cedar – This track, moderated by Code Red's Walter Olsen and filmmaker Scott Spiegel (Intruder, 1989), originally appeared on Media Blasters’ DVD, though only on the slightly shortened television cut (MB’s disc included two cuts). This is more of a hang-out type track that runs on anecdotes and discussion, rather than hard trivia.
Stephen Thrower on Edward L. Montoro (20:38, HD) – The author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (2007, FAB Press) returns in this follow up to his in-depth look at Girdler’s career, which is available on Severin’s Grizzly Blu-ray. Subject matter here includes Montoro’s pre-film exploits, his earliest feature productions, the creation and success of Film Ventures International, his less than ethical business practices, and mysterious disappearance.
Animal Boy (17:49, HD) – Actor Bobby Porter recalls his career as an adult who played children and fun times working with the cast of Day of the Animals.
Against Nature (12:55, HD) – Actor Andrew Stevens talks about Girdler’s direction, bonding with the cast, and getting killed by Leslie Nielsen.
Unleashed (18:10, HD) – Animal trainer/2nd unit director/stunt coordinator Monty Cox discusses the logistics of accumulating, training, and working with animals, playing animal-related practical jokes on the original 2nd unit director and off-set bullies, and staging shots/stunts that appear dangerous, but were (mostly) safe for the humans and critters.
Lynda and the Animals (5:14, HD) – The last of the Severin exclusive interviews is with actress Lynda Day George, who briefly chats about the film and her late husband Christopher George.
Something Was Out There: Day of the Animals 30 Years Later (21:43, SD) – 2006 retrospective featurette from the Media Blasters DVD with actors John Cedar, Paul Mantee and actress/stunt woman/animal trainer Susan Backlinie.
Alternate Something is Out There title sequence (0:38, HD)
TV spots, radio spot, and trailer
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.