Both of these films have been featured on RiffTrax, which doesn’t exactly suggest that they are of the very highest caliber, but that’s not all that they have in common. Besides both being part of the “animal attack” subgenre that boomed in the wake of 1975’s Jaws, the two films share cast, director, and producer credits.
In fact, producer Edward L. Montoro – who also co-wrote Day of the Animals – has a real-life true crime story perhaps more interesting than any movie he ever produced. You may remember me writing a little about him in my review of the bonkers 1974 Exorcist clone Beyond the Door but, in case you don’t, Montoro was a notorious producer and distributor who is at least partially responsible for a whole host of schlock films. When his production company was about to go under, he embezzled more than a million bucks and vanished without a trace.
Director William Girdler has his own unlikely history, having helmed only nine feature films – the last was the truly bizarre Manitou in 1978 – before perishing in a helicopter crash while scouting locations for his tenth, effectively making this double-feature his penultimate directing credit.
Now, Severin has tucked both films onto nice-looking Blus sporting their original artwork and loaded with special features, making them ripe for a drive-in style double-bill. If nothing else, they’re both much more interesting than Deep Blood…
“It’s a butcher shop out there.” – Grizzly (1976)
Grizzly is a Jaws clone from stem to stern, with the beleaguered seaside town replaced by a loving paean to national parks and that film’s great white replaced by a fifteen-foot grizzly bear (actually played by a Kodiak bear named Teddy). The beats are all the same, though, from the deaths to the irresponsible authority figure to the trio of unlikely protagonists – dedicated lawman (park ranger, in this case), naturalist, hunter – who tell each other “war stories.” The film was even titled Claws for a while, and was released with the tagline “The Most Dangerous Jaws in the Land.”
Having hit theaters in 1976, Grizzly is also one of the first of the many, many, many clones of Spielberg’s classic that would clog screens for the duration of the decade. It also feels something like a proto-slasher, with its many killer POV shots and the bear’s penchant for preying on buxom women in a state of partial undress.
While most of Grizzly is as straight-faced as a flick that posits the existence of a gigantic grizzly with a taste for human flesh can be, the following is a partial list of absolutely ridiculous things that happen in this movie: the bear attacks a watchtower and a helicopter, knocks a horse’s head clean off with one swipe of its paw, and gets shot with a bazooka. Because you don’t introduce Chekhov’s bazooka unless you’re going to use it to blow up a grizzly bear.
It’s also pretty good, really, if you can get past how much it’s just a low-rent version of “Jaws on paws” (notoriously, if perhaps apocryphally, the pitch for the 1993 killer dog flick Man’s Best Friend). It’s more bloodthirsty than its watery predecessor, and more of the red stuff flows as a result. It’s also a good showcase for the natural beauty of Clayton, Georgia, where it was filmed, and it has plenty of broad daylight horror scenes, which remain something of a rarity.
In 1976, Grizzly was the most successful independent feature of the year, grossing nearly $40 million. It held the record until Halloween in 1978, though it doesn’t take a film critic to tell you which of the two films was the most enduring (or best) of the pair. The box office of Grizzly no doubt helped propel the second half of our double-bill into quick production, however…
“God sent a plague down on us because we’re just a bunch of no-good fellers.” – Day of the Animals (1977)
Before he became known as a comedy legend, Leslie Nielsen played plenty of serious roles, including the classic Forbidden Planet and 1965’s Dark Intruder, a pilot for a television series that never happened and also very nearly the first film to ever make use of Lovecraft’s Mythos. If you want perhaps the most jarring possible upset to your image of Leslie Nielsen, though, I suggest you start with this animal attack flick.
In Day of the Animals, Nielsen plays ad exec Paul Jenson. The back of the box refers to him as “the world’s biggest asshole.” He’s the obligatory character in any survival horror story who constantly undermines the protagonist’s attempts to keep everyone safe – the guy in the crowd who would hide that he’d been bitten by a zombie until it was too late, who would shut the door once he was inside and lock everyone out. For most of the movie, he does this simply by being racist, challenging the authority of our park ranger hero (once again played by Christopher George), and calling everyone “hotshot.”
By the time the group has splintered and everything has gone pear-shaped, however, Nielsen’s character takes it much farther. Before all is said and done, he has committed murder, threatened rape, and had a shirtless battle in the rain. He is then done in by a bear.
If that sounds like a lot to take, especially coming from someone as generally beloved (today) as Nielsen, it is, and it’s indicative of how harsh Day of the Animals gets. Its premise is both sillier and more apocalyptic than Grizzly’s. The story (by Montoro himself) suggests that the thinning ozone layer has caused animals at high altitudes – such as those at the national park where the film again takes place – to begin working in concert to murder people, as thinning ozone is known to do. This means that all animals, from snakes and birds to rats and mountain lions, get in on the action.
Besides the deranged Nielsen, we get a traumatized little girl, soldiers in hazmat suits, a town in full-on evacuation mode, and more animal attacks than there are instances of Leslie Nielsen calling people “hotshot,” which is to say, a whole damn lot of them. If Grizzly was a more bloodthirsty movie than Jaws, its successor cranks that dial all the way past eleven. In fact, there are enough sequences, with enough different animals, that the Blu-ray comes with a special feature on the film’s animal trainer, Monty Cox.
While Grizzly was fairly straight faced in spite of outlandish kills and an over-the-top climax, Day of the Animals is much more off-the-rails, even before a shirtless Nielsen starts really tucking into the scenery. From its absurd premise to its nihilistic execution, this is the kind of flick that you expect from a weirdo shingle like Film Ventures, International, which counts among its alumni such films as Pieces, Mutant, and the MST3K favorite Pod People, to name a few. Is it also better? Probably just depends on what you’re looking for, but they make a good double-feature, anyway.
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.