Greetings children of the night. First off, a big, big thanks to Mr. John Gholson of Sci-Fi Squad for designing a logo for this column, and quite an excellent logo if I say so myself. Another Tuesday has cast its hour upon the stage and given way to the midweek; time for the Terror Tuesday Report. Every week I attend this great celebration of cult or otherwise terrible films of our beloved genre that takes place at the esteemed Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin. I will discuss the film shown as well as provide a barometer for the reaction of the crowd. The goal is to attend every single Terror Tuesday during 2010. So far I'm 4 for 4 but it's still painfully early so I'm not ready to declare victory just yet. This week's movie is a monumental cinematic failure entitled Day of the Animals. Will I make it out of this one without getting mauled?
Day of the Animals, also called Something Is Out There, revolves around a group of people gearing up for a wilderness survival camping trip. They are truly committed to the endeavor as no one is allowed to bring their own food or weapons. Weapons? That struck me as giving the characters a little too much cognizance of the plot, but I'll let that slide. Through the magic of a scene I like to call the parade of exposition, we get the backgrounds of all the characters systematically shoved down our throats. There's the advertising executive, the newscaster, the ex-NFL star, the Native American, the bickering couple, and the guy who looks suspiciously like Elton John. Oh and, lest I forget, the mother and son who are apparently participating in "bring your child to dangerous survival trip day." Well it just so happens they've chosen a very inopportune day to go traipsing into the woods. A horrifying shift has taken place within the natural order and suddenly every living creature is out for human blood. Will our happy campers survive? Is that Leslie Nielsen? Why are there tarantulas and monitor lizards in a high-altitude temperate forest?
The movie features Christopher George who is a Terror Tuesday alumnus as the "star" of Fulci's Gates of Hell. He is putting forth strikingly more effort here than he did in Gates as the cowboy who's guiding the doomed excursion. The movie also stars Leslie Nielsen. If you are under the impression that he is here to provide comic relief, you are totally justified in subscribing to that logic...but you are also very, very wrong. Nielsen is a complete bag of jerkweed in this as the crass, angry voice of descent each time the slightest problem arises. When he finally gets a little taste of leadership, he goes completely coo-coo bonkers and turns into a feral caveman. He randomly becomes shirtless, he tries to rape a woman only to be interrupted by a bear, and then locks into a death struggle with said bear. It's a riot to watch him flip that switch. Also, I have an honest suspicion that the actor who plays the young boy in this film is not a child. He appears to be an adult jockey based on his voice and the size of his Adam's apple. I looked him up on IMDB and there are question marks next to his birth year; deepening this very important controversy.
Day of the Animals does everything in its power to solidify its eventual schlock status. Thanks to the encyclopedic Zack Carlson, I learned that the film was made for very little money in a time when studios were still scrambling to capitalize on the Jaws frenzy. They had exhausted all manner of sea creature and were looking to move inland. The director of this film, William Girdler, apparently also made a Jaws carbon copy called Grizzly that merely replaces the killer shark with a killer bear. Not to be outdone, even by himself, Girdler decided that if one killer animal is good, hundreds of killer animals is brilliance. The problem is that they wanted real actors and made room for them in the budget by skimping on animal trainers. What that equates to is some very vicious, possibly real, attacks as well as some general meandering of wildlife that looks like stock footage. My favorite part of this process is how they used proximity to suggest collusion; if a bear is standing near a falcon, clearly there is a woodland conspiracy to bring down humanity.
This film is exactly the kind of blissfully bad production I adore. There are so many errors in filmmaking judgment that listing them all would have this article reading like a phone book, so I'll highlight a few favorites. There is a scene where the sheriff is in his kitchen and is besieged by a pack of rats. And when I say besieged, I mean the rats were thrown at him by the crew in an attempt to make them look as if they were leaping; unless they were jet-propelled as well, it's not terribly plausible. Then there's the bird attack where a young girl is driven off a cliff. This was probably the most effective, most brutally horrific death scene in the whole film...until they tried to add blue-screen. The swarming vultures, falcons, and owls makes for a great kill and then we are subjected to a wholly lame, utterly bogus enlarging background to simulate a fall.
There is also a fantastic bookend of absurdity to Day of the Animals that begs to be experienced. The films opens with scrolling text that blames the uprising of fauna on global warming. That's right, apparently the real inconvenient truth is that if you don't protect the ozone, you will be eaten by German Shepherds. Throughout the film people keep making reference to that being the cause, because apparently this is the most ecologically-informed Podunk town in the United States. But even more absurd than the reason the attacks began is how they ended. We see the last few pods of survivors in incredibly desperate situations pinned down by advancing animals and then...fade out. When we fade back, all the animals are dead! That's right, every last creature has just keeled over for a reason that is never deemed worthy of sharing with the audience. I'm all for dues ex machina, but at some point you have to call bullshit.
I'm a big fan of natural horror; films where Mother Nature decides she's done being toyed with and strikes back against man. My favorite of these being Long Weekend, previously reviewed, in which a couple treats the woods like a giant garbage dump and the woods decide to kick their butts. This film is, to quote an incredibly accurate statement from Zack, "for people who don't have the attention span for Long Weekend."
I have to say I was surprised by the audiences' tepid reaction to the film. Sure, there were the occasional guffaws at the most ridiculous of moments, but I usually revel in the frenzied masses of Terror Tuesday and tonight was strangely unique. I think the subdued nature of the crowd is unrelated to the film itself because I noticed the change when I entered the theater long before show time. There was a quiet, an eerie reserve among those whose enthusiasm is normally apparent from the lobby. I can only hope that we haven't released enough chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere as to cause a shift in our own natural order; we horrophiles in Austin may be in the preliminary stages of a violent uprising. Hooray!