Who’s ever wanted to see Leslie Nielsen shirtlessly take on an angry grizzly? Of course you have! Everyone has! You’d have to damn-near be an American-hating communist to say no.
That being said, 1977’s "Day of the Animals" just might be one of the most satisfying movies ever made. A delicious slice of 70s cheese, "Day of the Animals" is the type of grainy film-stocked, ridiculously over-acted, hilariously special-effected film that I grew up watching on TV, back when UHF channels—independent, non-corporate owned—would program some of the best, long-lost schlock on weekend afternoons. Not only do I get said shirtless, bear-battling Nielsen, but also I get bloodthirsty rats, carnivorous cougars, rattlers-a-plenty and batshit dog packs, all in a tight, easy-to-maneuver 90-minute package.
What’s also amazing about "Day of the Animals" is it’s prophetic foretelling of the depletion of the ozone layer—sure, it hasn’t really caused animals to go nutso (sorry, Mr. Gore!), but hey, the only other movie I see using it as a plot point is "Highlander 2: The Quickening", and the last time I checked, Leslie Nielsen didn’t - sans shirt - chop the head off of an immortal bear in it, so the less said, the better.
So, as I was saying, the depleting ozone causes animals, from hawks and cougars to the aforementioned grizzly to go insane on the best cast of stock actors this side of The Swarm on a routine weekend hiking getaway. This wonderful cast includes the buy-one, get-one-free duo of Christopher and Lynda Day George, The Dirty Dozen’s (as well as Herbie Goes Bananas’) Richard Jaeckel, a young Andrew Stevens (in a rare, non-simulated-humping-Shannon Tweed role) and, finally, in the requisite Shelly Winters role, Ruth Roman.
But c’mon: the real star of this show is Leslie, like you’ve never seen him before. He’s the ultimate prick: when he’s not referring to the camp guide as “Hotshot!” and bragging about how, in the city, he’s in charge of things because he’s a top-notch advertising executive, he’s off punching teenagers in the face and then raping whatever woman’s around in a fit of megalomaniacal rage right in front of them—holy shit, Frank Drebin! Needless to say, it’s one his most thoroughly entertaining performances. And yes, I’m including Mr. Magoo.
Shriek Show/Media Blasters’ special edition DVD is way better than you’d expect for a movie like this, filled with commentaries and extras galore, but what sold me was that it has not only the original theatrical version, but— there is a God— the original TV print. Pop it in, grab a Fla-Vor-Ice and relieve those wonderful UHF memories.
From the same director, the late William Girdler, comes my favorite nature-gone-amok film, his take on "Jaws": the comparably- if not more awesome - 1976’s "Grizzly". Sorry, Señor Spielbergo!
Like the poster screams, “18 Feet of Towering Fury!” has taken over a national park—a gigantic, quasi-intelligent grizzly that can decapitate and dismember with one swoop of his monstrous paw. He’s not averse to stealing the occasional pick-a-nick basket…of death!
At first, he’s content just chomping down on the lone stray camper, but eventually this Mecha-Yogi’s pair get bigger and brassier and soon enough he’s attacking camp sites, lookout towers, ranger stations and, in the film’s piece de resistance, knocking the flying fuck out of a helicopter. As the leads surmise somewhat inefficiently, they believe that this giant, furry killer is not one of the brown bears that peacefully roam the park, but a possibly-prehistoric leftover who been hibernating for God knows how long and, consequently, is hungrier than a fat trucker at the Big Texan Restaurant in Amarillo.
It becomes pretty obvious to ranger Christopher George and naturalist Richard Jaeckel - both of "Day of the Animals" fame - that your typical rifle-bullets and tranq darts ain’t gonna take this Smokey out, so, in one of the greatest cinematic scenes ever to be imagined, conceived, correlated, staged, filmed and shown in a public arena to a mass group of ticket-buyers, becomes a battle of hulking forest beast verses a…get ready for it… rocket launcher. That’s right—a muthafucking rocket launcher. Guess who wins? You, the viewer does! "Grizzly" bits go flying overhead in a scene that needs to be, if I may use a cliché, seen to be believed. Eat it, PETA!
The special effects are, of course, laughably awesome; most of the attacks take place via the bear’s point of view, with someone wearing a bear-paw mitten swinging blindly at actors, whom, to their credit, react without too much laughing. The scenes featuring the actual towering “bear-furno” are usually shot from the ground up, and I’m no bear scientist, but I could have sworn that the grizzly shots were frequently interchanged with that of a harmlesser brown bear.
Either way, it’s get blown up by a rocket launcher.
And that’s why, after finishing "Grizzly", also available from Shriek Show/Media Blasters, I sat back for a minute and smiled. I felt complete. I felt like a little part of my life was a little bit better. I had realized that I had lived for too long without "Grizzly" in my life. And while I may not be a better person for it, by God, at least I have seen an exploding bear.
Thank you, Mr. Girdler. Heaven holds a special place for you.