Nature run amok movies were big business at drive-in's across the country during the seventies and William Girdler, probably best known for his blaxploitation knock off of The Exorcist which landed him in some hot water, was at the forefront of this goofy sub genre with efforts like Grizzly, which proved to be quite successful. His second effort in the genre was this fan favorite, Day Of The Animals, which would prove to be Girdler's penultimate production as he was killed in a helicopter crash a year after it was made in 1978 shooting Manitou which would be his last picture.
Steve Buckner (Christopher George) leads a group of would be hikers on an excursion up into the mountains but what they don't realize is that due to the depletion of the ozone layer way up there, there are toxins in the area from the sun's radiation that have made the animal populace overly aggressive. It starts slowly enough, but once they've moved from the relative safety of the area surrounding the town at the base of the great hill, things get ugly and our hikers soon come to the realization that pretty much everything 'out there' is gunning for them, which wouldn't be as big a deal as it is if Buckner was okay with his hikers carrying firearms, but he isn't, which means that they're up there all alone without and rifles to defend themselves with.
This, of course, causes some understandable stress amount of posse of intrepid adventurers, made all the more intense when one of their group, Paul (Leslie Neilson of The Naked Gun movies) becomes tainted with the same toxins that has made the animals so enraged. As the chemicals overtake his body his mind regresses and his natural aggressions come out, which results in his murdering one of his fellow hikers in cold blood. With this deed done, the group starts to implode on itself and no one really trusts anyone else and Paul regresses even further, raping a fellow hiker and, in the highlight of the movie, going head to head with a grizzly bear. They don't realize that the town below has been attacked by many of the same animals that they now find themselves surrounded by, as snakes, wolves, bears and even chipmunks all gear up for the attack. Maybe they can make it to the Ranger station in time….
Difficult to take seriously thanks to some wonky science (how did the owls get exposed to the sun and why does this phenomena only affect critters and people at five thousand feet of altitude or higher?) Day Of The Animals is never the less a completely entertaining movie, even if it falls pretty squarely into the guilty pleasure category. Girdler's direction is reliable here and he proves once again that he really did know how to work within the confines of a low budget, making the most of his locations and his cat of recognizable b-movie veterans. Speaking of which, Leslie Neilson takes home the award for craziest bad guy of the film. He's a jerk from the start and we're able to instantly dislike him thanks to his annoying personality and bad attitude but once he gets infected, watch out, because he's going to rip off his shirt like the Incredible Hulk and start yelling at everyone. Seeing Frank from The Naked Gun go all feral is worth the price of admission alone but we also get the undeniable charming screen presence of the lovely Lynda Day George (of Pieces fame!) and her always swanky hubby, Christopher George (also of Pieces fame!) to boot! Many of the supporting actors and actresses, such as Jon Ceder, Paul Mantee and Ruth Roman are recognizable from their many television roles and the movie becomes a fun game of 'where do I recognize that guy from?' as it plays out.
Goofiness aside, Day Of The Animals actually does have an interesting message underneath it all. It's heavy handed and preachy in its execution but pollution and urban sprawl and all that good stuff are still viable problems today, even more so than they were when Girdler made his film. The ozone layer isn't necessarily getting any better either. Hopefully it won't turn the German Shepherds and raccoons of the world against as, but hopefully it will make Leslie Neilson fight more bears.
Well, here's where the bad news hits you like a brick to the face. There are two versions of the movie present on this DVD – the first is the theatrical version and it's titled as Something Is Out There. This version hits DVD in its original 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, but unfortunately the print is in completely dire condition and the quality is on par with something you might get in a twenty movies for ten dollars public domain package. There are scratches everywhere, the colors are flat, the print is muddy and riddled with print damage, and about thirty three minutes in some dialogue just completely drops out of the movie all together. Ick.
Good thing that the television version, titled Day Of The Animals here, is included, right? Wrong! The TV version was matted from 2.351. to a 4x3 pan and scan presentation. What has Media Blasters done in their infinite wisdom? In order to make this version of the film anamorphic they've further matted that 4x3 pan and scan presentation to 1.78.1 by slapping black bars on the top and the bottom so that you are literally missing roughly half the picture at any given time. This is made doubly frustrating by the fact that aspect ratio issues aside, the quality of the print used for this second transfer is far superior to the one used for the theatrical version even if it is still far from perfect. Let it stand, for the record that the video quality on this release, quite frankly, sucks and it's pretty insulting that the title has been handled as shoddily as it has in this department on this release. It should also be mentioned that there isn't any noticeable difference between the two versions in terms of content aside from the fact that the TV version does contain the missing dialogue that the theatrical version drops out and the title change.
Both version also show compression artifacts (probably due to having both versions on a single sided disc) and neither one is properly flagged for progressive scan playback which means that you'll notice those nasty saw tooth artifacts if your gear is setup to take advantage of that feature.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtracks on both versions of the movie fare better than the video presentations at least. While there's some mild hiss and a few instances of slightly muffled dialogue at least you can understand the performers and the levels are well balanced. An alternate Spanish language dub track is also included but there are no subtitles or closed captioning options here. While the audio quality won't make your short list of demo discs any time soon, it is at least serviceable enough.
The television version, Day Of The Animals contains an audio commentary with stars Jon Ceder and Lynda Day George who for reasons that remain a mystery are joined by Scott Spiegel of The Evil Dead fame. Maybe he just happened to be in the area during the recording of the commentary, maybe he really likes the movie and wanted to participate, who knows, but he didn't have anything to do with the making of the movie so his presence here, while not harmful in the least, is odd. That being said, Ceder and George have fun reminiscing about the movie and explaining their parts and what was required of them during the shoot. They discuss working with the late Girdler and they cover the location shooting as well. Of course, they also spend a fair bit of time talking about their fine furry co-stars and how a few scenes where they interact with them were shot. It's a decent track with a good sense of humor to it and which contains some good information and interesting stories as well.
Something Was Out There: Day Of The Animals Thirty Years Later is a retrospective featurette in which actors John Ceder and Paul Mantee are joined by Susan Backlinie who worked on the film not only as an actress in a small role (she played Mandy) but also as an animal handler on the set of the production. The interviews are fun, as they cover the location shooting and working with the animals in a bit more detail than the commentary did thanks to Backlinie's participation here, and it's fun to hear Mantee and Backlinie discuss their working relationship with Girdler as well. This featurette runs exactly twenty one minutes and thirty seconds in length.
Rounding out the extra features are a trailer for the feature and a decent sized still gallery or promotional materials for the film.
It's a real shame that the video is as completely botched as it is, as otherwise this would be a fine release of a really fun guilty pleasure. As it stands, the video is so bad that Day Of The Animals is barely worth a rental, even if the movie itself is a kick.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.