It's a beautiful day, just right for a hiking trip, so ranger Steve Buckner (Christopher George) has arranged one, and the collection of volunteers have gathered in this Californian small town to board the helicopters. There's advertising executive Paul Jenson (Leslie Nielsen), TV reporter Terry Marsh (Lynda Day George) and assorted others including a boyfriend and girlfriend, a mother and son, and a Professor (Richard Jaeckel) who might not be as healthy as he claims. Once the helicopters have deposited them in the middle of nowhere, they begin their trek, but they notice all is not right with the fauna - not right at all...
Day of the Animals was a hybrid between two popular genres of American cinema in the seventies, the disaster movie and the revenge of nature movie. All you needed for the latter was access to a selection of (possibly) trained creatures which could look menacing on demand (OK, the dogs would be wagging their tails but let's hope nobody notices that), and a location for the characters to get stranded in. As with the earlier Frogs, director William Girdler and his team opted for the come one, come all style of horror movie making, and threw in every beast they could find to cause the hapless hikers all that trouble.
As for the disaster side of things, we were very much in TV movie territory as far as that went, due to the cast being assembled for a notable lack of budget-swallowing stunts, and more in the way of easy on the finances chit-chat. But the rules applied: take a motley crew of various potential victims, then pick them off one by one thanks to the unfortunate situation they have found themselves enduring, and there's little here which could not have fit in with the type of fare that cluttered up the small screens of the world. There were a few nods to the cinema, as it was shot in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, just to remind you that no matter the calibre of actor you were watching, this was a proper movie, honest.
Also, there was a smattering of swearing, no F-bombs but saltier than what you got on the box, and the violence was bloodier than the likes of Flood! or Heat Wave! had to offer. From this perspective, on the other hand, the goings-on in The Day of the Animals would be more likely to raise unintentional titters, especially from Mr Nielsen and his gradual turning up the dial on his performance. He starts mildly overbearing, insisting on calling Steve "hotshot" at every opportunity and making analogies to the advertising world, but by the end he is setting out with his own party, stripping to the waist, murdering, yelling at the top of his voice, and wrestling a bear. Really, it's priceless, and a masterclass in villainous overacting.
Trouble is, you have the rest of the film to sit through to reach those parts, and it's pretty run of the mill stuff aside from a handful of chuckles (forget about being scared). The reason the animals have turned nasty and are trying to kill off everyone in the area is something to do with the ozone layer depletion, how scientific that is I'm not sure, but I'm fairly certain it wouldn't cause rats to fly, as the sheriff discovers when he wonders what's going on in his kitchen and is aghast to see the small furry creatures swooping in his general direction. Along with the rats and the dogs, there are cougar attacks, snake attacks, eagle attacks, and so forth, but what there is more of than anything else are campfire chats, it's the characters' favourite pasttime and about half the movie seems to be taken up with them. Really this is one of those instances where you'd be better off watching the trailer. Music by Lalo Schifrin.