A couple of months back, Shriek Show released its Evil Animals box set, presenting a triple feature treat for fans of 70’s horror that has more than a touch of cheese to it. There are two theatrical flicks here, and one made-for-TV opus, and the titles should ring nostalgic bells for anyone who was a kid in that decade.
Two of the films – Grizzly and Day of the Animals – are the work of director William Girdler, and man whose output was never what one might actually call “good,” but was always…fast-paced and entertaining, even when it completely lost its mind (as did The Manitou with its killer-dwarf-and-laser-beams finale). Grizzly (the original “Jaws with Claws” well before The Edge) has the titular beast rampaging around a park, mutilating hikers. The plot follows that of Jaws to the letter, with the local head honcho refusing to shut the park down (need those tourist dollars, don’t you know). The bear is finally hunted by a trio of outsiders – rebellious but can-do ranger Christopher George (replacing Roy Scheider), Vietnam vet helicopter pilot Andrew Prine (standing in for Robert Shaw), and maverick wildlife expert Richard Jaeckel (instead of Richard Dreyfuss). The dialogue is riddled with Ed-Woodian gems, which keeps up interest in between the notably gruesome attack sequences. Of special note in this department is the scene where a little boy’s leg is ripped off. Hey now.
One year later, in 1977, Girdler had nature going berserk once again, but along with a bear came cougars, eagles, dogs (which mysteriously only form packs of the same species) and so on. Depletion of the ozone layer is the problem here (a Foward Looking Film). The increased UV rays drive the wildlife insane, which creates problems for a hiking party led by Christopher George (yep, him again). Leslie Nielsen is in the party, too, and he starts off abrasive but gradually becomes homicidal. Villain though he is, I’d have to side with him in his evaluation of George’s leadership decisions, which include such howlers as sending a wounded member of the party and her husband off by themselves with vague directions on how to reach a ranger station in a couple of days. Way to look after your charges there, Chris. Meanwhile, when Nielsen completely flips out, he takes his shirt off (MY EYES! IT BURNS!), commits murder and attempted rape, and finally, after much hilarious ranting, in what must rank among the finest moments in the History of Cinema, wrestles in the mud with a bear. Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this.
The third entry is the television opus Devil Dog, Hound of Hell. I won’t say too much about this one, as I think a return visit to it and Zoltan, Hound of Dracula might be in order, but let’s put in this way. Think about the title. Think about The Omen with a doggie instead of a kid. How can you possibly lose?
The films are supplemented by a generous helping of features (provided on a separate disc in the case of Grizzly and Devil Dog). The prints are very strong, though a bit problematic in the case of Day of the Animals, where a perfectly satisfactory version appears to have been out of reach. Both television print (1.85:1) and theatrical release (2.35:1) are present, with the latter being rather damaged. In any event, this is a priceless box set, perfect for parties.