Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day of the Animals

This is what's known as a public service announcement. When a motherfucker stumbles across a movie in which Leslie Neilsen takes off his shirt and wrestles a bear, that motherfucker has a moral obligation to share it with the world.

Day of the Animals is one of those Nature Gone Wild movies that came out in the wake of Jaws. This time, instead of picking just one species, the way Squirm did with worms or Night of the Lepus did with bunnies (What's with all the carrots? What do they need such good eyesight for anyway?), DotA goes whole-hog (A hog is a kind of animal. That is a pun, if I'm not mistaken.) and has the entire animal kingdom (cougars, bears, hawks, snakes, rats, dogs, spiders, etc.) team up against their greatest foe: Leslie Neilsen.

Well, technically, Leslie Neilsen is just one of the many human-type beings that get animalized in this prime slice of drive-in schlock. The actual star is Christopher George, an actor known for being the guy in B-movies (Pieces, Grizzly, Graduation Day, etc.) who looks like the hero but never actually accomplishes anything heroic. The most egregious example is in The Exterminator, where he plays a detective who's supposed to be tracking down a flamethrower-wielding vigilante, but instead he takes his ladyfriend to an outdoor jazz festival and then promptly disappears from the movie entirely. Whatever your B-movie is selling, be it man-eating bears, chainsaw murders, or scumbag immolations, Christopher George is a dude fully committed to not distracting from it in any way.

In DotA, he plays a park ranger who has the bad luck of leading a group of tenderfoots into the High Sierras on the day that the ultraviolet rays pouring through the recently discovered hole in the ozone layer cause all the animals to go nuts and start attacking motherfuckers left and right. The first attack is pretty classic. They're all tucked into their sleeping bags around the campfire, when all of a sudden, this wolf jumps out of nowhere and starts gnawing on this chick's face. The way he goes after her, you'd think she'd just be a pile of red gristle, but after the wolf gets scared off, all she's got are a few minor scratches. What a lame-ass wolf. Maybe he's the runt of the wolf pack, and all the other wolves were always making fun of him because he'd never eaten anyone before. So then they peer-pressure him into attacking the chick in the sleeping bag as his initiation into the wolfgang (See what I did there?), but he chickens out at the last minute. I bet he got an earful when he went back to the pack with his tail between his legs. If wolves wore pants, he'd definitely be getting a wedgie for that shameful display.

Luckily, some vultures are on hand to finish the job when Christopher George (in the first of many bad calls he makes throughout the movie) sends the chick and her husband down the mountain to get help. She gets all pissy because she wants to stop and rest, so her man is like, "Fine! Stay here and get your eyes pecked out why don't you!" And she does. I hope he's got room on his mantle for the 1979 Husband of the Year trophy.

Meanwhile, back with the rest of the crew, the animals are mounting a unified assault, led by a steely-eyed hawk. Panthers attack from all sides, proving that the humans' defenses are useless. Their sole aim must be to incite terror, because they do little more than inflict some flesh wounds before they disappear into the darkness again.

This is when the movie starts getting good, and it's all thanks to Leslie Neilsen. He plays an alpha male advertising executive who likes to call everybody by condescending nicknames like "hotshot" or "kemosabe." He thinks Christopher George is a douchebag who couldn't find his way out of wet paper bag with scissors in his hand. Which may be true, but that's no excuse for what a magnificent asshole Leslie Neilsen is in this movie. Seriously, if there were an Asshole Hall of Fame, this guy would get his induction plaque handed to him by Don Rickles.

So this world-class asshole stages a coup in which he leads a few of the campers off in a different direction. Then he takes his shirt off and goes completely berserk out of nowhere. One second he's just a bossy prick, and the next, he's smacking old ladies and punching children. He kills a guy with a stick and tries to rape the guy's wife. "I killed a man for you! You're mine!" he yells, shaking her around by her upper arms. Then it starts pouring rain and he throws his arms wide in a crucifixion pose and starts yelling at God. Then he rejects morality in favor of the law of the jungle. "You see what you want, you take. YOU TAKE IT!" he hollers. Then a bear shows up, and his response is to engage it in hand-to-claw combat, which doesn't work out so good for him, in my opinion.

This is one of the greatest examples of overacting I have ever seen. Ever. It is awe-inspiring. It proves that Leslie Neilsen was always a comedian. It just took the Zucker Brothers to point it out to him. And the best part is, he didn't even change his acting style when he turned to comedy. It's just that the world discovered irony in the late seventies and suddenly realized that he'd been hilarious for decades. Of course, then he went and blew it by actually trying to be funny. You're missing the point, Leslie. We can get goofy double-takes from anybody. But dead-serious dramatic line readings like "My father who art in heaven, you've made a jackass out of me for years!" require a professional.

Taken as a whole, Day of the Animals is no big deal. But you should see if you can find that scene on YouTube. It'll be bandwidth well spent.

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