Last updated: August 15. 2013 12:21PM - 1042 Views
Tom Doty Times Columnist

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Nature strikes back at the insensitive human polluters, in this epic creature feature from the director of “The Manitou.”

The 1970s were big on disaster flicks (“Airport”, “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Earthquake”) They were also huge on low-budget, nature-runs-amok movies, like “Frogs” and “Night of the Lepus.” It took awhile for someone to hit upon the idea of combining the two, but luckily that man was William Girdler. He was fresh from remaking “Jaws” as a forest thriller with “Grizzly,” when he hit upon the idea of adding a full lineup of critters to the mix and upping the ante to include the fate of the free world.

Girdler drops you right in the action, by introducing his cast as they head out for a guided tour of some mountains. This shifts the focus to a smaller containable group that acts as a microcosm of society. Turns out a group representing humanity must include a Beverly Hills divorcee traveling with her teenage son, a bitter ex-football pro, a double-plus obnoxious ad executive, a brash tour guide, and a gorgeous anchor woman who has become disenchanted with the state of television news.

Reports on the radio of suspicious animal behavior go unnoticed as the group bonds while struggling to keep up with their guide. Turns out that a hole in the ozone layer has exposed wildlife to massive doses of UV rays, making them more hostile and aggressive. Luckily, Al Gore isn’t on hand to say, “I told you so,” but nobody would hear him anyway, as the woodland creatures start chowing down on the cast.

This development causes our group to make the classic blunder: They split up. Unfortunately, that only makes it easier on the animals. One group actually follows the ad executive. Turns out, he sold them a bill of goods. They find out, too late, that his brain got cooked by the UV, too, and now he wants to be king of the forest. He proves he is truly one of the “Mad Men” when he strips off his shirt before attacking an angry bear. Turns out a bear hug is useless against the real McCoy. Your average naturalist recommends running downhill, as bears aren’t built for that particular activity. Oh, and never offer them food.

Meanwhile, the other group stays together and makes some smart decisions. They seek shelter but soon learn that it was a mistake to take the college professor character along, as he is wont to give speeches about how mankind brought this on themselves. They are almost grateful when the animal attacks resume and they are whittled down to nothing.

It all ends with the shocking realization that getting out of the forest is useless when the rest of the world is collapsing. Pretty grim stuff for an ending, but so realistic we should be glad that our world’s leaders probably saw this in 1977 and have sworn off fossil fuels, aerosols and destroying the rain forest. Oops.

Girdler has a great time here and enlists a solid cast to sell his epic story, albeit on a low budget. You get solid performances here by Christopher George and his lovely wife, Lynda Day. Leslie Nielsen is properly smug as the ad man who doesn’t bear up under pressure. Richard Jaeckell and Andrew Stevens also show up, but the best acting honors go to the well trained wolves, bears, snakes and dogs who simulate the animal revolution. They sell the premise beautifully so that Girdler never has to resort to stock footage to tell this story. One of the trainers was actually Susan Baklinie, who you may remember as the young blonde who has an unfortunate date with a shark in the opening of “Jaws.”

The animals also fare better than their human counterparts because they don’t have to deliver the static dialogue that the humans are reduced too reciting.

1977, rated PG.

Best Lines

“The rats have gone crazy.”

“Tucker, I don’t like going down without you.”

“Mighty advertising executive speak with empty head.”

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