In this month’s Little Blog of Horror, Roy Frumkes recommends a ferocious 1981 film recently re-released by Drafthouse Films.
It’s like being on Omaha beach in act one of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan only with lions raining down on you instead of gunfire.
It was an attempt to create a warm, family film experience that instead became one of the most jaw-dropping real life horror films ever committed to celluloid. And it went on for five grueling years. Director of Photography Jon de Bont, freshly and triumphantly arrived from Holland where he had shot the films of Paul Verhoeven (The Fourth Man, Spetters, etc), looking forward to a richly creative and prosperous career in the US, promptly had half his scalp ripped off. 200 stitches later, and after months of recuperation, he came back to finish the film!!
I’m describing the life-threatening shenanigans known as Roar, which, I promise you, will be an experience you will never forget. They say we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. Not this time. Once will be sufficient.
Noel Marshall and spouse Tippi Hedren hatched the idea of an African outpost overrun with people-friendly big cats. Seems Tippi didn’t take away any cautionary hints from The Birds. And so, enduring many starts and stops, acquiescing to the demands of the animals in regard to narrative structure, persuading her daughter Melanie (Griffith) to join in the fun – which ended up requiring reconstructive facial surgery…after all that, and eroding the couple’s marriage to the point that when the film was done, so were they, we the public are left with a 102-minute ordeal that I really should show in my History of Horror class.
And speaking of classes, while I admire the daft commitment of everyone involved in Roar, technically I was most stunned by the sound editing. This shoot unfolded entirely at the mercy of the animals, their whims dictating the ebb and flow of the narrative. And if all this footage does not tell a solid story, then at least the sound team gave it a sense of continuity, inserting dialogue when actors’ backs were turned, or when they were completely off screen, etc. It’s an educational joy to hear these flat-bed wizards perform their invisible magic. It really might be a film to show in SVA editing classes.
Some might think a perfect double bill would be Roar (1981) and Howard Hawks’ Hatari (1962). Or perhaps Roar and Born Free. – they’re both about the care and raising of lions. But after you listen to the commentary track, you will most likely agree with me that the ideal co-feature with Roar would be Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.