"I told you that sun seemed damned peculiar today. Susie, gimme a piece of pineapple pie and dump some ice cream on it."
Ominous words spoken by Ranger Tucker. It would have made me very happy to have seen Ranger Tucker for the few minutes afterwards. I think of him shoveling forkfuls of delicious pie and ice cream into his gob, pausing between bites to say, "yep, damned peculiar." Later on, he gets attacked by flying mice.
We'd just discovered, in the late 70's, that fluorocarbons in aerosol sprays were causing the ozone layer to disappear. We knew that was going to lead to something bad, but we couldn't really tell what just yet. Day of the Animals was likely the first film to take a stance on the issue, postulating that increased cosmic rays at high altitudes would cause animals to become inflamed with bloodthirsty aggression.
The story follows a troop of campers who have hiked miles away from the protection of civilization into the middle of that aggression. The troop is led by Steve Buckner. He's a capable woodsman but grows less and less surefooted after a series of run-ins with the rampant wildlife. One hiker is assaulted by buzzards; another emerges bloodied from a wolf attack. Also, the hikers are getting hungry -- a food stash they'd left at the midpoint of the trail is devoured by animals.
Buckner is additionally plagued by the taunts of A-hole ad-exec, Paul Jenson (Leslie Nielsen). Jenson eventually convinces half of the troop to separate from the group and follow him back the way they came. These campers quickly regret letting Jenson take charge as his smug bullying gives way to more sinister, more vicious behaviour. His rapid descent into depravity leads us to guess that this ozone depletion is affecting people as well as beasts. Those who saw Creepshow know that when Leslie Nielsen plays the role of the bad guy, he can be pretty terrifying. The most disturbing attack in DotA comes not from an animal, but from him.
The cinematography is sharp and beautiful. There are several brilliant backlit shots of beasts on the advance and the daytime shots are bleached with the powerful ozone-less sunlight. The camera is often angled a few feet above the action -- we feel that the characters are constantly under quiet surveillance. Lalo Schifrin does the soundtrack and his rattle-clatter tone provide an eerie backdrop to a wilderness holding hidden primal threats.
Some intense moments, although with few plot-significant casualties. Worth watching just to see Leslie Nielsen go all apeshit.