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Monday, January 25, 2016

Roar (1981) – Review

Do you know what you get when you stick a family in a bungalow full of hundreds of big cats? Answer: You get a bloody big cat-astrophe.  Director/producer/writer/star Noel Marshall, along with real life family, decided to spend eleven years making a film about a man living in Africa with a huge amount of big cats. How did it go you ask? Well the tagline for the film was, "No animals were harmed in the making of this film. 70 cast and crew members were." So yeah, it didn’t go all that well…at least not for the humans. Strangely enough this makes it a compelling, if not overly cinematic, film and worth checking out.  If just for the "What the fuck?" factor.


Roar is not really a “Man vs Nature” story so much as it a “Moron vs Nature” for this movie is about an idiot who thinks that living with 9,000 pounds of killing fury is some kind of noble experiment. We are introduced to Hank (Noel Marshall) as he doctors some local natives, but helping humans isn’t Hank’s real deal, no he has a mini-preserve where he watches over a small army of big cats. To say Hank is eccentric would be the world’s biggest understatement. Think crazy cat lady only instead of a bunch of tabbies he has cats that can crush your skull like an eggshell.


I hope he didn’t forget the Kibble.

When a committee shows up to see if they are going to continue to fund Hank’s research (What his research is about is never made clear, something about lions and tigers living in harmony I think), and some of the committee are all for shutting down this crazy experiment. Now in most movies these would be the bureaucratic assholes that don’t understand the great work the hero is doing, but in this case they are completely in the right. This guy is fucking out of his mind. While talking to a member of the committee, a particular mean bastard who wants to shoot all of the cats, Hank spots some of the male lions fighting, and he runs over to break it up.


What kind of a psycho charges into a fight between lions?

The meeting comes to an abrupt conclusion when a couple of tigers climb into the boats the committee arrived in, and then proceed to maul them as they try and swim for their lives. It’s at this point Hank shouldn’t be endanger of losing his funding but should be more worried about going to jail. Maybe they don’t have reckless endangerment laws in Africa. But what the committee will or will not do about the lions and tigers is not the thrust of this movie as most the film’s running time has to do Hank’s family arriving from the States. Turns out Hank had recently separated from his wife Madelaine (Tippi Hedren) and this is some kind of reconciliation vacation, but when he fails to meet them when their plane arrives (His boat is sunk by tigers. Is that a thing tigers are known for doing?) they catch a bus to his place.


"I think dad bought the place from the Swiss Family Robinsons."

Along with Madelaine is her daughter Melanie (Melanie Griffith), and her sons John (John Marshal) and Jerry (Jerry Marshall).  The use of Noel and Tippi’s children’s real names is just odd, kind of makes this thing seem like the most fucked up family movie ever. For some unknown reason the cats, which practically filled every inch of this house and surrounding areas in earlier shots, have all decided to hide for some reason.   Maybe to surprise these new meals, I mean visitors.


“Shush guys, this is going to be great.”

When mom and the kids eventually meet the residents what follows is about fifty minutes of the family being terrorized by the big cats. The run from room to room, hide in lockers, water barrels, and even one idiot hides inside a fridge. They even try to escape by boat but apparently the elephants are in league with the cats and it trashes their ride.


Tarzan wouldn't have put up with this shit.

Much of these scenes are horrifying to watch as it clear that no one is really acting here, these people are really in danger. (Note: No one shows much acting chops during this film’s entire running time, but the lack of real script could be the culprit there) When you see a lion pulling on Melanie Griffith’s hair, and hear her screaming, “No!” It’s all rather unsettling.


As is seeing Tippi Hedren futilely trying to pull the cat off her daughter.

This whole section of the movie would have worked better if it had been sped up and overlaid with Benny Hill’s yackety sax music. As it stands the disturbing scenes of this poor family being terrorized is horrifying, and even more so by the strangely intercut comic scenes of Hank and his friend Mativo (Kyalo Mativo) trying to get back before everyone is turned into lion chow. This is clear case of a film being tonally deaf. Obviously Noel and Tippi care deeply for the plight of these endangered cats, and to be fair at no point do they vilify the cats that are attempting to maul these poor people, but the end result is a complete mess. There is a tacked on happy ending where Madeline and her kids realize that the cats were just fucking around as cats do, and we are then subjected to a horrible song overlaying the images of everyone getting along with the lions.


“Sorry Hank, we were just havin a bit of a laugh.”

Noel and Tippi produced this film at a cost of 17 million dollars, but the movie bombed disastrously taking in a meager 2 million dollars worldwide. That Noel and Tippi divorced one year later surprised no one. Eleven years of blood sweat and tears on failed project would be a strain on any relationship, but the facts surrounding the making of Roar have me wondering how she lasted that long. Here are a list of some of the injuries sustained by the cast and crew

• Melanie Griffith was mauled by a lion and required plastic surgery, requiring fifty stitches to her face.
• Cinematographer Jan de Bont was mauled and scalped by a lion on the set. He required over one hundred and twenty stitches to sew his scalp back from where a lion had bitten his head.
• Noel Marshall was attacked and severely injured by one of the lions in the film. He was hospitalized and it took him several years to completely recover from his injuries.
• Noel was attacked so many times that he eventually was diagnosed with gangrene.
• Tippi Hedren fractured a leg during production when an elephant bucked her off its back when she was riding on top.
• Hedren also received thirty-eight stitches when a lioness bit the back of her head.
• Assistant Director Doron Kauper was attacked and mauled by a lion; his throat was bitten open from whereupon the lion proceeded to bite his jaw and attempted to rip an ear off.
• John Marshall was bitten by one of the lions and required fifty-six stitches.
• Jerry Marshall only took a bite through a tennis show. What a pussy.

How could stuff like that happen? Well it starts when you are unable to hire professional animal trainers because they all turn you down due to the insanity of your idea. So Noel and company just spent eleven years filming untrained animals in the hopes something good could be cobbled together from the mess. Their failure almost a forgone conclusion. On the plus side Roar has now achieved cult status, and Tippi Hedren herself still manages a wildlife preserve. So out of all that pain and suffering, some of it from the audience themselves, the film can now be looked back as the bizarre and insane project it was.


A noble if also incredibly dumb project.

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