What's the craziest film ever made? Eraserhead? El Topo? How about A Serbian Film, Hausu or the second Human Centipede? Nope, the craziest thing ever committed on purpose to celluloid is a 1981 family film that Drafthouse Films has brought back out into the light of day.
Roar is the story of a naturalist named Hank (Noel Marshall) who has been living in a palatial home in Africa for three years with wild cats on a research grant. His home is free range for lions, tigers, leopards, pumas, cheetahs, panthers and even a baby liger. His estranged wife and children are coming to visit him there, but end up trapped in his house alone as the cats run amuck.
Now I know what you're thinking. That's a great premise for a horror movie. I couldn't agree more. The thing is, though, Roar has absolutely no idea that it is a horror movie. It totally thinks that this is indeed a family-friendly comedy. It's honestly as if the people who made Cannibal Holocaust thought they were making Swiss Family Robinson.
From the very first seconds of the opening we wee Hank tooling around in Africa on a motorbike interacting with the cats. These were untrained and unscripted in an era where the idea of CGI wildlife might as well have been black magic. No, it's just literally Noel Marshall constantly being tackled and bitten and scratched while saying "It's OK" over and over again while trying to convince his horrified co-stars that this is a perfectly normal thing to do.
Who was the director that tossed these poor actors in at the mercy of animals that injured people left, right and center up to and including almost costing a young Melanie Griffith her freakin' eye? Um, that would be Noel Marshall. This was his idea. He and his wife and co-star/co-producer Tippi Hedren voluntarily subjected themselves and their daughter to an 11-year production where 90 percent of the film is people being openly beaten up by various great cats.
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Here's the weird part and the thing that makes Roar something you have to see at least once in your lifetime; they clearly think this film is funny. When Hank's family first arrives in the house they are being openly stalked by the cats. This is supposed to be a "whoo boy won't they be shocked" sort of thing but it's like seeing Jason Voorhees across the lake. Eventually a pride of lions bursts into the main hall with big old bleeding pieces of dead zebra. An obvious overdub added later has someone remarking "well, look what the cat dragged in", which might possibly be a funny line if it weren't immediately followed up with a shot of a lioness eagerly licking blood and gore from another lion.
Every single person in this film except for Marshall is completely terrified. I know that The Dark Knight was rated PG-13 even with the iconic pencil scene, but that's still a far cry from watching one of Hank's grant council members having his face clawed open from a tiger bite. We're supposed to root against that guy because he speaks Spanglish and wants to kill the tigers Hank has introduced into Africa with no fences or restrictions on their breeding. Never mind that coming across a guy living in a house full of apex predators, allowing them to openly maul visitors, and setting them up as an invasive species that not only threatens the food chain but at the time this movie was made were still killing as many as 50 people a year in India and Bangladesh alone is exactly the sort of person you are supposed to haul away to jail.
Roar bombed at the box office, making back only a fraction of its $17 million budget. It's the sort of film that will never, ever be made again and really that's for the best. As an artifact of filmmaking history, though, it is invaluable and well worth catching on the big screen. You will squirm watching person after person cringe in terror from paws and pounces and strive with all their thespic ability to play it off as something they're really enjoying. You know how some horror films end up unintentionally comedic? This is a rare case of the exact opposite being true, and you don't want to miss it. I'll say it again; this is the craziest movie ever made.
Roar screens at Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park on Friday, April 17.