***1/2 (out of 5)
November 12, 1981
Tippi Hendren as MADELAINE
Noel Marshall as HANK
Melanie Griffith as MELANIE
John Marshall as JOHN
Jerry Marshall as JERRY
Kyalo Mativo as MATIVO
Studio: Drafthouse Films
Directed by: Noel Marshall
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
The story behind how the film “Roar” was made is easily more compelling than the actual story of the film itself. What’s even more fascinating is that when you hear about the story, it just makes the film all the more enjoyable to watch.
“Roar” was produced and released back in 1981 to very little notice. It quickly disappeared and has now been re-discovered by Drafthouse Films, which has given it a new theatrical release. The film came about when Tippi Hendren and her then-husband Noel Marshall learned about a house in Africa that had been overrun by a pride of lions. They got the grand idea to shoot a movie there, using their family as most of the cast. What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty did. Even though there are claims that none of the wild animals were hurt during the filming process, the cast and crew sustained 70 injuries. Hendren broke her leg. Marshall was injured, which resulted in a gangrene infection that almost crippled him. Hendren’s daughter Melanie Griffith sustained facial injuries that required major surgery. And cinematographer Jan de Bont suffered a devastating scalp injury.
Making things more insane, it’s clear the story and plot is mostly improvised as developed in reaction to whatever the animals did on set. This resulted in an opening title card that explains the wild animals were allowed to do whatever they wanted to and thus received co-writing and co-directing credits. (I do not think the WGA or the DGA approved of this, however.)
The result is a nearly nonsensical film with bad looping, stilted acting and a Donkey Kong chase moment that will leave you laughing. The movie essentially tells the story of a batty naturalist (Marshall) who lives with dozens of wild jungle cats at his home in Africa. While he’s off one day, his family shows up for a visit. Why was he gone when he knew they were coming? I’m not entirely sure. Why were his wife and kids shocked to find the place overrun with wild animals? I have no idea. All of this is just set-up for what happens next.
The majority of the film consists of the naturalist trying to get home while his family is literally running all over the house being chased by lions, leopards, panthers and tigers (yes… tigers… in Africa). They are woefully incompetent, actually managing to lock themselves in separate cabinets all at the same time. Of course, most of the cats just want to play, but there’s an obvious man-eater named Togar (who always appears covered in blood for some reason) that poses a clear threat.
“Roar” is not a good movie, not when it was released in 1981 and not now. However, it’s is one hell of an entertaining movie. Lovers of bad cinema will rejoice in seeing this movie, which literally looks and feels like it was indeed written and directed by wild animals.
Like a relic buried in the sand for a thousand years, this film was uncovered by Drafthouse Films, which is offering it to the masses to appreciate the unintended hilarity and explosion of madness on the screen. This has the same charm as Drafthouse’s “Miami Connection,” only with jungle cats instead of drug-dealing ninjas. It captures the very essence of a midnight movie during which people can knock back a few and have a lot of fun at the train wreck they see.