Drafthouse Films has a history of resurrecting especially nutty films from past and present (See: Miami Connection; The Visitor), and their latest choice sounds cat-tastic (sorry). 1981’s Roar is the sole directorial effort from Exorcist producer Noel Marshall, who dumped a fortune of his own money and nearly got his family (wife Tippi Hedren and stepdaughter Melanie Griffiths, along with four other children) killed, spending 11 years shooting a movie with a cast of untrained killer animals on a private game reserve.
Tim League wrote the press release, here’s a few highlights:
The cast and crew endured countless injuries, with over 70 bloody attacks documented. While nobody was killed, there were several close calls, most notably [Cinematographer and future director of Speed Jan] de Bont being scalped by a lion resulting in 220 stitches on his head. Hedren endured a fractured leg and deep scalp wounds. Griffith was mauled by a lion, resulting over 100 stitches and reconstructive surgery. Noel was gored so many times that he was eventually hospitalized with gangrene. Maintaining a consistent crew became virtually impossible as injuries and safety risks kept them from returning to set. The production also endured multiple floods-including one that wiped out the entire set-wildfires, a feline illness that decimated their cat population and non-stop financing woes.
When the movie finally debuted in 1981, Roar was deemed by Variety as the “most disaster-plagued film in the history of Hollywood.” It was also a financial disaster. Fortunately, the passage of time affords us the perspective to view Roar for what it truly is: the most epic and amazing animal thriller ever made. It plays out like a fever-dream Disney movie. The lighthearted slapstick of the surface masks one of the most intense, white-knuckle, nail-biting thrillers ever seen. The cast is in constant mortal danger as dozens of adult lions “improvise” around them. At numerous times Marshall drips blood as he fends off ferocious advances from jaguars and tigers alike. Melanie Griffith’s real-life mauling is on display in the final cut. A jaguar licking honey off Tippi Hedren’s face was an untested idea that could have easily ended very, very badly. Knowing the backstory of the production, you can see perpetual terror in the eyes of the cast as an army of lethal predators close in around them.
What a coincidence, actors in mortal danger is my favorite thing. Not necessarily on film, just in life in general. Roar opens this Spring. Might I suggest Herzog for the DVD commentary? Also, respect to Tippi Hedren. When it comes to actresses putting in work, letting an untrained jaguar lick honey off your face > polishing Michael Bay’s Ferrari.