It is his final three films that provide evidence of his skill - Grizzly, The Day of the Animals and Manitou (please check out my essay regarding that film here Essay about The Manitou ). Today I'd like to focus specifically on Day of the Animals.
In the 1970s, the word ecology was just entering the American lexicon when it was discovered that all the deodorants and other aerosol based products had been eating a hole in the Earth's protective Ozone layer. I can recall my mother and her friends expressing their concerns while did macramé and their astrology charts (ah...small town mid-west hippies...) Using the concept of a depleting Ozone layer to his advantage, Girdler directed a screenplay written by William and Eleanor Norton and gave us one of the greatest eco-disaster films of all time. Day of the Animals.
Perhaps one of Girdler's greatest gifts was the ability to consistently gather a great cast, and this picture is no different. Christopher and Lynda Day George, Michael Ansara, Richard Jaeckel, Paul Mantee and a shirtless, bat-shit crazy Leslie Nielsen add heft and credibility to the proceedings. However, there was sufficient overlap in the cast of Grizzly and Day of the Animals that some thought the latter was a sequel to the former. Although not the case, there was a Grizzly 2 that never made it to cinemas and the story of its production is worthy of a film itself (or at the very least an essay).
The picture follows a group of hikers led by Christopher George's character Steve Buckner. Along for the lengthy hike are a group of people that play like tropes in the jaded 21st century, but, were generally well written and presented for 1977 - just a few years after life began to get a little strange in the United States. You have the standard young couple, the couple with marriage problems (because the husband is successful?), the older divorcee and her young son, a native American (taking grief from a mad dog Ad Man), a news anchor woman and a University professor. In general their back stories are presented very well. Sometimes it seems a bit hackneyed but I think that has more to do with the fact this was going to be a roughly 90 minute film from the git go and the story needed to be moved forward, even when the exposition was a bit rough.
Down in the small town the group departed from, the Sheriff is noticing how the sun "cuts right through you" even though he says it isn't hot. It is at the small diner he and his deputy discover the truth of what is going on until the Federal Government comes to the rescue. Additionally, there is a particularly well done sub-plot involving one of the hikers who had to leave the group and discovered a stranded little girl (perhaps the daughter of the group that disappeared from the first camp site?).
The film is brilliant tense and well done. Amazing cinematography and a wonderful score by Lalo Schifrin add to the quality of this amazing film. I watched a really nice copy on Amazon prime, although I'm certain it is available elsewhere. I would encourage to check out all of Girdler's films but certainly his final three are worth a marathon viewing.