Roar

Most “so-bad-they're good” movies fall into what we might call “The Ed Wood Zone”. These are movies where it's hard to tell if the badness was because the filmmakers never had enough money, or if they ran out of time, or if they just lacked the talent necessary to make a competent film. (In most cases it's probably a little bit of all three.) Your classic Ed Wood movie has cheap sets, wooden acting, and laughable special effects – it's just not professional on any level.

Roar is a so-bad-it's-good movie, but it doesn't fall into the Ed Wood Zone. No, Roar doesn't look cheap – you'd never guess that it was filmed in California because the "African" landscape it depicts is golden and it's cinematography is luscious. Furthermore the acting is consistently believable – these characters are supposed to be terrified and they legitimately look terrified. And the reason why they're terrified is because their special effects aren't special effects, they're real – every time it looks like a wild lion is trying to maul an actor, it's because an actual lion is trying to maul that actor.

In case you missed it Roar is an obscurity from 1981 that has recently been unearthed by the good folks at the Alamo Drafthouse. It was made by the husband and wife team of Neil Marshall and Tipi Hedren along with a cast of over a hundred and fifty untrained big cats that they owned. (The cats are given acting AND writing credits under the rationale that most of the movie is just them doing whatever the hell they wanted to do, so they pretty much helped shape it's "script".) The film itself is imminently watchable, but it's legend is mostly due to it's behind the scene drama - over 70 members of the cast and crew were injured by the cats over the film's ten year shoot. The director got gangrene from a bite, his daughter (a young Melanie Griffith) needed facial reconstruction surgery, and the director of photography (who would later go on to direct Speed) got scalped.

The plot is kind of hard to describe because Roar is basically three different movies. One movie is a wacky comedy: a husband (played by Marshall) has been living by himself on an animal preserve in Africa for an extended period of time, and when his wife and kids finally fly out to meet him their schedules get crossed so that they arrive at his house just as he's getting to the airport (which is a full day's drive away). He then has to immediately turn back around to get back to his lion-dominated abode, which is difficult because he took two tigers with him to the airport and they won't exactly fit on the back of the bicycle he steals once his boat capsizes. (This movie is seriously crazy, y'all.)

Meanwhile, back at his house, his family has entered into the second movie, which is a horror film about a group of innocent people that are completely unprepared for the fact that they've arrived at a house which is overrun with wild beasts. (I guess he didn't warn them that he has about ten dozen snarling roommates, which seems like a dick move on his part.) The four of them can't go anywhere without being swiped at by angry lions, leopards, tigers, and panthers – his loved ones try to hide in the fridge, in the pantry, in the shed, but everywhere they turn there are more angry carnivores. At one point one of them hides in a rain barrel and we keep seeing a lion's tongue lapping up water directly over his head, a legitimately frightening visual.

Finally, there's a third movie, which is about a pair of government officials who want to put all of the wild animals down because they are convinced that every one of the untrained beasts is dangerous. (Spoiler alert: their fears prove to be correct, as both of them get eaten by lions.) This movie is easily the most insane of the three, because I think it's trying to spread a message about how important wildlife conservation is, but it's jammed right next to ninety nonstop minutes of wild animals chewing on humans, so it's not a super convincing bit of propaganda.

Actually, I suppose there's also a fourth movie in there: a surreal nightmare flick about an upside down world where you even the littlest of tasks cannot be accomplished without having to sweep aside an angry man-eater first. These cats are so out of control that the actors cannot do everyday things like walk ten paces without getting attacked. The lions chew on Marshall's broom when he tries to sweep his living room. They jump up and put their paws on his shoulders every time he enters a door. They want to ride shotgun when he tries to drive his car or his boat. They bite his hand, then they are so determined to use his bandage as a play-toy that he can barely manage to dress his wound, and once he finally gets his puncture wound wrapped up another one of them tries to bite the bandage off his hand. When Marshall tries to pull the bloody bandage free of it's fangs the cat then gives up on the bandage and just goes straight for the hand. The entire time Marshall is talking to it as if it was a misbehaving toddler and not a motorcycle sized carnivore.

There is literally no getting away from these animals, and they threaten the actors even in the scenes where they aren't supposed to be menacing. The constant pouncing, chewing and snarling gives the movie a totally surreal tone, because it constantly underscores that this is not the way that any human being should live, and yet you know that these people really were living like this. The insanity of the visuals just doesn't make sense. There's one early scene where Neil and a friend are literally just trying to cross their front yard and they can't even complete two sentences before two lions at the edge of the frame start trying to murder each other. And that's why I would say that this film is so-bad-it's-good even though it is relentlessly fascinating and entertaining: you can't help but watch it and think “wait, this is the best take that they got of this scene?”

No, this is not a bad movie that feels like it was made by Ed Wood. Roar feels more like it was made by Senor Spielbergo, who is Steven Spielberg's “non-union Mexican equivalent” on the film festival episode of the Simpsons. Springfield's resident billionaire Mr. Burns hired Spielbergo to direct a biopic that would whitewash Burns' evil accomplishments and the resulting "film" is a complete mishmash of ineptly executed scenes that are lifted lock, stock and barrel from classic movies. Each glimpse we get of the finished product is more off the rails than the last, culminating in a Lawrence of Arabia knock off where Mister Burns fails to solve all of the inter-tribal conflicts in the Middle East because he's too busy falling off a camel and getting dragged along a sand dune for an uncomfortably long time. At the screening of the final product Burns' lackey Mr. Smithers verifies that “We did over twenty takes and that was the best one.” So, yes, Roar is a lot like a Senor Spielbergo movie - although it's definitely more insane than anything the Simpsons has ever done. Which is really saying something, because the Simpsons is a cartoon, and so they have the freedom to do things that defy all logic without threatening human lives. But if those fools were willing to sign up for this madness, then goddamnit, the least I can do is watch it and laugh.

Winner: Me

Roar on IMDB