Roar is not one of those “so bad that it’s good” films. No, it’s a “WHAT were they thinking?” kind of film.
If you enjoy looking at large cats, like lions, tigers, panthers, cougars, cheetahs, and jaguars, (and the occasional elephant, added for variety, I guess) as they roar, run, play, fight, lounge around, “talk,” yawn or sleep, then Roar is for you. There are more than 150 big cats in the film – you could probably spend several weeks, and thousands of dollars, on a safari and not see so many animals. Don’t expect much of a plot, though, much less a “narrative arc.” As if.
Roar was made by Noel Marshall, who was executive producer of The Exorcist. I guess he made lots of money from that, because he and his wife Tippi Hendren (famous for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds) were able to buy all those cats in the film. Marshall is in Roar, as is Hendren, her daughter Melanie Griffith, and his sons, John and Jerry. The film was released in 1981, though few people saw it then. It has since taken on new life after being re-released by Drafthouse Films.
The story is set in in Africa, though it was filmed in California. Marshall plays Hank, some kind of research guy, who is studying wild cats – and not from a distance, either. In early scenes we see lots of cats, making themselves at home inside and outside his sprawling house, and frightening some unexpected visitors. Three years earlier, when he had received a grant for his research, he abruptly flew to Africa, leaving wife and children behind. Now they are coming for a visit. (They conveniently share this information for our benefit. Paraphrase: “Gee, Dad sure took off fast after he got that grant! It’s three years since we’ve seen him now.”)
Hank knows that they’re coming too, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t head to the airport until long after their arrival. Meanwhile, tired of waiting around, they have taken a bus, and arrive at his place before he even reaches the airport (such as it is).
Somehow, they don’t notice all the cats right away. . .but then they DO! For the next hour or so, wife and children will scream, wave their arms around and run away from the cats, who will chase them, of course. The thing is, Noah lives (all by himself, up until now) in a house with several storeys and many rooms, which permits LOTS of running. Upstairs, downstairs, from one room to another; there are more doors slamming than in your average French farce. And almost every room seems to have multiple doors, too.
Then there’s the roof. . . run to the roof, find more cats up there, run back downstairs, or jump off or fall off that roof, into the river. . .and more than once, too! When they aren’t running, the humans are trying to hide – in cupboards, in closets, in metal lockers, in rain barrels, even in the fridge – after taking the food out first.
Meanwhile, between bad luck and his own stupid behaviour, things are not going well for Hank and his friend Mativo (Kyalo Mativo) either. Tigers climb into their boat (made me think of Life of Pi!) which makes it capsize. Then an elephant tears the boat to pieces, because. . . he felt like it, I guess. Hank and Mativo borrow bicycles, but wreck them pretty quickly. Hank somehow convinces a man to lend him a car, but he wrecks a tire by driving too fast. Almost ends up going off a cliff! The man is a menace, and an idiot, too!
There’s a strange character who might be satirical, or maybe not? He’s a bad-tempered member of the grant committee, who makes a visit to the compound and does not like what he sees. This guy decides that the big cats are dangerous and should all be shot. Not sent somewhere else, or even put in cages, but just shot. Boom! Dead! Our villain, obviously. There’s something weird about his gruff voice, with its hard-to-place accent, and it also sounds like it was added later, in post-production. If you’ve ever watched a badly dubbed foreign film, you have probably heard this voice before, or one very much like it.
The yelling and screaming and running was exhausting to watch and made Roar feel much longer than its 102 minutes. Ten or even 20 minutes could easily have been lopped off, I’d say. But maybe it qualifies as an “historical document” now. Roar would make excellent home viewing for people who enjoy sketching. Pause at almost any point, and you would have a selection of big cats in a variety of positions to choose from. Roar was an interesting experience – I’m not sorry that I watched it once, but I wouldn’t watch it again, except to do some sketching myself.
Director: Noel Marshall
Screenplay: Noel Marshall
Cast: Noel Marshall, Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, John Marshall, Jerry Marshall, Kyalo Mativo
Company: Olive Films
Seen at the 2015 Fantasia film Festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com