Noel Marshall, producer of The Exorcist, husband of Tippi (The Birds) Hedren, and father of Melanie Griffith had an idiotic idea to make a movie with his own pet lions and tigers setting out to attack his own family. The film took eleven years to make, cost $17 million, recouped only $2 million of that upon it’s release, and damn near got him and his entire family killed along with sixty-five crew members. That film is called Roar, and the recounts of the brutality the cast and crew suffered at the paws and maws of it’s furry co-stars is really a far cry different from what happens on screen.
Roar is an interesting curiosity piece that is currently being exploited in a re-release by Drafthouse Films as an exploitation flick. The trailer for the re-release is accompanied by internet quotes that make the film sound like a mondo horror flick. It is not. Roar is intended to be a slap-stick comedy about a guy named Hank (Noel Marshall) living on an African animal preserve with his pet lions and tigers who through a miscommunication ends up separated from his visiting family (Hedren, Griffith, and sons John and Jerry, all going by their real life names). The family ends up at the preserve while Hank is traveling to the airport to pick them up. The family has no idea how to interact with the animals, who for their part, just want to play with them. Various “hilarious” hi-jinks ensue before Hank finally makes his way back to the preserve, by which point the family has made peace with the lions and tigers and they all end up happily ever after. The plot is very straight forward and simple; a large part of why the film faded into obscurity is that Noel Marshall was a horrible screen-writer and the movie on it’s own merits isn’t very good.
What really sells this film, all these years later, are the behind the scene reports of accidents that happened while on set. Keeping in mind the danger the actors really are in and seeing the terror on their faces is really in-congruent to the tone the film wishes to convey. These are people who really could die at any time. It’s hard not to cringe each time they are tackled by a lion, or having a tiger “playfully” maul their faces. All of the injuries are completely real. Anytime you see someone get their hair pulled out or have their hand bitten through, yeah. You saw that happen. During one of the nightmarish sequences, Marshall is driving a car racing to get back to his family with two tigers in the car and a friend outside the vehicle hanging on for dear life while standing on the bumper. Consider, these animals are not trained, Noel has no idea what he’s doing here and it’s no different than if you had a drunk uncle who broke into the zoo to go for a joy ride with the occupants. Noel Marshall was a mad man.
Some of the more notable injuries in the film: Tippi Hedren had an elephant crush her leg at one point, Melanie Griffith had to get facial reconstruction and Speed director Jan De Bont was scalped by a lion. Speaking of Jan De Bont, it’s his cinematography which helps make the film. Evidently De Bont was the only competent person behind the scenes on this flick and the editing and camera work is much better than the film deserves.
While watching the film though, it’s very easy to comprehend the love for the animals Marhall had, and that his intent for the film was to show a harmony between man and nature and shed light on animal conservation. I told my fiancee while watching it “We need a house full of lions!”, during a very cute scene where Noel’s character is trying to get a shy lioness to go outside and play with her pride. “They’d have be good lions, not like these!”, she said. I responded, “They -ARE- good lions. But they -ARE- lions”.
The old adage “the hand is no different than what it creates” is applied to this film. Noel’s character and his actions in real life placed him and his family in grave danger because of a misplaced notion that wild animals can exist peacefully among humans. Lions and tigers in large quantities present a danger for people, even if they are just playing, there is an extreme danger though. Because of his naivete, a lot of people got hurt. The closing scene shows a montage of the family goofing with the animals around while going through their day to day lives while the audience has the knowledge that these people almost died acting so foolishly. I watched the final moments of Roar, jaw agape and head shaking. As Hank says in the opening of the film, “It’s just like life! You get the funny with the tragic!”.
You can read more about the making of and list of injuries on this great article from IndieWire. Roar will have it’s blu-ray/DVD release in November and it’s well worth picking up for lovers of cult cinema.