A 1981 film famous for endangering the lives of its cast and crew will be released into a limited number of theaters this April.
“Roar,” a wild-animal thriller starring Tippi Hedren, will also have a Blu-Ray, DVD, and VOD release this summer. This trailer recounts the movie’s catastrophic production, noting its reputation at “the most dangerous film ever made.”
“Roar” gained that ominous label by exposing actors to actual lions, cheetahs, and tigers, often forgoing stuntman, special effects, or sufficiently trained animals. The results were as disastrous as you might expect. 70 cast and crew members were injured during the production. Among the casualties were Tippi Hedren, who broke a leg, and Hedren’s husband, director Noel Marshall, who was attacked so many times he was hospitalized for gangrene.
Hedren’s young daughter, Melanie Griffith, was also mauled and required facial reconstructive surgery. Cinematographer Jan de Bont, who would go on to shoot “Speed,” was effectively scalped by a lion and had to get 220 stitches to close the wound. Animal activists need not be worried though, none of the predators were harmed in the making of the film.
The attacks by the untrained animals often made it into the final cut of the film, adding some real-life peril to the picture. That terror you see on the star’s faces? That’s not acting. It’s that uneasy feeling that the actors are in actual mortal danger that brings a new dimension to the picture, and results in some memorable reviews from those who’ve seen it.
“It’s like Walt Disney went insane and shot a snuff film of Swiss Family Robinson,” writes a review by Hitfix. “Like watching a live-action ‘Lion King’ as Mufasa hold a switchblade to your throat,” adds pop culture website Complex.
“Roar” was a passion project by Hedren, who’d acheived fame after being torn apart by some other wild animals in Alfred Hitchhock’s “The Birds.” Inspired by Marshall, who had visited Africa in 1969, the couple began importing and breeding wild African big cats in their Los Angeles house. Their plan was to use the cats as stars in a film to help promote conservation. As they awaited for the picture to take off, the big cats lived among Hedren, Marshall, and their young children. A “Life Magazine” shoot in 1971 notably featured young Melanie Griffith frolicking with a massive lion in her bed and the pool.
The production on the film eventually began, but dragged on for five years, plagued by budget shortfalls, a flood on the film set, disease among the big cats, and of course, a myriad of injuries delivered by the wild animals. The movie premiered to a poor reception, and Hedren and Marshall’s careers were derailed. The couple later divorced. The big cats, surprisingly, seemed to come out better than anyone else involved in the film, being placed in an exotic animal sanctuary by Hedren.
While an epic failure in many ways, the movie is nevertheless entertaining and had its desired effect on conservation, albeit not in the way Hedren and Marshall may have expected. No other film so clearly displays that untamed lions, tigers, cheetahs, and elephants belong in the wild, not on a film set.