The Return of ROAR (1981) + some rare publicity materials from down under.

June 18, 2015 | By



Way, waaaay back when I was in high school, I picked up a book by the Medved brothers called The Golden Turkey Awards, and soon grabbed their next work, The Hollywood Hall of Shame, a tome that didn’t necessarily chronicle bad movies per se, but big bloated wastes of money, or epic productions whose content was more pungent than the most vicious unpasteurized cheese.

In the back was a tally of other works whose worth wasn’t less than the bigger blunders, but likely couldn’t fit into the main section and be dissected in full detail.

The Medveds were great at researching and using acrid wit to smackdown movies that deserved a good pelting of fresh tomatoes, but as with anyone reading a review of a movie that’s supposedly dreadful, the question that really emerged was ‘Was it really that awful?’

Maybe for most, but then what’s bad can be good-bad, or actually good, depending on one’s preferences. I’ll defend Joseph Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra (1963) because as bloated as that studio-killer may be, it’s not the mess that critics made it out to be. It has its detractors, but there are admirers of At Long Last Love (1975) who feel Peter Bogdanovich was given a raw deal (although I beg to differ).

Roar (1981) has been a small personal obsession since I read about it in the Medveds’ book because it was unseen taboo, golden fromage that had been experienced by a select few.

The core facts: former Alfred Hitchcock leading lady Tippi Hedren (The Birds, Marnie) produced with husband Noel Marshall what became a $17 million big cat movie that took 11 years to complete. People were bitten on the head, including future Die Hard cinematographer Jan de Bont, who stuck with filming like an a rabidly loyal trooper.

Melanie Griffith co-starred with mother Hedren because like her screen / real-life brothers, she grew up with the film’s big cats, as Hedren and Marshall had founded their own big cat sanctuary. The casting of the Marshall family made sense, but eleven years seems like a long time to finish the thing.

Roar vanished from distribution, but Hedren’s Shambala sanctuary flourished, and I recall her appearing on one of the network morning shows to discuss her partial autobiography that chronicled both its founding and the making of Roar, as both endeavours complimented each other.

Years later when I was working in a book store, Hedren’s book popped up as a remainder, and I read the book cover-to-cover, lapping up the crazy events – floods, animal / human accidents – that plagued the film, and the tragedy of losing cats when a few strayed from the sanctuary after a flood and were shot by authorities.

There’s no denying Roar is a labour of love bearing one major message for audiences – save the big cats – so seeing the film at Toronto’s Royal Cinema two weeks ago was a little surreal. Behind myself and a friend were a row of twentysomethings who’d clearly come to relish a bad movie, whereas I couldn’t watch the film without thinking of Hedren’s book, and her deep affection for the cats.

The back row didn’t ruin the experience – the film’s flaws are major – but they were clearly experiencing a different kind of cult movie. Roar isn’t very good, but it lives up to the P.R. in having footage no one would ever attempt to replicate again. The danger factor is sky-high, and the unique relationship between the Marshalls and the cats may have been the only thing that stopped the family from becoming dinner.

I’ve written a 2000+ word review because quite frankly the film deserves it, backstory and analysis and all, although it’ll be revised when the film is released on Blu-ray by Olive Films / Drafthouse Films in the fall.

Roar1981_R2_sAlso referenced throughout the review is the 2006 German Region 2 DVD I picked up that year when I visited my aunt. I’ve had the DVD for years, but never watched it, hoping a domestic release would one day arrive rather than this NTSC-PAL conversion that’s also flawed. I’ve noted some differences, including running times, credits, and other oddities caught by the film’s fans.

There are people who were touched by the film, and given the level of endangered species in Africa hasn’t diminished since 1981, while the earnestness of the film may cause a chuckle or three, before laughing too hard or too loud, think of species like the northern white rhino, of which there’s a single 42 year old male in poor breeding health, and two females in the wild. The few living in zoos are female.

When he dies, the species is dead.

I’m working on a related piece for Roar, but I do have a few pages that make up what was apparently part of the film’s Australian publicity tour. Near the end of the film review, you’ll find a link to a separate page with the mid-fi scans.

Coming next: Teruo Ishii’s weird & wonderful Blind Woman’s Curse from Arrow Video / MVD Visual, and double-bill reviews of Pat Boone’s two forays into film acting in Fox’ Bernadine and April Love (both from 1957), with the latter released on Blu from Twilight Time.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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