‘Most Dangerous Movie Ever Made’: ‘Roar’ Back In Theatres 34 Years After Debut

Maybe some of you won’t remember (and some weren’t alive), but once upon a time in 1981, a movie was made that chronicled the life of a family living with big, wild, untamed cats. Not from the ASPCA — from the jungle. Naturally, this movie required a lot of those cats for production, and in doing so, caused over 70 members of the cast and crew to be injured during filmmaking. The injuries ranged from relative minor (clean puncture wound) to utter disaster (being scalped). In fact, Melanie Griffith, who played the teenage daughter of the matriarch of the film, had to have facial reconstructive surgery after an encounter with a lion. Why don’t people remember a movie like this? Because it was never released in North America.

That, however, is about to change. This weekend, six cities in the U.S. will experience the theatrical re-release of Roar, a little-seen 1981 adventure film starring Tippi Hedren, daughter Melanie Griffith, and 150 lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, and elephants. In May, more than 50 cities will have the movie in their theatres. After that, a DVD version will be available from Drafthouse Films.

After the movie went years over schedule and millions of dollars over budget, Hollywood gave up on the film directed by Noel Marshall of Exorcist fame and his now ex-wife, Tippi Hedren. It was released abroad but was a box office flop. However, there’s been renewed interest in the movie, partially because to this day, there has never been a more disastrous film, in the literal sense. Of course, there is the an appeal of the wild, and that was a popular theme in the 1980s when movies such as Out of Africa were epically popular.

The plot is centered around a wildlife preservationist whose family comes to visit, which becomes a nightmare when they are attacked in their home by hoards of wild animals. Many of the scenes show the family being chased, knocked down, and tumbling with real lions. While the actual number of injuries incurred during the movie remains a point of contention, nobody denies that there has never been more actors and crew injured on set during filmmaking. In fact, at one point, Griffith quit the filming, saying “I don’t want to only have half a face,” but came back later, only to be bitten by a lion and require surgery.

Hedren was bitten in the back of the head by a lion, and she suffered fractures and needed skin grafts after being tossed in the air by an elephant. Marshall wrote and directed the film, and suffered so many bites and scratches (many of them featured in the movie) that he ended up with gangrene. Dutch cinematographer Jan de Bont, in his first U.S. shoot, required 120 stitches to reattach his scalp to his head after being attacked by a lion.

Noel Marshall, who died in 2010, was strangely fearless and an unsympathetic leader during the shoot at Shambala, where the family lived. According to his son, the director often refused to call “cut,” even when the actors (mostly his own family members) cried out for help. He never wanted to lose a take that might make for a good scene. He also couldn’t show any weakness in front of the animals, his son John said. John added that he was the only one who could really stand up to his father during the filming.

“Melanie and Tippi would try to gravitate to scenes with me. I would put their lives ahead of mine and they knew that. Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful time. But it was stupid.”

John Marshall is one of the few cast members willing to help promote the Roar re-release but says he sometimes still gets nightmares about things that happened while filming.

The problems with Roar didn’t end with personal physical human suffering. During the production, the Shambala Preserve set, located in the rural Soledad Canyon 50 miles north of Los Angeles, was destroyed by two wildfires and one flood. A few lions escaped during the flood, and local law enforcement had to shoot three of them to protect the community. So the oft-stated “no animals were harmed during the making of this film” does not ring true with this movie.

Financially, it was disastrous as well, with a net loss of $15 million. It was also the undoing of Marshall and Hedren’s marriage.

Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League says his interest was piqued when he learned of the existence of the movie and was determined to re-release it.

“The whole thing is mess. A fascinating and lovable mess.”

Moviegoers, are you interested in seeing Roar? Share your thoughts.

[image via thedailybeast]