Roar is an action-adventure film originally released in 1981. It’s about a wildlife enthusiast named Hank (The Exorcist executive producer Noel Marshall) who lives on an estate in Africa with around 100 lions, tigers, and cheetahs, plus a couple of elephants. When Hank’s family—played by Marshall’s real-life wife Tippi Hedren, her daughter Melanie Griffith, and his three sons—arrive for a visit, they find him not at home, but still have to deal with all his animals. Wackiness ensues.
That’s one way to describe Roar. Another is as one of the most nail-biting accidental thrillers ever produced. Marshall and Hedren were both activists who were hoping to use the movie to raise awareness about the cruel treatment of big cats in captivity. To that end, they actually adopted and bred over a hundred jungle cats and raised them alongside their family on a ranch north of Los Angeles.
Roar was shot on that ranch over a period of five years. And, as you might guess, there were some problems when it came to managing dozens of 300-pound animals with teeth as big as your thumb. Although no one died, the cast and crew sustained at least 70 injuries, some of which were preserved—if recontextualized—onscreen. Hedren fractured a leg. Griffith was mauled and had to get reconstructive facial surgery. Marshall was gored so often he was hospitalized with gangrene, and cinematographer Jan de Bont (who later went on to direct Speed and Twister) had to get 220 stitches after being scalped by a lion.
Roar debuted to middling box office returns, but horrific stories about its production have circulated among cult film fans ever since. Now, Drafthouse Films is reviving the movie for a limited theatrical release this spring, followed by a DVD, Blu-Ray, and VOD release over the summer. The re-release should remind a whole new audience of the majesty of these beautiful animals, and also to stay the absolute hell away from them at all times.