Most dangerous movie you’ve never heard of

Written By komlim puldel on Rabu, 08 April 2015 | 20.01

'Suicide mission' ... This famous Hollywood clan were labelled 'brainsick' for eating, sleeping and working with unpredictable, fully-grown lions. Picture: Drafthouse Films Source: Supplied

IT was called a "suicide mission" and "the most disaster-plagued film in the history of Hollywood."

Now a whole new audience is about to be exposed to a forgotten classic that just may be the most dangerous movie ever made - thanks in part to its incredible backstory.

Directed and starring Noel Marshall (you might know him from The Exorcist), Roar is being re-released in cinemas and on DVD, 34 years after flopping at the box office and derailing Marshall's directorial career.

According to a blog post by Drafthouse Films CEO and founder Tim League, the movie "follows wildlife preservationist Hank (Marshall), who lives harmoniously alongside a menagerie of untamed animals, including cheetahs, elephants, lions and tigers on a preservation in the African plains.

"When his wife and children arrive for a visit, a long-brewing battle for dominance between two lions erupts and threatens their very lives."

But what audiences didn't see was the behind-the-scenes drama that cursed the movie and its producers for years to come.

Cast and crew were attacked and mauled by lions 70 times. Some of the worst injuries included upcoming European cinematographer Jan de Bont (Speed) having his scalp torn off and child star Melanie Griffith needing reconstructive surgery during filming.

Scalp torn off ... Jan de Bont received 220 stitches to the back of his head after being scalped by a lion. Picture: Drafthouse Films Source: Supplied

HOW IT ALL BEGAN: 'A SUICIDE MISSION'

After shooting a film in Africa, American actress Tippi Hedren and her manager husband Noel Marshall were inspired by the idea of a movie that highlighted the plight of animal cruelty of big cats in captivity. According to Mr League, the couple were struck by the scene of an abandoned house which was overrun by lions. That image took hold, and they "became devoted to raising awareness about the over-hunting of wild lions, tigers and jaguars".

But their big idea was shot down by animal trainers, who dubbed the idea a "suicide mission", "brainsick" and "completely and utterly insane."

It would take 11-years to complete the film.

No biggie ... Just hanging with a few hungry lions, as you do. Picture: Drafthouse Films Source: Supplied

SLEEPING WITH A PRIDE OF LIONS

Knowing the cats would only work together unless they were raised together, Hedren and Marshall set up a lion breeding program in their Los Angeles mansion.

For six years, the couple, along with their young actor-daughter Melanie Griffith and Marshall's three sons, built a pride of cats that numbered more than 100 and went about their daily lives eating, sleeping, eating ... living, with the pride of lions within their own home.

As the pride grew, the confines of a Beverly Hills mansion became too much for the cats, and the family moved to a ranch 64km north of Los Angeles.

"What followed was five years of the most terrifying and dangerous filmmaking ever committed to celluloid," said Mr League.

Terrifying ... That's not a special effect, that's the real deal. Picture: Drafthouse Films Source: Supplied

LIONS SCALP, MAUL AND ALMOST KILL CREW

70 attacks were documented during production's eleven years of filming.

The cast consisted mostly of Marshall, Hedren and the four children due to their relationship with the cats, but that didn't stop the blood from spilling.

Cinematographer de Bont was scalped by a lion, resulting in 220 stitches to his head.

Griffith was mauled and needed reconstructive surgery and 100 stitches.

Hedren suffered "deep scalp wounds" and a fractured leg while Marshall was "gored" so often he eventually contracted gangrene.

If that wasn't dangerous enough, a flood wiped out the entire set and a feline-related illness decimated their lion pride.

The fear in their eyes was real ... Tippi Hedren in a scene from the film as a fellow cast member is wrestled by a fully-grown lion. Picture: Drafthouse Films Source: Supplied

PRODUCTION SPIRALS OUT OF CONTROL

After two years of attacks and near-misses, financiers pulled out of production, leaving Hedren and Marshall to fit the bill. Refusing to give up, the couple sold almost all their assets to personally finance the rest of the production.

"Refusing to yield to the intense adversity, de Bont, Hedren, Marshall and their family continued to heal wounds, rebuild sets, and hire crew after crew to wrap the production," said Mr League.

What's wrong with this picture? ... The film was a box office disaster. Picture: Drafthouse Films Source: Supplied

DEBUT DISASTER AT THE BOX OFFICE

After forking out an estimated $17 million in production costs, the movie grossed a disappointing $2 million when it debuted in cinemas in 1981.

But, according to Mr League, "the passage of time affords us the perspective to view Roar for what it truly is: the most epic and amazing animal thriller ever made".

"The cast is in constant mortal danger as dozens of adult lions "improvise" around them.

"At numerous times Marshall drips blood as he fends off ferocious advances from jaguars and tigers alike.

"Melanie Griffith's real-life mauling is on display in the final cut. A jaguar licking honey off Tippi Hedren's face was an untested idea that could have easily ended very, very badly.

"Knowing the backstory of the production, you can see perpetual terror in the eyes of the cast as an army of lethal predators close in around them."

Roar will be re-released this year in US cinemas, and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand platforms later this winter.


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