Grisly injuries of 70 cast and crew mauled by lions on wildest film ever made

It was the wildest film ever made – which saw up to 100 cast and crew attacked by wild animals.

Today marks 40 years since mad movie Roar was released.

Dubbed a “ferocious comedy”, it was 11 years in the making, and with 150 lions, tigers and other big cats involved, it puts Joe Exotic’s zoo to shame.

The movie, which starred a young Melanie Griffith and her mum Tippi Hedren, saw a constant stream of disasters during filming, with around 100 people, including the film’s stars, injured in multiple animal attacks.

Director and actor Noel Marshall almost lost an arm when he was bitten by a lion, while Tippi contracted gangrene and was mauled in the head by a beast.

A crew member was scalped, while another almost lost an ear.

But how did such a dangerous movie even make it into production?

The Birds actress Tippi and her husband Marshall came up with the idea for Roar in 1969 when they came across an abandoned plantation house in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, while she was filming Satan’s Harvest.

The house was overrun by a pride of lions, and the pair wanted to document the plight of big cats.

They began adopting and breeding lions in their LA home, living alongside the pack for six years to get material for the film’s script.

Roar tells the story of Hank (Marshall), a wildlife conservationist who lives with his wife Madeleine, played by Tippi, and their children on a reserve in Tanzania.

But two rival male lions battle for domination, causing the creatures to turn on the family.

Filming started in California in 1976 and was scheduled to last six months but due to many difficulties it would go on for five years.

One scene where Hank and his friend Mativo rode in a car containing two tigers took seven weeks to complete as the animals had to be trained to stand while being driven.

Injuries to the cast started immediately. Marshall’s son John said a lion pounced on him on one of the first days.

“I looked up and there was blood on his teeth,” he recalled recently. “It took six guys to pull him off me and I got 56 stitches. I had to work with that lion on and off for five years because we kept running out of money.”

Due to the large number of untrained animals on the set, within two years of filming commencing there were 48 injuries to people.

It was estimated that out of the crew of 140, at least 70 were injured – but John Marshall said he believes the number to be more than 100.

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Despite her mum and stepdad being behind Roar, Melanie quit after getting caught in a fight between two lions. She needed 50 stitches after a lioness attacked her, and she almost lost an eye.

Her reason for leaving, unsurprisingly, was that she didn’t want to “come out of this with half a face”. She was replaced by actress Patsy Nedd, but did return to reshoot some scenes.

Tippi even suffered a severe injury after being picked up in an African elephant’s trunk.

She fractured her ankle and contracted gangrene. A few days earlier, the elephant, Tembo, had knocked his trainer into a tree, causing her to break her shoulder.

During a promo shoot in 1973, a lion also mauled her head and scraped its teeth against her skull.

Director Marshall was bitten through the hand by a lion, and he was later hospitalised with blood poisoning after sustaining injuries
to his face and chest.

Jan de Bont, Roar’s cinematographer, needed 220 stitches after a lion scalped him.

Then, Togar, one of the lead lions, bit assistant director Doron Kauper in his throat and jaw and even tried to pull off one of his ears.

With further injuries to his scalp, chest and thigh, Kauper was in a grave condition and needed to have four-and-a-half hours of surgery.

Following this, 20 crew members walked out. An outbreak of illness struck the lions and tigers, with 14 dying as a result.

Then in February 1978 filming was hit by a further problem when the set was flooded due to a burst dam.

Four crew members had to be rescued from 10ft of water, 15 big cats escaped, with three being shot by local law enforcement, and there was more than £2million of damage.

Finally, Roar was screened for the first time on February 22, 1981.

But it wasn’t released in the US as Tippi said distributors had asked for the “lion’s share” of the profits, which she wanted to use to provide a home for the animals.

She was true to her word. In 1983, she founded a charity called the Roar Foundation, and established the Shambala Preserve Sanctuary in California, which became a home for the big cats from the film.

Two years later she published a ghostwritten memoir about the on-set disasters called The Cats Of Shambala.

Despite performing well in Germany and Japan, Roar was a box office failure elsewhere. It grossed just £1.5m worldwide, compared to the £12m spent on it.

But it recently became a cult classic after Tim League, the founder of Austin-based production company Drafthouse Films, bought the rights in 2015 and released it in the US.

The tagline was: “No animals were harmed during the making of Roar. But 70 members of the cast and crew were.”

Tippi, now 91, still lives alongside lions on the Shambala Preserve.

  • Animals
  • Lions
  • Hollywood

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