Media Blasters // 1976 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // June 8th, 2006
18 Feet of Towering Fury!
After the incredible success of Jaws, 1970s drive-ins were overrun by a stampede of schlocky "When Animals Attack" B-films that sought to cash in on Spielberg's killer shark saga. Piranha, Orca, Long Weekend, and Tentacles were just some of the nasty nature flicks that subsequently clawed their way onto screens all across North America; cheaply shot efforts for the most part that varied wildly in quality. Exploitation master William Girdler's Grizzly may be a the most blatant and unashamed Jaws copycat of the bunch, but Media Blaster's 30th Anniversary Special Edition DVD reveals that it's also one of the best. It is a highly entertaining knock-off that delivers exactly what it promises: a cheap, forest-set version of Jaws with bigger and bloodier thrills.
For those few who can't discern the entire plot synopsis from looking at the lurid picture on the front of the DVD, Yellowstone Park Ranger Kelly (Christopher George, Pieces) is on the case when several campers are mauled and eaten by a 2000 pound grizzly loose in the area. After being chewed out repeatedly by the self-serving park director (Joe Dorsey, Norma Rae), Kelly enlists the help of quirky bear expert Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel, Herbie Goes Bananas) and laid-back flyboy Don Strober (Andrew Prine, The Evil) to hunt the beast down and kill it before it hits the backpacker buffet again.
By the time that the first few limbs fly across the screen in Grizzly, you know you can breath easy -- this is one film that's going to deliver the goods in spectacular fashion. Undoubtedly the finest achievement by schlock film impresario William Girdler, who directed a handful of memorable, low-budget exploitation classics before his untimely death in 1978, Grizzly owes its entire existence to Jaws. But it works extremely well in that capacity, making up for its faults with well-executed scares and a honey pot full of old fashioned exploitation goodness.
Girdler and his distributors at Film Ventures International, who had already produced the blatant Exorcist knock-off Beyond the Door, knew that their copycat pic needed to hit theatres as fast as possible to tap into the audience's lingering memories of Jaws. As a result, Grizzly was a rush-job from start to finish, and it sometimes shows. A quickly banged-out script and a brief, four-week shooting schedule left little time to cover up any flaws. Though it usually manages to trail in Jaws' wake with uncanny precision, Grizzly probably could have used a few more script polishes to flesh out its staunchly one-dimensional characters, none of whom garner more interest than the titular bear. Faring the worst is Christopher George, whose hammy, too-sincere performance as Kelly compounds the script's efforts to make him the least interesting leading man ever. It's bad enough that Kelly spends the first two-thirds of the film moping around and downing highballs while the bear chomps away on more campers. But George plays the determined park ranger without any discernable personality at all, hoping to get by on several hackneyed, Dirty Harry-esque confrontations with his corrupt boss meant to define the character as a take-charge crusader who won't toe the establishment line -- the most typical of 1970s cinema protagonists. As a result, his flaccid portrayal is consistently overshadowed by the likable oddballs played by Richard Jaeckel and Andrew Prine, who manage to add some flavor to the film with improvised scenes and memorable dialogue exchanges.
Few audiences went into Grizzly with expectations of good acting or a strong script, and Girdler makes the absolute most of the five or six scenes of bear butchery to make sure everyone left happy. And make no mistake, this is one violent film. Though it carries a PG rating, Grizzly happily goes where Spielberg wouldn't, with a beheading, a mauled child losing a couple limbs, and lots of sticky pools of bright red blood. More importantly, the attacks are edited for maximum impact, deliriously splicing in real bear footage with man-in-suit inserts and terror-stricken reaction shots. The real trained bear used in the film is sometimes less than impressive when on screen, but these unsettling montages turn Grizzly into one of the scariest and most memorable B-level nature-runs-amok horror films ever made. It's sure to please nostalgia buffs and first time viewers alike.
Grizzly gets a shiny new 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer in this definitive 30th Anniversary Special Edition double disc set. It looks pretty impressive despite occasional shimmerings of grain and slightly overripe colors typical of 1970s cinema. Audio is presented in a clean mono mix that delivers dialogue nicely along with the somewhat out-of-place orchestral score. Extras on this set are also impressive, thought they probably could have fit all on one disc. First up is a commentary by producer/screenwriter David Sheldon and actress Joan McCall, who is part of the film's go-nowhere, tacked-on love subplot with George. Moderator Walt Olsen guides the pair through an informative but entertaining track that delves into all aspects of production. Both have vivid memories of the film, making this a good listen. Then we've got the film's original production featurette, an eight minute sourced-from-VHS piece valuable for its Girdler interview footage and behind-the-scenes bear training. The best feature here is the 30-minute documentary "Jaws With Claws: A Look Back at Grizzly" which unites Sheldon and McCall with writer/producer Harvey Flaxman, and actor Andrew Prine for an even-handed discussion of their cult gem, with some attention paid to Girdler's life-ending helicopter accident and the legal problems with Film Ventures that landed Sheldon and Flaxman in court. Three minutes of fan interviews from a recent theatrical screening of the film, radio spots, a terrible VHS trailer, and an image gallery round out the ample selection of extras.
Released to drive-in denizens during the sweltering summer of 1976, Grizzly was a massive hit in North America and all over the world, even out-grossing now-classic films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And no wonder-the unsung Girdler was a B-movie master, turning the first and best Jaws rip-off into an admirable piece of movie schlock that easily stands on its own. Everyone will want to get their killer paws on this top-notch DVD re-release.
Does a bear kill in the woods?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Vintage Production Featurette
* Jaws With Claws: A Look Back at Grizzly" documentary
* Fan Interviews
* Radio Spots
* Image Gallery
* William Girdler's Official Site