Judge Patrick Bromley hates when his bear meat is all gristly.
Our review of Grizzly: 30th Anniversary Edition, published June 8th, 2006, is also available.
18 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror!
"It's Jaws with claws!"
With that simple tagline, the 1976 killer bear exploitation movie Grizzly both acknowledged its own status as a ripoff of a much better movie and paved the way to box office success. As the first killer animal movie released in the wake (sorry) of Jaws, the relatively low-budget Grizzly went on to gross a healthy $40 million. Not bad for a movie without an original bone in its body.
Christopher George (City of the Living Dead) plays Ranger Michael Kelly, the chief ranger of a national park, who brings along a photographer (Joan McCall, Devil Times Five) to investigate the disappearance of two female hikers. Because you never know when you're going to need a photographer. What they don't know (and we do) is that the girls were attacked and killed by a bear in the opening scene of the movie, because that's how Jaws opened.
Once they figure out once going on, Kelly pleads with the park supervisor Kittridge (Joe Dorsey, Real Genius) to close the park before anyone else is killed. Seeing as it's tourist season, Kittridge refuses, because that's what the mayor does in Jaws. So the bear continues killing people, and Kelly and Kittredge continue to argue, repeat. Somebody's gotta do something about that bear.
Grizzly is a crazy movie. It has the spirit and energy of an exploitation movie, the visuals of a '70s environmental film, the score (by Robert Ragland) of a much more syrupy adventure film, the gore of a horror movie and the PG-rating of a family film. People are repeatedly mauled the clawed by an enormous bear. The attacks are bloody. At one point, a little kid has half his leg ripped off. We see the aftermath on camera.
This is a PG movie. Because Jaws was PG.
To its credit, there is no attempt to disguise the fact that director William Girdler and screenwriters Harvey Flaxman and David Sheldon are cribbing from Steven Spielberg's masterpiece. The plots are almost identical (substituting forest for beach), the structure very similar. Like most knock-offs, the movie fails to copy the things that made the thing it's imitating great. Jaws is expertly directed and very scary, but what makes it endure is the three wonderful characters (and their respective performances) at the center. Grizzly has none of that. In their place is a fairly uninteresting performance by Christopher George, who seems world-weary but not much else and who generates very little chemistry with co-star McCall. Nearly all of the dialogue scenes—which can, at times, feel like they're going on for hours—are just filler between the good parts.
Luckily, there are enough good parts to keep one's interest. Just when things start to get dull, a bear attack will revive Grizzly back to life and carry us through the next dead space. The attacks themselves are cheaply staged, as actors scream and are hugged in closeup by an obvious bear suit cut together with stock footage of a giant grizzly roaring. Some of the shots of the actual bear—particularly when it stands up and is the biggest thing you've ever seen—are amazing, but almost all of those happen without another actor in sight. The attacks are fairly frequent and almost always brutal (I mentioned the legless kid, right?), giving Grizzly an exploitation edge that keeps it fun.
At least director Girdler comes by the movie's exploitation roots honestly. He's the man behind Three on a Meathook, The Exorcist rip-off Abby, Sheba, Baby and the truly bonkers The Manitou. There is a shamelessness to the way Grizzly goes through the motions that almost respectable, and the movie doesn't shy away from its horror trappings. With a little more deliberate humor or self-awareness, Grizzly might have rivaled Joe Dante's Piranha as being one of the most fun movies in the Jaws rip-off genre. As it is, it remains a distant second. Or third. Possibly fourth, because I haven't yet seen Orca.
Grizzly attacks yet again on DVD, this time from genre label Scorpion Releasing. The 2.40:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer looks minimally aged, with a good amount of film-like grain and really strong color representation—the forest is a deep grain and the blood is just the right shade of '70s orange/red. A newly mixed 5.1 audio track does a good job with mixing the dialogue with Robert Ragland's score (which I maintain does not fit the movie). The frequent bear attacks give the soundtrack the most punch, even if it is just variations on "Rrrrawr!!" I guess killer bears don't say much else.
A decent collection of bonus features make this a solid package for fans of the killer animal genre. There's a 30-minute retrospective featurette on the film featuring several of the major participants, all of whom are aware of the movie they made. A brief Q&A session taped at LA's New Beverly Theater features star Andrew Prine and producer David Sheldon, and both they (and the audience) appear to have a great time. There's a short trivia track that's mostly skippable, as well as a collection of original (and outstanding) trailers for Grizzly as well as a few other Scorpion titles.
I'm not the biggest fan of "killer animal" movies, but I'll admit to having a good time with Grizzly. Though a naked attempt to cash in on a much better film, the movie still does what it can with its monster bear premise. Any movie that willingly sells itself as "Jaws with claws!" clearly has its heart in the right place.
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Studio: Scorpion Releasing
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