The b-movie Grizzly celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2016 and with the year closing out, why not recap a film which duplicates Jaws (1975), well it is the first horror film this reviewer ever saw by himself. I know it dates me; however, this Horror Historian has gone onto view the early portion of the genre and covering sub-genres, legendary careers and finding the unique films. This creation came from screenwriter Harvey Flaxman, which serves as his last script and yet notes the debut of co-writer David Sheldon, with Andrew Prine assisting in the Indian Story inclusion. Flaxman stated that the concept of the tale came from his youth while on a camping trip and had an encounter with a grizzly, and from there it spawns to a monster of an environmental horror story. Alas, the screenplay version has a fifteen foot tall grizzly weighing over 2,000 pounds, and hence the comparison to Jaws starts, leading to iffy reviews and criticism, but for a film using $750,000 as the budget it earned over $39 million. It would hold the record as the most successful independent film of the time for two years, until it was broken by Halloween (1978). In fact, the movie created an underground following for those enjoying bad but enjoyable b-movies. Universal studios went to the lengths to sue, unsuccessfully, the director and producers of Grizzly, as the film followed the Jaws formula, however it was not nearly enough to stretch to the point of plagiarism accusations. Director William Girdler, helmed this film, a man who lost his life in a helicopter crash in 1978, was an early independent filmmaker, wearing multiple hats for his films, this one went become his most successful. Although, equally known for The Manitou, (after securing rights from the author Graham Masterton) which starred both Tony Curtis and Susan Strasberg, he never saw how successful that movie became, with his passing on January 21st. Girdler, does provide some very good shots, taking notes from Stephen Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock, and yet continued to establish his own traits and talents.
Grizzly sported a wonderful poster by artist Neal Adams, which inadvertently heightened fears of society of bears in general and like Jaws, increased the hunting of this beast. The movie fit right into the environmental horror, a sub-genre also known for animals and nature striking back at humankind, this arena included Frogs (1972); Dogs (1977); Day of the Animals (1977); and Long Weekend (1978). The legal issues that affected the film sadly cannot simply be glossed over, while a lot of conjecture swirls around with blame, accusations and lawsuits David Sheldon discussed in November 2015 on Blumhouse.com concerning successfully suing producer Edward L. Montoro. While, researching Montoro, and Film Ventures International, much information founded, however without other supporting evidence, one is unsure of the validity and hearsay of it, therefore your judgement best serves you on this matter.
It all starts with Michael Kelly (Christopher George), the lead ranger at national park, in Georgia, although Clint Walker first chosen for the role, but he signed on for the 1977 horror for television movie Snowbeast, surrounded by a few of crew of park rangers, with positive remarks about the upcoming off-season. Entering the early yet later lost romantic moments with his girlfriend Allison Corwin (Joan McCall) whose daddy owns the park’s luxury lodge and she’s a photographer, none of it really matters. Soon enough one the rangers Tom (Tom Arcuragi) gives a jolt to two unsuspecting women campers, and then rides off leaving them to their fates, all sets the tone of the killer bear on the loose stalking the woods, with a hungry taste for human flesh. It is a roller coaster ride from here, with kills occurring but never with the bear in the same frame, and taking down ranger’s towers and even bit of racist talk from one of the characters. Wide sprawling shots of the forest then interchanging those of POV of bear shot filtering in grunts, heavy lumbering breathing and finally roars for the kill shots. Scott (Richard Jaeckel) who acts a tad like Hooper (Dreyfuss from Jaws), herein the Scott character represents bear and nature loving expert. The comparison, quite easy to match up, but that becomes the point of Hollywood in general, look at the formulas for slasher films, a group of twenty-somethings going to an isolated place and killer there for whatever reason (lost his puppy or teddy bear named ‘Fuzzy’ doesn’t really matter) and the slaughter starts. Therefore, the bear is Jaws, the teeth are claws, the chase at the end really becomes a worthwhile investment of time, let alone a very interesting burial moment. The gore factor way down this time around, though a nice bear hugging moment with a child does fit into the menu of selected items. By the way, enjoy the performances by Andrew Prine’s character Don, a folksy mannerism and very colorful language who definitely shows up with fitting collection of toys and the Kittridge (Joe Dorsey), who portrays the vileness of politicians like that of Mayor of Amity Island.
The direction of the film, from a reflection of today’s cinema shows many flaws, suspense lacks at times, and the bloodless moment don’t work well either, but the corny dialogue provide laughs, mixed with the very fake animals kills clearly show the silliness. Yet, all this can’t minus the cheesy charms of the movie, especially reflecting back to the first horror film one sees.
As simulated the bear attacks a mechanical bear was inserted and even two stuntmen would operate bear claws, however a real grizzly remained on set known as “Teddy” the largest captive one at the time, and stood at eleven feet tall. Teddy had trainer Monty Cox, and would various tactic to have the bear perform, by teasing a large fish and switch it out for smaller one. However, since filming took place during the common time of hibernation for bears, Teddy became increasing more aggressive and difficult and during one shoot (on the seventh take) this bear charged towards the cameras and crew snatching the larger baited fish. Needless to say, the crew, cast, and everyone in general forbidden to approach or even look in the direction of the animal; talk about a prima donna cast mate.
While many make the comparisons to Jaws, (some do exist) the film does have the ability to stand on its claws, and deliver a bad but good b-movie, never trying to become than what it is, and yet it exceeds nicely, with the mistakes but then it was my first horror film to see by myself. Now reflecting back, it never frightened me, but rather saw it for the enjoyment and at times rooting for the bear. Now the movie did create a sequel of sorts called Grizzly II: The Concert, though shown in 1983 in Hungary was never officially released, and yet a work-print sometime located on YouTube, under the title of Predator: The Concert surfaced after 2007. The film does include an interesting list of actors for this sequel Charlie Sheen, Laura Dern, George Clooney, Louise Fletcher, and John Rhys-Davies. Needless to state the film, did not age well, but still for a laugh and enjoyable trip of Girdler’s work and just a note the poster art still ranks high on collector’s lists.
Take a moment won’t you, and reflect on the first horror film you saw alone, and revisit in now.
IMDb rates: 5.5
Baron’s Rating: 6