After the incredible success of Jaws, theaters were bombarded by a stampede of Animal Monster B Movies that sought to cash in on Spielberg's killer shark’s success. Piranha, Orca and Tentacles were just some of these rip-offs but B-movie master William Girdler's Grizzly was the most blatant and unashamed Jaws copycat of the bunch. It was also the first and best Jaws rip-off of all. A highly entertaining, technically well crafted piece of movie schlock that easily stands on its own. Released on the sweltering summer of 1976, Grizzly was a massive hit all over the world.
Director William Girdler cranked out several low-budget classics in the 70’s; which included Abby (1974), Day of the Animals (1977) and The Manitou (1978). Grizzly was by far his most successful film. Girdler loved exploitation flicks; and made it clear that he was in the business to entertain and not to make audiences think. His action riddled, hair-raising spectacles were also very low budget, racy , violent with an over reliance on stock footage, lots of bad acting and overdone 70's music and style. But no one could do these films as memorable and as entertaining as Mr. Girdler.
Grizzly follows the usual "Monster on the loose" movie plot. A rogue grizzly is eating a bunch of campers inside a state park. The manager of the park wants it all kept quiet since the news and publicity would hurt the parks revenue and his promotion to a post in Washington D.C. After several campers are mauled and eaten a park ranger (Christopher George), a geeky helicopter pilot (Andrew Prine), and an even-geekier naturalist (Richard Jaeckel) do all they can to track and destroy the evil bear and for a movie that's rated PG, Grizzly sure packs an extreme amount of blood and gore into its 98 minutes.
If B-movie fun is what you're after Grizzly delivers the full enchilada. Aside the violence, there is a lot of schlock to appreciate but there's also a lot of solid craftsmanship. Girdler's widescreen vistas and use of mise’n scene is impressive and he's kept the character exposition to a minimum while focusing on the suspense and blood and guts set pieces. As a guilty pleasure of brainless variety, Grizzly is quite a lot of fun. It is scary, funny and entertaining.
The film stars a bunch of familiar late 70’s faces. Unfortunately, Christopher George as Kelly the head ranger, comes across as impersonal as the Yellow Pages instead of the intended engaging sensitive hero in the script. He plays the determined park ranger as a stiff with no personality at all. As a result, he is constantly overshadowed by Jaeckel and Prine who manage to add some flavor to their roles.
But lets be honest, few audiences went into Grizzly seeking good acting or art film enlightment. They came for the scares and the gore and is precisely in this department where Girdler delivers impeccably. Grizzly is one violent film and by the time that the first few limbs fly across the screen in, you know you are witnessing schlock gore art. And although Grizzly owes its inspiration to Jaws, Girdler goes where Spielberg wouldn't with absolutely no shame. There are pools of bright red blood, a decapitation of a horse, a leg torn off, arms torn off, mauled faces, a beheading, and a child losing a couple of limbs. The violence is savage, bloody, and hurts on a deeper level than in most exploitation films. These attacks are edited for spectacular impact, deliriously splicing in real bear footage with terror-stricken reaction shots, and quick but unsettling glimpses of gore resulting in the scariest most memorable B-level nature-runs-amok horror films ever made.
The music score by Robert O. Ragland is quite effective and spectacularly recorded by the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London. The cinematography by William Asman is also very good, with a keen eye on widescreen vistas of Clayton, Georgia and the gore and makeup effects by Phil Corey are eerily realistic.
It is true that many critics dismissed Grizzly as just a Jaws rip-off, but the truth is that director William Girdler never tried to camouflage this fact. And although Grizzly is lacking an original concept, the same can be said of Jaws who borrows freely from Moby Dick to slasher and monster films for its inspiration. Grizzly not only follows the dramatic structure of Jaws with exact precision, but also proudly pays homage to Jaws while diverting on its own with inspired new surprises. Similar to Jaws, we have the Monster POV shots while the monster theme is heard on the soundtrack, even the pacing of the film and the placement of some scenes are almost identical as Jaws. For instance after the first shark attack in Jaws, the gruesome remains are discovered via “a jump out of nowhere” scene leading to a graphic autopsy sequence. In Grizzly after the first bear attack the remains of the victims literally jump out of nowhere similar to Jaws, to a graphic autopsy sequence as well. There is even a rumor that even a sequence edited out of the final cut of Grizzly used Susan Backline as one of the first victims to get ripped apart by the bear, the same actress who also played Chrissie, the first victim in Jaws. And similar to Robert Shaw’s compelling five-minute monologue in Jaws about the time the Indianapolis went down, there is a very similar monologue in Grizzly this time delivered by Richard Jaeckel, that has the same effect of the original monologue in Jaws. But make no mistake, this is not a shot by shot remake of Jaws, and director Girdler is too much of an auteur to rely only in recycled cinema.
Not only is he an excellent technician, but he is a die hard entertainer that will try just about anything from unexpected comedy to shocking violence to hook his audience, even if it sacrifices the consistency or tone of a film, something that a perfectionist Spielberg wouldn’t do.. Also Girdler’s brilliant use of montage, not only effectively camouflaged his low film budgets but more distictively takes the violence of his films to a much more disturbing level than Spielberg ever did.. And although Grizzly can be comfortably described as Jaws with claws. imitation is the greatest form of flattery, especially when done right.
The Sequel That Never Was
An often talked about, but never seen sequel, Grizzly II: The Predator, was shot sometime in the early eighties with a script by the man who penned the original. This official sequel to Grizzly which featured Charlie Sheen , George Clooney, Laura Dern and Louise Fletcher, was never completed due to technical issues with the animatronic bear being used. The existing shot footage was shelved and sold to Menahem Golam, who planned to finish it for release, but soon after that his film company went bankrupt, so that was the end of that. Very little information regarding this accident of a film is currently available. Probably a blessing in disguise.
Many people swear that they have seen a Grizzly 2 shown on network TV. But make no mistake this is not Grizzly II: The Predator, but a different made for TV film that was renamed Grizzly 2 to cash on the success of the original Grizzly. This film had absolutely no connection (in regards to production team, characters or storyline) to the original Grizzly (except for the copycat title). To add more confusion another killer bear film originally titled Claws was re-released as Grizzly 2 for the same reason. To make matters worse and much more confusing the official never released Grizzly sequel has also been refered to by some as Predator: The Concert , due to a copyright controversy regarding the original Grizzly. No wonder people are confused with all of these killer bear films.
The New 30th Year Anniversary 2 Disc DVD Release
The 30th Year Anniversary 2 Disc DVD Release of the original Grizzly is presented in glorious widescreen format with lots of extras (only available in Region 1 format for now).