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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Grizzly (1976)

When a small little movie by the name of Jaws hit big at the box-office in 1975, Universal Pictures cinematic landmark inevitably spawned a whole slew of rip-offs, some which were shamelessly ripping it, such as Italian schlock master Bruno Mattei’s infamous 1995 TV effort Cruel Jaws , which went as far as to steel the dialogue! Others however decided to camouflage its influence somewhat, such as William Girdler’s 1976’s Grizzly. Armed with a budget of $750,000 – compared to Spielberg’s $7,000,000 – Girdler decided to set his feature inland, and his chaos causing animal of choice was a ferocious 18-foot grizzly bear, hence the loving moniker ‘Jaws with claws’ being born.

Two young hikers are mauled at a National Park, Ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) is shocked at the destruction caused to the surrounding areas as well as the victims bodies and fears for the worst. The corner confirms his fears, the girls died after receiving wounds inflicted by a bear. The park’s supervisor, Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey), pins the blame and Michael as all bears were supposed to have been cleared out before tourist season began and demands the corpse of the guilty bear. Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel), the parks naturalist informs that all bears were moved in time and none got by him, Michael asks Charley to close the park to allow him and Arthur time to locate the rogue bear but his request is denied.

Deaths in the park area are becoming more and more frequent, and they are starting to hit home as part of the Park Rangers are starting to perish, yet the park’s supervisor still refuses to close shop until the mauling of a mother and her child. As desperation mounts, Michael, Arthur and park guide Don Stober (Andrew Pine) launch one more ditch attempt to bring this bear down once and for all. The hunter is now the hunted, or is it?

Grizzly lives up to the name in more than one definition, what first impresses is the level of gore the film contains. It may have only a fraction of the budget the movie which inspired it has, but it sure-as-hell has more grue to offer. It doesn’t have the money to make a full animatronic bear, so opts for a real grizzly. Unfortunately for them, kinda, finding a tamed bear that big would be nigh-on impossible, so Girdler has to be creative with what he shows and which angels to shoot; some of these shots are pretty laughable in this day and age, but certain shots of the live bear raising on it’s hind legs do send shivers down the spine – the bear looks rather large, in real life it was 11-foot, and intimidating! You won’t envy the cameraman that’s for certain.

Christopher George does his best Sheriff Brody impersonation here; the character bears (tee hee) a little too much in common for it to be coincidental. In fact the whole dynamic of the three male leads is strikingly similar to that of Jaws, however the characters here aren’t as likeable and they’re lacking a Quint-like older character. Where it does excel over Jaws is in its brutality, grizzly is 2,000 tonnes of big furry anger and he sure-as-shit isn’t afraid of showing that off! Bloodily clawing peoples arms and heads off with ease and bear-crushing chumps like it ain’t no thang, Grizzly is one mean mother.

Though the film doesn’t have the same energy that drove its inspiration it does have the heart to match it. It’s a likeable little film let down by some sloppy pacing towards the final third, but small gripes aside, this is a modest classic in itself. It’s vicious, it’s funny (some times unintentionally) and it’s all entertainment! Those with a fondness, like myself, for the Jaws clones will find plenty to admire here and the films climax is truly legendary, it needs witnessing to be believed. Ignore the UK release however, there’s a lovely 2-disc edition from US company Shriek Show that’s more than worth your hard earned pennies. Overall Grizzly is certainly big, but it sure isn’t clever and it’s all the more loveable for it.

As an interesting aside, a sequel was to Grizzly was planned and actually went into production 1983. Grizzly II: The Predator was never fully completed, cast in minor roles in the movie were none other than George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen! After fund ran out in ’83, production restarted in ’87 and filming was completed, however now actual footage of the bear was completed and neither were all the effect shots. The film was believed to be an urban legend of sorts until a workprint for the film surfaced online in 2007! Apparently the film resolves around a rock concert in which the bear was due to come and terrorise, the title was also renamed to Predator: The Concert due to rights issues. Oh what could have been aye?

Purchase the 30th anniversary edition here.
Those without a multi-region player can get the UK release here. (Not recommended)

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