I remember when I first saw Grizzly at the movie theater during the mid-1970s. I must be truthful. At the time, filled with a child’s energy undoubtedly spawned by too much candy and coke, I thought it was a terrifically exciting action flick. I loved the thundering musical score by Robert Ragland, the dizzying camera angles during the helicopter sequences and the likable camaraderie between leads Christopher George, Richard Jaeckel and Andrew Prine.
When watching the film again as an adult, I was pleasantly surprised that many of my fond memories still held up. Granted, Grizzly is strictly a B-Movie imitation of the far superior Jaws, complete with an inexperienced law enforcement official, an eccentric zoological expert, a salt-of-the-earth guide and a corrupt supervisor/executive. But there is a surprising energy to the proceedings as these hunters slowly close in on a prehistoric 18-foot grizzly dining on unsuspecting (and for the most part female) campers.
The picturesque scenery (filmed at a state park in Georgia) adds to the energetic proceedings, camouflaging the film’s conservative budget. But not even the tallest of pine trees can cover a painfully awkward supporting cast (many of whom are the title character’s appetizers), backyard special effects (a man in a bear suit) and the prolonged, violent deaths of two important cast members.
Granted, Jaws was an extremely violent film, but the violence was always stylish. The corpses which begin popping up (and falling down) in Grizzly, look as if they’ve been bathing in buckets of discount Karo syrup.
What I like about Grizzly is the exciting final battle between the bear and the surviving members of the hunting party. Intense close-ups and quick editing create a suspenseful confrontation. We should probably thank director William Girdler (a lovable Ed Wood-type hack whose infamous credits include Three on a Meathook, Day of the Animals and the amazingly inept The Manitou). In fact, an interesting cult has grown up around Girdler’s stumbling attempts at movie making, though his career was sadly cut short when killed in a helicopter crash in the late 1970s.
An added note must be made about the film’s rather somber conclusion, where a survivor inspects the chaos surrounding him. While Grizzly does not necessarily have a sad ending, there is general remorse shown by this character for the victims of the title beast. This haunting moment is actually an improvement over the rather lighthearted conclusion to Jaws the year before.
The three leads are uniformly likable, as the great Christopher George (who unfortunately passed on in 1983), Richard Jaeckel and Andrew Prine utilize their experienced persona’s to full effect. One could argue these three terrific character actors actually have more combined skill than the three leads (Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss) in Jaws. I’m serious – no really, I’m serious! As a child watching these brooding and flawed heroes traipse through the forbidding woods hoping to somehow kill this indestructible beast, I remembered thinking…”They are so cool.”
The movie’s premise is unbelievable, several scenes are laughably bad and the gratuitous violence is unpleasant, to say the least. But even today, 28 years removed from the cramped mall theater, George, Jaeckel and Prine versus the Grizzly is still oddly….”cool.”
A 1983 sequel was made of this film, titled imaginatively enough Grizzly II. It starred Charlie Sheen and George Clooney, of all people. The film was reportedly so bad it was never released. Now that is a true classic awaiting discovery…..Powered by Sidelines