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Grizzly: One of the great B Movies of all time

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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…..

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About Chris Wilson

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    You hit the nail on the head, Chris. I thought Grizzly was amazing for it’s almost lockstep adherence to the Jaws formula: the Scheider, Shaw, Dreyfus triumvirate v. the George, Jaeckel, Prine troika; the tough guy getting squeezed til blood came out of his mouth; the sinking of the Orca and the destruction of the helicopter, and the villian’s death by explosion. I remember wishing they would have co-opted the Grizzly franchise with the Wilderness Family or Grizzly Adams, how great would that have been? I also appreciated you reminding me of the Manitou, Tony Curtis, a neck tumor/matriculating fetus of an Indian Shahman, now that’s entertainment!

  • Chris Kent

    My world was oddly empty until I viewed The Manitou for the first time. Like a bad LSD trip, I awakened, a mutilated lizard before me, blood on my mouth and fingers…..Tony Curtis standing far off in the shadows adorned in tight designer jeans……I thirsted for more and was never more alive.

    Thank you William Girdler! Thank you!!

  • http://oakhaus.blogspot.com Bill Sherman

    Let me echo your praise of the surreally inept Manitou: my life, too, was changed by that great fetal shaman and the image of a half-naked Susan Strasberg zappin’ that great cosmic something-or-other. . .

  • Chris Kent

    lol…..Bill, The Manitou does indeed belong in some kind of Hall of Fame….

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    What about Prophecy? So bad it was good. One of my first blog entries was about a site dedicated to such movies: Badmovies.org. The site has B-movie reviews, movie sounds, still shots and usually a video clip for each movie reviewed.

    I didn’t find a review of Grizzly, but there is one of The Manitou. The Prophecy clip brought tears to my eyes. You should email the webmaster and suggest Grizzly.

  • Chris Kent

    Dirtgrain,

    I love Badmovies.org and may have learned of it through your post. The description of Billy Jack still leaves me laughing out loud.

    Believe it or not, I am proud to say I own Prophecy. Talia Shire lugging around the screeching baby horror, the campsite that looks for all the world like sporting goods display at Sears, and a monster seemingly cloned from the bodies of Spam and Mr. Kool Aid.

    Stanley Kubrick could only dream of making a film as supremely, perfectly awful as Prophecy.