My crazy love for killer animal movies is on par with my irrational passions for evil-Santa-Claus films and stop-motion monsters. So, if I tell you that I was disappointed by a movie where animals run amok - for example, “Spiders 2” (2001) or “Rottweiler” (2004) - you know that according to any rational standard, it sucks seven kinds of shit through a straw. A lot of people seem to consider this one a trash classic, but I think “Grizzly” is inferior dreck, so, y’know, interpret that how you will. Even by seventies eco-horror standards the entertainment value is on the wrong side of middle-of-the-road. Welcome to “Ants” country… it’s packed with flavor! This isn’t soul-crushingly awful like “It Happened at Lakewood Manor” (1977, aka “Ants”) but if you’re after some campy 70s killer-animal trash you could do a lot better with “Night of the Lepus” (1972), “Squirm” (1976, also available as an MST3K episode), or even the genre parody “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” (1978).
“Grizzly” was a big commercial success when it came out, however, which is more than you can say for most animal-attack pictures. The poster art by comic book illustrator Neal Adams is quite memorable, and the tagline upgrades the 15-foot-tall bear of the story into “18 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror”. The musical score is by Robert O. Ragland who also scored Larry Cohen’s worthy stop-motion monster movie “Q” in 1982. The syrupy piece played over the opening credits belongs in a romantic comedy and seems to promise that the titular bruin is going to go around snorfling in picnic baskets with a cub named Boo-Boo. (Spoiler: The music lies.)
|Spielberg's lawyers sent me in to butcher a few lousy bastards|
Does any of this sound familiar? An oversized man-eating animal; A string of dead tourists; A law-officer hunting the animal (Christopher George); An eccentric animal expert (Richard Jaeckel); A grizzled war veteran (Andrew Prine); A bureaucrat who refuses to close the recreation area (Joe Dorsey); And an explosive man vs. nature finale. It would be tedious to list all of the elements in “Grizzly” where ‘shark’ has simply been transposed into ‘bear’. If you’ve seen “Jaws” (1975), there’s no point in telling you anything about the plot because you already know it in detail. And if you haven’t seen “Jaws” then what the fuck are you doing wasting time reading about “Grizzly”? Stop reading and go watch “Jaws”, the cinema gods command it. It doesn’t bother me one bit that this is a shameless rip-off. The more shameless the better, I say. The main difference between the two movies isn’t the species of killer animal, it’s the fact that “Jaws” is a brilliantly tense, riveting scary movie throughout and “Grizzly” is a boring goddamned mess.
Even so, it has a handful of good moments. Mr. Bear keeps munching on a steady diet of campers and there is some passable grue in the best of the kill scenes. There’s cheesy unnaturally red blood straight out of an HG Lewis picture, but nothing serious enough to bump it out of a 70’s-era PG rating. When the bear attacks we primarily see a big puppet paw swiping the air. In a few scenes, there’s an amputated stump or two, intercut with fake limbs being tossed from off-camera like they were the stunt-cats from “Strays” (1991). (My theory is that the housecats in “Strays” went homicidal in the first place because they felt it was beneath their dignity to be appearing in a silly TV-movie knockoff of “The Birds”.) The bear action is stitched together pretty poorly. It’s never as terrible as the perplexing, ridiculous animal ‘attacks’ in “Frogs” (1972), although the bad editing in both cases makes it too easy to tell that the human and animal actors were hardly ever in the same place at the same time. The relative dullness of the film is not merely because they avoid lingering on the gore and showing the monster in action. The 1979 PG-rated mutant-killer-bear movie “Prophecy” has some silly looking monsters and includes a very brief sleeping-bag death scene, you know the one I mean if you’ve seen it. During the scene the monster is never really seen attacking and it’s completely gore-free, yet that kill manages to pack ten times the visceral wallop of anything in “Grizzly” while making me laugh at the same time. To be fair, “Prophecy” had more than ten times the budget and was helmed by director John ”The Manchurian Candidate” Frankenheimer working off a script by David “The Omen” Seltzer… so it had some advantages over “Grizzly” right from the start. Frankenheimer’s 1996 “Island of Doctor Moreau” has many flaws but also some worthwhile animal-attack action, plus wild monster makeup for the human-animal hybrids.
Unfortunately almost all of the running time is devoted to the dull human characters talking and searching, searching and talking, and there is simply nothing going on that is either good enough or terrible enough to provoke a response. The dialogue is bad, but the lines and delivery never have the kind of melodrama that helps make crap entertaining. (Check out the bitchy Joan Collins character in Bert I. Gordon’s 1977 opus “Empire of the Ants” for a demonstration.) The exciting bits flash by quickly, for the most part, with hardly any sustained action sequences except very near the climax. The stretches between grizzly appearances drag on.
Just over an hour in, the bear spies an innocent bunny rabbit which has been enslaved as a pet by some human kid. It’s kind of tense. What will happen to Bun-Bun? Is Mr. Bear going to show eco-horror solidarity with the other animals and free the rabbit from its human oppressors, or are his intentions more sinister? The grizzly eats the boy’s leg and gobbles up mom for an encore. This moment of almost-shock would’ve hit harder if they hadn’t backpedaled seconds later. In the next scene we are told, quite improbably, that the child was rescued. Some hero bravely charged into the jaws of death, defied the fearsome predator looming over his torn victims, and rushed the critically-injured boy to an emergency room in what must surely have been a nail-biting race against time with a human life hanging in the balance. Hey, “Grizzly”, that sounds pretty intense… maybe you should’ve shown that, instead of people bickering about it hours later? The boar in “Razorback” (1984) consumed an entire child in the first three minutes, Mr. Bear. The wee little fishies in “Piranha” lopped off dozens of children’s limbs. Hell, even “The Birds” managed to shred some schoolchildren back in ‘63, and birds have hollow bones! HOLLOW BONES, goddammit! You’re supposed to have a giant-sized pair of man-eating grizzly-bear balls, now stop being a wuss!
Scotty the bear expert makes his horse drag a deer carcass through the woods as bait and he and the horse are both totally caught by surprise when his plan actually works. Perfectly understandable. Even if you’re expecting a mega-bear attack, you don’t expect it to have the occult power to step out of thin right next to you. They use the puppets-flinging-body-parts gag again, this time with a fake horse’s head. Okay, now it’s personal, Mr. Bear! Maim all the children you want, but leave the horse out of it. Oh, and Scotty gets munched and buried so he can be a snack later, but whatever. He pretty much slapped a “kick me” sign on his own ass. He survives the attack and even has all of his limbs where they belong, pretty much, even though this bear did just decapitate a horse with one swipe of his monstrous paw. It doesn’t really matter, the poor bastard regains consciousness and digs himself out of his shallow grave only to immediately run right smack into the bear again. The expression on his face is really quite eloquent. It’s saying “awwww, you gotta be shitting me, really?” and I actually had a moment of sympathy for the guy. Scotty goes through what is, objectively, a pretty nightmarish ordeal that ends tragically, but somehow it seems bland onscreen and fails to generate suspense, much less horror.
|You say there's an adorable pants less bear trapped in a honey pot?|
The park ranger and the Viet Nam veteran are duly upset about the latest turn of events (Scotty! Nooooooo! You were the best of us!) so they chase the bear with their helicopter. They land in a meadow and give up their aerial, ranged-weapon advantage. This way they can have a mano-a-mano battle. Good thinking. The bear teleports in one more time to oblige them… hey, where the fuck did that GIANT GRIZZLY BEAR come from? Actually he doesn’t look so big. You can really see in this scene that even standing on his hind legs, he’s not even close to being three times taller than a person. Come on! Forced perspective has been around since the 1930s, at least. Mess with my eyeballs, I want you to! The, ahem, giant bear swats the helicopter around like a cat toy in the big climax. Both guys repeatedly shoot the bear at close range with high-powered hunting rifles but it is completely bulletproof, so the vet tries to club it like a baby seal. That fight was only going to end one way. Team Human is down to one player (and I’m rooting for Team Bear anyway) when out comes a motherfuckin’ rocket launcher. Shit, danger ranger, why didn’t you SAY you had a motherfuckin’ rocket launcher? That’s your anti-grizzly weapon of choice right there. The bear gets blowed up real good and leaves behind a smoking crater. The fate of the cute bunny is never resolved. Total cliffhanger!
Apparently a pseudo-sequel was filmed around 1983 known as “Grizzly II: Predator” or “Predator: The Concert”, with some surprising names in the cast. It was never completed although the workprint is available online. I plan to see it mainly because I am desperate to know what happened to Bun-Bun the rabbit from the first movie. Actually, from what I can gather, “Grizzly II” wasn’t originally intended as a sequel and the two movies are almost entirely unrelated except for sharing some personnel including writer/producer David Sheldon.
|R.I.P. you will be missed!|
William Girdler directed another nature-run-amok film in 1977, “Day of the Animals”. Compared to “Grizzly” it is campier, sleazier, and just all around more entertaining. For one thing, many different critters get in on the action, not just one bear. For another it can be seen as a descent into a sort of self-parody… Girdler had moved beyond ripping off Spielberg’s “Jaws” when he did “Day of the Animals”, and had moved on to ripping off Girdler’s “Grizzly”! Okay, maybe I’m being unfair now…. “Day” features several actors from “Grizzly” alongside Leslie Nielsen in maximum ham mode as a violent sleazoid rapist. He also takes off his shirt and wrassles yet another non-grizzly grizzly bear at the climax. The special effects and the action are more ambitious and more successful - and when they fail, they fail far more spectacularly, to my incongruous delight. Girdler also directed the ridiculous schlock-pile known as “The Manitou” in 1978, his final film before accidental death.
As for “Grizzly”… not recommended unless you have already been through “Claws” (1977) and western-genre “The Night of the Grizzly” (1966) today, and you still need another hit of killer bear to stop the shakes. If it’s the bad-“Jaws”-knockoff angle that draws you, there’s the guilty pleasure “Sharknado” (2013), and make sure to watch “Tentacles” (1977) which concerns a baby-eating octopus, as well as “Orca” (1977), where the righteous, revenge-seeking whale wins!
|The Bear does a spot on Leatherface dance impression|
|Just call me snaggletooth!|
|I need a drink, someone get me a hair of the dog jacket that bit me|
|for the last goddamn time, It's not Chief Brody!|
Theater of Guts