“Nature, it’s really amazing. Planets, the elements, wind, water, life and death. Unpredictable, yet, somehow in balance, just like life.”
These true words were once spoken by the amazing Dolph Lundgren and they apply to William Girdler’s Grizzly. Nature is a beautiful thing, but it can also be very deadly. When it is deadly, however, it’s typically the result of stupid humans being stupid. Whether or not Grizzly is trying to hammer home that point, I can’t say, but it certainly is an example of nature run amok as a behemoth 15-foot grizzly bear goes on a killing spree at a National Forest. And make no mistake about it, this bear is on a killing spree. He stalks the forest, looking for his next victim. Why is never really clear, and hardly the point, but maybe the big guy is just upset about people camping in his backyard? Seems reasonable.
The park’s chief ranger, Michael Kelly played by one of America’s finest actors in Christopher George, has a tall task on his hands. These attacks begin in the middle of tourist season which means the park is buzzing with potential bear snacks. The logical step is to put safety first and close the park, removing all tourist until the bear situation can be resolved. Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple. The park’s supervisor, Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey), doesn’t want the park closed because that means a loss of money and you can never lose money. They compromise at first but that only results in more deaths. Eventually, Kelly gets to do things his way, but at that point, it may be too late.
In many ways, Grizzly is a Jaws rip-off. In fact, ask almost anyone that has seen it and they’ll say, “It’s Jaws but with a bear.” That’s the way I described it to a friend, but that’s not a bad thing. Rip-offs are ok and can be just as awesome as the thing they’re ripping off. Alien is very much a rip-off of Planet of the Vampires (despite what Ridley Scott says) and it still rules hardcore. Same applies to Grizzly.
I actually just watched Grizzly for the first time thanks to the new Blu-ray release from 88 Films and it managed to surpass my high expectations — anytime a film stars Christopher George I go in with sky-high expectations. Overall the film delivered on what I envisioned but I thought it would feel cheaper. But it doesn’t really feel cheap at all. It’s certainly a low budget B-movie, and it sort of looks like a made-for-TV movie, but like a really well done made-for-TV movie. Watching it and I was actually reminded of Irwin Allen’s Flood! (which also came out in 1976). Some of the early overhead establishing shots of the forest have that same vibe. Maybe it’s not so much a made-for-TV thing as a mid-70’s thing, but whatever the case may be it’s something that I enjoy.
The film also does a really great job of creating tension. Two scenes in particular really stand out. One involves a small child and I won’t get into the specifics but I’ll say that it does mess with you. The other is a chase scene that is pretty intense. And what I love most about this scene is the use of the music from composer Robert O. Ragland (he did a lot of good stuff!). This is also my favorite Jaws rip-off moment when it comes to the movie. When you think of music and Jaws everyone thinks of the iconic theme, but the rest of that John Williams’ score is fantastic. In particular, there is plenty of great adventure music once they’re out on the boat. The music of Grizzly is basically Ragland’s take on that adventure music and in this chase where a hunter is running from the bear is used to perfection.
Then there is Christopher George. You can’t talk about a movie starring Christopher George without raving about him. He’s one of those actors you just can’t help but lock in on when he’s on screen. It’s like he hypnotizes you with his rugged charm. No matter how dire the situation he’s able to warm your heart. It’s a shame he died so young, but fortunately, we have plenty of great performances from him to cherish and Grizzly is one of them.
Grizzly is rad and I’m glad I finally got to see it. Sure, it’s a Jaws rip-off but it’s a rip-off in the absolutely best way. It’s got a fair amount of gore, plenty of tension and Christopher George. It’s not quite as good as Day of the Animals, the other Girdler film starring George, but it is a fun entry into the nature gone wild subgenre.
I won’t spend a lot of time discussing the picture quality of this release because I’m not an expert in that area. All the technical specifications and all that jazz go over my head. I know that, but I also know if something looks good or if it looks bad. The 88 Films release of Grizzly looks great to me and I watched it on a 60-inch 4K TV. What I can talk about more specifically are the special features, of which there are two on this release, if we don’t count the trailer (the trailer is great though!).
The first special feature is a wonderful essay titled “When Beasts Attack!” written by the extremely talented Calum Waddell. This comes in the Blu-ray’s booklet and within the essay Waddell touches on a number of subjects with the main point being a look at the subgenre of nature run amok films as a whole. Of course, this means Waddell offers up plenty of thoughts on Jaws but there’s also brief bits about other films like Frogs and Piranha. The meat of the essay gets into the social commentary a lot of these films, and really horror in general, touch on that often gets overlooked. Far too often genre films are written off as simple trash cinema because of what they offer on a surface level, but if you spend any time peaking beneath the surface you can discover so much more. Genre cinema is very progressing and forward thinking. There’s also a great quote from Joe Dante snapping back at Rex Reed (he is the worst).
The booklet is limited, so you have to make sure you get an early copy, but if you do for sure ready the essay. A lot of Blu-rays these days have great essays written in the booklets that get overlooked — I’ve been a culprit of ignoring them many times as well.
The other feature is actually on the disc and it is called “What A Guy!” Here David Del Valle sits down and talks about the life and career of Christopher George. This is a fascinating watch and makes me wish that someone would make a movie about the life of George. Del Valle talks about the first time he met George and it was a bit awkward. Eventually Del Valle broke the ice by brining up the cartoon Clutch Cargo and the two sort of hit it off from there. From there Del Valle goes through George’s career as a whole, including a bit on his spread in Playgirl — this features a shot of George eating watermelon while completely nude. This leads Del Valle down a fun path talking about how George is an interesting choice to pose nude because while he was never really out of shape, he wasn’t the type of guy who was in great shape either. There is talk about his marriage to the stunning Lynda Day George and a discussion about how he went from playing a side character or villain in John Wayne movies to being the leading man in the world of genre cinema. It’s very entertaining and Del Valle not only knows a lot about George, but he’s great on screen.