August 18, 2008

Grizzly (1976)

After the success of Jaws (1975), theatres in the late ‘70s were overrun with “animals gone wild” films – quickie attempts to ride the wave of Steven Spielberg’s great white shark. Audiences were hit with forgettable fare like Food of the Gods, Day of the Animals, The Swarm, and – arguably one of the best of this crop – Grizzly (though that’s not saying much).

Grizzly is so brazen in its rip-off of Jaws that it’s almost admirable:
• A giant animal devouring people
• A law enforcement official trying to keep things under control
• An authority figure who wants to keep the area open for tourists
• An unorthodox trio who track the beast to take him down
• A haunting speech by the captain/pilot about why and how the animal kills man
• An over-the-top finale with a big explosion

Despite this small mountain of coincidences, Grizzly is fairly watchable cheese. Christopher George plays head park ranger Michael Kelly with all the grit and gusto he can muster. In scenes where he trades barbs with park supervisor Joe Dorsey, the dialogue is ‘70s TV-quality at best, B-movie at worst (“You’re a maverick!” “I want a full investigation!”)

Speaking of B-movies, Grizzly’s special effects never reach above that level. The blood is brighter than a child’s finger paint, and several scenes of dismemberment use quick cuts to avoid showing the sub-standard effects (the movie is especially gory for a PG-rated film).

Director William Girdler employs the same tactics Spielberg did in Jaws – not showing his killer beast too soon, filming from the animal’s point of view, shooting the creature with tags instead of barrels – and they do add an element of suspense to earlier scenes. There is also some breathtaking aerial cinematography by William L. Asman. But everything Girdler mimics from Jaws is executed in Grizzly on a much less successful level. (Girdler would only direct three more films, including the aforementioned Day of the Animals, before dying in a helicopter crash in 1978.)

If you’re looking for a “good” Jaws rip-off, watch Alligator (1980). It’s got a solid script, better special effects, and, unlike Grizzly, deliberate humor. (It was recently released on a special edition DVD, featuring an interview with screenwriter John Sayles and commentary by star Robert Forster.)

Did you know?
Grizzly’s theft of Jaws elements went right down to the casting and guest screenwriting:
• Susan Backlinie, the doomed swimmer at the beginning of Jaws, was a victim of Grizzly’s bear (her scenes were cut).
• Andrew Prine (as helicopter pilot Don and knock-off of Robert Shaw’s Quint from Jaws) wrote his own dialogue for the “Indian story” of how a grizzly in the 1800s ate native Americans (Shaw wrote his own dialogue for Quint’s famous U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue).

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).

Will your kids want to watch it?
Your kids have probably never even heard of this film. But if your have curious pre-teens, I would keep it away from them.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Highly unlikely, unless you want to tag-team on shouting insults at the screen a la Mystery Science Theater 3000.

* Director: William Girdler
* Screenwriter: Harvey Flaxman & David Sheldon
* Stars: Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel, Joan McCall, Joe Dorsey
* MPAA Rating: PG (graphic violence, adult language and situations)

Buy this movie for less at >>


Gemma said...

Hmm...don't think I remember this flick. Did you actually watch in 1976? Guess we weren't the best quality control parents, if you did! :) Great comparison to Jaws, I'll be sure to look for the similarities (sp? doesn't look right) when we watch it. And we will!!

kindertrauma said...

Super-informative review! I'm a sucker for this one, you can't beat Christopher George!

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for taking the time to read my article about "Prophecy" at Kindertrauma. I would have responded there, but I'm waiting for my Word Press password to be emailed to me. Yes the stinking movie messed me up for life. Thank you mutant bears. But Grizzly is pretty fun. It should show up on TV more than it does. Great site, btw.

Unknown said...

This is a must see for me!


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