Grizzly (1976)

MAY 19, 2021

GENRE: PREDATOR
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

When Severin announced they were releasing Day of the Animals and Grizzly on special edition Blu-ray, I was stoked for an excuse to watch them again. But as it turns out, I had never actually seen the latter film; in my head I had caught it at the New Beverly in the pre-HMAD days, but unless my memory is even worse than expected, I just combined my memories of Day of the Animals, Prophecy, and whatever else I caught before it was all documented (via this very site) to form some kind of recollection of seeing the film. What a delight to finally actually see it and discover it was better than my "memory"! I thought it was just OK, but no, it's pretty fun!

Now, longtime readers know I occasionally am convinced I didn't see something only to discover I did (in at least one case, I even reviewed it again), but I'm confident that this isn't another of those fried brain cell moments, because a. the lead actress in the movie kind of resembles my mother-in-law, which is the sort of thing that would stick out in my mind forever, and b. the movie has one of the most graphic child attacks this side of Assault on Precinct 13, as the titular bear grabs the kid, squeezes and snarls at him a bunch, and then tosses him to the side, somehow sans his leg even though the attack never suggested anything like that. He then eats the kid's mom for good measure, and while it's not "funny" per se, it's the kind of thing that would have sent the New Bev crowd into a fever pitch.

No, this was my virgin experience with William Girdler's infamous Jaws ripoff, and I was 100% delighted with it. Knowing exactly what I was in for probably helped, as did recently suffering through a pretty bad shark movie (Deep Blood), so it was like the movie gods wanted to set things right by sending this down with the message "THIS. THIS is how you rip off Jaws!" That said, I was kind of surprised that there was no town event; the "close the beaches" plot is pretty flimsy and doesn't even really seem to matter much, as the mayor simply doesn't want to close the park, but the bear is often attacking isolated people (and at one point, leaves the park entirely), so there's no potential smorgasboard or anything. At one point he attacks a camper who is near a bunch of others, but doesn't even bother going after the guy with her sitting a few feet away, let alone anyone else.

But what it lacks in that department, it makes up for in characters, as they are pretty much identical to their Jaws counterparts; hell, the "Hooper" standin (Scott, played by Richard Jaeckel) even wears the same outfit. Andrew Prine more or less fills Quint's role; he's mostly just the guy flying the chopper around while hero Christopher George (a ranger, not a sheriff - very different!) looks for the bear, but he's got some hunter skills and even has a little monologue about bears attacking a tribe of Indigenous people (he, naturally since this is 1976, uses the term "Indians"). They even ditch "Brody's wife" halfway through like Jaws did; George has a love interest played by Joan McCall, a photographer who wants to tag along when they head out into the oc- er, woods to find the bear, but George won't let her come along and that's pretty much that. She only appears in the background of another scene, a weird decision since they establish her as a bit of a take-no-shit woman, so you'd think she wouldn't listen to George and end up in danger anyway (or, if such a thing would fly in the '70s, saving the men/day), but nope. She listens to him and stays home, because that's what Mrs. Brody did and doing something else would mean coming up with new ideas. I love it!

It also has a much hungrier antagonist than Jaws; in fact I was kind of shocked to discover this was a PG movie, as it's pretty graphic at times and even has some brief nudity, which would suggest an R even in these more lenient times of the MPAA. I actually kind of get how Tobe Hooper and co. thought they could get a PG on Chain Saw, since this movie is gorier and has nearly double the body count and managed to score the softer rating. Oh, you wacky MPAA board! So don't be fooled by the PG into thinking that the big guy only gets a few kills; I think he racks up a total of nine in the movie, and they come along at a steady clip, so the movie is rarely dull. Apart from some of the romantic stuff between George and McCall (which is sweet in its way, kind of a precursor to the gold standard set in Alligator) the movie is either scenes of the bear attacking, scenes of our heroes looking for it, or scenes of George snarling at the mayor, who is occasionally reasonable but then switches gears in between lines. Like at one point George says he wants to close off half the park, and the guy is fine with it, but then ten seconds later they're screaming at each other about something else. As a fan of George (particularly his snarling), it offered a number of wonderful moments, particularly an "Up yours!" that got me wondering why that phrase went out of vogue.

Severin's Blu-ray is pretty packed, with two lengthy looks at the career of Girdler (who only made two more movies before he was killed in a chopper crash), two commentary tracks, and a handful of other interviews and archival featurettes (one of which seems to have been assembled for a previous DVD release). Of the two commentaries, the one with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson is the better; they offer the usual biographical info and some "state of cinema then" context along with good natured jabs at some of the movie's sillier moments (and naturally, elements lifted from Jaws), making it engaging and far from pretentious. The other track, by McCall and producer David Sheldon (the two are married) has a number of good anecdotes as well, but they also fall silent on occasion, and Sheldon frequently says he or the other producer actually directed this or that scene, which may be true but kind of feels disrespectful to Girdler at times. So if you only have time for one, stick with Howarth and Thompson's.

The other pieces are all enjoyable, particularly Stephen Thrower's look at Girdler's career as he walks through all of the films he made, spending equal time on each. The other one, with Girdler's longtime business partner, dwells on the earlier ones more then races through the others (Manitou is barely even mentioned at all) as the two of them were no longer working as closely in the latter part of the director's career. I should note if you go through this stuff you're going to hear about Girdler's death at least four times, so if you have a fear of flying this won't help in the slightest. One archival piece features some terrific behind the scenes footage of the crew working with the bear, so that one is definitely worth a look for anyone who thought it made have all been faked with stock footage or something.

Day of the Animals might be a slightly better movie thanks to its ensemble cast and varied antagonists, giving it a little more pizazz, but considering this one's mercenary origins and low budget, I found it to be better than expected. But it wasn't all smiles; as I watched the bonus features and kept seeing the same scenes over and over, I couldn't help but think how fun it would have been to see this sort of thing at the drive-in last summer when I was going all the time. Now that theaters are reopening there's really no need to keep driving all the way out there (especially since their programming has been fairly terrible for the last few months, holding the same movies there endlessly instead of changing it up), so I lament that Beyond Fest was the only outlet really taking advantage of the renewed interest in the venue with repertory programming. And even their selections weren't always exactly "drive-in" fare - I mean, Silence of the Lambs is a Best Picture winner! Hopefully, now that no one needs to go to the drive-in for their big screen entertainment, the programmers opt to dedicate at least one of their four screens to B-movie junk that isn't playing at the AMCs and Regals. Hell even if they were just projecting this very same Blu-ray, it'd be worth the drive in my opinion.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. My parents took us kids to a showing at a drive-in, and I distinctly remember cowering behind the driver’s seat as the bear repeatedly mauled someone who tried to “play dead”. For years afterward I was terrified of every night noise while camping, convinced that a bear was going to eat me!

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