Peter’s Retro Rewind: Grizzly (1976)

March 11, 2013

Grizzly Movie PosterBy Peter Nielsen

One of the taglines for this movie was: “18 Feet of Towering Fury”, but let’s be real here folks, it’s not 18 feet.

It’s not even 15 feet like they say in the movie.

The bear used in Grizzly was actually 11 feet tall and was, at the time, the largest grizzly bear in captivity. The way the bear was filmed though, made it look bigger, but not that big. Could you even imagine meeting a bear of that size? I mean, a normal-sized grizzly could kill you fairly easy, but an 18 feet tall one? It could probably send you into next month with just a tiny flick of one of its claws.

In the movie, the bear is male, but it was actually a female. And, interestingly enough, the mother of the legendary “Bart the Bear”. Bart’s been in numerous movies, so I’m sure you’ve seen him at one point or another. I’ll give you a couple of examples: Legends of the Fall, The Edge, The Great Outdoors, Clan of the Cave Bear and the French movie L’Ours (The Bear). He sadly passed away of cancer in 2000 at the young age of 23.

Grizzly opens with some beautiful aerial shots of a vast national park. A couple of senators are given a tour of the park in a helicopter, and the pilot tells them the woods are mostly untouched and have been since the native Indians lived here. I’m not sure what this has to do with the rest of the movie, other than to show the lush landscape and maybe to introduce the pilot, played by Andrew Prine (he was in the original TV-show V). Prine returns later in the movie to help the Chief Ranger in the hunt for the elusive grizzly.

Wanna go for a ride in my helicopter?

Wanna go for a ride in my helicopter?

The music playing over the title sequence made me smile a little bit. It’s not because it’s bad. It’s not. It just doesn’t sound like the kind of music typically heard in this type of movie. It’s very reminiscent of the music used in the intros to those lovely soaps we used to watch in the 80’s. You know the ones I’m talking about… Dynasty and Falcon Crest for instance.

However, this movie is nothing like a soap because about 10 minutes in and… WHAM! We have our first flying bloody limb! It looks cheesy as hell, but hey, what do you want? It’s a mid-70s low budget horror flick.

What’s that? The plot?

Oh, the plot! You want to know about the plot? Ok, here goes…

Has anybody seen a huge bear around here

Has anybody seen a huge bear around here?

A large bear is terrorizing and killing campers at a national park. The park supervisor, Kittridge, played by Joe Dorsey (The Philadelphia Experiment, Brainstorm) is putting the blame on the Chief Ranger, Kelly, and the wild-life expert Scott, because they were supposed to have moved all the bears out of the area. Kelly is played by Christopher George (Chisum, The Exterminator) and Scott is played by Richard Jaeckel (Black Moon Rising, Starman).

Ranger Kelly wants the park closed, so they can safely kill the bear. But Kittridge refuses and more campers turn up dead. This of course attracts the media and the place is soon swarming with the press.

To show he’s indeed doing something about the whole situation, Kittridge invites a bunch of hunters to help exterminate the bear. But letting amateur hunters loose in a protected national forest is not a good idea, and Kelly is infuriated by this. Again, he confronts his boss, telling him to close the park and let them do their job. Kittridge refuses, of course. It’s only after a little kid and his mother are badly mauled that he finally succumbs to the reality of the situation and lets Kelly, aided by Scott and the aforementioned helicopter pilot, go after the bear.

I think one of the mannequins is missing an arm...

I think one of the mannequins is missing an arm…

And if you think all of this seems a bit familiar, you might be remembering a little summer film called Jaws, released about a year before Grizzly. From a plot point-of-view, the two movies are very similar. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that was intentional on the part of Grizzly’s makers.

Even though it’s a bit of a rip-off, doesn’t make it a bad movie. Well… not that bad! The acting isn’t bad, the scenery is beautiful, and there are enough intense scenes to make the viewing experience an enjoyable one. Two scenes that stand out are the bear attacking a fire look-out tower to get at a ranger, and the attack on the kid and his mother.

Other scenes, however, may leave you asking questions. For instance, if you’re a female park ranger and your feet hurt from too much walking, do you really need to strip down to your underwear to soak your feet in the stream?

O, Sooole Miiioooooo... I LOVE the opera!

O, Sooole Miiioooooo… I LOVE the opera!

The version I have on DVD is cleaned-up, so the movie itself looks great. There are also two small featurettes, one new and one from when they shot the movie. The quality on the older one is bad, but it’s still a fun watch.

The director, William Girdler (The Manitou, Project: Kill, Sheba Baby), talks about how hard the location shoots were, but it actually looks like they had fun shooting this movie. I love when these movies get this kind of treatment when they’re released on DVD, because it shows that there are people out there who actually love them, me being one of them.

Yup, I had a good time watching this one. I hope you’ll give it a chance, if you haven’t already seen it. You’ll at least get a few laughs out of it.

And if you do watch it, please be sure to come back and tell me all about what you thought in the comments section!

So, until next time my friends…

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