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Grizzly (1976)

Hoping to enjoy Grizzly (1976) more than I ever have, which hasn’t been much, I recently loaded the Blu-ray into the machine and leaned back in my recliner to watch it. For a little more than half the film, I had two thoughts. First, it was better than I remembered. Second, it’s not as much a Jaws rip-off as I remembered. Then came the rest of the film…


As director William Girdler tried to cleverly duplicate the pursuit of Bruce the shark on the ocean by propelling his camera after "Teddy" the bear in the woods, complete with a similarly rousing musical score, I made a note: “Come on! Let’s wrap this up.” At a certain point, the movie just started dragging for me, squandering any good will it made up to then.


The good will included a tight opening that gets into the action right away. There’s just enough about head ranger Michael Kelly’s backstory to give him some depth, but not so much that any forward momentum of the story is sacrificed. I liked that all the characters immediately acknowledge that a bear is killing campers. No time is wasted trying to convince anyone.


However, the type of bear and its motivations are a little more open to interpretation. This doesn’t matter for the fact that it’s going to keep killing. It matters for the fact that they don’t know where it’s going to keep killing. The debate revolves around how far down the mountain the characters think it’s going to come.


As easily as the rangers find mangled bodies, sometimes buried in shallow graves so the bear can return to finish its meal, you’d think they could more quickly track the bear. There’s no explanation why, once they’ve figured out its pattern, they can’t just go kill it. Well, there’s no on-screen explanation. There’s obviously a behind-the-scenes explanation: it’s a movie.


Holding a full reveal until later in the film, initial attacks of the bear are filmed with POV shots and a lot of growling. The kills are more graphic than I remembered. The bear (POV) approaches a victim, and an arm goes flying across the screen. Later, when the bear drops poor “little Bobby” on the ground, he’s missing a leg.


Still, there’s no tangible contact between a real bear and its victim, so the screenplay by Harvey Flaxman and David Sheldon depends upon colorful language to emphasize how dangerous it is. Claw marks high on a tree indicates its 15-feet tall (average is 7-feet) and weighs 2,000 pounds. Grizzlies, unlike regular bears, are also supposedly carnivores. “They sure do love meat!”


Grizzly isn’t bad; it has its charms. I was surprised to learn during my research that until Halloween broke all records two years later, Grizzly was the highest grossing independent film of all time. I wonder why there wasn’t a sequel. Well, there was. That’s a story for another day. How about tomorrow? Come back then for Grizzly II: Revenge


Written by Harvey Flaxman & David Sheldon

Directed by William Girdler

Starring Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel, Joan McCall, Joe Dorsey

RT 91 min.

Released May 21, 1976

Home Video Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)

Rating 6 possessed children (out of 10)

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