William Girdler, 1976
Starring: Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel
Grizzly is easily one of my favorite animals attack films and is certainly the best about a giant, rampaging bear, blowing Night of the Grizzly out of the water. And The Prophecy is about a mutant bear, so it doesn’t count. And this was directed by William Girdler, so what did you expect? An 18-foot Grizzly is killing and eating campers and hikers. Chief Ranger Michael Kelly and Allison, a photographer, locate the first two bodies, female hikers. A doctor reveals the women were killed by a bear, even though all bears were supposed to be relocated before camping/hiking season. Kelly moves all the campers to the safe, lower ground off the mountain, but more people are killed. Stober, a helicopter pilot, assists Kelly in his search for the bear. They encounter a naturalist, who claims the bear in question is an enormous prehistoric grizzly. A local businessman refuses to close the park, even though the body count is rising daily, and Kelly and Stober begin a desperate and dangerous hunt for the beast.
You want to know how they finally kill the bear? With a fucking bazooka, in what is surely the most incredible ending to any landlocked animal disaster film.
Grizzly is, of course, a rip off of Jaws. A lot of animal disaster films in the late ‘70s and ‘80s are, but Grizzly has the distinction of being a nearly shot for shot remake of the film, complete with a lot of the same characters. The charismatic Christopher George (Pieces) stars as Chief Ranger Kelly, whose role is similar to Police Chief Brody. His co-star, Andrew Prine (Simon, King of the Witches), plays a Vietnam vet and helicopter pilot, like Quint, a WWII vet and boat captain. There is also a naturalist, played by Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen and lots of westerns), as a stand-in for Richard Dreyfuss’s scientist character. (All three of these actors were previously in the western John Wayne-vehicle Chism.) Kelly also has a love interest, the annoying photographer, Allison (Joan McCall). And as in Jaws, actress and animal handler Susan Backlinie is the first hapless victim.
Though the humans give good performances and have surprisingly solid dialogue, the real stars of the film are the two bears used to play the titular grizzly. The first is Teddy, then the largest bear in captivity. Second is the mother of the greatest bear actor to grace the Earth, Bart the Bear. His mother also appeared in Girdler’s later Day of the Animals, with several other actors from Grizzly.
Typical of Girdler, a lot of locals were used in the production, which was filmed in the lovely woods of Georgia. The man knew how to make the most of a cheap production. Astonishingly, Grizzly was one of the most successful independent films of the year, bringing in $39 million at the box office. Unfortunately producer and writer Edward Montoro, head of Film Ventures International, took the money and ran. Girdler was forced to sue him, though they reunited for Day of the Animals.
Grizzly comes highly recommended. It's fun, cheesy and utterly delightful. The pace is quick and the monstrous, ravenous bear keeps things moving towards the insane conclusion. There’s a really nice, two-disc special edition DVD from Shriek Show, but it’s sadly out of print. There’s also a cheap version from DVD Ltd. Hopefully Shriek Show will consider re-releasing this on Blu-ray sometime soon. If you can believe it, someone tried to make a sequel, Grizzly II: The Predator, in 1983, but it was never finished or released (though apparently a print is circulating online). Hopefully one day it will get a proper release, considering it has an all-star cast: Charlie Sheen, Laura Dern, George Clooney, and more!