“Kelly, you're a maverick. We don't have room for mavericks!” – Charley
Let’s keep with the theme of Jaws rip-offs that followed in its wake (see what I did there?) and take a look at a film that can only be described as Jaws on land. Yes, that’s completely accurate – Grizzly is basically Jaws in a National Park. It even follows many of the same story beats and the same character types are here, though to be completely fair, I need to point out that Jaws was an original. Grizzly on the other hand tumbles catastrophically into an unintentionally hilarious cliché from it’s opening scenes.
I saw this at the cinema back when it was released in 1976, or it might have been ’77 when it reached the outer regions. But anyway, I saw it and had been looking forward to seeing it. I had read the film novelisation beforehand (remember those?). I remember clearly my mid-teen self being very impressed with what I saw – but my horror movie intake back then was limited to TV screenings and whatever they showed at the local fleapits. Then, I didn’t see the film again until last year when it was released on Blu-ray. The years haven’t been kind – and maybe I remembered the film being a bit better and more dramatic. Maybe I’m just jaded.
Simply put, there’s a huge bear on the loose in a National Park. A lot of the time we see events from the bear’s point of view (there’s a sure sign of a Jaws rip-off right there) sometimes, it’s the bear’s paw we see tearing away at a hapless victim (a lot of the film’s supporting cast were just locals, again mirroring Jaws) but sadly the colour of the fake paw and the colour of the actual bear are completely different. The bear is brown, and the fake paw is black. (Gooood grief).
The height of the bear is different throughout the film. They SAY he’s between fifteen and eighteen feet tall, and at times, there’s an old camera trick used that gives a false illusion of height by having the camera low on the ground, looking up at the bear. At no time is the bear in the same frame as any actor, but when we see him close to a helicopter, we can see that he’s really around eleven feet tall on his hind legs. There was no animatronic bear, and of course this was a good couple of decades before CGI. (Okay, it’s a blessing they never went with a guy in a bear suit, I admit)
A real bear was used – a Kodiak bear named Teddy. (Seriously, I kid you not) He was the largest bear in captivity at the time. Now, Teddy didn’t growl, but of course they needed this big, bad grizzly to snarl, growl and roar. But Teddy couldn’t. The trick they used was to show him a marshmallow (his favourite treat) so he’d open his mouth and then they’d throw it to him. (Teddy, incidentally is the best actor in the film, and we’re not holding the fact he wasn’t eighteen feet tall against him. Great job, Teddy.)
It’s late in the season, and this un-named National Park has several campers and hikers on site. Two female campers are packing up to head down before nightfall when they’re attacked by something very large – one is torn to shreds beginning with a fake severed arm tossed carelessly across the camera’s point of view – but the stand-in dummy for her corpse ages her by about thirty years, while the other (unaccountably smeared in mud and blood) runs to a shack and hides in there. (If I’ve learned ANYTHING from horror movies, it’s to NEVER hide in a forest shack. It never ends well). She doesn’t hide for long, as the mighty paw crashes through the flimsy wall.
There’s a killer bear on the loose and our square jawed ranger hero, Kelly (Christopher George) is on the case. Heroically defying authority and flirting with love interest Joan (Allison Corwin) in the face of deadly danger and dismemberment, while lighting up yet another cigarette. He’s perfectly groomed throughout the film, never a hair out of place and never needing to shave that anatomically perfect square jaw.
The deaths mount up – the body count includes a female ranger who, while tracking down this monstrously large two-thousand-pound meat eater, decides to strip off and go for a dip under a waterfall. (Yep, the writing on this film is really THAT dumb) and a small child, though he might not count as he only loses a leg but his mother is torn to shreds. (As Kelly says; “poor li’l bastard”).
Of course, Kelly’s boss, assuming the role of the mayor in Jaws wants the park kept open regardless, but it comes to the point that the bear attacks a woman in a tent on the base campsite. Just how eighteen feet tall, 2000lb can move around as stealthily as a ninja and escape as quickly as the Flash is never explained. But it’s time for our trio of Chief Brody, Quint and Hooper stand-ins to swing into action. Kelly’s back up here are tracker Scott (Richard Jaeckel) and chopper pilot/guide Stober (Andrew Prine) who happens to be a Vietnam vet and carries a range of assault rifles with him in his helicopter. He’s the one who tells Grizzly’s shameless imitation of Quint’s USS Indianapolis story from Jaws.
Well, Scott isn’t much of a tracker – the bear catches him unaware in broad daylight, even though he was shown to be able to track the beast at night with no light source earlier. One swipe of a mighty black bear claw and Scott’s poor horse is beheaded. (Cue a hilarious dummy horse head with a suitably startled expression sailing across the camera lens, cut to stunt horse falling on its side with its head clearly still attached).
Too late to rescue Scott, whom the bear buries for later on, Kelly and Stober land the chopper and take on the beast. While Stober is torn limb from limb, Kelly uses a bazooka that Stober thoughtfully packed to finally dispatch the renegade bear.
It’s not often, I guess that tour guides pack bazookas. But then, it’s not often you see a bazooka shot from the hip rather than the shoulder. But Kelly’s that kinda man. And this is that kinda film.
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