dvd review: GRIZZLY

grizzly2Welcome to the first in a series of reviews I’ve been threatening to do for many years, but am just now getting around to doing. This is where I take a movie that I saw in my youth—yet have not seen since—and then write some semblance of a review based on what I remember from my childhood. After that, I will rewatch the movie, and write a review based on my thoughts after seeing it for the first time as an adult. I’m not sure why I’m doing this, other than it seems like an interesting experiment (at least for now).

THEN: Grizzly came out in 1976, a year after Jaws, which for a variety of reasons I never got to see when it first came out. For one thing, my mom thought I was too young to see Jaws, which was probably true. And just so I’m not laying all the blame on my mom, I was too scared to go see Jaws when it came out in 1975. But when Grizzly came out a year later, I was obsessed with it. The commercials terrified the crap out of me, but I was convinced that while a killer shark movie may have been too scary for me a year earlier, I had grown up enough to handle a killer bear movie. All I had to do was get someone to take me, because my mom sure as hell wouldn’t do it.

Somehow—and to this day I’m not sure how I did it—I managed to convince my Uncle Thomas to take me to see Grizzly. And as you might imagine, the movie scared the living hell out of me. I spent much of the movie with my eyes closed, actually hid under the seat at one point, and eventually begged Uncle Thomas to take me home before the movie was over. I was so traumatized that I slept with the light on, and got rid of my favorite teddy bear.

I have very few memories of Grizzly, and what I do remember may not actually be in the movie. I recall a scene where a woman is chased by the bear, and then her arm is ripped off. While she is being chased, I think she trips and falls into a pool of blood. I also remember a scene where the body of a woman is found hidden in a cabin, like the bear hid it there to eat it later. There is a scene with a woman taking a shower in a waterfall, and the bear attacks her and the water turns red with blood. And finally, I remember a scene with a little boy, and I think he gets eaten by the bear. Beyond these few memories, I don’t remember a single thing other than the fact that Grizzly was the most terrifying movie I ever saw in my life.

NOW: The first thing I have to say is that I was expecting to be embarrassed by the fact that I couldn’t watch Grizzly all the way through. But the fact of the matter is that I was not quite eight years old when the film came out, and even though the special effects are pretty lame, Grizzly was pretty bloody for being PG (and I was only seven at the time). Objectively looking at the movie now, and remembering what a pussy I was back then, I can see how the movie scared me thirty-three years ago. Up until that point, the scariest movies I had seen were the old Universal monster movies that I’d seen on television, and I certainly had never seen anything that gory before.

When I was seven, it was impossible for me to get through Grizzly because it was too terrifying and too gut-churningly gross. A lifetime later, it was almost impossible to get through because it is such a really-not-that-good movie. Essentially a rip-off of Jaws, and by “essentially” I mean “almost completely,” Grizzly finds a ravenous grizzly bear terrorizing a state park. The movie starts out painfully slow with a ridiculously inappropriate musical score that has no place in a film of this nature, and after about ten minutes that feel more like an hour, the bear attacks two female campers in one of the scenes I remembered most vividly. One of the women has her arm ripped off—more laughable than traumatic this time around—and the other is chased, only to be killed while she hides in a cabin. When the campers don’t check in at the rangers station, a search party led by park ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George), sets out to find the missing women. Kelly finds the remains of one of them in the cabin (another scene I remember), and his love interest (Joan McCall in a pointless role if there ever was one), trips and falls into a pool of blood (not quite how I remembered it, but still partially emblazoned in my brain after all these years).

With two dead campers, Michael Kelly wants to declare an emergency, but the douchebag who runs the park thinks it will be bad for business, and he wants to keep the park open. Does any of this sound familiar? It should, because it’s the plot of Jaws, with George’s park ranger replacing Roy Scheider’s town sheriff. Kelly goes after the bear, aided by helicopter pilot/Vietnam vet Don Stober (Andrew Prine in the Robert Shaw role) and nature expert Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel in the Richard Dreyfuss role), while the bear manages to devour a female park ranger taking a shower in a waterfall (bonus points for me for remembering this scene as well), kills a second ranger in a scene of ridiculous stupidity, and manages to lay waste to another camper and a bear cub being used by hunters as bait. Things come to a head when the bear attacks a little boy, tearing off his leg, and then killing the boy’s mother who attacks the creature with a broom. All of this takes place in the about the first hour, which means I was able to sit through most of this crap when I was a kid. What I missed all those years ago was the bear killing a horse, followed by two of our three heroes, only to be blown up by Kelly, who uses a rocket launcher to dispose of the beast.

Grizzly was directed by schlock auteur William Girdler, a filmmaker responsible for such grindhouse classics as Three on a Meathook, Day of the Animals, and the triple dose of blaxploitation badassness Abby, Zebra Killer and Sheba Baby. Girdler met an untimely demise at the age of thirty, when he was killed in a helicopter crash, but not before churning out a list of films destined for cult status, including Grizzly. Of course, just because Grizzly has a cult following of loyal fans, it doesn’t exactly make it a great film (let’s face it, Three on a Meathook has a fan base, and that movie sucks). There are moments in Grizzly that are directed with a certain level of style, but by and large this is low budget filmmaking hampered by equally low budget production values. The script seldom deviates from the plot of Jaws, with several key scenes simply transplanted to dry land with a bear and little regard for copyright infringement. The sequences shot from the bear’s point of view that seemed so scary in 1976 are especially laughable in conjunction with the sound of the bear breathing—which sounds more like an asthmatic old man grumbling to himself—and the blood and guts that made me want to vomit back in the day are now pathetically fake.

When all is said and done, Grizzly is a schlock movie that left a major impression on me as a kid, so much so that I’ve thought about it for decades. Sadly, it was far better in my memory than it was in reality (but isn’t that how it is with most things?), and though I’m not really embarrassed that the kid in me was terrified by the movie, I am somewhat ashamed of the adult in me that felt the need to rewatch this silly film.

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