|Harvey Flaxman and David Sheldon
|Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel, Joan McCall, Joe Dorsey, Charles Kissinger and Tom Arcuragi
“He doesn‘t seem to understand that we‘re dealing with a highly intelligent beast” – Arthur
A 15 ft and 3000 lb grizzly bear is on a murderous rampage in a national state park and park ranger Michael (George), helicopter pilot Don (Prine) and naturalist Arthur (Jaeckel) go hunting for the beast.
Dubbed “Jaws with Claws” when it was released; “Grizzly” is not exactly original. I think every reviewer who’s covered the film has pointed out it’s unabashed similarity with “Jaws” (1975) and of course “Grizzly” is a rip-off of that classic film. But on it’s own lo-fi terms it’s a terrific B-movie that still entertains to this day.
The 70’s were a fertile period for nature based horror and “Jaws” is the only film (I can think of) that took the sub-genre to prestigious heights. “Grizzly” lines up alongside numerous other films that fall squarely in the B category with limited aspirations other than basic storytelling and grizzly (pun intended) set-pieces. In that regard the film succeeds and even goes a little beyond. Technically it‘s quite well accomplished especially when considering it‘s limitations and low-budget.
Director Girdler was already a veteran of several indie and low-budget films at the age of 28-29 when he made “Grizzly” and his enthusiasm and drive is widely credited as a notch above other similar directors and is probably the X-Factor in what powered on his success here. The film is definitely a little rough around the edges in some areas; namely in regards to the supporting cast who might have needed some direction but evidently Girdler didn’t pay much attention to actors. As a consequence some scenes come off absurdly stiff and, frankly, artificial and thanks to the rather poor script by Flaxman and Sheldon the dire dialogue does little to assert authority in dramatic scenes and outbursts. One other thing that also bothers me here is the inappropriate music score credited to Robert O. Ragland who delivers a rousing orchestral score that’s so out of touch with what’s going on on-screen. I’m betting that an older and a little more experienced Girdler would have greatly smoothed out some of these shortcomings.
But practically everything else in “Grizzly” is top notch. Girdler chose his three leads well and their chemistry shines. George was never a great thespian but always extremely likeable and his rugged good looks and demeanour carried him through even when his acting chops weren’t up to scratch. He’s saddled with rather poor lines here but he makes do with them. Same goes with Prine and Jaeckel who had a ton of credits before “Grizzly”; solid professionals that deliver decent performances and find something to give their characters that little bit of…well…character. Incidentally Prine got all the best lines here and Jaeckel all the clichés and they sell them well.
Set-pieces are well handled and realized. Mostly we’re talking about POV photography and a giant bear’s claw that does most of the on-screen damage but the mayhem is rather gruesome and bloody. Girdler also builds up a decent amount of suspense; especially in a memorable night time sequence that’s pulled off well. It’s also rather nasty and makes sure the bear is one scary foe that does big damage to folks; young and old. There is a large real life bear used for some sequences, especially near the end, and it works fairly well. The cinematography by William Asman deserves praise as well as “Grizzly” is a very well lensed film with impressive scope photography.
Girdler sadly passed away at the age of 30 early in 1978. “Grizzly” stands out in his filmography as the most successful film he did and it’s quite an achievement he managed to make it as good as he did. He certainly had the drive and the know-how to make films on a tight budget and deliver good work. Undoubtedly he would have refined his skills even more and polished what was a bit rough in his work but he left behind a chunk of interesting films in his short life. “Day of the Animals” (1977) is my personal favourite of his and I mean to cover that film for my blog shortly. And I’m still hoping that “Abby” (1974), Girdler’s blacksploitation rip-off of “The Exorcist” (1973) will get a legitimate release but that one was taken out of circulation after a legal dispute.