A pillaging bear wreaks havoc in a national park in GRIZZLY. This 1976 horror film earns a lot of comparisons to JAWS and for good reason, but there are some rare nuggets of entertainment in William Girdler’s endeavour.
The Harvey Flaxman and David Sheldon screenplay nails down all the basics for the genre, starting with a somewhat poignant bit of exposition about protecting national forests. This sets the stage for the humankind vs. nature milieu, as the massive grizzly bear is seen as a natural extension the passage of time.
The chief ranger (Christopher George) of a national park is charged with tracking down a menacing grizzly bear. Bodies are piling up, but the supervisor (Joe Dorsey) refuses to shut things down to properly fight off the threat. He blames his staff for the existence of the bear and tries to negotiate with reality. Sound familiar?
After the bear – and reality – force the issue with more death and destruction, the ranger and a naturalist (Richard Jaeckel) head out to confront the threat. This turns out to be more complicated than originally thought, as the bear is about 15 feet tall and weighs over 2,000 pounds. This gigantic Winnie the Pooh is apparently prehistoric.
Movies like GRIZZLY are pretty common and there’s little to really separate this from the herd, but there is some value in the escalating terror mounted by Girdler and cinematographer William L. Asman. The bear’s attacks get more graphic as time passes and some scenes are truly horrific, like when the animal assaults a boy and his mother.
Because GRIZZLY uses a real bear for much of the heavy lifting, the graphic violence takes a bit of work to capture. We see a bear’s big paw fly across the screen, then an object or body part or horse head drops in a splash of blood. The bear roars. People scream and flail. They die. Repeat. There aren’t many shots of the bear actually interacting with its environment.
One exception is when we learn just how smart this grizzly is, as it takes down a ranger station by pushing it over. At one point, the bear moves out of the way of rifle fire and carries on its business of taking down the tower to snack on the delectable tidbits within.
There’s not a lot to GRIZZLY, apart from the surging carnage of bear attacks. The good guys kind of strategize here and there and the ranger’s dealings with the selfish supervisor are indicative of any conversation in which a smart person is trying to convince a stupid person it’s a bad idea to risk lives for a few extra bucks. Sound familiar?