Scorpion Releasing: Grizzly (1976) - Reviewed

Before achieving cult infamy with his bizarre and psychedelic 1978 horror film The Manitou, director William Girdler was known as the guy who ripped off of The Exorcist with Abby before going on to rip off of Jaws with the killer bear film Grizzly.  Girdler’s most successful project of his short-lived career, Grizzly was a simple and direct animal attack exploitation flick about a giant wild grizzly bear terrorizing the residents of a national park.  Borne out of writer-producer Harvey Flaxman’s own encounter with a wild bear during a camping trip and coasting on the crest wave of Jaws’ success, the film concerns a park ranger named Michael (Christopher George) who joins forces with two hunters, Don (Andrew Prine) and naturalist Arthur (Richard Jaeckel) in an effort to track down and subdue the bear. 

Replete with a similar string of animal attacks from the nude girl to the young boy with a middle aged mother as well as a corrupt park supervisor keen on keeping the park open for business against the wishes of the chief park ranger, the only thing differentiating this from Jaws is that it’s a bear instead of a shark this time.  Even the score by Robert O. Ragland blatantly imitates John Williams’ original score for Jaws, right down to the soaring adventurous chase music though to be fair the recording performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra is quite good.  Also, there are some close ups of the bear lunging for the camera that look curiously like a guy in a furry costume.  Christopher George is mostly fine in the lead role though when he and Joe Dorsey spar he comes pretty close to achieving Charlton Heston levels of overacting.
Much like Jaws, this PG rated flick gets away with murder literally and figuratively.  Within the opening minutes, we’re treated to limbs being hacked off by the bear which fly across the panoramic widescreen.  Fairly bloody too with one female character falling hands first into a pool of blood left behind from a recent kill.  Unlike Jaws which only hinted at its animal attacks on children, Grizzly startlingly goes for the jugular with a young child’s arm casually torn off though the film’s occasional shocks are offset by phony looking bear paws ripping off a horse’s head with one swipe.  All things considered, this very obviously R rated film came out at a time when softer ratings were granted to such fare.
Despite opening to almost entirely negative reviews, up until Halloween in 1978 Grizzly held the record for most successful independent film production of all time.  Costing a mere $750,000, the film went on to earn $39 million worldwide though the filmmakers had to sue the distributor for trying to pocket all the profits.  Not long thereafter, Girdler would reunite with George on the animal attack epic Day of the Animals before directing his final film with the utterly insane The Manitou.  

Further still, Grizzly spawned a sequel which began shooting in 1983 but was never officially completed until 2020.  As it stands, Grizzly is one of the more serviceable Jaws knockoffs, a B movie with a little engine that could.  Yes the film is hokey and an obvious clone of Spielberg’s epic and the grand finale is completely absurd but as a killer animal movie from the guy who would eventually make one of the weirdest horror films in cinema history, Grizzly gets the job done.

--Andrew Kotwicki