A lovely camping spot for youngsters gets terrorized by a big beast of a Grizzly. Five people are dead when the Park Ranger starts a hunt for it, meanwhile local hunters are doing the same thing. Together with a wildlife expert and a pilot the Park Ranger takes it upon himself to take the bear down.
My history with "Grizzly" has been talked about on Film Bizarro before, but I can't do a review of it without bringing it up again, can I? I originally watched this movie as a kid and during that period I watched it numerous times over at someone's house. It was an instant favorite next to "Silver Bullet" (both featuring hairy beasts, hmm). But after that brief period I just couldn't find the movie anywhere so it also became the first movie I spent years on trying to find. When my brother finally found a copy and bought it for me I was deeply disappointed by the movie itself but at least I had it. This was in 2004, I believe, and I haven't watched it since then. It was about time I went back to it now, and I must say I think it's much better this time. I suppose having high expectations the last time made it worse, and having low now made it better. Interesting.. Or not.
"Grizzly" was the first movie to surf on the "Jaws" wave so that people have been calling it a rip-off for years is justified. Not only because it is the first animal horror after "Jaws", but because there are plenty of similarities. The characters share personalities, the situation with a Park having to shut down, and there's even a story about a bunch of bears killing Indians (like the story Quint tells). Although the story in "Grizzly" was improvised by the actor, it definitely added to the rip-off effect. It is a rip-off in the ways that a movie on land about a bear can rip-off a shark movie. We're not gonna see a bear tail appearing from the ground and coming closer with the John Williams song playing, are we? The movie survives very well on its own. The movie wasn't specifically made to cash in on the success of "Jaws", but it was certainly a good time for them to make the movie. The movie was inspired by actual events that writer Harvey Flaxman had lived through as a kid. Not sure if he literally stood face-to-face to bear, but I think he was camping and heard rumors about bear attacks.
The bear they used was the largest trained Grizzly around at the time, although its definitely not "18 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror", the bear they used (Teddy) is still a large motherfucker. I prefer showing a too small of a bear than adding CGI effects. At least there are ways to trick the audience when using a real bear, meanwhile a movie with bad CGI (look at all the animal horror films of today!) will always take you out of the movie. It would've been cool to see more of their fake bear since it could do for some cool shots, but apparently that got soaked in the rain and looked terrible.
The acting is one of the stronger sides of this movie. Christopher George plays the manly-man-man that is Park Ranger Michael Kelly and does it perfectly - as he would. Andrew Prine (who I first thought was a young Sam McMurray) was just as good in his role as the pilot, and apparently improvised a lot (like the Indian story). Director William Girdler made another animal horror before he died in 1978, called "Day of the Animals", which I am looking forward to reviewing soon. He could've become a bigger name in the business, but he did manage to make a few films we still hear about today - "Three on a Meathook", "Grizzly" and "The Manitou".
"Grizzly" isn't REALLY a horror movie. I mean, there are great kills and some good gore, but it feels more like an adventure movie. I guess the music gave it that feeling (it sounded like it could've been from "Lassie Come Home"!) but since there are so many scenes in daylight with the bear being very open for the camera, it's hard to think of it as purely horror. But I will classify it as horror because back in the day I'm sure that's what it was - and it certainly was when I watched it as a kid. "Grizzly" is a good animal horror. It has some weak spots due to the obviously smaller bear they used but it doesn't weaken the movie enough to make it bad. It has some interesting kills (horse decapitation) and gore, but the movie is definitely more focused on the Park Ranger and his mates rather than the body count.