This blog was authored by Steven
You know Jaws, right? Huge shark, ominous music, necessity for a bigger boat? Grizzly is like that. That’s almost certainly the intended effect, since it came out just one year later in 1976. Here, too, is the general public terrorized by a killer animal on the loose, only now the woods are the problem rather than the water. The results are much more violent, too, with director William Girdler filming the gory (grisly?) details in a more lingering, lurid fashion (though apparently not to a degree that was exempt from a PG rating at the time), hapless campers and unfortunate rangers running afoul of a giant angry bear.
We spend long stretches of the film without seeing that bear straight on, instead inhabiting its point of view hidden in the bush set to a soundtrack of growling and heavy breathing. The camera will cut to the prospective victim for a bit and then an animatronic bear arm will break through the wall of a wooden shack or swipe behind a waterfall; what would have, in another movie, been the knife of a killer is now the equivalent of several knives protruding from a mound of fur (“18 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror,” the box art helpfully explains).
The only men for the job are three men quite a lot like the three men in Jaws: a square-jawed forest ranger compelled to do what’s right, an over-eager naturalist who explains the animal behavior, and a helicopter pilot who fills the role of the faintly terrifying expert who gives the intense mid-movie monologue. Their primary obstacle—beyond, of course, the vastness of the forest and the vicious, hairy manifestation of nature’s vengeance that lurks within—is an authority figure with his own agenda, the park supervisor.
I am in no position to deny the inherent rush from either the intense bear attacks or the scenes of leathery 70s guys snarling at each other through their smokers’ voices. If these things sound appealing to you, Grizzly has them. Even the blatant Jaws template works out okay, the switch in location enough to feel at least reasonably distinct. But I had hoped, I think, for something a little more out there, a little more willing to stretch the premise to an absurd extreme; in that regard, Grizzly is, I am sorry to report, no Mosquito. It does, at least, get halfway there eventually, once the requisite setup is finished and we’ve graduated to scenes where the bear jostles a lookout tower and the pilot brandishes his rifle like a club. And they did film a real bear for later in the film, though in close-ups he appears more adorably curious than he appears to be in a flesh-eating frenzy.
Overall rating: C+