Color, 1976, 90m.
Directed by William Girdler
Starring Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel, Joan McCall
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Media Blasters (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
One of the first and most successful Jaws rip-offs, Grizzly is remembered far more today as the box office high point for beloved drive-in staple William Girdler, the endearing genius who assaulted the world with The Manitou and Three on a Meathook. Here goes all-out for mainstream acceptance with a bloody, sexy, fast-paced action/horror concoction shot in panoramic scope and featuring the best talent the meager budget could afford.
The familiar storyline kicks off with a string of vicious grizzly bear attacks on young female campers (ain't it always?) at Yellowstone National Park. Chief ranger Michael Kelly (George) aims to stop the furry menace with the aid of resourceful chopper pilot Don Strober (Prine) and great white hunter Arthur Scott (Jaeckel), though the powers-that-be (concerned about keeping the campers coming at the height of tourist season, natch) throw numerous obstacles in the trio's path before their final confrontation with the clawed one.
Barely concerned with character development or anything resembling an unusual plot turn, Grizzly strips down the shock-ride tactics of its Spielberg model to even more primitive basics. The camper kill scenes are staged with plenty of verve, though the sight of obviously fake, giant paws swatting at the expendable supporting cast can be unintentionally hilarious in a certain frame of mind. On the other hand, Girdler also manages to pull on the blood to a surprising degree for a PG-rated film, though this was tagged with one of those "May be too intense for younger viewers" warnings that became all the rage during the late '70s when the MPAA was persuaded to avoid handing out R ratings. However, unlike its aquatic inspiration, Grizzly doesn't keep the nasty fates of its child actors discreetly off-camera; instead, one cute moppet gets it in a red-spattered sequence so intense it gave entire generations of younger drive-in attendees nightmares. On the other hand, the trained bears (one of them used again to brief but memorable effect in Girdler's unofficial semi-sequel, Day of the Animals) are a little too cute to inspire stark fear in the climax; their lip-curling antics seem more appropriate to a Disney film, and the rocket-launcher climax is a wonderfully ridiculous high point in nature-amuck cinema.
Poorly served for years via washed-out, horrendously cropped transfers (including a prior cheapie edition on DVD), Grizzly finally got its due in 2006 courtesy of Media Blasters in a two-disc(!) special edition. The original widescreen dimensions are finally preserved (though Girdler rarely makes inventive use of the framing), and viewers only familiar with TV prints will enjoy all the extra nastiness on display. (Even stronger footage was reportedly shot for international markets but has yet to surface on home video, if it even exists.) The feature includes a commentary track with producer/writer David Sheldon and actress Joan McCall, both of whom seem to recall the film very well and talk about the contributions of everyone involved in affectionate detail. The commentary tends to veer all over the place at times, but the stories contained within are worth hearing. The other major extras include a lackluster early '80s video trailer, a much better behind-the-scenes featurette prepared for the film's theatrical release (complete with priceless Girdler interview footage), and a new featurette ("Jaws with Claws") with Sheldon, McCall, Prine, and co-producer/writer Harvey Flaxman running through the film's history from origin to release with a focus on Girdler and the film's remarkable distribution tales. In addition to the two featurettes, the second disc also houses a photo gallery, video footage of an L.A. theatrical revival, some fun radio spots, and promos for other Shriek Show horror releases.
Nine years later, Scorpion Releasing issued the film on Blu-ray as an exclusive, limited 3,000-unit edition via Screen Archives (though a DVD reissue for the general public is also available through them via Kino Lorber). As with their edition of Spasmo, the Blu-ray features both a raw HD scan (with plentiful grain, some fluctuations in a handful of darker scenes, and a pretty gritty, harsh overall veneer) and a "filtered" option softening out the grain, though it doesn't go into extreme waxy territory either. Your mileage may vary so try 'em both, but also be advised that the film was also shot with an odd visual approach in some shots with large areas of the frame going out of focus or, in the case of a handful of medium shots, losing focus a bit altogether (such as the first afternoon scene in the park office). The frame grabs in this review are from the unfiltered version, but you can see the same shots from the filtered one by clicking here, here, here, here, and here. The English audio can be played with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix or an alternate music and effects track. The only extra ported over from the prior release is the "Jaws with Claws" featurette, while the rest of the bonus material consists of the (real) theatrical trailer, a lively "Katarina's Fun Facts" segment with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters fending off a big teddy bear and sharing facts about the cast and crew, and a 12-minute Q&A at the New Beverly in Los Angeles with Prine and Sheldon swapping stories about shooting their beloved fur fest.
Updated review on November 25, 2015