I know, I know. I said I wasn’t going back into the Amazon Prime Dungeon, but I’m a sucker for bear movies and Jaws rip-offs. Smush ’em together like a PB&J sandwich and I’m sold. Well, more like a stale PB&J sandwich with some sawdust in it, but then you trick your friend into taking the first bite and it’s hysterical watching him nearly choke to death. Well, Grizzly is kind of like that. So let’s check it out, shall we?
The IMDB trivia page says that the original idea for Grizzly came when writer Harvey Flaxman saw a grizzly bear on a camping trip and thought it would make for a great movie. Sure you did, Flaxman. I mean, everybody on a camping trip says, “Hey, a scary bear would be great in a great horror movie.” But maybe the fact that Jaws was the highest grossing movie of all time the previous year was a bigger inspiration? In true Jaws rip-off fashion, every single plot point from that movie has a much cheaper and crappier variation here. From the initial attack of two random girls in the woods to a horrible campfire story about a shark – I mean bear – massacre, to the evil Manager refusing to shut the park down after multiple people have been gruesomely eaten.
So this is basically Jaws with lunch-pail and hard hat character actors Christopher George, Andrew Prine, and Richard Jaeckal standing in for Mssrs. Scheider, Dreyfuss, and Shaw. The producers couldn’t afford a boat, so we get a campfire in some public parklands. I love the 70s, where this and Jaws are both rated PG despite both featuring girl skinny dippings and decapitated limbs. I guess that’s okay for kids to watch. Maybe it’s because this movie isn’t the least bit scary that the censors said, “Screw it, nobody will want to see it anyways.”
The plot follows that there’s a National Park and a bear starts eating hikers. And then Not-Roy Scheider and Not-Richard Dreyfuss wander around the woods ineffectually hoping to stumble across the bear, which Spoiler Alert, they eventually do, after several grizzly gnawings and slashings, of course.
Working in the movie’s favor is the bear attack make-up is pretty gruesome and they don’t cheap out on the number of maulings (because there is nothing else going on in this movie otherwise.) Working against it is the fact that nothing is going on outside of the bear attacks. There is no intrigue or personal stakes. The evil Manager threatens to fire Not-Roy Scheider, but I’m not sure how a man-eating bear is anybody’s fault, especially the Head Park Ranger. It’s his job to rescue lost hikers and prevent forest fires. It was Nature that gave the bear the taste for sweet human flesh and the hikers offered up a couple dozen opportunities to feed his hunger.
Also work against the credibility of the movie is the fact that this is supposed to be an 18-foot tall, 2000 pound Horror Bear. I call bull-pucky on that one. The largest bear in the world is 1,200 pounds. And seriously, if the movie was better shot, does it matter if the bear is 6 feet tall or 18 feet? It should scare the crap out of you, which it doesn’t.
And depending on your point of view, the laughably bad dialogue either helps or hurts the movie. I’m in the “helps” column because the Flaxman script is good for a howler every 10 minutes or so.
Some of my favorite lines are as follows:
Christopher George is asked, “What the hell happened up there?”
George: “One of the bears got lonesome and came down for a little action.”
Other Guy: “That’s not funny.”
George: “Not supposed to be.”
Actually yes, it was supposed to be funny, jerk-off. If it wasn’t, you would’ve said, “A psycho bear is on the loose eating people,” not insinuating that it’s looking for a one night stand.
Then later he tells some people that the two girls from the opening attack were “eaten to the bone.” Except they weren’t. Sure, one was decapitated, but we discovered them mostly intact, covered in strawberry jam colored 1970’s blood. If they were in fact “eaten to the bone,” the Horror Bear would’ve nibbled on the squishy bits, like the face and organs, and all that’s left would be, you know, bones. Not just actors holding their breaths pretending to be dead.
Another hilarious scene is when a female Park Ranger decides “I’m going to soak my feet in the stream” while waiting for a male ranger to get back. Because usually when I’m in pursuit of a man-eating bear, I decide that the alpine snow-melt waterfall will be nice and refreshing, and not bone-chilling and potentially lethal. So naturally, she strips down to her skivvies and wanders behind the waterfall. Never mind that she didn’t bring a towel, so she will likely freeze in her wet clothes during the 5-10 mile hike back to the Ranger Station. But yeah, go for it, girl. Needless to say, she’s grabbed by a fake-ass bear paw and the waterfall runs red with her blood. Totally not stolen from Jaws. It was at this point that I started to enjoy this really shoddy, tacky “thriller.”
An even funnier scene occurs later when a little boy is playing with a rabbit in his yard. This being a crappy horror movie, the bear can move unseen and appear in places you just left moments earlier. The teleporting bear effect is probably due to the fact that none of the bears appear anywhere near a human actor. The only surprise in the scene is how brutal and horribly the young boy is offed by the bear. Had me cracking up, but I guess I’m sick like that.
The film-makers are mostly doing that coy “We’re not going to show you the monster” trick that Steven Spielberg perfected out of necessity because his mechanical shark prop kept breaking. So at 55 minutes into the movie, we finally get a good look at the bear. And yeah, it looks like a bear. The thing about bears is that, although they’re about 6 feet tall, standing upright, and weigh about 600 pounds, they look adorably goofy. They have small, close set eyes and are ungainly when they galumph around. So they’re theoretically terrifying, but on-screen they’re kind of cute and cuddly. Not to mention, none of the bear performers is close to the 2,000 pound goliath that the titular Horror Bear is supposed to be.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Grizzly is pretty damn amusing. Sure, there is a fair amount of pointless wandering around in the woods, but the bear is no slouch when it comes to snacking on campers. The various shenanigans by the Rangers to catch the bears are hilariously stupid. I mean, Wile E. Coyote or Yosemite Sam stupid. At one point, Christopher George and Richard Jaeckal go chasing after the bear on foot. That race goes about as well as you’d expect two old, out of shape character actors chasing a 35 mile an hour behemoth to go.
The story has a workman-like pace. A bear eats somebody, then the rangers talk about it, followed shortly by another bear attack. I love how, before the bear attacks any important actors, he rises up on his hind legs and takes mincing baby bear steps instead of bear-rushing him on all fours and clawing the crap out of them.
I give it a bonus star for the convincing bear acting, and another one for the gonzo final confrontation of bear versus helicopter, which is an amazing sight to behold. If you have Amazon Prime, do yourself a favor and track it down.
In case you are wondering how the Horror Bear bites the dust, Christopher George bazookas the crap out of him and then the movie promptly ends. Huzzah!