Friday, January 2, 2015

GRIZZLY (1976)

I saw Jaws while I was living in New York City. I saw it with long-time friend Terry Fairbanks, who’d come to visit with his wife Nora and their niece, the future Sainted Wife Barb. While the gals were out shopping, we saw Jaws.

After the movie, I told Terry I thought the next big monster movie hit would be “Jaws on land.” I wasn’t the only one thinking about that. Grizzly hit the theaters the next year and would do extremely well here and overseas.

I went to see Grizzly solo because no one wanted to see it with me.I went because my post-Jaws comment had me curious about the movie and because the great Neal Adams drew the original poster. My New York friends didn’t miss anything by not seeing the film with me.It’s not a good movie.

Grizzly suffers from a menace that never looks menacing. The movie poster claims the title bear is 18 feet tall, the movie characters say it’s 15 feet tall and it never looks more than 11 feet tall at any point in the movie. Because the bear falls so short of scary, most of the deaths are shot darkly with a little extra gore added in accompanying shots. Such as when the first victim’s detached arm sails across the screen or when a maimed child gets dumped to the ground when the bear is distracted.

There are only two moderately effective death scenes. A Park ranger decides to take a quick shower in a waterfall without realizing the bear is behind her. The water turns red for a few brief seconds as she dies.

The other death scene is foreshadowed by two prior comments about how bears bury their food for later snacking. The movie naturalist is attacked by the bear, gets buried and comes to just when the bear returns.
The story is pretty much “Jaws on land” with the grizzly turning a park into his private hunting ground. The writing, the characters and the visuals don’t come with a thousand miles of what we saw in Jaws. The movie never knows what to do with the hero’s girlfriend, so she is dismissed with a “too dangerous for you” scene and never shows up again.

There are, as you would expect, several “similarities” to Jaws and I’ll go to Wikipedia to summarize them for you:

Released in May 1976, less than one year after Jaws, Grizzly was criticized as being a thinly veiled rip-off of the now-classic shark thriller. Like Jaws, Grizzly has an unusually large animal preying upon unsuspecting tourists.

Christopher George plays Chief Ranger Michael Kelly, skilled at his job but lacking experience when dealing with the dangers of bears, a role similar to Roy Scheider's Police Chief Martin Brody in Jaws. Kelly must rely on the expertise of naturalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel), just as Brody recruits marine scientist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss).

Kelly is thwarted by Supervisor Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey), who refuses to close the National Park for political reasons. In Jaws, Brody is refused permission to close the summer beaches by Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton).

A bounty is put on the grizzly bear, just as an award is offered for the shark in Jaws. The bounty leads to chaos, as hundreds of hunters fill the woods in Grizzly, while huge numbers of boats filled with hunters leave the harbor in Jaws.
During the final hunt for the grizzly bear, Kelly is led by helicopter pilot, Vietnam War veteran and forest guide Don Stober (Andrew Prine), just as Brody's shark expedition is led by boat captain, World War II veteran and sea guide Quint (Robert Shaw).

The bear in Grizzly is killed in similar fashion to the shark in Jaws in that both creatures' destruction is dramatized by a large explosion.  

Why, you ask, am I devoting so much energy to such a lousy movie? It’s because the behind-the-scenes stuff and trivia is a whole lot more fun and interesting than the movie itself.

For example: An uncredited Susan Backlinie, the actress who played the first victim of the Jaws shark, was one of this movie’s grizzly bear victims. If I had to guess - and that’s all this is - she was the camper whose arm was taken off by the killer bear very early in the movie. In the movie 1941 (1979), Backlinie would spoof her Jaws scene with a Japanese submarine in place of the shark.

IMDb offers this:

After the film had been distributed worldwide and had grossed a substantial profit of over $39 million, which made it the most successful independent motion picture of 1976, the film's distributor, Edward L. Montoro, and his Film Ventures International (FVI) decided to keep the profits without paying director William Girdler and the film's producers/writers David Sheldon and Harvey Flaxman. They sued, and Montoro was eventually ordered by the Los Angeles County Superior Court to pay the box office proceeds due to Girdler, Sheldon and Flaxman.

Consider that bit of trivia as foreshadowing for the circumstances which doomed the almost-completed Grizzly 2.

Two well-known actors declined roles in Grizzly. Western actor Ben Johnson passed on playing helicopter pilot Don Stober, a role which then went to Andrew Prine. The role of Ranger Michael Kelly went to Christopher George after Clint Walker chose to do the made-for-TV movie Snowbeast (1977) instead.

Because of the surprising success of Grizzly, a sequel was quickly planned. That sequel was not Day of the Animals (1977), even though Day has pretty much the same plot, same bear actor, same director, same production/distribution company, same producer and even stars  Grizzly actors Jaeckel and George.

The sequel was also not the independent horror movie Claws (1977). That film about a killer grizzly bear in Alaska was re-released in Canada and Mexico in 1978 under the title Grizzly 2, even though it had no connection to Grizzly or the actual never-released sequel to Grizzly. Which brings us to...

Grizzly II: The Predator.

Here’s what Wikipedia has on this movie:

The so-called sequel Grizzly II: The Predator was a nickname for an original film entitled "Predator: The Concert" filmed in 1985 in Hungary but never released. David Sheldon, the co-producer and writer of Grizzly, wrote the screenplay with his screenwriter wife Joan McCall, also reprising her role as photographer Allison Corwin from the original. The cast included Charlie Sheen, George Clooney and Laura Dern, who were discovered by them and were unknown at the time, despite all being from families of popular stars.

The main scenes for Grizzly II: The Predator were completed, but before the special effects with a huge electronic-mechanical bear could be used, executive producer Joseph Proctor disappeared with the funds. Filmed footage of the live bear, however, attacking a live rock concert was also shot. There have been attempts to re-cut the sequel and film more scenes, but, to date, the film has never been released. A bootleg version with the original workprint was released in 2007.

Here’s the synopsis of the movie...

The film centers on Park Ranger Hollister (Steve Inwood), who is at odds with Park Supervisor (Louise Fletcher) over a big rock concert that is going to be held in the area. Hollister fears that the local grizzly bear population might be a danger to the attendees. When a grizzly kills a local poacher and three teens, Hollister begins to track the bear with the help of a bear activist (Deborah Raffin) and a local bear hunter named Bouchard (John Rhys-Davies). Four poachers set out together to try to trap the bear, hoping to gain $100,000 reward money. The suggested 18 ft (5.5 m) grizzly finds its way to the rock concert, making the climatic showdown all the more personal for Hollister as his daughter (Deborah Foreman) is working there backstage.  

I found Grizzly II on YouTube. Watching that grainy workprint was  downright painful. Whenever it got to a scene with the Mecha-Bear, the screen would go blank. Some action scenes near the end of the movie seemed to have been repeated. Maybe different angles of the scenes were filmed for the special effects that never came about. Even with the special effects, I suspect the sequel would have been  even worse than the original. Still...

I’m surprised no one came up with the money to finish and release Grizzly II, even if it was for a direct-to-video. Far worse horror movies have made it to DVD and this one features Clooney, Dean and Sheen in their earliest roles.

Maybe that’s the real reason why the film has never been finished. Maybe Clooney, Dern and Sheen paid to keep it from being released.If so, it was money well spent.


As you can likely tell, I get a kick out of writing about B-movies. If you’re a producer of such cinematic fun, you are welcome to send me review copies of your films. The address is:

Tony Isabella
840 Damon Drive
Medina, OH 44256

Look for many more movie reviews in the days and weeks and months to come. I’ve got a stack of DVDs just waiting to be written about and more being watched every week.

Thanks for spending part of your online day with me. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella


  1. Let us not forget Orca, another attempt to cash in on Jaws. The ads on the back of comics were better than the movie.

  2. One of my favorite "Mother Nature Turns Against Us" movies from that era has got to be Alligator, from 1980, with Robert Forster. It's excellent, and it's also one of those movies that I think would have suffered in quality if they had a bigger budget.

  3. Oh, and for a good latter-day example of Grade B monster movies, check out Wyvern, a Canadian-American production from 2009. It hits just the right notes of both humor and monstery goodness.....

  4. Wikipedia actually understates the extent to which the movie is a JAWS clone. It really does try to be a scene-for-scene remake, to the point that, when it gets to the JAWS scene featuring the cameo by novel author Peter Benchley, there's a mirror cameo by Harvye Flaxman, GRIZZLY's screenwriter. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, eh?

    I'm a writer and would-be filmmaker myself--love b-pictures and horror movies, and I've always liked this hot mess of a movie too. I've also been a fan of your work since I was a kid, Tony, and perhaps it's fortuitous that I happened across your Facebook board the same day you posted about this.

  5. Sounds lie Asylum/SyFy recycled the plot of Grizzly 2 for Bigfoot (2012). Lots of stunt casting for the doomed concert, including Alice Cooper.

  6. A somewhat better "killer bear on the rampage" movie is Prophecy, released in 1979. It was written by David Seltzer, who also penned The Omen.

  7. Great take on a great topic. This movie is one you just can't help but watch -- you can't look away or get up to make popcorn. You have to see what they do next, what they rip off next. I actually have the paperback, bought primarily for the cover. Neal Adams art.