With so many choices in the world of movies — from physical media to streamers — it can be hard to figure out what to watch. So, I’ve randomized the process!
The other day, I tried my dice trick with the movies in my binders, but kept landing on movies I had either seen recently or did not feel like watching. I’m not beholden to the process, so I switched it up and used the ol’ Scattergories letter dice to select something from my To Watch Shelf. As you can see in the reel I posted on Instagram, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to my own alphabetization (I filed Knightriders in the wrong spot and didn’t even realize there were a few more G titles (all apologies to GORP and The Gauntlet, I’ll get to you eventually). Oh well. The process still lead me to watching not one, but two movies, only one of which was worth the effort!
Luckily, it was the Totally Random selection that I dug the most: the 1976 Jaws-but-a-bear ripoff Grizzly! I got this one from a Kino-Lorber sale a few years back, but it’s actually from Scorpion Releasing. Anyway, I’ve been hearing about this William Girdler film for years, mostly on the various podcasts I’ve listened to co-hosted by Elric Kane. And he was right, this is a great, fun, weird, mostly bad movie! Now, I haven’t seen a lot of Jaws ripoffs — Piranha‘s an easy favorite — but they all follow the basic plot: a small town (usually a tourist trap) is threatened by a killer animal and the lawman (Brody) wants to shut everything down while the person in charge refuses. Johnny Law is also usually joined by someone with real worlld experience with that particular animal (Quint) and/or a scientist (Hooper). The beast makes short work of a bunch of characters you only meet right before their demise and is ultimately outsmarted by humans at the end, usually by way of explosion. You get the idea.
In this case, we have Pieces and Enter The Ninja‘s Christopher George as Michael Kelly (the Brody), killer animal movie alum Richard Jaeckel (Mako, Day Of The Animals and also Ben on Baywatch) and Andrew Prine’s chopper pilot Don who tells a Quint-like story. In an interesting move, Jaeckel’s Arthur Scott is a Hooper-Quint hybrid, a rough-and-tumble scientist who wants to study this enormous bear. Joan McCall’s also in there as photographer Allison who might be dating Michael. Intererstingly, she returns for the sequel by writing the picture, not appearing in it! But more on that in a bit.
As you might expect in the case of a movie like Grizzly, the killer in question is a big-ass bear who can tear the roof off a cabin or slice appendages off with a minimum of blood and then expertly bury some of the bodies. The downside of a Jaws ripoff is that you know all the beats before seeing them. The best ones mix up a few of them and then go their own, unique way. One of the ways Grizzly does that is by showing this great scene where a radio report of the first bear attacks plays over various shots of people getting the heck outta those woods! This one also gets rid of the tourist-loving mayor prototype. The tropes come flowing in the second half though, when you mix in all of the amateur hunters trying to take out the bear and failing as well as the story that Prine tells about another large bear that attacked a group of Native Americans and the ever-dwindling cast of characters including a young boy and the majority of our heroes until the explosive finale.
I had a great time with this movie, but it’s not GOOD, you know? It’s great seeing just how big the real bear is compared to people and objects in the same shot — that adds a huge sense of realism — but those shots are interspersed with other ones of dudes in costumes swiping at folks. It also features some dumb and mean moments: the supposedly smart Scott wants to leash the ginormous bear and lead it somewhere safe? I’ve already mentioned the kid who gets it while playing with his rabbit in the yard (followed shortly by his mom). Yeesh. Personally, I like how all of the elements come together in a clear attempt to copy something successful while also doing something fresh and new.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said about the André Szöts-helmed Grizzly II: Revenge, which began filming in the 80s, but didn’t come out until a few years ago. The short version is that producers got the film up and running in Hungary, but then ran out of money around the time that cast members George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen arrived. Some Japanese investors swooped in and gave them enough scratch to keep going for a while, but when production stopped paying the government, officials shut it down and confiscated the film. In the past few years, one of the producers got their hands on it, added in some achingly modern stock footage and released it to horror nerds like me who get excited about these sorts of things.
We open with the aforementioned superstars who are on a camping trip and get Drew Barrymored in the first few minutes. From there we go into full Jaws mode with Louise Fletcher demanding that the big music festival still go on even after a bear starts attacking. Other players include a cop — can’t remember his name — and Deborah Foreman who’s working at the concert venue and John Rhys-Davis a hunter of curious origins.
All of that could make for a fine film. I could even ignore the tacked-on 2020 nature footage with an Asylum level shot of a small bear taking a bullet, thus setting up the revenge story. But it gets so much worse halfway through when the concert really starts ramping up. The clear and obvious problem is that they just didn’t have enough original footage. They shot a lot of the bands’ practice and performance time and some great crowd shots, but there’s a huge chunk of the movie where that’s all you’re really seeing. And it’s crappy 80s bands from….somewhere. And it’s basically the same four scenes over and over again. Oh, except for the one modern band shoehorned in that I can only guess has ties to one of the producers and stands out like a sore thumb (not unlike the one random crowd shot of two kids at a concert covered in that colorful powder stuff that was definitely not around in the 80s). And then for the end, the bear finally gets to the concert — backstage mind you, where there far fewer people. JRD tries to capture him in a scene that looks like the actor is trying to lasso a column covered in fur. From there, a guy runs under something, the bear follows and it explodes.
This almost never happens, but this movie made me mad. And I’m actually a little heated thinking about it again right now! This just feels like a gross cash grab, which is kinda funny considering I watched it for free on Amazon Video, though I don’t recommend you do the same. The worst part is that they could have easily just made a half hour movie with what they had that would have been good and fun and worth talking about, not a boring mess that you should absolutely avoid. In fact, I’m not even going to link to Grizzly II: Revenge, but I will drop an Amazon Associates link for the Grizzly Blu-ray (though this is the Severin one; not sure what the differences are).