Grizzly Blu-ray Review
Updated: May 21
Blu-ray Release: May 18, 2021
Audio: English DTS-HD Master 2.0 mono
Run Time: 90:38
Director: William Girdler (David Sheldon, uncredited)
An 18-foot-tall ursus arctos horribilis goes on a carnivorous rampage through a state park full of campers. A ranger (Christopher George), a chopper pilot (Andrew Prine), and a naturalist (Richard Jaeckel) team up to stop it. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is arguably the most ripped-off movie in contemporary film history. Comparable, genre-defining movies – like George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), or Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) – were mimicked in parts, be it in their style, imagery, plot twists, or cast members. Jaws, on the other hand, was lifted wholesale time and time again, to the point that a Jaws rip-off doesn’t require a killer shark or even a killer animal of any kind, though unique variants, like Roger Donaldson’s Dante’s Peak (1997), which replaced the shark with an angry volcano, are rarities in the “Jaws Minus the Shark” canon.
One of the first and most blatant JMtS movies (perhaps even the first) was William Girdler’s Grizzly, released a year after Jaws in 1976. Co-written by producers Harvey Flaxman and David Sheldon (who did some uncredited directing), Grizzly was not shy about stealing its structure and some of its characters from Speilberg’s film – a mysterious, freak-sized creature killing tourists, gung-ho rednecks sliding into town to hunt it, three men tasked with solving the problem by a corrupt authority figure, slow-motion explosion at the end, there’s even a bear version of the USS Indianapolis speech – but got away with it more than similar JMtS movies, simply because it sported a budget modest enough to lift it above the typical exploitation rabble. It went on to be released worldwide and racked up record profits for an independent film. As tends to happen, Grizzly was popular enough to spawn bear-specific Jaws-type movies, from basement-level trash, like Richard Bansbach & Robert E. Pearson’s Claws (1977), to Prophecy (1979), which was backed by a studio and helmed by veteran hit-maker John Frankenheimer.
Arguably, Grizzly’s greater contribution to the B-movie pantheon is its proto-camp slasher sensibilities. The original camp slasher, Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980), was itself a brazen rip-off of a number of movies, including Psycho, other backwoods thrillers, like David Paulsen’s Savage Weekend (1979), and, of course, Jaws, but its connections to Grizzly are often overlooked for the fact that Girdler’s movie is remembered almost exclusively as a JMtS movie. The grizzly bear’s breathy P.O.V. shots and strange penchant for watching beautiful human women wander mirthfully through nature really echo what Mrs. and Jason Voorhees became famous for in the following decade. Again, both Girdler and Cunningham probably had the shark from Jaws in mind or had seen similar killer P.O.V.s used in Italian gialli, but the resemblance is striking in retrospect. Other similarities can be seen in the style behind the murder set pieces (I’m nearly positive that Grizzly features the first tent kill – a Voorhees favorite – in cinema history) and the film’s overall structure, which alternates between made-for-TV-like character drama, fake-out scares for levity, and bloody bear attacks. In reference to those bear attacks, Grizzly does feature a real, living kodiak bear (alongside a young black bear in one scene) who is, by the broadest definition of the term, being exploited for human entertainment. Fortunately, “Teddy” was a show biz bear and, thus, too valuable to openly abuse. The roughest stunts are doubled by a not particularly convincing mechanical bear. The dead dear they use to bait Teddy didn’t have the same clause in his contract, apparently.
Girdler hadn’t been in the movie making game for very long by the time he struck gold with Grizzly, but had managed to release at least one movie per year, every year from 1972 through his death in 1978. Prior to Grizzly and its direct killer animal follow-up, Day of the Animals (1977), he’d dabbled in proto-slasher horror (Three on a Meathook , a pre-Chainsaw Massacre take on the Ed Gein legend) and a supernatural horror (Asylum of Satan ), before making a trilogy of blaxploitation pictures – a serial killer film called The Zebra Killer (aka: The Get Man, 1973), an Exorcist pastiche called Abby (1974), and a Pam Grier vehicle called Sheba, Baby (1975).
There are, according to various on-line sources, R-rated and PG-rated cuts of Grizzly. Every DVD and Blu-ray version so far, including this one, has included the same roughly 91-minute cut, but there are conflicting reports as to if it is the R or PG version. For instance, dvdcompare.com claims that all discs include the PG cut and that the only difference between versions is a single sequence of nudity. On the other hand, imdb.com claims that DVD versions are the R cut and that two scenes of violence were trimmed to secure a PG (they also list a number of superficial differences between the DVD/BD releases and the original US VHS).. Whatever the case, this cut is quite grisly (pun intended). Obviously, PG-13 didn’t exist yet and Jaws itself was somewhat gory, but if this is a PG-rated edit – it definitely ends on one of those official, blue & white MPAA PG rating screens and no one mentions alternate cuts on any of this disc’s extras – it’s pretty incredible how much bloodshed they got away with.
Grizzly has had a particularly healthy life on home video, typically on budget label VHS and DVD, but there has been substantial special edition Laserdiscs and DVDs, including a two-disc R1 release from Media Blasters in 2006. It made its stateside Blu-ray debut rather recently in 2015 from Scorpion Releasing. Severin’s Blu-ray features a brand new transfer taken from a 2K scan of an internegative source. I don’t have the Scorpion disc on hand for a direct comparison, but, assuming the various screencaps I found online are accurate, Severin’s 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is an improvement, at the very least in terms of brightness and dynamic range. I’ve never seen this particularly grimy movie look more vivid, which is really nice, considering all the colorful outdoor photography. Night and low-light sequences are somewhat muddy with less clear-cut elemental separation, but not as indiscernible as the VHS and TV versions I’ve seen over the years. Black levels tend to be pretty harsh in the harshest sunlight, which is a look I personally like from this type of film, but I can imagine some viewers might prefer less crush. Patterns and edge details are tight and clear, while fine texture and film grain is borderline fluffy, which is probably a side effect of cinematographer William L. Asman’s purposefully soft photography.
Grizzly comes fitted with its original mono, presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Previous editions had a 5.1 remix that I’m guessing most fans won’t miss too much. The sound quality is limited by the single channel source and age of the material, but is quite loud and dynamic, especially where Robert O. Ragland’s full-bodied, Philharmonic-infused score is concerned. The mix struggles a bit more where dialogue is concerned, though this depends on the sequence in question. In some cases, the filmmakers fixed up a lack of clarity with ADR work, while other scenes are at the mercy of pre-digital noise-reduction practices, creating a bit of hiss and effects drop in/drop out. Generally, though, Grizzly isn’t ever going to sound better than this. The disc also includes an isolated music & effects track in lossy 1.0 Dolby Digital.
Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson – Howarth, the author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015) and Thompson, owner/reviewer at Mondo Digital, offer up another fact-filled and well-paced commentary that covers the making of the film, the careers of the cast & crew, and the film’s impact on the exploitation circuit.
Commentary with producer David Sheldon and actress Joan McCall – This 2006 track, moderated by Walt Olsen, has been included on just about every release of Grizzly since it was recorded for the Media Blasters disc. Not surprisingly, there’s quite a bit of blank space and description of on-screen action, but Olsen does a good job keeping Sheldon and McCall on track.
Stephen Thrower on William Girdler (45:22, HD) – The always jovial author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (2007, FAB Press) walks us through the director’s personal life, earliest work, and tragically short-lived independent filmmaking career. It includes catalog photos, ads/posters/news clippings, and footage from his movies. Thrower gives Grizzly special attention, naturally, essentially offering up a compacted version of the Howarth/Thompson commentary.
Making Movies with Girdler (36:56, HD) – An audio interview with the director’s business partner and friend, J. Patrick Kelly III, who recalls the production of the film, among other things, over stills and vintage 8mm behind-the-scenes footage he recorded himself.
Towering Fury (8:56, HD) – Actor Tom Arcuragi looks back on his experience appearing in the film and some of his other acting gigs.
The Grizzly Details (18:51, HD) – David Sheldon and Joan McCall return for two newly recorded interviews, more or less reproducing the experience of the commentary track in under 20 minutes.
Movie Making in the Wilderness (6:59, SD) – A 1976 vintage behind-the-scenes featurette.
Jaws with Claws (36:40, SD) – A 2006 mini-doc from the Media Blasters DVD. It’s charming and includes interviews with people not featured elsewhere on the disc.
Radio spots and two trailers
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