Grizzly


1h 31m 1976

Brief Synopsis

A giant grizzly terrorizes visitors to a state park.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Horror/Science-Fiction
Adventure
Horror
Release Date
1976
Production Company
CFI Hollywood; Tyler Camera Systems
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures International
Location
Sequim, Washington, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Dolby
Color
Color
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

An eighteen foot, two thousand pound Grizzly bear terrorizes campers and hikers at a state park. This frustrates the head Park Ranger (Christopher George) and decides to hunt it down. His efforts however were thwarted by the Park Supervisor (Joe Dorsey) and many drunk hunters into the areas. After the bear kills another campers, two rangers, a hunter and a little boy and his mother, The ranger employs his friend, a Naturalist (Richard Jaeckel) to find the bear and tranquilize it. But he gets killed. Finally with the help of a Helicopter Pilot (Andrew Prine)the ranger goes in pursuit to finally kill it with any means necessary with rifles and a rocket launcher. It is to the end when they realize the bear is much stronger than they imagined.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Horror/Science-Fiction
Adventure
Horror
Release Date
1976
Production Company
CFI Hollywood; Tyler Camera Systems
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures International
Location
Sequim, Washington, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Dolby
Color
Color
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Gist (Grizzly) - THE GIST


Once upon a time there was a creature so perfectly adapted to its environment, it was as if the very landscape had been molded to its shape. It was king of all it surveyed. One day, all that changed. The ground was upended. Nothing was as it was. The creature was now an intruder in its home, unwelcome, hunted. Extinction threatened.

These things happen all the time. It is the most common of stories--I could be talking about almost any animal. The once mighty grizzly bear is considered a "keystone predator," a crucial element of its ecological niche--yet politicians still debate whether it deserves official protection. Grizzlies are only considered dangerous to humans if they get too close to human habitats and become unnaturally familiar with people--yet we continue to encroach on their lands, shoving the animals further and further into the corner.

The filmmakers responsible for Grizzly (1976), bless their little hearts, want to think that with their ludicrous 1976 monster movie they have made a statement about this sorry state of affairs. They sure had company. From the ridiculous (Frogs, 1972) to the sublime (The Long Weekend, 1977), ecologically aware monster movies were quite the thing in the 1970s. Even Godzilla took up arms against a smog monster.

In the case of Grizzly, the creature evicted from its habitat that I am most interested in, however, is not the bear but the industry responsible for putting her in a movie in the first place. For generations, the twin strands of Hollywood lived in détente with one another. The majors made big, accessible movies aimed at general audiences. Prior to 1970, there was no ratings system--a Hollywood movie was quite literally aimed at everyone. And in their shadow lived the exploitation filmmakers, cranking out cheap movies that exploited some passing fad (hence the name). If there was a momentary interest in teen movies about bike gangs, the low-budgeteers would exploit that niche market until it ran dry. If environmental-message pictures with monsters in them were the next au courant fashion, here came the Bs. It was a simple and effective system.

Until the mid-1970s, that is, when people like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg showed up with a game changing business plan. Spielberg's Jaws (1975) heralded a breed of mega-profitable event movie unlike anything the industry had seen before. The press took to calling these things "blockbusters," but other terms would have been just as apt: "the big-budget low-budget movie," "the A-list B-movie." Suddenly, the big Hollywood studios were making a play for the indie's market. Seeing their habitat threatened, the exploitation filmmakers responded by doing everything they could to copy Spielberg and Lucas.

Time to introduce William Girdler, the director of Grizzly. He was a professional plagiarist, filmdom's answer to the mockingbird. If you had a bandwagon, he'd jump on it. In his first few years in the movie business he made a horror film (Three on a Meathook, 1972), a blaxploitation thriller (The Zebra Killer, 1974), and a blaxploitation horror film (Abby, 1974). That last one was considered so similar to The Exorcist (1973) that Girdler faced official complaints from Warner Brothers. There was scarcely anyone more qualified than Girdler to rip-off Jaws. The guy became so self-conscious about making a living as a cinematic mimeograph artist that in interviews he was constantly making defensive comparisons between himself and Spielberg -- a comparison not in any way warranted.

It must be noted, however, that the screenwriters of Grizzly insist that this is a grossly unfair mischaracterization of the facts. According to them, Harvey Flaxman had an unhappy encounter with an unfriendly bear while on a family camping trip, and was inspired by the experience to write a thriller. He and David Sheldon had allegedly finished this screenplay before Jaws was even made, and that any similarities between the two films are pure coincidence.

These coincidences are legion. A casual viewer of Grizzly could assume that Flaxman and Sheldon did nothing more than take a copy of Peter Benchley's Jaws, cross out all the references to sharks, and write "bear" in their place. The structure of Jaws is intact: the national park is facing a bumper crowd of tourists; when a bear attack suggests the wisdom of shutting the park down, the officials cravenly insist on denying the threat; the heroic ranger and his eccentric scientist ally square off against the suits in charge; an innocent child is attacked; the animal is an abnormally large and intelligent member of its species... When pressed on the sheer volume of similarities between the two, Sheldon conceded that he had just read Benchley's novel Jaws before writing his script...

Sheldon and Flaxman had no immediate buyer for their script, whatever its provenance. Girdler read it, liked it (why, of course he did!), and volunteered to scare up financing on the condition he get to direct it. Sheldon had hoped to make the movie himself, but when Girdler almost immediately brokered a deal with Edward Montoro, of Film Ventures International, Sheldon stepped aside.

Girdler was used to making movies in the literal wilderness. His base of operations was Kentucky, far from Hollywood. Grizzly would be shot in Clayton, Georgia -- the same place where Deliverance (1972) was filmed. The vistas are at times quite lovely, and every so often Girdler pulls off an impressive composition. And then some stuntman wearing a furry claw ambles along to take a swipe at some starlet, and the moment is lost.

Like Jaws, this is a boy's club of a movie, with little for any actress to do aside from strip and get killed. The closest thing to a female lead is Joan McCall, who plays photojournalist Allison Corwin. McCall was and remains Sheldon's wife, and all signs point to his having added her part as an after-thought. She appears only on the sidelines, and does as much as can be expected with her thankless role.

The cast is otherwise surprisingly strong for a project of such low ambitions. Christopher George plays the head ranger Kelly. George was never a celebrity, but he was a working actor whose decades of TV roles and low-budget starring parts made him a familiar face nonetheless. Playing Richard Dreyfus to his Roy Scheider was Richard Jaeckel. As much at home in Westerns as crime thrillers, Jaeckel was the kind of versatile actor who could play alongside Glenn Ford in 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and then toddle off to Japan to fight The Green Slime (1968) . Character actor Andrew Prine plays Don, the closest thing to a Robert Shaw role the film has, and he gets to tell a chilling anecdote about a legendary bear attack in a scene modeled after Shaw's famous "Indianapolis" monologue from Jaws.

We need to say a word or two as well about their costar, the big ole' bear herself. In the early reels, Girdler follows Spielberg's technique of using the camera as the monster's POV. Keeping the bear off screen meant not having to suffer any unconvincing bear-attack special effects, but as the movie plummets towards its conclusion, such restraint gave way, and a real live bear was brought in to perform. Perform is the key word in this context--she was a professional movie bear, used to human company. Her name was Teddy (don't ask me why), and she was an eleven-foot tall Kodiak, the largest bear in captivity. She made another film with Girdler, immediately afterwards. Her son was Bart, star of The Edge (1997) and numerous other movies--possibly the most famous bear in the world (it's not as if there are many bear celebrities in contention for that honor). We're talking here about the Barrymores of the bear world. Like any good Barrymore, she threatens to chew the scenery, but doesn't threaten to chew anything else.

Part of the problem is that, for safety's sake, Teddy does not appear in the same shot as any of her human co-stars--which makes it rather tough to gauge her size, without anything for reference. She may be the biggest bear in captivity, but she never looks it. In order to get her to behave on cue, her handlers smeared yummy dead fish onto various props and scenery. The result is, she looks more curious and hungry than vengeful. I don't doubt that wild bears can be ferocious and fearsome, but there is nothing remotely terrifying about this cuddly critter.

That doesn't stop Christopher George from blowing her up (because they blew up Jaws), using a bazooka (because all park rangers carry... oh, forget it). Cue credits, and watch the money come in.

And come in it did. Grizzly would prove to be Girdler's most successful film. And if that sounds like weak praise, given Girdler's sketchy filmography, let's add that Grizzly was the top grossing indie production of 1976. If reported figures are to be believed, it made a staggering $30 Million on a budget of only $750,000. Of course, you never know whom to trust about such numbers. Financier Edward Montoro claimed the project went way over budget, and then flopped. Girdler and the other filmmakers sued Montoro, on the grounds that his bizarro-universe accounting was just a fiction designed to cheat them out of their share. During the dispute, Girdler was reduced to living off the generosity of friends. Settlements were reached, Montoro paid up, and a few years later Film Ventures went belly up altogether.

Girdler made a few more notoriously demented films in the years that followed. In 1977 the cast and crew of Grizzly reunited for another "Nature Strikes Back" thriller, Day of the Animals. Girdler followed this with The Manitou (1978) about a Native American shaman who crawls out of a lump that grows on a woman's back. In 1978, while filming in the Philippines, he was killed in a helicopter crash.

Perhaps because their participation in Grizzly's success was belated, or perhaps because working in low-budget movies distorts your understanding of how the world works, Sheldon decided in 1983 that the world was clamoring for Grizzly 2. It was a misbegotten thing from the start. The market for exploitation films had changed, the day of the ecological monster flick had passed, and whatever cachet Grizzly once had was now long forgotten. But Sheldon ploughed on regardless. It would have been Charlie Sheen's first major role, and the debut performance of George Clooney. That is, if anyone had ever seen it. Special effects problems dogged the production, and it was abandoned unfinished.

Producers: Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon
Director: William Girdler
Screenplay: Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon (screenplay); Andrew Prine (Indian Story (uncredited))
Cinematography: William Asman
Music: Robert O. Ragland
Film Editing: Bub Asman
Cast: Christopher George (Michael Kelly), Andrew Prine (Don Stober), Richard Jaeckel (Arthur Scott), Joan McCall (Allison Corwin), Joe Dorsey (Charley Kittridge), Charles Kissinger (Dr. Samuel Hallitt), Kermit Echols (Walter Corwin), Tom Arcuragi (Ranger Tom), Vicki Johnson (Ranger Gail), Catherine Rickman (June Hamilton).
C-91m.

by David Kalat

Sources:
Joan McCall and David Sheldon, audio commentary to Grizzly, Shriek Show DVD
www.williamgirdler.com
www.bmoviegraveyard.com
The Gist (Grizzly) - The Gist

The Gist (Grizzly) - THE GIST

Once upon a time there was a creature so perfectly adapted to its environment, it was as if the very landscape had been molded to its shape. It was king of all it surveyed. One day, all that changed. The ground was upended. Nothing was as it was. The creature was now an intruder in its home, unwelcome, hunted. Extinction threatened. These things happen all the time. It is the most common of stories--I could be talking about almost any animal. The once mighty grizzly bear is considered a "keystone predator," a crucial element of its ecological niche--yet politicians still debate whether it deserves official protection. Grizzlies are only considered dangerous to humans if they get too close to human habitats and become unnaturally familiar with people--yet we continue to encroach on their lands, shoving the animals further and further into the corner. The filmmakers responsible for Grizzly (1976), bless their little hearts, want to think that with their ludicrous 1976 monster movie they have made a statement about this sorry state of affairs. They sure had company. From the ridiculous (Frogs, 1972) to the sublime (The Long Weekend, 1977), ecologically aware monster movies were quite the thing in the 1970s. Even Godzilla took up arms against a smog monster. In the case of Grizzly, the creature evicted from its habitat that I am most interested in, however, is not the bear but the industry responsible for putting her in a movie in the first place. For generations, the twin strands of Hollywood lived in détente with one another. The majors made big, accessible movies aimed at general audiences. Prior to 1970, there was no ratings system--a Hollywood movie was quite literally aimed at everyone. And in their shadow lived the exploitation filmmakers, cranking out cheap movies that exploited some passing fad (hence the name). If there was a momentary interest in teen movies about bike gangs, the low-budgeteers would exploit that niche market until it ran dry. If environmental-message pictures with monsters in them were the next au courant fashion, here came the Bs. It was a simple and effective system. Until the mid-1970s, that is, when people like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg showed up with a game changing business plan. Spielberg's Jaws (1975) heralded a breed of mega-profitable event movie unlike anything the industry had seen before. The press took to calling these things "blockbusters," but other terms would have been just as apt: "the big-budget low-budget movie," "the A-list B-movie." Suddenly, the big Hollywood studios were making a play for the indie's market. Seeing their habitat threatened, the exploitation filmmakers responded by doing everything they could to copy Spielberg and Lucas. Time to introduce William Girdler, the director of Grizzly. He was a professional plagiarist, filmdom's answer to the mockingbird. If you had a bandwagon, he'd jump on it. In his first few years in the movie business he made a horror film (Three on a Meathook, 1972), a blaxploitation thriller (The Zebra Killer, 1974), and a blaxploitation horror film (Abby, 1974). That last one was considered so similar to The Exorcist (1973) that Girdler faced official complaints from Warner Brothers. There was scarcely anyone more qualified than Girdler to rip-off Jaws. The guy became so self-conscious about making a living as a cinematic mimeograph artist that in interviews he was constantly making defensive comparisons between himself and Spielberg -- a comparison not in any way warranted. It must be noted, however, that the screenwriters of Grizzly insist that this is a grossly unfair mischaracterization of the facts. According to them, Harvey Flaxman had an unhappy encounter with an unfriendly bear while on a family camping trip, and was inspired by the experience to write a thriller. He and David Sheldon had allegedly finished this screenplay before Jaws was even made, and that any similarities between the two films are pure coincidence. These coincidences are legion. A casual viewer of Grizzly could assume that Flaxman and Sheldon did nothing more than take a copy of Peter Benchley's Jaws, cross out all the references to sharks, and write "bear" in their place. The structure of Jaws is intact: the national park is facing a bumper crowd of tourists; when a bear attack suggests the wisdom of shutting the park down, the officials cravenly insist on denying the threat; the heroic ranger and his eccentric scientist ally square off against the suits in charge; an innocent child is attacked; the animal is an abnormally large and intelligent member of its species... When pressed on the sheer volume of similarities between the two, Sheldon conceded that he had just read Benchley's novel Jaws before writing his script... Sheldon and Flaxman had no immediate buyer for their script, whatever its provenance. Girdler read it, liked it (why, of course he did!), and volunteered to scare up financing on the condition he get to direct it. Sheldon had hoped to make the movie himself, but when Girdler almost immediately brokered a deal with Edward Montoro, of Film Ventures International, Sheldon stepped aside. Girdler was used to making movies in the literal wilderness. His base of operations was Kentucky, far from Hollywood. Grizzly would be shot in Clayton, Georgia -- the same place where Deliverance (1972) was filmed. The vistas are at times quite lovely, and every so often Girdler pulls off an impressive composition. And then some stuntman wearing a furry claw ambles along to take a swipe at some starlet, and the moment is lost. Like Jaws, this is a boy's club of a movie, with little for any actress to do aside from strip and get killed. The closest thing to a female lead is Joan McCall, who plays photojournalist Allison Corwin. McCall was and remains Sheldon's wife, and all signs point to his having added her part as an after-thought. She appears only on the sidelines, and does as much as can be expected with her thankless role. The cast is otherwise surprisingly strong for a project of such low ambitions. Christopher George plays the head ranger Kelly. George was never a celebrity, but he was a working actor whose decades of TV roles and low-budget starring parts made him a familiar face nonetheless. Playing Richard Dreyfus to his Roy Scheider was Richard Jaeckel. As much at home in Westerns as crime thrillers, Jaeckel was the kind of versatile actor who could play alongside Glenn Ford in 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and then toddle off to Japan to fight The Green Slime (1968) . Character actor Andrew Prine plays Don, the closest thing to a Robert Shaw role the film has, and he gets to tell a chilling anecdote about a legendary bear attack in a scene modeled after Shaw's famous "Indianapolis" monologue from Jaws. We need to say a word or two as well about their costar, the big ole' bear herself. In the early reels, Girdler follows Spielberg's technique of using the camera as the monster's POV. Keeping the bear off screen meant not having to suffer any unconvincing bear-attack special effects, but as the movie plummets towards its conclusion, such restraint gave way, and a real live bear was brought in to perform. Perform is the key word in this context--she was a professional movie bear, used to human company. Her name was Teddy (don't ask me why), and she was an eleven-foot tall Kodiak, the largest bear in captivity. She made another film with Girdler, immediately afterwards. Her son was Bart, star of The Edge (1997) and numerous other movies--possibly the most famous bear in the world (it's not as if there are many bear celebrities in contention for that honor). We're talking here about the Barrymores of the bear world. Like any good Barrymore, she threatens to chew the scenery, but doesn't threaten to chew anything else. Part of the problem is that, for safety's sake, Teddy does not appear in the same shot as any of her human co-stars--which makes it rather tough to gauge her size, without anything for reference. She may be the biggest bear in captivity, but she never looks it. In order to get her to behave on cue, her handlers smeared yummy dead fish onto various props and scenery. The result is, she looks more curious and hungry than vengeful. I don't doubt that wild bears can be ferocious and fearsome, but there is nothing remotely terrifying about this cuddly critter. That doesn't stop Christopher George from blowing her up (because they blew up Jaws), using a bazooka (because all park rangers carry... oh, forget it). Cue credits, and watch the money come in. And come in it did. Grizzly would prove to be Girdler's most successful film. And if that sounds like weak praise, given Girdler's sketchy filmography, let's add that Grizzly was the top grossing indie production of 1976. If reported figures are to be believed, it made a staggering $30 Million on a budget of only $750,000. Of course, you never know whom to trust about such numbers. Financier Edward Montoro claimed the project went way over budget, and then flopped. Girdler and the other filmmakers sued Montoro, on the grounds that his bizarro-universe accounting was just a fiction designed to cheat them out of their share. During the dispute, Girdler was reduced to living off the generosity of friends. Settlements were reached, Montoro paid up, and a few years later Film Ventures went belly up altogether. Girdler made a few more notoriously demented films in the years that followed. In 1977 the cast and crew of Grizzly reunited for another "Nature Strikes Back" thriller, Day of the Animals. Girdler followed this with The Manitou (1978) about a Native American shaman who crawls out of a lump that grows on a woman's back. In 1978, while filming in the Philippines, he was killed in a helicopter crash. Perhaps because their participation in Grizzly's success was belated, or perhaps because working in low-budget movies distorts your understanding of how the world works, Sheldon decided in 1983 that the world was clamoring for Grizzly 2. It was a misbegotten thing from the start. The market for exploitation films had changed, the day of the ecological monster flick had passed, and whatever cachet Grizzly once had was now long forgotten. But Sheldon ploughed on regardless. It would have been Charlie Sheen's first major role, and the debut performance of George Clooney. That is, if anyone had ever seen it. Special effects problems dogged the production, and it was abandoned unfinished. Producers: Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon Director: William Girdler Screenplay: Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon (screenplay); Andrew Prine (Indian Story (uncredited)) Cinematography: William Asman Music: Robert O. Ragland Film Editing: Bub Asman Cast: Christopher George (Michael Kelly), Andrew Prine (Don Stober), Richard Jaeckel (Arthur Scott), Joan McCall (Allison Corwin), Joe Dorsey (Charley Kittridge), Charles Kissinger (Dr. Samuel Hallitt), Kermit Echols (Walter Corwin), Tom Arcuragi (Ranger Tom), Vicki Johnson (Ranger Gail), Catherine Rickman (June Hamilton). C-91m. by David Kalat Sources: Joan McCall and David Sheldon, audio commentary to Grizzly, Shriek Show DVD www.williamgirdler.com www.bmoviegraveyard.com

Grizzly


Once upon a time there was a creature so perfectly adapted to its environment, it was as if the very landscape had been molded to its shape. It was king of all it surveyed. One day, all that changed. The ground was upended. Nothing was as it was. The creature was now an intruder in its home, unwelcome, hunted. Extinction threatened.

These things happen all the time. It is the most common of stories--I could be talking about almost any animal. The once mighty grizzly bear is considered a "keystone predator," a crucial element of its ecological niche--yet politicians still debate whether it deserves official protection. Grizzlies are only considered dangerous to humans if they get too close to human habitats and become unnaturally familiar with people--yet we continue to encroach on their lands, shoving the animals further and further into the corner.

The filmmakers responsible for Grizzly (1976), bless their little hearts, want to think that with their ludicrous 1976 monster movie they have made a statement about this sorry state of affairs. They sure had company. From the ridiculous (Frogs, 1972) to the sublime (The Long Weekend, 1977), ecologically aware monster movies were quite the thing in the 1970s. Even Godzilla took up arms against a smog monster.

In the case of Grizzly, the creature evicted from its habitat that I am most interested in, however, is not the bear but the industry responsible for putting her in a movie in the first place. For generations, the twin strands of Hollywood lived in détente with one another. The majors made big, accessible movies aimed at general audiences. Prior to 1970, there was no ratings system--a Hollywood movie was quite literally aimed at everyone. And in their shadow lived the exploitation filmmakers, cranking out cheap movies that exploited some passing fad (hence the name). If there was a momentary interest in teen movies about bike gangs, the low-budgeteers would exploit that niche market until it ran dry. If environmental-message pictures with monsters in them were the next au courant fashion, here came the Bs. It was a simple and effective system.

Until the mid-1970s, that is, when people like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg showed up with a game changing business plan. Spielberg's Jaws (1975) heralded a breed of mega-profitable event movie unlike anything the industry had seen before. The press took to calling these things "blockbusters," but other terms would have been just as apt: "the big-budget low-budget movie," "the A-list B-movie." Suddenly, the big Hollywood studios were making a play for the indie's market. Seeing their habitat threatened, the exploitation filmmakers responded by doing everything they could to copy Spielberg and Lucas.

Time to introduce William Girdler, the director of Grizzly. He was a professional plagiarist, filmdom's answer to the mockingbird. If you had a bandwagon, he'd jump on it. In his first few years in the movie business he made a horror film (Three on a Meathook, 1972), a blaxploitation thriller (The Zebra Killer, 1974), and a blaxploitation horror film (Abby, 1974). That last one was considered so similar to The Exorcist (1973) that Girdler faced official complaints from Warner Brothers. There was scarcely anyone more qualified than Girdler to rip-off Jaws. The guy became so self-conscious about making a living as a cinematic mimeograph artist that in interviews he was constantly making defensive comparisons between himself and Spielberg -- a comparison not in any way warranted.

It must be noted, however, that the screenwriters of Grizzly insist that this is a grossly unfair mischaracterization of the facts. According to them, Harvey Flaxman had an unhappy encounter with an unfriendly bear while on a family camping trip, and was inspired by the experience to write a thriller. He and David Sheldon had allegedly finished this screenplay before Jaws was even made, and that any similarities between the two films are pure coincidence.

These coincidences are legion. A casual viewer of Grizzly could assume that Flaxman and Sheldon did nothing more than take a copy of Peter Benchley's Jaws, cross out all the references to sharks, and write "bear" in their place. The structure of Jaws is intact: the national park is facing a bumper crowd of tourists; when a bear attack suggests the wisdom of shutting the park down, the officials cravenly insist on denying the threat; the heroic ranger and his eccentric scientist ally square off against the suits in charge; an innocent child is attacked; the animal is an abnormally large and intelligent member of its species... When pressed on the sheer volume of similarities between the two, Sheldon conceded that he had just read Benchley's novel Jaws before writing his script...

Sheldon and Flaxman had no immediate buyer for their script, whatever its provenance. Girdler read it, liked it (why, of course he did!), and volunteered to scare up financing on the condition he get to direct it. Sheldon had hoped to make the movie himself, but when Girdler almost immediately brokered a deal with Edward Montoro, of Film Ventures International, Sheldon stepped aside.

Girdler was used to making movies in the literal wilderness. His base of operations was Kentucky, far from Hollywood. Grizzly would be shot in Clayton, Georgia -- the same place where Deliverance (1972) was filmed. The vistas are at times quite lovely, and every so often Girdler pulls off an impressive composition. And then some stuntman wearing a furry claw ambles along to take a swipe at some starlet, and the moment is lost.

Like Jaws, this is a boy's club of a movie, with little for any actress to do aside from strip and get killed. The closest thing to a female lead is Joan McCall, who plays photojournalist Allison Corwin. McCall was and remains Sheldon's wife, and all signs point to his having added her part as an after-thought. She appears only on the sidelines, and does as much as can be expected with her thankless role.

The cast is otherwise surprisingly strong for a project of such low ambitions. Christopher George plays the head ranger Kelly. George was never a celebrity, but he was a working actor whose decades of TV roles and low-budget starring parts made him a familiar face nonetheless. Playing Richard Dreyfus to his Roy Scheider was Richard Jaeckel. As much at home in Westerns as crime thrillers, Jaeckel was the kind of versatile actor who could play alongside Glenn Ford in 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and then toddle off to Japan to fight The Green Slime (1968) . Character actor Andrew Prine plays Don, the closest thing to a Robert Shaw role the film has, and he gets to tell a chilling anecdote about a legendary bear attack in a scene modeled after Shaw's famous "Indianapolis" monologue from Jaws.

We need to say a word or two as well about their costar, the big ole' bear herself. In the early reels, Girdler follows Spielberg's technique of using the camera as the monster's POV. Keeping the bear off screen meant not having to suffer any unconvincing bear-attack special effects, but as the movie plummets towards its conclusion, such restraint gave way, and a real live bear was brought in to perform. Perform is the key word in this context--she was a professional movie bear, used to human company. Her name was Teddy (don't ask me why), and she was an eleven-foot tall Kodiak, the largest bear in captivity. She made another film with Girdler, immediately afterwards. Her son was Bart, star of The Edge (1997) and numerous other movies--possibly the most famous bear in the world (it's not as if there are many bear celebrities in contention for that honor). We're talking here about the Barrymores of the bear world. Like any good Barrymore, she threatens to chew the scenery, but doesn't threaten to chew anything else.

Part of the problem is that, for safety's sake, Teddy does not appear in the same shot as any of her human co-stars--which makes it rather tough to gauge her size, without anything for reference. She may be the biggest bear in captivity, but she never looks it. In order to get her to behave on cue, her handlers smeared yummy dead fish onto various props and scenery. The result is, she looks more curious and hungry than vengeful. I don't doubt that wild bears can be ferocious and fearsome, but there is nothing remotely terrifying about this cuddly critter.

That doesn't stop Christopher George from blowing her up (because they blew up Jaws), using a bazooka (because all park rangers carry... oh, forget it). Cue credits, and watch the money come in.

And come in it did. Grizzly would prove to be Girdler's most successful film. And if that sounds like weak praise, given Girdler's sketchy filmography, let's add that Grizzly was the top grossing indie production of 1976. If reported figures are to be believed, it made a staggering $30 Million on a budget of only $750,000. Of course, you never know whom to trust about such numbers. Financier Edward Montoro claimed the project went way over budget, and then flopped. Girdler and the other filmmakers sued Montoro, on the grounds that his bizarro-universe accounting was just a fiction designed to cheat them out of their share. During the dispute, Girdler was reduced to living off the generosity of friends. Settlements were reached, Montoro paid up, and a few years later Film Ventures went belly up altogether.

Girdler made a few more notoriously demented films in the years that followed. In 1977 the cast and crew of Grizzly reunited for another "Nature Strikes Back" thriller, Day of the Animals. Girdler followed this with The Manitou (1978) about a Native American shaman who crawls out of a lump that grows on a woman's back. In 1978, while filming in the Philippines, he was killed in a helicopter crash.

Perhaps because their participation in Grizzly's success was belated, or perhaps because working in low-budget movies distorts your understanding of how the world works, Sheldon decided in 1983 that the world was clamoring for Grizzly 2. It was a misbegotten thing from the start. The market for exploitation films had changed, the day of the ecological monster flick had passed, and whatever cachet Grizzly once had was now long forgotten. But Sheldon ploughed on regardless. It would have been Charlie Sheen's first major role, and the debut performance of George Clooney. That is, if anyone had ever seen it. Special effects problems dogged the production, and it was abandoned unfinished.

Producers: Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon
Director: William Girdler
Screenplay: Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon (screenplay); Andrew Prine (Indian Story (uncredited))
Cinematography: William Asman
Music: Robert O. Ragland
Film Editing: Bub Asman
Cast: Christopher George (Michael Kelly), Andrew Prine (Don Stober), Richard Jaeckel (Arthur Scott), Joan McCall (Allison Corwin), Joe Dorsey (Charley Kittridge), Charles Kissinger (Dr. Samuel Hallitt), Kermit Echols (Walter Corwin), Tom Arcuragi (Ranger Tom), Vicki Johnson (Ranger Gail), Catherine Rickman (June Hamilton).
C-91m.

by David Kalat

Sources:
Joan McCall and David Sheldon, audio commentary to Grizzly, Shriek Show DVD
www.williamgirdler.com
www.bmoviegraveyard.com

Grizzly

Once upon a time there was a creature so perfectly adapted to its environment, it was as if the very landscape had been molded to its shape. It was king of all it surveyed. One day, all that changed. The ground was upended. Nothing was as it was. The creature was now an intruder in its home, unwelcome, hunted. Extinction threatened. These things happen all the time. It is the most common of stories--I could be talking about almost any animal. The once mighty grizzly bear is considered a "keystone predator," a crucial element of its ecological niche--yet politicians still debate whether it deserves official protection. Grizzlies are only considered dangerous to humans if they get too close to human habitats and become unnaturally familiar with people--yet we continue to encroach on their lands, shoving the animals further and further into the corner. The filmmakers responsible for Grizzly (1976), bless their little hearts, want to think that with their ludicrous 1976 monster movie they have made a statement about this sorry state of affairs. They sure had company. From the ridiculous (Frogs, 1972) to the sublime (The Long Weekend, 1977), ecologically aware monster movies were quite the thing in the 1970s. Even Godzilla took up arms against a smog monster. In the case of Grizzly, the creature evicted from its habitat that I am most interested in, however, is not the bear but the industry responsible for putting her in a movie in the first place. For generations, the twin strands of Hollywood lived in détente with one another. The majors made big, accessible movies aimed at general audiences. Prior to 1970, there was no ratings system--a Hollywood movie was quite literally aimed at everyone. And in their shadow lived the exploitation filmmakers, cranking out cheap movies that exploited some passing fad (hence the name). If there was a momentary interest in teen movies about bike gangs, the low-budgeteers would exploit that niche market until it ran dry. If environmental-message pictures with monsters in them were the next au courant fashion, here came the Bs. It was a simple and effective system. Until the mid-1970s, that is, when people like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg showed up with a game changing business plan. Spielberg's Jaws (1975) heralded a breed of mega-profitable event movie unlike anything the industry had seen before. The press took to calling these things "blockbusters," but other terms would have been just as apt: "the big-budget low-budget movie," "the A-list B-movie." Suddenly, the big Hollywood studios were making a play for the indie's market. Seeing their habitat threatened, the exploitation filmmakers responded by doing everything they could to copy Spielberg and Lucas. Time to introduce William Girdler, the director of Grizzly. He was a professional plagiarist, filmdom's answer to the mockingbird. If you had a bandwagon, he'd jump on it. In his first few years in the movie business he made a horror film (Three on a Meathook, 1972), a blaxploitation thriller (The Zebra Killer, 1974), and a blaxploitation horror film (Abby, 1974). That last one was considered so similar to The Exorcist (1973) that Girdler faced official complaints from Warner Brothers. There was scarcely anyone more qualified than Girdler to rip-off Jaws. The guy became so self-conscious about making a living as a cinematic mimeograph artist that in interviews he was constantly making defensive comparisons between himself and Spielberg -- a comparison not in any way warranted. It must be noted, however, that the screenwriters of Grizzly insist that this is a grossly unfair mischaracterization of the facts. According to them, Harvey Flaxman had an unhappy encounter with an unfriendly bear while on a family camping trip, and was inspired by the experience to write a thriller. He and David Sheldon had allegedly finished this screenplay before Jaws was even made, and that any similarities between the two films are pure coincidence. These coincidences are legion. A casual viewer of Grizzly could assume that Flaxman and Sheldon did nothing more than take a copy of Peter Benchley's Jaws, cross out all the references to sharks, and write "bear" in their place. The structure of Jaws is intact: the national park is facing a bumper crowd of tourists; when a bear attack suggests the wisdom of shutting the park down, the officials cravenly insist on denying the threat; the heroic ranger and his eccentric scientist ally square off against the suits in charge; an innocent child is attacked; the animal is an abnormally large and intelligent member of its species... When pressed on the sheer volume of similarities between the two, Sheldon conceded that he had just read Benchley's novel Jaws before writing his script... Sheldon and Flaxman had no immediate buyer for their script, whatever its provenance. Girdler read it, liked it (why, of course he did!), and volunteered to scare up financing on the condition he get to direct it. Sheldon had hoped to make the movie himself, but when Girdler almost immediately brokered a deal with Edward Montoro, of Film Ventures International, Sheldon stepped aside. Girdler was used to making movies in the literal wilderness. His base of operations was Kentucky, far from Hollywood. Grizzly would be shot in Clayton, Georgia -- the same place where Deliverance (1972) was filmed. The vistas are at times quite lovely, and every so often Girdler pulls off an impressive composition. And then some stuntman wearing a furry claw ambles along to take a swipe at some starlet, and the moment is lost. Like Jaws, this is a boy's club of a movie, with little for any actress to do aside from strip and get killed. The closest thing to a female lead is Joan McCall, who plays photojournalist Allison Corwin. McCall was and remains Sheldon's wife, and all signs point to his having added her part as an after-thought. She appears only on the sidelines, and does as much as can be expected with her thankless role. The cast is otherwise surprisingly strong for a project of such low ambitions. Christopher George plays the head ranger Kelly. George was never a celebrity, but he was a working actor whose decades of TV roles and low-budget starring parts made him a familiar face nonetheless. Playing Richard Dreyfus to his Roy Scheider was Richard Jaeckel. As much at home in Westerns as crime thrillers, Jaeckel was the kind of versatile actor who could play alongside Glenn Ford in 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and then toddle off to Japan to fight The Green Slime (1968) . Character actor Andrew Prine plays Don, the closest thing to a Robert Shaw role the film has, and he gets to tell a chilling anecdote about a legendary bear attack in a scene modeled after Shaw's famous "Indianapolis" monologue from Jaws. We need to say a word or two as well about their costar, the big ole' bear herself. In the early reels, Girdler follows Spielberg's technique of using the camera as the monster's POV. Keeping the bear off screen meant not having to suffer any unconvincing bear-attack special effects, but as the movie plummets towards its conclusion, such restraint gave way, and a real live bear was brought in to perform. Perform is the key word in this context--she was a professional movie bear, used to human company. Her name was Teddy (don't ask me why), and she was an eleven-foot tall Kodiak, the largest bear in captivity. She made another film with Girdler, immediately afterwards. Her son was Bart, star of The Edge (1997) and numerous other movies--possibly the most famous bear in the world (it's not as if there are many bear celebrities in contention for that honor). We're talking here about the Barrymores of the bear world. Like any good Barrymore, she threatens to chew the scenery, but doesn't threaten to chew anything else. Part of the problem is that, for safety's sake, Teddy does not appear in the same shot as any of her human co-stars--which makes it rather tough to gauge her size, without anything for reference. She may be the biggest bear in captivity, but she never looks it. In order to get her to behave on cue, her handlers smeared yummy dead fish onto various props and scenery. The result is, she looks more curious and hungry than vengeful. I don't doubt that wild bears can be ferocious and fearsome, but there is nothing remotely terrifying about this cuddly critter. That doesn't stop Christopher George from blowing her up (because they blew up Jaws), using a bazooka (because all park rangers carry... oh, forget it). Cue credits, and watch the money come in. And come in it did. Grizzly would prove to be Girdler's most successful film. And if that sounds like weak praise, given Girdler's sketchy filmography, let's add that Grizzly was the top grossing indie production of 1976. If reported figures are to be believed, it made a staggering $30 Million on a budget of only $750,000. Of course, you never know whom to trust about such numbers. Financier Edward Montoro claimed the project went way over budget, and then flopped. Girdler and the other filmmakers sued Montoro, on the grounds that his bizarro-universe accounting was just a fiction designed to cheat them out of their share. During the dispute, Girdler was reduced to living off the generosity of friends. Settlements were reached, Montoro paid up, and a few years later Film Ventures went belly up altogether. Girdler made a few more notoriously demented films in the years that followed. In 1977 the cast and crew of Grizzly reunited for another "Nature Strikes Back" thriller, Day of the Animals. Girdler followed this with The Manitou (1978) about a Native American shaman who crawls out of a lump that grows on a woman's back. In 1978, while filming in the Philippines, he was killed in a helicopter crash. Perhaps because their participation in Grizzly's success was belated, or perhaps because working in low-budget movies distorts your understanding of how the world works, Sheldon decided in 1983 that the world was clamoring for Grizzly 2. It was a misbegotten thing from the start. The market for exploitation films had changed, the day of the ecological monster flick had passed, and whatever cachet Grizzly once had was now long forgotten. But Sheldon ploughed on regardless. It would have been Charlie Sheen's first major role, and the debut performance of George Clooney. That is, if anyone had ever seen it. Special effects problems dogged the production, and it was abandoned unfinished. Producers: Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon Director: William Girdler Screenplay: Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon (screenplay); Andrew Prine (Indian Story (uncredited)) Cinematography: William Asman Music: Robert O. Ragland Film Editing: Bub Asman Cast: Christopher George (Michael Kelly), Andrew Prine (Don Stober), Richard Jaeckel (Arthur Scott), Joan McCall (Allison Corwin), Joe Dorsey (Charley Kittridge), Charles Kissinger (Dr. Samuel Hallitt), Kermit Echols (Walter Corwin), Tom Arcuragi (Ranger Tom), Vicki Johnson (Ranger Gail), Catherine Rickman (June Hamilton). C-91m. by David Kalat Sources: Joan McCall and David Sheldon, audio commentary to Grizzly, Shriek Show DVD www.williamgirdler.com www.bmoviegraveyard.com

Quotes

Well let me tell you something Kittridge, while you've been sitting around here on your fat ass, I've made this forest part of me!
- Ranger Michael Kelly
You listin here...
- Charley
No you listen. Those campers are in my jurisdiction, now I'm going to deal with it the way I've seen it fit. Now you just try and stop me!
- Ranger Michael Kelly
Kelly, you're a maverick. We don't have room for mavericks!
- Charley
Well let me tell you a little story boy. A long time ago their was a tribe of Indians up here in these woods. They were all laying down in these parts... or something I can't remember. Any way these herd of grizzlies smelt them out. They came in an they ate them. They thorn them all up. Little children, sick ones everybody! Their were few braves to go out on the hunt. They came back and them grizzlies turned on them! So their you got yourself a little situation. A whole herd of man-eating grizzlies. Just running around tearing up them Indians!
- Don
That's kind of hard to believe Don.
- Arthur Scott
Unless of course you happen to be one of them Indians!
- Don
But there's something I'm not doing!
- Kelly
Sure you're not killing the bear!
- Allison Corwin
Let's give that son-of-a-bitch bear a run for his money!
- Don

Trivia

Two bears were used. An 11 foot Grizzly Bear and a 7 foot black bear. They were secured behind a fence so actors and crew would not get injured. A man in a bear costume was used when the bear attacked.

The project for grizzly was originally signed to Warner Bros.

The idea for the film was from writer Harvey Flaxman when he was younger were he had an encounter with a grizzly bear on a camping trip. Flaxman thought of it and decided it would make a great idea for an animal attack film. David Sheldon and Flaxman began to write the script.

Western actor Ben Johnson was first to be approached to play the role of Don.

Clint Walker (I) was first asked to play Ranger Kelly but instead did the made for TV film Snowbeast (1977) and Christopher George (I) got the part of Kelly.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1976

Todd-AO

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1976