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Promotional movie poster by Neal Adams
|Directed by||William Girdler
|Produced by||Lloyd N. Adams (executive producer)
Edward L. Montoro
|Written by||Harvey Flaxman,
|Music by||Robert O. Ragland|
|Cinematography||William L. Asman|
|Edited by||Bub Asman
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures/Film Ventures International (U.S.)|
Grizzly (also known as Killer Grizzly on television) is a 1976 thriller film directed by William Girdler, about a 15-foot-tall, man-eating grizzly bear that terrorizes a National Forest. It stars Christopher George, Andrew Prine and Richard Jaeckel. Widely considered a Jaws rip-off, Grizzly used many of the same plot devices as its shark predecessor, which had been a huge box-office success during the previous year. The giant grizzly bear in the film was portrayed by a bear named Teddy, who was 11 feet tall.
The film opens with military veteran helicopter pilot and guide Don Stober (Prine) flying individuals above the trees of a vast national park. He states that the woods are untouched and remain much as they did during the time when Native Americans lived there.
Two female hikers are breaking camp when they are suddenly attacked and killed by an unseen animal. The national park's chief ranger, Michael Kelly (George), and photographer Allison Corwin (Joan McCall), daughter of the park's restaurant owner, decide to follow a ranger to the primitive campsite to check on the female hikers. There, they discover the mangled corpses of the two girls, one of which has been partially buried.
At the hospital, a doctor tells Kelly that the girls were killed by a bear. The park supervisor, Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey), blames Kelly for the attacks, saying that the bears were supposed to have been moved from the park by Kelly and naturalist Arthur Scott (Jaeckel) before the tourist season began. Kelly and Kittridge argue over closing the park, before deciding to move all hikers off the park's mountain while allowing campers to remain in the lowlands. Kelly calls Scott, who tells him that all of the bears are accounted for and this specific bear must be unknown to the forest.
During a search of the mountain, a female ranger stops for a break at a waterfall. Deciding to soak her feet, she is unaware that the bear is lurking under the falls, and she is attacked and killed. Kelly recruits the helicopter pilot, Stober, to assist in the search. Flying above the forest, they see what they believe to be an animal, only to discover the naturalist Scott adorned in an animal skin while tracking the bear. He informs them that the animal they are looking for is a prehistoric grizzly bear (a fictional Pleistocene-era Arctodus ursos horribilis) standing at least 15 feet tall. Kelly and Stober scoff at the notion.
At the busy lowland campground, the grizzly tears down a tent and kills a woman. Kelly once again insists on closing the park, but Kittridge refuses. The attacks are becoming a national news story, and to counteract this, Kittridge allows amateur hunters into the forest. Kelly, Stober, and Scott, now a team, are disgusted by this development. Later, a lone hunter is chased by the bear, but he manages to escape the animal by jumping into a river and floating to safety. Later that night, three hunters find a bear cub that they believe is the cub of the killer grizzly, so they use it as bait for the mother. However, the grizzly finds and eats the cub without the hunters noticing. Scott concludes that the bear must be a male, as when it comes to bears, only the males are known to be cannibalistic. A ranger at a fire lookout tower on the mountain is attacked by the grizzly, the animal tearing down the structure and killing the ranger.
Kelly and Kittridge continue to argue over closing the park. Frustrated by the politics of the situation, Scott sneaks away to track the grizzly on his own. On the outskirts of the national park, a mother and her young child are attacked by the grizzly. The mother is killed, while the child survives, albeit severely mutilated. Stunned by this development, Kittridge finally allows Kelly to close the park and ban all hunters.
Stober and Kelly now go after the elusive grizzly alone, setting up a trap by hanging a deer carcass from a tree. The grizzly goes for the bait, but then suddenly retreats. The men chase the animal through the woods, but it easily outruns them. When they return, they discover the grizzly has tricked them and taken the deer carcass. The next day, Scott, tracking on horseback, finds the remains of the carcass and calls Stober and Kelly on the radio. He is going to drag the deer carcass behind his horse and create a trap by leading the grizzly towards them. However, the grizzly ambushes Scott, killing his horse and knocking him unconscious. He subsequently awakens to find himself alive but half-buried in the ground. Just as he finishes digging himself out, the grizzly returns and kills him.
Kelly and Stober discover Scott's mutilated body and, in despair, return to the helicopter to track the grizzly from the air. They soon spot the bear in a clearing and quickly land. The grizzly attacks the helicopter, swiping the craft and causing Stober to be thrown clear. The grizzly kills Stober before turning on Kelly, who frantically pulls a bazooka from the helicopter. Before the bear can reach him, Kelly fires the bazooka at the grizzly, killing the animal instantly. For several seconds, Kelly sadly stares at the burning remains of the grizzly, before walking towards Stober's body.
- Christopher George as Michael Kelly
- Andrew Prine as Don Stober
- Richard Jaeckel as Arthur Scott
- Joan McCall as Allison Corwin
- Joe Dorsey as Charley Kittridge
- Charles Kissinger as Dr. Hallitt
- Mike Clifford as Pat
- Teddy (a Kodiak bear) as the Grizzly
The idea for Grizzly began when the film's producer and writer, Harvey Flaxman, encountered a bear during a family camping trip. Co-producer and co-writer David Sheldon thought the idea would make a good film following the success of Jaws. Girdler discovered the script on Sheldon's desk and offered to find financing as long as he could direct the film. Within a week, Girdler was able to obtain $750,000 in financing from Edward L. Montoro's Film Ventures International movie distribution company.
Grizzly was filmed on location in Clayton, Georgia, with many local residents cast in supporting roles. Catherine Rickman, who played one of the first victims, was actually the daughter of Clayton's mountain man, Frank Rickman. Though unintentional, the casting of George, Prine, and Jaeckel marked the second time this trio of actors starred together in the same film. They had previously played supporting roles in the 1970 Western Chisum starring John Wayne. A Kodiak bear nicknamed Teddy performed as the killer grizzly. Teddy was 11 feet tall and was the largest bear in captivity at that time. The bear was rented from the Olympic Game Ranch in Sequim, Washington, where he was kept behind an electric fence. The crew was protected from the bear by a piece of green string running through the shooting locations, and a ticking kitchen timer. This resembled (to the bear) an electric fence. Actors and crew members were instructed to always stay on the camera side of the string. The bear did not actually roar, so it was tricked into making the motions of roaring by throwing several marshmallows into its mouth and then holding a final marshmallow in front of its face but not throwing it. The bear would stretch for it. The sound was artificially produced. The original artwork for the Grizzly movie poster was created by the popular comic book artist Neal Adams. A novelization by Will Collins was published, as well.
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Critical reception for Grizzly in 1976 was extremely negative, with most critics panning the film for being too closely similar to Steven Spielberg's classic thriller Jaws. Vincent Canby from the New York Times panned the film, criticizing the film's poor plotting, cinematography, and editing. He wrote, "Grizzly, which opened yesterday at the Rivoli and other theaters, is such a blatant imitation of Jaws that one has to admire the depth of the flattery it represents, though not the lack of talent involved". Donald Guarisco from Allmovie gave the film a negative review, criticizing the film's script, cheap gore, and overuse of clichés, and saying, "This energetic but clumsy horror effort is too contrived and poorly realized to be worthwhile for most viewers". Film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 2 out of 4 stars, calling it an "OK rip-off of Jaws".
Regardless, the film holds a more positive 60% "Fresh" rating on film review website Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 4.9 out of 10 based on five reviews, and a more negative 29% from audience members.
Grizzly was released on VHS by Anchor Bay Entertainment. It was released in the LaserDisc format in 1984 by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, but only in Japan. The DVD version of Grizzly was first released on December 2, 1998, and was re-released on DVD by Scorpion Releasing on August 5, 2014. Scorpion Releasing issued a limited-edition Blu-ray in September 2015, exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment.
A sequel, Grizzly II: The Predator (also known as Grizzly II: The Concert), was filmed in 1983 in Hungary by director André Szöts, but was never released to theaters. Sheldon, the co-producer and writer of Grizzly, wrote the screenplay with his screenwriter wife, McCall, who also reprised her role from the original film. The stars were Louise Fletcher, Steve Inwood, John Rhys-Davies, Deborah Raffin and Deborah Foreman; the cast also included Charlie Sheen, George Clooney and Laura Dern, who were unknown at the time, despite being from families of popular stars. It also featured live performances by Toto Coelo, Landscape III, and other musicians.
The main scenes for Grizzly II: The Predator were completed, but before special effects featuring a huge electromechanical bear could be used, the executive producer, Joseph Proctor, disappeared with all of the funds, with some sources saying he was jailed during the time of the filming. Filmed footage of a live bear, however, attacking a live rock concert, was shot in Hungary. Attempts have been made to recut and film more scenes, but to date, the film has never been released. A bootleg version with the original workprint was released in 2007.
- "William Girdler, Hollywood Films". williamgirdler.com. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
- Canby, Vincent. "Movie Review - Grizzly - William Girdler's Not-Quite-So-Toothsome 'Grizzly' - NYTimes.com". New York Times.com. Vincent Canby. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
- Guarisco, Donald. "Grizzly (1976) - William Girdler". Allmovie.com. Donald Guarisco. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
- Maltin, Leonard (September 2012). Leonard Maltin's 2013 Movie Guide. New York, New York: Penguin Press. p. 565. ISBN 978-0-451-23774-3.
- "Grizzly (1976) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
- "LaserDisc Database - Grizzly (1976)". LaserDisc Database. 25 November 2006. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
- "Screen Archives Entertainment". =Screen Archives Entertainment. Retrieved 3 October 2015.