Despite seeming to be about how dangerous our national parks have the possibility of being, Grizzly actually proves just the opposite! With its chain smoking park ranger, park supervisor who mindlessly turns loose a bunch of redneck hunters in the park, invites the press to watch while refusing to close the park to guests and sexy park employee who takes a breather from hunting down the bellicose bear to strip and suggestively frolic around a waterfall, you can see why all the eco Chicken Littles are screaming that the real danger is our parks being loved to death!
Grizzly is one of those 1970s nature runs amok movies minus any of the ambition and scope of such petulant pest films as Frogs, Squirm, Empire of the Ants or The Food of the Gods. Grizzly sounds like it’s just about a big surly smelly bear lumbering through the woods and periodically eating hapless campers while our hero is always one step behind and pushes pins in a map to mark the bear’s latest breakfast and that’s exactly what it is.
There’s not a pack of bears, there isn’t any toxic waste causing him to go crazy and there isn’t even any anti-capitalist mewling about how some housing development is encroaching on his territory and forcing him to head to the campground to make raw meat out of whatever bell-bottom wearing babe is milling around.
But if there are no plot twists (does the unexplained disappearance half way through the movie of the park ranger’s girlfriend count?), it isn’t like this is just some ordinary run of the mill bear. It’s a grizzly!
And it’s not just any grizzly, but a really big one the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Pleistocene Era a million years ago! I got excited when I heard this as I imagined such a bear would no doubt have giant tusks or a horn in the middle of its evil head! Once I got a look at it though during one of the 500 shots of it just running through the forest, it looked just like any old big bear and made me wonder when the next skinny dipping scene would take place.
The park is nearing the end of its best season ever! Full of campers, Park Ranger Kelly (Christopher George of City of the Living Dead) doesn’t even have enough men to keep an eye on everything! The lady photographer he flirts with in annoyingly smarmy fashion is also the daughter of the guy who runs the park’s restaurant. She worries that he isn’t charging enough to keep the business going another year because he’s selling the good wine at a loss! The audience worries this has nothing to do with anything. And they’re right! We never see crappy businessman dad or his restaurant again dashing hopes of a climatic fancy black tie dinner party being tore up by Old Griz!
Once Griz starts killing and eating people in earnest, Kelly shifts into high gear. This means lots of drinking, self doubt, cussing out his bureaucrat boss who blames Kelly and the crazed naturalist Scotty for not keeping Griz out of the park and bickering with his gal pal about how it’s too dangerous for her to go take pictures of the prehistoric putz.
After Griz eats a woman and part of her boy (when asked if the boy is still alive, Kelly growls “part of him is”), Kelly finally gets his boss to kick everyone out of the park so that Kelly can put his cunning plan to take down Griz into action. It’s a plan that has him and his helicopter buddy (as they’re gearing up for the plan, he uses a racial slur in telling Kelly that he killed hundreds in Vietnam and he swore off killing after that, but apparently is making an exception in Griz’s case) sit around in the forest with a deer carcass and waiting for Griz to waltz on up and let himself get shot to hell.
The plan is cunning in the sense that while it was so lacking it couldn’t help but fail (which it did) but also managed to get one of their friends brutally murdered by Griz. Which played right into the hands of Kelly because then he just flew around in the helicopter until he spotted Griz, landed, let Griz menace the helicopter and murder another friend all while Kelly uselessly shot him with a rifle before giving up and going to the hand-held bazooka he had in reserve which promptly blew poor old Griz up. Showing how the movie wasn’t up for anything beyond making the most rudimentary bear slasher movie, the script wasn’t even smart enough to explain why Kelly didn’t use the bazooka right from the beginning.
The movie is surprisingly gory and brutal for such an otherwise bland affair. There’s lots of blood and ripped up people whenever Griz goes on the warpath. One poor guy even gets attacked and buried alive by Griz, climbs out of his grave and then gets attacked by Griz yet again and killed! But all the violence is edited with quick shots of a lame fake bear attacking and clearly unrelated scenes of a real bear standing around howling. Worse, much of the movie is just the bear running around (sometimes accompanied by a nausea-inducing bear POV) and with unconvincing dubbed snarling that quickly becomes boring and repetitive.
The film was a big success when it came out in 1976, but it doesn’t hold up today. There isn’t anything special about the bear, the hero is off-putting with his crappy attitude more often than not, the movie kills off almost everyone except for the one character (Kelly’s boss) who was presented as the bad guy, and moments when it tries to show how awesome the bear is such as when he is pushing the observation tower again and again until it collapses, just make you laugh and wonder how poorly constructed that tower must have been. Not exactly unbearable, but it will barely hold your interest.
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