Cult Movie: 70s creature feature Grizzly offers 'Jaws with claws' fun

Grizzly aimed to do for the forest what Jaws did for the beach
Ralph McLean


THE bare naked greed shown by the money men of Hollywood to cash in on the runaway success of Jaws in 1975 would shame a premier league venture capitalist.

The rush to provide the next creature feature to replicate the box office-busting glory of Spielberg's killer fish favourite gave us many a monstrous 'man versus nature' classic. Should you feel inclined to fritter away a couple of hours of your precious time on this Earth, then seek out the likes of Dogs (1976) or the utterly woeful Orca: Killer Whale (1977), a film so poor it should have been tied to a lead weight and sent to the bottom of the sea forever.

Unleashed into cinemas in 1976, Grizzly is one of the more memorable 'wildlife goes wild' exploitation efforts to make it successfully to the screen. Directed by William Girder, it's the simple tale of a bear who wreaks havoc in the nature parks of America by chowing down on campers like Yogi with a fierce case of the munchies.

The Jaws parallels are obvious, and the film was slaughtered critically at the time for its slavish attention to Spielberg's blueprint, but it's fun all the same and gruesome enough to put you off a camping holiday in the America countryside should such things ever become possible again.

Christopher George is Mike Kelly, a humble forest ranger plagued by the arrival on his patch of a 15 foot grizzly bear who's nursing the mother of all sore heads. As the beast starts picking off campers and rangers alike, a shameless park supervisor Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey) attempts to cover it all up in order to keep the money rolling in.

Kelly briefly plays along, but his conscience gets the better of him and he gets together with an oddball naturalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) and a testosterone fuelled pilot Don Strober (Andrew Prine) to track down the animal and kill it before it does any more damage.

The Jaws plotline and connections with Spielberg's infinitely better film are obvious and Girder seems happy with that – it was even re-named Claws in some territories – but the film rattles along at an impressive pace throughout and the bear attacks are handled effectively and with some neat gory touches. Given the lack of computer enhanced effects available at the time it's strangely effective in a slightly tatty 70s way.

If the bloodletting makes it feel like a cheaper Jaws, the 1976 setting means the social interactions come over like a bizarrely gruesome episode of Columbo. That is, it almost goes without saying, a good thing.

Those seeking further info on the Grizzly franchise should investigate the still unreleased sequel Grizzly II, which handed out early screen time to both Charlie Sheen and George Clooney. Now that is a genuinely horrific proposition.

Like Jaws relocated from seaside to forest, Grizzly is an entertaining nature ramble into that long lost world of 'when mature attacks' films and it's well worth seeking out. Just don't bring a well filled picnic basket.

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