Wednesday, May 2, 2018

GRIZZLY (1976) (88 Films Blu-ray Review)

GRIZZLY (1976)
Label: 88 Films
Region Code: B
Rating: Cert. 15
Duration: 91 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Uncompressed English LPCM Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: William Girdler
Cast: Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel Joan McCall, Joe Orsey, Charles Kissinger, Kermit Echols, Tom Arcuraci, Kathy Rickman, Victoria Johnson, Mary Ann Hearn

Synopsis: Following the worldwide impact of JAWS in 1975 directors and producers were fast to cash-in on the success of the Steven Spielberg terror-trendsetter and to instigate a short-lived sub-genre of killer animal movies. Perhaps the most successful of all was 1976's GRIZZLY which took in mega-money upon its release and had audiences glued to their seats and avoiding natural parks for the foreseeable future! Starring the Great Christopher George (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) and directed by the genius exploitation master William Girdler (DAY OF THE ANIMALS), GRIZZLY traces the bloody rampage of the titular animal who is chomping, tearing and terrorizing innocent campers and showcasing a case of insatiable hunger. If JAWS is the ultimate killer shark flick then GRIZZLY is the world's greatest marauding-mammal movie and, thanks to 88 Films, this all time classic horror film is finally available to UK audiences in gloriously gruesome HD!

The Jaws with claws knock-off Grizzly (1976) opens with a pair of attractive female backpackers at their campsite in the forest when a 15-foot grizzly emerges from the woods with a roar and the limbs starts flying. With one woman down the beast gives chases the second who takes refuge in a nearby cabin, the bear then proceeds to tear it apart, getting to the woman and ending her life with a clawed swoop of the paw to the face, it's a surprisingly grisly start to one of the 70's most enjoyable nature-run-amok films. Grizzly is a cheapie exploitation film directed by William Girdler (Abby), it's also an unabashed knock-off of Jaws, with characters types and plot points lifted straight from the classic shark film, it really is Jaws with claws. 

When the lady backpackers are noticed to be missing park ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George, Lucio Fulci's The City of the Living Dead) launches a search party, his photographer girlfriend Allison Corwin (Joan McCall, Devil Times Five) joins them and ends up falling face first into a pool of the victim's blood in the dark. When an autopsy of the remains reveal the the gruesome victim-shredding to be the work of a large bear the right-minded Kelly attempts to close the park, but his careerist boss, park supervisor Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey), is reluctant to do so during the lucrative busy season at the park, just one of many borrowed elements from Jaws, to list out all the borrowed plot points would be a useless exercise, the whole film is a direct lift, right up to the surprisingly explosive finale. 

Kelly teams up with a local naturalist named Scott (Richard Jaeckel, The Dark) and a 'Nam vet helicopter pilot named Don (Andrew Prine, The Town That Dreaded Sundown) and the trio begin tracking down the bloodthirsty beast whose taste for human flesh seemingly grows with each attack. All the while the park supervisor remains unwilling to close down the park as the deadly furry-frenzy continues, at least until a young boy and his mother are attacked, but not before calling in the press to cover the event and allowing a bunch of the local yokels to hunt the bear.

Grizzly incorporates a real grizzly bear into the mayhem, maybe not a 15-foot tall, two-thousand pound grizzly, but one that seems to like walking on it's hind quarters for most of the film, mixed in with plenty of killer POV shots of the bear stalking it's prey through the forest, with a prosthetic bear arm/claws that does most of the real damage onscreen, but the effect is not too cheesy, just a little, ha ha. The gore in this one is surprisingly vicious for a PG movie, they got away with so much in the 70's and 80's, it was a great time for horror fans when you could get some gore and a bit of nudity - though there's no nudity in this one, sorry folks! The first kill happens mere minutes into the film when that severed arm goes flying across the screen, and later when the young boy and his mother are attacked in their back yard the boy loses a leg in the process, while it's not classic 80's gore it's still potent stuff and caught me by surprise.

The cast is fun, we have 70's manly-man Christopher George, the guy is always charismatic and a joy to watch whether he's unlocking the gates of Hell or investigating a series of chainsaw murders, I always love this guy and his version of Chief Brody is good stuff. Then we have the always affable Andrew Prine as the helicopter pilot, Prine usually plays a good old boy and he's no different here, them there's Richard Jaeckel as the eccentric naturalist who runs around the woods draped in what looks to be a deer skin cape and scarfs down sandwiches during important meetings, adding a nice layer of human peculiarity to the proceedings. I'd be remiss not to mention actor Joe Dorsey is also doing a pretty good riff on Murray Hamilton's greedy-mayor character from Jaws as the park superintendent.

There's also plenty that's straight-up silly about the film, such as when a local hunter encounters the bear the first thing he does is throw his rifle to the ground, what the serious fuck! Then there's a scene of the bear hiding behind a waterfall like a slasher waiting for a pretty park ranger to strip down to her her underwear at a local swim hole before mauling her to death, that always makes me laugh. The acting is fun but not uniformly great, the characters are one dimensional copies from Jaws, and the film has a certain TV movie look about it despite being shot in scope widescreen, but at the end of the day Grizzly is an enduring, fun and surprisingly  grisly Grizzly movie that holds up all these years later.   

Audio/Video: Grizzly (1976) arrives on region-B locked Blu-ray from 88 Films framed in 2.35:1 widescreen looking solid in HD, the grain levels fluctuate a bit throughout but the image is vivid and impressive, offering some nice moments of fine detail from time to time, such as the woven fabric of the park superintendents blazer or some of bloody special effects shots. The image has some soft spots, the density fluctuates a bit, but colors are nicely mostly well saturated with the blues and red popping nicely. The condition of the source is very good, there's some occasional white specks and minor print damage and debris that appear throughout, but overall this is a solid presentation. 

The audio comes by way of uncompressed English LPCM Mono 2.0 with newly created optional English subtitles. During my viewing I didn't detect any hiss or distortion coming through, everything was well-balanced and clean. The orchestral score comes through nicely with some nice presence during the more dramatic bits, the growl of the grizzly also carries some weight. 

Onto he extras we don't get a lot unfortunately, while I don't have the Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray for comparison I do still have my 2-disc Shriek Show DVD, that release had an audio commentary, vintage doc, 2005 screening Q/A, radio spots and trailers. By comparison the 88 Films Blu-ray - which blows it out of the water with the A/V presentation - falls a bit short with only a trailer and a 22-minute interview with film historian Dave Del Valle who recounts his various meetings with George in Hollywood, his impressions of him as a man, his Playgirl spread and the strange use of props for the photo-shoot, his love and admiration of John Wayne. He also discusses George's style of acting in TV and film, it's all good stuff, and humorously told, too. 

Away from the disc extras we get a 4-page booklet with writings on the film and the genre from Dr. Calum Waddell of High Rising Productions who traces the origin of animals-gone-wild genre back to the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell, and walking us through a series of films that started the ball rolling, including Hithcock's The Birds (1963), Willard (1971), Stanley (1972), Night of the Lepus (1972), Orca (1977) and Alligator (1980) plus contemporary variants like Open Water (2003), Black Water (2007) and Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018) (which is fucking awful), though I was surprised there's no mention of Backcountry (2015), which was one of my favorite bear-attack films in recent memory.

The single-disc releases comes housed in an over-sized 16mm spine Blu-ray case with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the familiar illustration of a grizzly with it clawed paws outstretched in a wonderfully alarming pose on the a-side, the b-side is cool-looking variant, the disc featuring an excerpt from the a-side illustration. The limited edition slipcover features the a-side artwork and has plenty of the all-important shelf-appeal. 

Special Features: 

- What a Guy! - David Del Valle Recalls Actor Christopher George's Life and Career (22 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer
- Limited Edition Booklet Notes by Dr. Calum Waddell
- Reversible Sleeve with alternative cover image

There's a lot of Jaws (1975) knock-offs out there, but Grizzly is right up there with Piranha (1978) and Alligator (1980) as far as sheer enjoyment go, it's a damn shame director William Girdler passed away so young, the victim of a helicopter crash in the Philippines at the age of thirty. He only made nine films but they were all entertaining genre films, and this is one of his best, though it is hard to beat the bat-shit supernatural shaman-horror insanity of The Manitou (1978), which also needs an HD release.   

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