Thursday, May 13, 2021

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

GRIZZLY (1976) 

Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-Free
Duration: 91 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono 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

70's animal attack classic Grizzly was directed by William Girdler (Abby), and it's an unabashed knock-off of Jaws with characters types and plot points lifted straight from the Spielberg mega-blockbuster, living up quite nicely to it's reputation as "Jaws with claws". The film opens with a pair of attractive female backpackers relaxing at their campsite when a ferocious 15-foot tall grizzly emerges from the forest and the limbs starts flying! With one woman torn-up the beast gives chase the other, who takes refuge in a dilapidated cabin. The bear proceeds to tear apart the wood structure, ending the woman's life with a clawed swoop of the paw to her face, it's a wonderfully grisly start to one of the 70's best PG-rated nature-run-amok films. 

When the lady backpackers are late checking out at the ranger station that evening head park ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George, Pieces) sends out a search party. Kelly's photographer girlfriend Allison Corwin (Joan McCall, Devil Times Five) joins them and ends discovering one of the corpses after up falling face first into a pool of the victim's blood while stumbling through the forest the dark. When an autopsy reveals the torn-up corpses 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, War Games), is reluctant to shut down the park during the lucrative camping season, which is just one of many elements borrowed from Jaws, but the whole film is a direct lift, from the scenes of the Grizzly pushing through the forest the way the shark cruised the sea grass, right up to the surprisingly explosive finale, but that don't make it any less entertaining! 

Kelly teams up with an offbeat local naturalist named Scott (Richard Jaeckel, The Dark) and a chopper pilot named Don (Andrew Prine, The Town That Dreaded Sundown) to pursue the bloodthirsty beast, whose taste for human flesh grows with each attack. All the while the park supervisor remains unwilling to close the park even as the terrifying killings continues, at least until a young boy and his mother are attacked in their back yard, and only after authorizing a bunch of the local yokels to hunt the bear all willy-nilly throughout the park.

A lot of the bear-attacks seen in the film are staged using a clawed prop bear-arm, but Grizzly does incorporate a real bear into the fray. Maybe not a 15-foot tall, two-thousand pound grizzly, and not a real Grizzly at all (t's a Kodiak), but at least it's a big freaking bear that likes walking on it's hind quarters and snarling ferociously on cue for the camera, so it works. Mixed in with that footage we get plenty of killer POV shots of the bear stalking it's prey, but most of the onscreen carnage comes by way of the prosthetic bear arm/claws, and a goofy looking life-size bear prop that is thankfully only fleetingly glimpsed throughout the movie. 

The gore in this one is surprisingly vicious for a PG movie, they got away with a lot in the 70's and 80's with that PG-rating, which made it a great time for kiddie horror fans craving gore and a bit of nudity - though there's no nudity in this one, sorry guys, though legend tells of an elusive foreign distributed version with a bit of nudity during the waterfall scene. The first kill happens mere minutes into the film when that backpackers severed arm goes flying across the screen, and later when the young boy and his mother are attacked the kid loses his leg in the process. While it's not classic 80's gore it's still potent stuff and always catches me a bit by surprise just how vicious the attacks are, a scene of a camper being ripped from her tent is particularly well shot and edited I thought. 

The cast is also fun, we have 70's manly-man Christopher George, a guy who never failed to deliver the charismatic charms, whether he was unlocking the gates of Hell in a Fulci film or investigating a series of murders in an oddball chainsaw-slasher, I love this guy, and his exploitation flick riff on Chief Brody is good stuff. Then we have the always solid Andrew Prine as the chopper pilot, Prine was no stranger to portraying affable good old boys, and he delivers more of the same here. Then we have Richard Jaeckel as the eccentric naturalist who runs around the woods draped in a deer skin cape while scarfing down cold-cut sandwiches during important meetings, adding a nice layer of oddball peculiarity to the proceedings. I'd be remiss not to mention actor Joe Dorsey who does a pretty good riff the Murray Hamilton's morally bankrupt mayor from Jaws as the park superintendent.

While there are plenty of tasty exploitation elements the animal attack flick is not devoid of goofiness either, like when a young bear hunter encounters the bear, the first thing the fool does is throw his rifle and flee! There's a scene of the bear hiding behind a waterfall, breathing heavily while waiting for a pretty park ranger to strip down to her skivvies before mauling her to death, which always gives me a chuckle, not to mention the explosive bazooka-finale. 

There were A LOT of Jaws knock-offs but Grizzly has the distinction of being the first out of the gate, coming less than a year after Spielberg's mega-blockbuster. It is an enduring, fun and surprisingly grisly PG-rated Grizzly attack, an eco-horror entry that still has claws all these years later. It's one that I never get tired of watching it, which is a testament to the charms of the cast, the sturdiness of the Harvey Flaxman, and David Sheldon penned script, and the spirit of director William Girdler. 

Audio/Video: Grizzly arrives on region-free Blu-ray sourced from a new 2K scan of the Color Reversal Internegative elements with new color correction. Its an attractive looking presentation with well-managed grain throughout. There's some white speckling evident, but overall this is a nicely organic looking presentation. Colors and skin tones appear natural and well-saturated, and black levels are appropriately deep throughout. Be sure to checkout the screenshots from the Severin Blu-ray at the bottom of the review. 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles, it having been restored from the optical track negative. The 2-channel offering is clean and well-balanced, dialogue comes through strong and precise, and there's plenty of immersive woodland sounds while in the forest, and the ferocious growl and roar of the grizzly has a nice low-end to it, with the shrieks of the bears mauled victims piercing your ears. 

Grizzly is a film that has been released on Blu-ray at least three times that I am aware of, twice from Scorpion Releasing and a third by UK distributor 88 Films. Severin step it up to the plate for a fourth contender with a strong complement of extras, beginning with a fantastic tag-team commentary by Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and film writer Troy Howarth, who bang-out another good humored commentary filled to the brim with a well-researched appraisal. They get into the score from Richard O. Ragland (Q the Winged Serpent), noting that it's the own Girdler film to have an official CD soundtrack, the similarities to Jaws, the cast and crew, the notorious distributor Ed Montoro, the shocking PG rating, and Girdler's tragic death, and make several pleas for the studios to allow official releases of the infamous Jaws knock-off The Last Shark, and Girdler's Exorcist knock-off Abby, both of which were pulled from distribution after being slapped with copyright lawsuits by the studios. We also get an second commentary, an archival track with Pith Producer David Sheldon and Actress Joan McCall, which is moderated by Scorpion Releasing's Walt Olsen. 

Nightmare USA” Author Stephen Thrower On William Girdler is a lengthy 45-minute appreciation of director William Girdler, discussing his body of work from Asylum of Satan on through to Day of the Animals. I appreciated this quite a bit as I am not too familiar with Girdler's pre-Grizzly work, which it gets into quite heavily. It's always a pleasure to hear from Thrower, and I particularly love it when he takes a break from Fulci and Franco to wax on the merits of American exploitation. 

We also get the 19-minute The Grizzly Details with Producer David Sheldon and Actress Joan McCall who recall their experiences making the film with Girdler. Sheldon talks about the real-life incident that inspired the film, almost selling the idea to Warner Bros. before pitching it to Ed Montoro and Film Ventures International. The producer also gets into working with Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel, and the tribulations of working with the live bear and it's mechanical counterpart. He also gets into the crooked business dealings of Montoro and how that panned out in court, in addition to receiving news about Girdler's  death. McCall talks about a shooting in Clayton, Georgia, deleted love scene with her chapter and Christopher George, her character, the film's cult following,, and the Montoro's crooked dealings. 
 
The 9-mimute Towering Fury with Actor Tom Arcuragi who plays the ranger killed when the bear took out a ranger observation tower speaks about landing fist first role in the low-budget film UFO Target Earth, the state of the Georgie film market in the 70's, and getting asked to be boom operator on the film after the previous guy got canned, as well as what it was like shooting the tour scene and working with Girdler, Christopher George, Richard Jaeckle and Andrew Prine, and his interactions with "Teddy" the bear, whom he describes as scary but gentlemanly. He caps it off with a fun story about his grandfather's reaction during the screening in his hometown. 

Movie Making in the Wilderness is a 7-minute vintage behind-the-scenes making-of looks like a TV news segment featuring Girdler and some behind-the-scenes footage of the production with the director talking about the challenges shooting in a remote area. In the 37-minute Making Movies with Girdler, an audio interview with business partner and Friend J. Patrick Kelly III conducted by Severin's David Gregory, Kelly discusses the super-8 behind-the-scenes footage he shot, as well as meeting Girdler, how they came to work together first on commercials and then on low-budget film, and the particulars of making Asylum of Satan, Three On A Meathook, working with American International Pictures on Abby and the success and fallout of that film, Sheba Baby with Pam Grier, Project: Kill with Leslie Nielsen, and making Grizzly and Day of the Animals with Film Ventures International with infamous distributor Ed Montoro, plus touching on film projects that were never realized, how it seemed he and Girdler were drifting apart, and how he found out about the director's death, and speculating on what could have been. ⁶

Severin also include the 37-minute archival making-of featurette Jaws with Claws, and the disc is buttoned-up with 1-minute of Radio Spots and 3-minutes of Trailers for the movie. There are two Easter Eggs tucked away on the disc, we get 4-minutes of super 8mm behind-the-scenes footage, plus a cool radio spot for Asylum of Satan on advertising a neat gimmick, a "Satan Soul-Protector" handed out at screenings of the exploitation cheapie. 

The single-disc release arrives in a spiffy black keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring a pair of vintage illustrated movie posters that are quite cool, an excerpt of a Grizzly from one of the illustration is featured on the disc itself. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and Film Writer Troy Howarth
- The Grizzly Details – Interview with Producer David Sheldon and Actress Joan McCall (19 min) 
- Towering Fury – Interview with Actor Tom Arcuragi (9 min) 
- “NIGHTMARE USA” Author Stephen Thrower On William Girdler (45 min) 
- Movie Making in the Wilderness – Vintage Behind-the-Scenes Making Of (7 min) 
- Making Movies with Girdler - An Audio Interview with Business Partner and Friend J. Patrick Kelly III (37 min)  
- Jaws with Claws – Archival Making Of GRIZZLY Featurette (37 min) 
- Super-8mm Behind-the-Scenes Footage (4 min) 
- Radio Spots (1 min) 
- Trailers (3 min) 
- Reversible Sleeve of Artwork 
- Easter Egg: Asylum of Satan Radio Spot (1 min) 
- Easter Egg: Archival Super 8mm Behind-the-Scenes Footage (4 min) 

There's A LOT of Jaws (1975) knock-offs out there, and Severin have released a handful of them recently, but Grizzly was the first one, and still one of the best of the bunch! It's a damn shame that director William Girdler passed away so young, dying in a helicopter crash while scouting movie locations in the Philippines at the age of thirty, shorty before the release of the supernatural horror insanity of The Manitou (1978). Severin's extras-stuffed release of Grizzly has terrific A/V and a wealth of cool bonus features that makes this the definitive release of this wild animal-attack classic on Blu-ray. 

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: 


Extras: