Finally, I get to see an uncut version of Grizzly. This was the first to cash in on the bloody wake of Jaws. Cinemas were then deluged by a carnival of killer animal movies, mostly aquatic (Tentacles, Orca The Killer Whale, Piranha, Alligator...), but also landlubbers (Prophecy, The Swarm...). Although Grizzly was first out of the gate, it's one of the best in the genre.
The version we saw in UK cinemas in 1976 had most of the blood (and flying limbs) censored. Despite the amount of gore that was allowed in Jaws, the censor wasn't nearly as lenient with Grizzly. The wonderful Shriek Show 30th anniversary DVD has been my first chance to see the film in its entirety. Getting a 'guilty pleasure' like this, widescreen, uncut, with a commentary track, behind-the-scenes footage, and new interviews, make the Special Edition extra special.
Campers start dying in a state national park. When I say dying, I mean 'getting torn apart'. The ranger thinks a bear is to blame, but no one believes him when he reckons an abnormally large grizzly is responsible - it's just too far south. As the hunters become the hunted, he enlists the help of a helicopter pilot and an eccentric bear expert to try and end the carnage.
Director William Girdler's background was in low-budget horror movies, and Grizzly closely resembles an early slasher film, with the emphasis on slash. The intensity of the bear attacks puts Jason Vorhees to shame, using gore and close-ups of screaming victims backing away from the camera, in a way that recalls Italian giallo. There's as much blood in the uncut version of Grizzly than many Friday the 13th movies, and there's that familiar forest ambiance too. All this and helicopter action. Hey, I happen to like helicopters. So did 1970s action cinema. Had to have a helicopter.
Part of it's continuing watchability today is due to the extensive use of a real-life, full-size grizzly bear running around. (The DVD extras mention the solitary electrified wire that separated it from the cast and crew).
If this were made today, the scriptwriter would have to work hard to avoid the bear being simply anaesthetised and lovingly relocated. But this is a monster movie made in Texas, so the only solutions considered are strictly guns and ammo.
As a bonus, the cast are very good, adding convincing drama to a simple story, but are more familiar from TV. You may have seen Christopher George (the park ranger) star in Lucio Fulci's zombie classic City of the Living Dead (1979), vigilante slasher The Exterminator (1980), or even Girdler's next nature-revenge movie Day of the Animals. Richard Jaeckel (the eccentric tracker) for me is forever the star of Kinji (Battle Royale) Fukasaku's delirious The Green Slime (1968), as a military astronaut defending a space station from, um, alien monsters from the green slime...
As a prime example of bad-taste, low-budget, exploitation cinema gone mainstream, Grizzly is hard to beat. Girdler would try and match it's success with Day of the Animals (1977), but his last film was my favourite, The Manitou (1978), which I reviewed here.
Check out more abut William Girdler's 'Texploitation' movies here.
In the UK, Grizzly topped a double-bill with Drive-In, a good-natured Texan teen comedy. It was like American Graffiti, but in 1970s Dallas. It includes a movie-within-a-movie playing at the drive-in, Disaster '76, an early satire of catastrophe movies, made before Airplane. It's not on DVD, but Drive-In can be seen in its entirety here on GoogleVideo.