Roll ’em out. Bring on the bad animals. Let’s hear it for Night of the Lepus, Food of the Gods, Empire of the Ants–Grizzly!!!
Back in the day, following Jaws (1975) there were a slew of Giant Animal pictures meant to capitalize on people’s fear of nature, the perception of nature gone wild and taking her revenge on mankind. The environmental movement was still in its infancy, which also had to factor into the prevalence of these flicks. Few of them were of Jaws-level quality, although Food of the Gods at least had an H.G. Wells pedigree. And really–giant carnivorous rabbits? Oh Deforest Kelley, how far you’d fallen. To be fair, Night of the Lepus had the excuse that it was released in 1972, three years before Jaws redefined terror.
Where does Grizzly fit into this? Released in 1976, a year after Jaws, it was spawned by a family outing where producer & writer Harvey Flaxman’s family had encountered a bear. Rightly panned as a Jaws rip-off, it had the virtue of including Teddy, an eleven-foot Kodiak bear as the title villain. Inadvertently it reunited actors Christopher George, Andrew Prine and Richard Jaeckal, who’d also appeared in supporting roles in John Wayne’s Chisum (1970). George is Mike Kelly, the Park Ranger with the dubious task of tracking down this ursine interloper; Prine is Don Stober, the unfortunate helicopter pilot, and Jaeckal as naturalist Arthur Scott.
The film does have its pluses. How often do we get to see a bear tear down a look-out tower? Although the species in question, Arctodus ursos horribilis was a conceit invented for the film, it was based on the giant Pleistocene Era species of Short-Faced bears. These bears, of which there were two species in North America, were about the size of a grizzly but not as heavily built. It may also be one of those rare instances where you find the dumbest thing a person’s ever done, alongside the smartest thing a person’s ever done.
Dumb action first. Two hikers have already been killed. The killer has been positively identified as a bear. Armed with this knowledge, what does this beautiful Park Rangerette do? She goes skinny-dipping in a waterfall. Guess who’s behind the falls? Oh, here comes Teddy!
The movie climaxes with the smartest act. Kelley and Stober finally track down the bear, who takes down their helicopter and kill the hapless pilot. In desperation Kelley fires a bazooka right at the bear, which is vaporized in a shower of blood. Yeah, come back from that, you S.O.B.! All in all Grizzly was a cut above the rest…a slight cut, considering the competition, nonetheless…
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