Thursday, February 10, 2011

Grizzly (1976)

          When you’re in the mood for 90 minutes of pure ’70s cheese, you’d be hard-pressed to find something more appetizing than the shameless Jaws rip-off Grizzly. As the title suggests, the movie depicts the rampage of a ravenous 18-foot bear through a national park filled with unsuspecting campers. Narrative logic isn’t exactly this picture’s greatest strength—so don’t ask why hunters have such a hard time tracking the bear, or why rangers can’t simply evacuate the park until the danger is past. Just go with the flow, and you’ll have a goofy good time, because the movie delivers all the requisite creature-feature clichés. The picture stars square-jawed ’70s guy Christopher George as the peace officer charged with protecting a small community from a hungry menace—except instead of a sheriff, like Roy Scheider’s character in Jaws, he’s a park ranger, so his jurisdiction is millions of acres of wild, mountainous forest. When a grizzly inexplicably appears in the forest and starts chomping on folks, George teams up with a bleeding-heart naturalist (Richard Jaeckel) and a good ol’ boy helicopter pilot (Andrew Prine) to hunt down the beastie, even though—wait for it!—a greedy politician (Joe Dorsey) stands in his way.
          Hewing to the Jaws formula allows the picture to toggle between bloody bear attacks and angry confrontations between the righteous ranger and his smarmy superior; the formula also facilitates Jaws-style scenes of manly men bonding out in the wild as they stalk their prey. The acting is erratic, the dialogue is terrible, and the storyline is the definition of predicable. Yet Grizzly has a certain kind of vibe. George is endearingly square, but Jaeckel and Prine bring pleasant degrees of crazy to their characters, and the location photography lends authenticity—the film’s many aerial shots, for instance, offer intoxicatingly lush tableaux. Better still, the thrills-per-hour ratio is pretty good, the PG-level gore gets the job done without succumbing to excess, and there are a handful of solid comin’-at-ya jolts. Further, it’s amusing to see how reverently the filmmakers copy Jaws, from the way Jaeckel’s naturalist character echoes Richard Dreyfuss’ shark guy in the earlier film, to the way Prine delivers a monologue about a bear attack in the style of Robert Shaw’s legendary U.S.S. Indianapolis speech in Jaws. For viewers with certain cinematic appetites (myself included), Grizzly is a nearly perfect specimen of ’70s drive-in shlock.

Grizzly: FUNKY

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