"Jaws with Claws".
Hot on the heels of Steven Spielberg's 1975 summer blockbuster JAWS, the world and its son seemed to jump on the nature-turns-on-man genre. Exploitation cinema stepped up to the plate with the most gusto, of course, with B-movies popping up everywhere in the form of DAY OF THE ANIMALS, SQUIRM, PIRANHA and so on.
Among the better entries in this busy cycle was William Girdler's 1976 offering GRIZZLY, in which a national park is terrorised by a giant grizzly bear.
Thrown into this scenario are hardnosed park ranger Kelly (Christopher George), old pal Allison who's returned home to take some photographs of the "seasons changing" locally for inclusion in an impending book, and conservationist Arthur (Richard Jaeckel) - who tagged all the bears in the forest as being safe creatures.
Hmm, it seems he may have missed one as there's definitely a beast of a bear in those trees, intent on savaging whatever steps into its path. Its first victims are June (Kathy Rickman) and her female camping partner, who are stalked and gored slasher-style in the film's first fifteen minutes.
When Kelly's deputy Tom (Tom Arcuragi) realises the girls haven't returned from their camping trip as they said they would, he ventures into the hills in search of them. Allison and Kelly go along for the ride ... only to discover their gruesome remains. This alerts everyone to the existence of the rogue bear, and a radio alert is swiftly issued urging backpackers and the like to evacuate the woods with immediate effect.
With pressure mounting from mayor Kittridge (Joe Dorsey). Kelly organises for a host of local hunters to arm themselves with rifles and take to the hills in pursuit of the murderous beast. Meanwhile, said bear has its sights set on another victim (one who, admittedly, is bonkers enough to strip to her underwear and attempt a splash in a waterfall while fully aware of the bear's threat in the vicinity).
Kelly enlists the help of nature-loving helicopter pilot Don (Andrew Prine) in a bid to capture an aerial sighting of his quarry. Once the two of them hook up with the eccentric Arthur, the hunt is well and truly on. Arthur warns them from the offset that they're looking for an 18-feet beast which most likely weighs around 2,000 lbs.
GRIZZLY benefits from keen cinematography, taut direction, slick editing and a cast brimming with charisma. The attack scenes do come across like stalk 'n' slash scenes at times (the bear remains unseen for a good portion of the film), which is fun, and while the script is often corny the performances are sincere enough to ensure Girdler's film entertains from start to finish.
As the body count continues to rise it soon becomes apparent that this is gorier than JAWS, too.
The low budget can't be denied, but the aforementioned cast instil an ungodly amount of charm into proceedings. Replete with a satisfyingly melodramatic score from Robert O Ragland, GRIZZLY is tremendous fun.
88 Films' region B blu-ray brings GRIZZLY to HD in its uncut form, running at 91 minutes and 7 seconds in length. The 1080p transfer presents the film in its original 2.35:1 ratio and is clean, bright, colourful prospect. Images are sharp and detailed, light grain is in evidence and blacks are free from unsightly crushing at all times.
An uncompressed English stereo soundtrack offers dependable if somewhat frill-free playback. Optional subtitles in English are well-written and easy to read.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. While there is no on-screen scene selection option, the film is equipped with 8 chapter stops.
Bonus features kick off with "What a Guy!", a new 23-minute featurette in which journalist and film historian David Del Valle reminisces over the couple of times he met George (and his wife Linda Day George), as well as musing over why the late actor continues to carry such appeal. We learn that the actor was a big drinker, a fundamentally nice chap, and get some insight into the lead-up to his untimely death. The highlight is undoubtedly the story of George's bizarre nude photo-shoot and article which appeared in an issue of "Playgirl" magazine. If you've ever wanted to compare the sizes of George and Prine's willies, now's your chance - thanks to some disconcertingly graphic photos ...
The film's original 6-second trailer appears in all its widescreen glory, albeit it's not in as good a shape as the main feature.
We also get double-sided reversible cover artwork and a neat 4-page booklet containing enjoyable notes which races through the history of the nature-run-amok movie cycle.
If you're buying the blu-ray direct from 88 Films' website, you'll also get a nifty outer slipcase packaging.
88 Films provide a pleasing presentation of a most enjoyable nature-gone-crazy flick from the 1970s. Now, if they can look into releasing Girdler's THREE ON A MEATHOOK, that really would be something ...
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|