dir. William Girdler
"Kelly, you're a maverick. We don't have room for mavericks."
Given Jaws deliberately exploitation-aping killer animal set-up, it was no surprise that the drive-ins would be overrun with imitations of this film in the next few years. [Side note: As far as I'm concerned early Spielberg efforts such as Duel and Jaws are infinitely superior to anything he would later film. (Second side note: I have just been made aware that Spielberg is in the process of remaking Oldboy, with Will Smith in the lead. I rest my case.)] The genius of Jaws was that it mined the tropes of trashy horror pictures, while adding a knowing, movie-geek sense of style, film language and film history. He infused his first box-office success, simultaneously, with a New Hollywood attention to characters and with knowing homages to the classic films of his youth.
Exploitation director William Girdler, never one to miss an easily cash-inable genre trend, was one of the first director's to latch onto Jaws' fins, churning out the subsequent year's Grizzly. [Soon after, Girdler would also release the deliciously bat-shit Day of the Animals.] For anyone who has seen Jaws, a description of Grizzly's plot would be redundant. Girdler's film can be summed up thusly: take away the character development and expert camera-work of Spielberg's film; add more gore, and uh, oh yeah, replace the big ol' sea fish with a big ol' land fish, and you have Grizzly.
Grizzly's uninvolving plot is but a shab curtain rod from which to hang, awesomely over the top grizzly bear murders. These man-in-a-bear-suit murders are truly Grizzly's saving grace. Every time it seems as if the movie is starting to lag, fake bear claws attack an unsuspecting camper, or knock the head off a horse (that's right, you heard me). The incongruity of combining majestic, innocent actual bear footage with low budget killer bear effects is a knee-slapping hoot. [Incidentally, some youtuber made a montage of all the death scenes from this flick. I was going to include it here but the clip was un-embeddable. You can view it here.]
Girdler made no attempt to mask his true intentions with this picture. Cheap trashy fun/scares were his ultimate goal. His lack of devotion to plotting, characters, and story, frequently produce hilariously confounding plot developments. Of the many pieces of "What the shit?" moments, perhaps the awesomest is park superintendent Kittiredge's (Joe Dorsey) refusal to shut down the park to campers, despite all the bear maulings. As is obvious, this character is a direct nod to Jaws. Is Kittiredge keeping the park open as a way to continue raking in the tourist dollars? That would be too obvious, and too much of a direct lift from Jaws. It is soon revealed that his motive is political. He hopes that his actions will one day land him an important position in Washington. It is never made clear which alternate universe this film takes place in, that such actions would be considered a positive political boon.
"Yes, I'm running on a tourists-getting-slaughtered-by huge-Pleistocene-era-grizzlies platform. Ain't no one gonna compete with that. What's that you say? This is the exact opposite of the kind of position a politician should run on? Well, I already got all these campaign buttons and bumper stickers made. Sorry, keep the tourists coming." Birthed as his film was in the era of Watergate, Girdler knew enough that political cynicism was a hot commodity at the movie house. He was not savvy enough, however, to deal with the subject in a mature, intelligent manner. [Then again, this plot point makes about as much sense as bringing automatic rifles to town hall debates on health care.]
Girdler takes similarly confounding swipes at the media. Bandying about in misguided, uninformed, poo-flinging, Girdler similarly misses the mark on his media attacks. It is soon revealed that tourists have flocked to this grizzly death trap park because of all the work the media had done to glamorize bear violence. Confronting a reporter near base camp, park ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) lets loose, "You and your cameras made it so exciting, so attractive." Yes, the media frequently does sensationalize and exploit such animal attacks for ratings [I think we all remember the shark summer of a few years back.] Rather than making getting-killed-by-animals all the rage, however, these media attacks tend to have the opposite effect, scaring people into not coming anywhere within ten miles of nature.
Lovers of shit have much to love with Girdler's picture. Incoherency and gore abound. A deliciously over the top rocket launcher induced grizzly death finale (in addition to aiding countless hours of masturbation for a certain former Alaskan Governor/Quitter) is but the delicious icing on an already unhealthily tasteful cake.