Jaws is usually considered to be the film that ushered in the age of the movie blockbuster. Everyone knows about the many ripoffs, from Piranha to Barracuda to Orca: The Killer Whale. But not all of the Jaws ripoffs had fins. Today we look at the film that can easily be described with the phrase “Jaws with Claws.” From 1976, it’s Grizzly.
Our story takes place in a National Park, which one is never made clear. Tons of people are enjoying the beautiful scenery there, but trouble starts when two female hikers are killed in an apparent attack by bear. They are discovered by the chief ranger, Michael Kelly (Christopher George) and his photographer friend, and main squeeze, Allison (Joan McCall).
The park supervisor, Mr. Kittredge (Joe Dorsey) is quick to point the finger at Michael and tells him to deal with it. To help get to the bottom of things, Michael calls in bear expert Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) to help track the beast down. Meanwhile, the bodies are piling up, including that of a female park ranger who takes a break from patrolling for the bear to strip down to her undies and take a dip under a waterfall. If this is regular behavior for park rangers, then the National Park Service has some issues. Another woman is snatched by the bear from a campsite. Strangely, nobody seems to be in a big hurry to, oh perhaps head down to the nearest Motel 6 or something silly like that.
As they gather evidence, Arthur determines that this is no ordinary bear. This is a grizzly, likely 14 feet tall…which is strange since grizzlies don’t live in this area. Michael and Arthur are now determined to find the bear, joining them is a helicopter pilot, Don Strober (Andrew Prine). They all have their own ideas as to how to find the beast. Things get more urgent, though, when the bear attacks a young boy and his mother at a nearby house.
Though it has nothing to do with water, Grizzly may be the most blatant of the Jaws ripoffs. This thing follows Jaws almost beat for beat. Look at the three primary characters: instead of a cop we have a park ranger, instead of a shark expert we have a bear expert, instead of a boat captain we have a helicopter pilot. There’s even a moment where the three are gathered around the campfire and the pilot tells a story of a bear attack…not unlike Robert Shaw’s tale of the Indianapolis in Spielberg’s film. The list goes on: a woman gets naked before meeting her death, a young boy is attacked, and a bureaucrat tries pass the buck on the whole thing. And the end…great googly moogly! There is not a shred of originality here.
However, that’s not to say that the film isn’t enjoyable on some level. This is not a bargain basement production. The film has pretty high production value. It’s well photographed and the acting is decent enough. The effects are maybe a little cheesy in spots, but not bad. Ultimately, the film is interesting and does engage the viewer. Just don’t expect any surprises, remember it’s Jaws.
I guess I did enjoy the film, but must wonder what it would’ve been like had the filmmakers not stuck so close to copying Spielberg’s film. Like Spielberg did, they keep the bear hidden for much of the film…which works when your monster is under the water, but seems a missed opportunity here. It’s supposed to be a 14 foot tall bear! We want to see every snarling drooling inch of that! Alas, that’s not the film we’ve got here. At least if nothing else, you can have fun listing all the moments stolen from Jaws.