March 30, 2023

Cocaine Bear is rocking moviegoers everywhere this weekend, but long before this new coked-out beast terrorized innocent civilians, there was another living tank tearing folks up on the silver screen. We’re talkin’ 1976’s Grizzly, a supreme Jaws ripoff in every sense, but the movie rocks so hard that you stop caring. It’s exactly what you expect. Grizzly is the story of a park ranger who is given the task of saving the visitors of his national park from an 18-foot-tall man-eating grizzly bear. Oh yeah – nothing but a good time!

In more recent years, movies with man-eating animals tend to, understandably, rely on CGI for their kills and thrills. This sucker was made back when everything had to be done in the dirt though, when special effects were like the wild west – if you wanted a grizzly bear on screen, you had to actually get a grizzly bear! Grizzly rocks, so if Cocaine Bear is your jam, you know just which woodland savage to visit next – and we’re not talkin’ Pooh Bear.


What Can You Expect from ‘Grizzly’?

This sucker doesn’t beat around the bush. In a tight 89 minutes, Grizzly invites you in for a good time, then rips you apart limb from limb. It’s not a sinister movie necessarily (its beautiful, soaring score makes it impossible to feel truly petrified), but it is a total thrill. The film’s story is simple. Grizzly follows a national park’s chief ranger, Michael Kelly (Christopher George), who has to hunt down a giant man-eating grizzly bear (played by a real-life Kodiak bear named Teddy, get some of that!). Matters are made tougher when the park supervisor, Charley Kittridge (played by Joe Dorsey), refuses to close down the park or take any responsibility for the deaths that result from keeping it open. It perfectly mirrors Jaws’ plot of Brody (Roy Scheider) hunting down a killer shark, with Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) further complicating things, pushing to keep the town’s beaches open all summer.

RELATED: The 21 Best Horror Movies of the 1970s: Looking Back at One of Horror’s Best Decades

‘Grizzly’ Is the Perfect Mix of Action and Horror

Image via Film Ventures International

Grizzly’s part horror, part action adrenaline keeps the film’s engine chugging along masterfully for the entire runtime. There are plenty of bits where the film feels somewhat like a Friday the 13th film, mostly when we’re watching hikers and campers being stalked from the POV of an “unknown threat” (surprise, it’s a bear). These POV shots feel about par for the course for the first half of the film, but just when you’ve started to accept the idea that we might never see the movie’s biggest selling point, our boy shows his face. And then he just keeps showing it! Directors William Girdler and David Sheldon really delivered in this aspect. They knew if their low-budget movie had to deliver on anything, it was having an on-screen bear. Listen, Jaws is the superior movie in every single way, and concealing the shark for most of that movie’s runtime is its secret weapon. If you’re trying to pinpoint which film gives you the most bang for your buck with an on-screen beast going berserk on the lives of many, then it’s just time to be real – Grizzly comes out on top!

The kills in this movie are absolutely gnarly. It always feels like a cause for celebration when some action is going down in Grizzly, they don’t hold back! The first half of the movie doesn’t quite go as hard as you might hope, but it’s all an act of building up the fun as it goes along. You can’t go all out and maintain that from the get-go! That being said, the first few kills are so goofy that it’ll keep you laughing pretty consistently for the first 45 minutes.

The second victim in the film is a pretty hilarious promise of the entertainment value to come. A camper (Kathy Rickman) is swiped across the face by the bear and her head sweeps across the screen in slo-mo, with her scream repeating over… and over… and over again for what feels like an eternity. It even lingers on into the next shot! This moment might be pretty haunting in the hands of another filmmaker. Instead, it sounds as though Rickman was recording a scream in a recording booth, and the filmmakers decided to go with one of her warmup takes. This isn’t a knock against the film though! It’s a magically bad, hilarious movie moment that could only happen in a cheap 70s production. Man, Grizzly rules.

Once the bear comes into the picture, things get real. This guy hauls it across the woods like nobody’s business, taking down campers all over the place in the most over-the-top fashion. Between taking down an entire lookout tower with his bare paws, eating an entire bear cub, and attacking a helicopter (okay, the helicopter had landed already), this grizzly is one of the meanest animals ever put to film – and he hasn’t even hit a line yet! Cocaine Bear wishes! The ending of Grizzly is an all-timer. Its finale sends this thing up in the same ballpark of monster movie mania as Tremors. When it’s 1v1, man vs 18-foot-tall grizzly bear, you’d really have to go out of your way to have a bad time.

‘Grizzly’ Is Made Way Better Than It Should Be

Grizzly (1976)
Image via Film Ventures International

Being such a cheap movie, you might expect Grizzly to deliver in its genre elements, things like kills and atmosphere, but lack quality filmmaking. Surprisingly enough, this thing looks and sounds pretty great, considering its estimated $750,000 budget. Grizzly is a supreme vibe movie, and that’s all thanks to its uber-comfy presentation. The film is full of wide, sweeping aerial shots, capturing the unnamed national park in countless breathtaking moments. The super 35mm film stock that it was shot on looks gorgeous as well, bringing out the woods’ rich, crisp colors in a much more lavish way than you might be ready for. As stated before, the score here is much more rollicking and adventurous than it is eerie. This works in its own way though, making you want to go hunt this bear down with the gang more than it makes you run and hide from it. Lastly, this film has some killer fonts! Between the explosive, jagged title card and the nicely rounded off letters in the opening credits, this movie even knows how to set a tone in its super 70s, yellow, on-screen script. Font choices are criminally underrated, and in that aspect, Grizzly knocks it out of the park.

Grizzly is an over-the-top, fantastic piece of 70s man vs nature cinema. Despite its blatant Jaws-isms, it’s told from such a trashy-yet-genuine place that it’s easy to be a fan of. Grizzly is far from just a cash grab, it’s a movie with filmmakers behind it who were determined to make the most fun movie possible. With Cocaine Bear bringing back killer bear movies this weekend, now’s the perfect time to have some friends over and fire up Grizzly.

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