• Grizzly (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: May 18th, 2021.
    Director: William Girdler
    Cast: Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel, Joan McCall, Joe Dorsey
    Year: 1976
    Purchase From Amazon

    Grizzly – Movie Review:

    When Scorpion Releasing put Grizzly out on DVD a few years ago, Chris Workman had this to say:

    “When two hot young babes fail to return from a camping trip in a large national park, a ranger organizes a search party to find them. What he finds instead are their partially devoured bodies. An autopsy reveals that they were attacked by a bear, but the only large predators in the area are brown bears, which rarely attack humans and never eat them. The park’s supervisor blames the ranger for the disaster but fails to close the park, despite warnings from a naturalist that a grizzly is on the loose. And not just any grizzly, no sir; it’s a prehistoric one from the Pleistocene Epoch, one that enjoys the taste of human flesh. Hikers and campers are evacuated from the mountain where the bear attacks occurred, but the grizzly follows. Supervisor and ranger continue to argue over closing the park, until a little boy and his mother are attacked outside their home on the edge of the wilderness. The mother is killed, the boy loses his leg, and the resultant outcry over the incident finally convinces the supervisor to do what’s right and shut the place down while the ranger, the naturalist, and a helicopter pilot search for the marauding anachronism.

    Grizzly was shot by Kentucky native William Girdler, who had begun his directorial career in the Louisville area four years earlier with Asylum of Satan. He followed that film up with Three on a Meathook, loosely based on the true story of Ed Gein, three Blaxploitation pictures, including the infamous Abby, and a low-rent political thriller. Grizzly was Girdler’s best-funded movie—with much of the money raised through his own efforts—as well as his most commercially successful; it raked in nearly $40 million at the international box office, making it the biggest independent film of 1976. Its success convinced Girdler to return to the genre the following year with Day of the Animals. His last film, The Manitou, was released in 1978, the same year he died in a helicopter crash at the age of 30 while researching locations for his next film.

    Grizzly is wildly uneven. One of many nature-run-amok knockoffs that bobbed in the wake of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), it bears more than a passing resemblance to that film in its structure, plot, and character development. The direction is competent if not inspired, a hallmark of Girdler’s career, while the acting is all over the map. The principals—Christopher George, Andrew Prine, and Richard Jaeckel—hand in solid performances. Where the film falters is in its casting of locals (it was shot in Georgia) in most of the smaller parts, of which there are plenty. They talk or scream their way through the picture with all the finesse of a middle school drama class.

    To be fair, they aren’t helped by a script that requires them to act stupidly, all the better to place them in harm’s way. For example, while on the hunt for victims of the bear, one female ranger announces that she’s tired and needs a break, sends her male partner on his way, and promptly strips down for a refreshing dip in a waterfall. (You should be able to guess what happens next. If you can’t, you may want to sign up for Horror Films 101.) Yet, despite its many illogicalities—or, more accurately, because of them—it has enough moments of unintentional humor to hold most viewer’s interests. There’s also a surprising amount of blood and gore for a mainstream picture of the period. How it lumbered into theaters with a PG rating is anyone’s guess.”

    Grizzly – Blu-ray Review:

    Severin Films presents Grizzly in a new 1080p 2.35.1 widescreen presentation taken from a 2k scan of the internegative taking up 26.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc. This looks better than both the Scorpion and 88 Films releases that have been out for a while now, showing noticeably better detail in some spots and stronger depth as well. Colors look great, black levels are nice and strong and shadow detail is improved over what we’ve seen in the past. The picture is free of any noise reduction or edge enhancement problems and compression artifacts are kept in check. The image is also very clean. There’s film grain, sure, but not much in the way of print damage, dirt or debris at all. Nicely done, Severin.

    The sole audio track is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono Master Audio mix in English with optional English subtitles and it sounds very good. Dialogue is always clean and easy to follow, there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. The levels are balanced and both the score and the effects work all sound quite strong here.

    Extra features start off with a new audio commentary from Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and writer Troy Howarth. They start off by talking about the film's place in both the pantheon of eco-horror and imitation films, Edward Montoro and the checkered history of Film Ventures International, the success of Grizzly when it hit theaters and the movie tie-in novel that exists, Girdler's life and tragic death, how the director always seemed to put entertainment first and foremost, the film's rating and how the MPAA kinda-sorta reflected the moral climate of the time, the quality of the location footage in the picture and how good the cinematography is in the movie, details on the different cast and crew members affiliated with the picture, the use of a real grizzly in the movie, Harvey Flaxman's cameo in the film as well as his top quality moustache, notes on some of the framing in the film and more. This is a fun track, these guys take it just seriously enough to make it both interesting and entertaining and it makes for a really good listen.

    The disc also contains a commentary with producer David Sheldon and actress Joan McCall, moderated by Walter Olsen, that has some good information but which is a bit scattered. Carried over from a previous Scorpion release, it's semi-scene specific and they cover what they cover as the movie plays out in front of them. There's info here about why certain scenes were shot the way they were, the editing, the cast assembled for the film, special lenses that were needed, getting the movie bankrolled, having cast members autograph dollar bills to hand out to locals to get them to appear in the movie as extras, how Sheldon wound up directing a few scenes when Girdler could not, working with the live bear, casting the picture and more.

    Nightmare U.S.A. Author Stephen Thrower On William Girdler is a forty-five-minute featurette where Thrower talks about the late director's life and times. We learn how he was born into a wealthy family, his tendency to embellish the truth, how his wealth allowed him to get into film at a young age, getting his start doing air force documentaries and how once he got out of the air force he set up Studio 1 Associates to do commercial film work. Eventually he got to do his first feature with Asylum Of Satan, cashing in on the low budget horror movie craze. Now bit by the bug, Girdler's filmmaking abilities evolved as he continued to work within genre circles. We learn about his ability to get the press excited about his movies, his work on pictures like Three On A Meathook, different projects he tried to get off the ground but which never got moving, his relationship with different investors, the infamy surrounding the release of his Exorcist knock off Abby, his directing both Grizzly and Day Of The Animals almost back to back and how these films allowed him to work with recognizable cast members, his work on The Manitou, his tragic death and his legacy. It's an excellent and very thorough piece.

    Making Movies With Girdler interviews the late director's business partner and friend, J. Patrick Kelly III, for thirty-seven-minute about how he came to know and work with Girdler. This is an audio interview that plays out over some great Super 8mm footage that Kelly shot on set to document the making of the picture. He talks about why he shot this footage, how he met Girdler (they were in-laws when he got back from the air force), how he came on board to help with the bookkeeping and contracts, the success of the features that they worked on together as well as some of the troubles that they had to work through during the ir time together, Girdler's intention to make a Deliverance style film while working on Grizzly (the two films were shot in the same area), how Abby came about and the trouble that they got into with that picture and lots more.

    Actor Tom Arcuragi is up next in Towering Fury, where he spends nine-minutes talking about how he landed a role in a film called UFO Target Earth which was a great experience for him as an actor. He also covers where the Georgia film market was in the seventies, how he wound up working on Grizzly, his thoughts on the different cast members that he acted alongside in the film, how he really liked Girdler a lot and what his directing style was like, what it was like interacting with Teddy (the name of the real grizzly bear used during the shoot), how he had to be dubbed in post because the sound got all screwed up and plenty more. He's got a great sense of humor about all this and tells from fun stories about his work on the film.

    The Grizzly Details gets producer David Sheldon and actress Joan McCall on camera for nineteen-minutes. They talk, filmed separately, about working in the theater in New York which landed him a friendship with Harvey Flaxman and subsequently some connections to the film world. He then goes on to talk about where some of the ideas for Grizzly came from, wanting to make 'Jaws in the woods' before the filmed adaptation of Benchley's novel came out, bringing Girdler on board to direct and what he was like, Edward Montoro's involvement in the production, going with Film Ventures instead of Warner Brothers to bankroll the production, how professional the cast members were to work with, working with a live grizzly shipped out from Washington state, some of the problems that were involved in working with a live animals, using a goofy looking mechanical bear for certain scenes, how Montoro ripped everyone off, the legal battles that came out of this and a lot more. Sheldon has a lot more to say here than McCall but they've both got some stories here and Sheldon's firsthand account of the legal issues and Montoro's screwjob are fascinating.

    Movie Making In The Wilderness is a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette that runs seven-minutes. Tape-sourced, this is in rough shape but it's an interesting artifact from when they film was still being shot. It takes us on set and provides some great footage (including some bits with the bear) interviews with Girdler, manager Terry Rowland and location manager Franklin Richard. It's cool to get a chance to see this.

    The last featurette is a thirty-six-minute archival piece called Jaws With Claws that originally appeared on the old 2006 Media Blasters DVD release and which interviews Sheldon, Harvey Flaxman, Andrew Prine and Joan McCall. Here they talk about the production history and what it was like on set, working with the real bear and the fake bear, William Girdler, the cast and crew, the locations, the film's theatrical distribution and the film's legacy.

    Rounding out the extras are a few radio spots, a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection options. Severin also provides some cool reversible cover sleeve art.

    Grizzly - The Final Word:

    Grizzly isn’t Girdler’s best picture but it’s definitely a solid one. Yes, it does borrow a lot from Jaws, but it works quite well and features some decent performances and some great cinematography. Severin’s Blu-ray release offers up the film in very nice shape as a proper special edition loaded with extras old and new. Recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Day Of The Animals Blu-ray screen caps!