The Full, Grizzly Experience

Well, this is my first time owning Grizzly, thanks to a review copy sent from 88 Films, but it's far from my first time seeing it.  I grew up on these movies on TBS back in the 80s.  They kind of run together a bit for me: very talky, made-for-TV feeling animal attack films with a batch of commercials every three minutes.  Not exactly cutting edge Hellraiser, but they were pretty much your only free, daytime horror options as a kid.  I can still remember Leslie Nielsen ripping off his shirt in the woods, deciding he had become a killer animal, too, and he was going to rip apart all his fellow campers who dared to question his leadership.  Unfortunately, this isn't that movie, but it's a close second.

Update 9/1/18: Adding the Scorpion DVD, which has some special features not on the 88 blu.
A lot of these movies take heavily from the popular disaster genre of the 70s, like The Poseidon Adventure and Avalanche, combined with the radioactive giant critter films of the 50s, like Them or Beginning Of the End.  But coming immediately on the heels of Speilberg's 1975 box office sensation, Grizzly sticks very closely to the Jaws script, and with taglines like "the most dangerous Jaws on land" and "not since Jaws has the terror been like this," they're not shy about it.  Christopher George is Roy Scheider, the official in charge of keeping the park safe for the public.  He catches onto the shark grizzly killing vacationers pretty quickly, but people don't want to believe him and the guy in charge refuses to shut down the park despite George's warnings.  So he assembles a 3-man team, with Andrew Prine as Richard Dreyfus and Richard Jaeckel as Robert Shaw.  It's all here, dragging a bloody corpse to lure the beast to the animal's POV shots lurking up on its victims.  There's even a sequence where the music mimics John Williams' famous "duh-nuh, duh-nuh" theme as the bear sneaks up on an camper.
But in the end, the Jaws angle isn't what sells the movie, at least not decades later now that we're hip-deep in Jaws knock-offs.  It's the wildly satisfying bear attack sequences.  They're surprisingly graphic and ambitious.  The bear swats one woman and her arm goes flying across the clearing.  A small child is mauled on screen.  A horse is beheaded with one, clean swipe!  And I won't even begin to spoil the conclusion that could still make audiences break out into cheers and applause.  The rest of the film is about as flat and dull as you'd imagine: wooden dialogue, excessive pseudo-scientific exposition, and completely uninteresting subplots that never affect the story... I suspect there's an earlier draft where Joan McCall's role as a reporter was going to lead her to investigate the camper deaths and, you know, get endangered or something.
Yeah, the bulk of Grizzly is awfully generic, but it really knows how to deliver the goods.  All the helicopter shots and variant locations don't add much by way of thrills, but they at least belay a healthy budget.  More impressively, they make great use of a real bear though there are of course a few scenes where actors are clearly mauled by a PA in a fuzzy glove.  Actors are harnessed up to portray massive Rawhead Rex-style bash-ecutions.  It helps a lot that they play everything deadly straight, unlike the goofy Sharknado outings of today.  Grizzly never goes camp or winks at the audience, except for one scene that sticks out like a sore thumb, where a female ranger, on the hunt for the man-eating grizzly bear, decides to take an inexplicable break to strip down and bathe in a small waterfall... where of course the bear is hiding!  But even that just manages to add to Grizzly's only-in-the-70s charm.
This is hardly Grizzly's first time at the rodeo.  Shriek Show first rescued it from the dark sea of grey market DVDs with a nice, 2-disc special edition.  Scorpion released it as a somewhat strange, limited edition blu-ray release in 2014.  They included two transfers (yes, it was a BD50), unfiltered or DVNRed, sold with the warning that, "This Blu-Ray of GRIZZLY is not up to our usual standards for a Blu-Ray release. However, due to the overwhelming request for this title, we are presenting the film to you in the best way possible in HD. Although there are many imperfections with the materials, we hope you can still enjoy the presentation as it is while viewing. Thank you."  Their DVD counterpart, on the other hand, just features the one transfer.  Also curious: they didn't include the audio commentary from the DVD, even though Walt Olsen (president of Scorpion) was one the participants.  Anyway, now it's just been released this week in the UK from 88 Films, so let's have a look!
Scorpion 2014 US DVD top; 88 Films 2018 UK blu-ray bottom.
Presented in a very wide, 2.40:1 aspect ratio, 88's disc clearly uses the same master as Scorpion, but thankfully they've opted for the non-DVNR version.  This is a very grainy transfer, probably taken from a print.  But while there are occasional white flecks and minor blemishes - even a little soft flickering in one or two scenes - for the most part, Grizzly's in much cleaner, more attractive condition than I was expecting.  The colors are strong and very natural, and the aforementioned grain is very distinct and crisply rendered.  Sure, I'm sure going back to the OCN could pull out more detail and clarity.  But I'm surprised Scorpion got self conscious enough to issue a disclaimer over this master - it looks pretty good.

Audio-wise, we get a healthy, lossless LPCM stereo mix.  No subtitles, but then the Scorpion and Shriek Show releases didn't have any either.
Here's where things start to get interesting: special features.  The Shriek Show set was pretty full, with the audio commentary, plus a nearly 40 minute retrospective documentary, a screening Q&A, vintage 'making of' featurette and some other little odds and ends.  Scorpion carried over some of that, but lost the commentary and vintage featurette (though they did add their Katrina intro, if you're interested in that).  And 88?  Well, disappointingly, they've included none of that.  But they did produce their own, all-new exclusive 23-minute featurette.  It's an interview with David Del Valle, who's basically here as an expert to give us a little of the backstory for the film.  But he knew Christopher George, so he's able to give us some unique personal anecdotes, and it winds up mostly being about him.  Quite interesting and definitely worth the watch.  Besides that, we get the theatrical trailer and, if you get the first pressing, it also includes a limited edition slipcover and booklet where Calum Waddell rather generously compares the film to George Orwell's Animal Farm, and gives a little history to the "animals run amuck" genre, with quotes from Joe Dante and others.
So, Grizzly is entertaining, but not what you'd call, you know, a good movie.  It's definitely worth watching once for the highlights, but beyond that, for me, it's the kind of movie you get as an impulse buy or not at all.  Maybe you see it cheap and pick it up on a lark, or include it in a big order when a site is having a sale...  For most viewers, I'd imagine whichever blu-ray is in your region will do.  But if you are seeking the full Grizzly experience, this 88 blu is a welcome option.  Because it gives you the un-DVNRed HD transfer, plus a nice, new exclusive special feature.  So I'd say the best way to have it all is to get this and the old Shriek Show DVD for all the other extras.  There's also a German blu from '84 Entertainment, which includes all the Shriek Show extras, but not this new one from 88.  So the '84 and 88 pairing is another option.  But you can buy the DVD set used a lot cheaper, and combined with 88, it still nets you all the extras and the top quality HD presentation.  If you already have the Scorpion or '84 blu, though, it's probably not worth double-dipping just for the Christopher George piece.  But yeah, for right now, 88 and SS (or '84) discs make up the ideal, total package.

...I say "for right now" because there's already been a new, promising announcement to complicate things further.

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