Laelaps Movie of the Week: Grizzly

As we've seen with the last two movies featured here, there are some animals that naturally make good movie monsters. Sure, filmmakers might tack on a few feet and enlarge the size of their teeth, but sharks, crocodiles, and bears only require a setting and a foolish group of cast members potential victims to provide for a feature length film. It is the last of these "natural monsters" that we'll be dealing with today in the 1976 horror film Grizzly, featuring an antagonist that deadlier than your av-er-age bear.

At it's heart, Grizzly is the tragic story of a cousin of Gentle Ben who loves to give hugs to hikers and campers, but doesn't know his own strength. Indeed, things quickly go awry when he drops in on some bell-bottomed backpackers with the best of intentions, instead leaving two women dead. The staff of the national park are soon in an uproar, campers running down the mountains to towards the park exits at full speed with no regard for their ankles, the assumption being that all the bears had been relocated higher up the mountain the year before and would stay where they were put. Even the rangers themselves are not safe, a particular ranger who (in typical horror movie fashion) decides to rinse off in a waterfall. Unfortunately she surprises the bear, who was washing up in the waterfall at the same time as well, the stinging of the soap in the bear's eyes causing it to flail wildly and accidentally kill the ranger. There is a bit of mystery to the film, though; some of the first victims are attacked by what appears to be a rabid cameraman with asthma, further casting doubt on whether our grizzly is a killer or a teddy bear. Even the helicopter pilot drops a hint that he might be the bear, so this horror story quickly becomes a whodunit as well.

Before proceeding further, however, I should probably mention what distinguishes a Grizzly Bear from a Brown Bear or a Kodiak Bear. The answer; very little. All belong to the species Ursus arctos, but Kodiak Bears (Ursus arctos middendorffi) live nearly exclusively along the Kodiak Archipelago and Grizzlies (Ursus arctos horribilis) lives in northern North America, Brown Bears in general ranging throughout the North America, Asia, and Europe. The bear in the film is said by the rangers to be a Grizzly, not a Brown Bear (with one of the rangers exclaiming "It's not a bear, it's a grizzly!" at one point), the difference being some 7 feet in height and a diet composed entirely of flesh. This is absolute nonsense, and it's compounded by the assertion that Grizzlies were the major carnivores around "1 million years ago" during the Pleistocene (which actually was only 1,808,000 to 11,550 before present). While Brown Bears were present during the Pleistocene, what the filmmakers were probably trying to refer to was the Short-Faced Bear (Arctodus simus), the largest known bear that ever lived, thought to have been entirely carnivorous (as opposed to the omnivorous habits of living brown bears) from stable-isotope studies of its teeth. The Grizzly in the film is said to stand as high as 15 feet tall, but if this were true then it would have dwarfed the Short-Faced Bear as well, which was slightly shorter at 11 feet tall when standing.

Scientific flubs aside, the film continues on racking up the body count, our heroes unable to find the bear and the bear constantly looking for affection with terrible consequences. In what the director probably thought was the "deal-breaker" scene (a scene is which the audience is shown that "no one is safe"), Little Bobby plays with his white rabbit in the yard, leaving the gate open. In walks Mr. Bear, Bobby ending up short one leg as a result of the terrible bear hug. The scene really was unnecessary, especially so late in the film (although they knew what they were doing, as shown by the inclusion of the bunny to ramp up the cuteness factor), but this is the last of the non-hero deaths of the movie. Confused, the bear retreats back to the mountains and is confronted by a ranger, a helicopter pilot, and a guy in a deer-skin cape, dispatching the latter two (a horse also loses its head, although it apparently reattaches if you look closely enough) before being dispatched with a rocket launcher, which I can only assume that National Park rangers keep around for just such an occasion.

All in all, though, this movie isn't that bad, definitely a step above films like Lake Placid, not quite as good as some other "revenge of nature" films like Alligator, and altogether lacking the camp value of the so-bad-they're-good features like Night of the Lepus. It's surprisingly bloody and violent, but the by-the-numbers storyline (with a few side-stories thrown in that never pan out) doesn't make any promises that it doesn't live up to. Hell, it's called Grizzly after all, and that's precisely what it delivers.

Followed by;

Predator: The Concert (1987) starring George Clooney (?!). The synopsis is as follows;

"All hell breaks loose when a giant Grizzly, reacting to the slaughter of Grizzlies by poachers, attacks at a massive big-band rock concert in the National Park."

If you think killer grizzlies + campers is a good movie combination;

See also;

The Edge

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You'd be surprised at how often rangers these days have to use their rocket launchers in Canada ;p

I love monster movies with over the top arsenals...

Speaking of dispatching movie monsters has anyone seen the Jaws Myth-Busters? For years I thought a reasonable way to kill a rampaging great white was by shoting an airtank it's mouth causing it to explode... Turns out it doesn't work at all (well the explosion anyway... I'm sure the decompression would still really hurt the shark)

Anyone seen "Orca"? It's a good over the top "revenge killing" movie...Well okay, it's not that good.

Traumador; I did see that one, and it made sense; I would hate to think that while I was scuba diving I was carrying a bomb on my back!

Susan; I actually have Orca and will be doing a review of it in the coming weeks. The stinker The Last Dinosaur might get priority next week, but I will do Orca soon (so many JAWS clones, so little time...)

I also love monster-movies. Sadly really much of them are not really good. One of the coolest monster-animals ever was the St. Bernanrd Cujo I think. Sadly I have never seen the movie, but only picture from it, but this zombie-like huge dog looks really creepy, and the best thing is that such a scenario could actually happen. Some animals need really little cosmetics to become real monsters, for example Mesonychoteuthis. But bears are also great.

There's some argument that Arctodus simus is not the largest bear (the fossil polar bear Ursus maritimus tyrannus appears to be) and it may not a hypercarnivore. At least one paper suggested that it occupied a brown/striped hyena-like niche where large amounts of plant matter were consumed in addition to scavenged carcasses. It also noted that the isotope levels overlapped with omnivorous brown bears. It's interesting stuff, I'm curious what further debate there will be.

The paper was:

Sorkin, B. 2006. Ecomorphology of the giant short-faced bears Agriotherium and Arctodus. Historical Biology: 18, 1-20

And I wrote about it here:

Here I was thinking that Grizzly was the movie that featured the infamous "exploding sleeping bag" scene, but it turns out I was thinking of Prophecy (scroll down for video clip).

C'mon- if you guys want to see a truly awful, over-the-top monster movie, just check out the "Carnosaur" movies. Horrific acting, special effects, and plotlines make these things special.

Brian, if you want to see grizzlies in their natural habitat, along with a kook from California who thinks he IS a bear (true story, too), go see "Grizzly Man." Great movie, but the guy is (uh, was) a nutcase.

I believe the largest grizzly was just over 13 feet tall. And for clarification, one does not measure a grizzly from tail to nose, like you would most other animals. Instead, the square footage of the tanned hide is measured for record-keeping. Don't know why.

My wife and I have come across black bears and brown bears on our travels, and they both run from humans. Moose are far more dangerous (as we've been charged many times).