I saw this one lingering near the bottom of my Netflix list and thought ‘What the FUCK, dude! I need to watch that NOW!” I have no recollection of the movie when it was out, but I do remember the novelization of it in the bedroom of my friend’s older brother, and I recall flipping through it to read the parts where people get killed. Anyway, between my love of movies with giant killer animals and affection for everything 70s, I was super pumped to watch this. As my friend Dan says, I was going to “watch the shit out of it.”
As with most things in life, it was both exactly what I expected and not quite as good as I hoped. Though I hadn’t seen it, somehow I KNEW that it would begin with thick yellow titles, such as the one seen above! Which is obviously awesome—especially when the word ‘Grizzly’ comes zooming right out at the screen. Unfortunately, the terror this could quite easily have inspired is negated by the fluffy, overbearing and hyper-cheerful Copland-on-steroids soundtrack by Robert O. Ragland [the ‘O’ is for ‘Odious’]. This soundtrack continues virtually unabated throughout the film, denoting ‘happy adventure’ until it’s time to abruptly shift into ‘terrifying suspense’.
The director of this film also directed lost blaxploitation classic Abby [which I SO need to see. It was at this store downtown for $7 and I kept skipping it, and now that I really want it, it’s gone!], as well as Sheba, Baby, Day of the Animals, and the appealingly-titled Three on a Meathook. We start with some mind-numbing exposition, then are introduced to our Ranger and main character, along with the info that for some reason the mountain is just jam-packed with campers that weekend. We then cut to two female campers, who apparently climbed way up this mountain just to build a campfire and gossip next to it [for what seemed like a half hour] before extinguishing it and heading back down. I guess wholesome, nature-loving recreation really WAS different back in the 70s [more evidence of this will accrue later]. Anyway, they’re killed. Now, one of the victims in this movie, and I think in this scene, was also the first victim in Jaws. That turns out to be not all that this film shares with Jaws. One nice touch, however, is that when this bear kills, he almost always rips at least one of his victim’s limbs off, so there’s always some forearm or ankle or whatever flying around, which always serves to cheer the heart.
Now, I knew that this film was basically a rip-off of Jaws. What I DID NOT know is that it is virtually a scene-for-scene remake, only this time with a bear. All of the characters are represented; the ranger who wants to close the park, the National Park supervisor, who wants to keep it open and let hunters in, the Quint-like ragged hunter, and the Richard Dreyfus-like nerdy scientist who knows everything there is to know about Grizzlies. The bear, who is a) out of his normal territory, b) more than twice the size of a normal grizzly, and c) doesn’t normally eat people, but now that he’s tasted human flesh, is obsessed with it. The woods, filled with campers, who we see running en masse out of the woods in a scene obviously meant to evoke the ‘out of the water’ scene from Jaws [as well as to give the producers a recognizable image to plug in the trailer]… anyway, it goes on and on. This really is Jaws, but in the woods. Now if they’d left it as a great white shark, but kept it in the woods, then we’d REALLY have a winner.
Anyway, the plucky girlfriend of the ranger with the nice furry chest slips and falls in the guts of one of the campfire girls! That’s awesome, obv, but it doesn’t come off quite as brilliantly as it sounds. Then we have a lot more exposition about grizzly bears [they could show this shit on the Discovery channel!], and we hear speculation that this grizzly is some sort of caveman-bear, who’s been traveling undiscovered around the woods for eons. We also learn that, while most grizzlies are seven feet, this one is fifteen feet, i.e. over twice the size of a normal one. Now, I guess somehow that worked for a great white shark, but here it just seems stupid. I mean, do we have humans every now and then who grow to thirteen feet? Uh, no. The other thing is that bears just aren’t as creepy as sharks. In fact, they’re kind of cute—even when they’re attacking [on screen]. Note to director: the audience probably should not feel the urge to plant a big wet kiss on the killer’s nose. And what is this whole thing about ‘now he’s tasted human flesh?’ I’m sorry, WHAT is supposed to be so great about human flesh? Are we supposed to be just so indescribably delicious? I would think we’re pretty scrawny compared to some of the other things a bear could eat. Seems like pure presumption to me. Not only are we a higher life form, our flesh even tastes better. It’s like crack for the average double-tall caveman grizzly, bitches. You better watch it when you let your dog lick you… don’t want old Rover to get a hankering for human flesh and start ripping your limbs off.
Anyway, so apparently it was hot party activity back in the 70s to sing “I been working on the railroad” in a large group around a campfire [surprising 70s leisure activities, part II]. Then this dude and his babe are gonna get down to some hot fuckin’, which obviously marks them for death. He takes time to finish his Schlitz while she goes into the tent to ‘freshen up’ [WHAT is she doing in there?] and she gets killed. I think the guy lives. Then there’s even more scenes of fake conflict where the park supervisor wants the bear killed right away, and the ranger and co. protest “But it’s killed four people!” Yeah, so what’s the conflict? They both want the thing dead. The conflict is that we need some conflict, and the screenwriter couldn’t think of anything. Speaking of the screenwriter, that’s him below with the stache. He plays the reporter in this film, and he supposedly came up with the story by hearing some Indian shit or whatnot. No, dude, I think you came up with this story by watching Jaws. Regardless, he is a sort of swarthy 70s type I used to like, the louche scumbag with fluffy grey hair and a black mustache, complete with moronic shiny outfit from Chess King. You KNOW he drives a 280ZX, and I want to be right there by his side, rockin’ out to Kansas or Saga or .38 Special or… The Alan Parsons Project. Unfortunately, types like this only ever come on to cheerleaders, so sadly I think I’m pretty much out of the running.
Lots more ridiculous shit happens. For one, listen to the ranger say things like “I’ve made these woods a part of me!” There’s lots of talk about men bonding with the woods. Also please note the SOUND during the scenes around 37:00, showing a group of hunters walking through the woods, which was obviously accomplished by getting four guys in a room and telling them to mumble incoherently. Please observe as Charlie, the Robert Shaw stand-in, reels off a scathing line during one of the many tense scenes of conflict, then immediately pulls this giant sandwich out of nowhere and takes a bite. And what’s with the bear attacks? Since all we really have is footage of a real bear standing up and growling, and a fake bear claw and guy in a bear suit for attacks, during many of the attacks it’s like: what is the bear doing? It seems to HUG its victims to death. We can see that it’s not using its mouth, because that’s growling uselessly in the air. And he’s holding his victims too closely to really be clawing them. I guess he’s hugging them to death. The darker side of all those big bear hugz we keep hearing about from those other kinds of bears… luckily you can distinguish those ones by the little teddy they’ve tucked into their rainbow flag jockstrap.
Anyway, please do not dismiss the grizzly’s razor-sharp claws, which apparently extend outward, Wolverine-like, as we see cleanly shorn-off limbs flying in every direction, including THE HEAD OF A HORSE. Yep, with a single blow, the grizzly decapitates a horse, with such a clean line it seems it was dispatched with a sword. Huh. Ditto the leg of little Bobby, an eight-year-old boy peacefully petting with his little white bunny in the back yard. But you know, he DID go out of the yard for a second, after his mother clearly told him to stay inside, and frankly I think having a leg ripped off above the knee is letting the little monster off easy. All this is after the bear’s inexplicable attack on an elevated ranger station. What the hell does he want with that? He doesn’t even go eat the ranger after he knocks it down. He’s just motivated by pure evil. He’s the Iago of grizzlies. The Iago of double-tall cavemen human-flesh-hankering psycho grizzlies.
At the end one of our beloved main characters digs himself out of a shallow grave, only to be instantly consumed, and soon enough our hero ranger finds himself facing the Iago of double-tall cavemen human-flesh-hankering psycho grizzlies alone. In a shockingly tension-free scene, he shoots it twice, then pulls out a rocket launcher and blows it up. The thing is, this bear bursts into a searing fireball, as though his entire body was filled with gasoline. Maybe it was. Maybe the rare and precious human flesh turns to gasoline inside the double-tall caveman grizzly. It’s a one in a million shot, but that just might be it!
Now, it would be remisty of me to leave you without a sampling of the common wisdom that abounds on the IMDb about this movie:
> Robert O. Ragland's music make's the killings a lot more errier.
> Sadly, and strangely, it buried Christopher George's career even further, and for this, I am most remisty.
> The core of this terrifying thriller is still VERY potent-like, and Ron Howard could hardly have done better.
> Girdler has been successful on earth in the same way as Spielberg had been so in the water.
Really, what can one add?
Yeah, it’s kind of fun, in that 70s way. Booze and friends will help, as they often do.
DAY OF THE ANIMALS is also directed by William Girdler, also stars Christopher George [and Leslie Nielson as you've never seen him!] and is actually a pretty decent movie.