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Grizzly Claws its Way out of Jaws’ Shadow Courtesy of Severin Films

Feature Presentations: Episode 82

Welcome to this column dedicated to my appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Grizzly from Severin Films.

The Blu-ray cover for Grizzly

For as long as Hollywood has been making movies, they’ve been looking at ways to rip off their own ideas. Comedies, drama, romance—if there’s a genre, movie executives have been looking for ways to mine every ounce of creativity. The genre most susceptible to getting its ideas ripped off is horror films. They’re cheap, they follow a formula, and with such low budgets, they’re a safe bet to turn a profit.

Jumping back in time to 1975, Steven Spielberg modified the filmmaking landscape forever with Jaws. Instead of following a typical (at the time) mantra of a limited release before going nationwide, Spielberg‘s landmark shark tale bucked that trend, releasing the film to over 400 cinemas on June 20th of that year to great success, changing the thought process of film marketing. If a summer popcorn thriller can smash box office records, so can other films cut from its sharkskin, right?

Less than one year later, one of the first films to rip off Jaws tested that theory—William Girdler’s Grizzly roared onto movie screens, following in Jaws‘ dorsal fin. The result? It became the highest-grossing independent film ever at the time. Ever. The reviews were far from glowing, with critics seeing the obvious similarities with Spielberg’s classic, but sometimes the reviews don’t matter. In the end, when discussing rip-offs (or a homage, if you will), the success is measured in dollars, and Grizzly had more than enough to classify the film as a success.

Is the film on a level with Jaws? Certainly, not. There aren’t many that can compete with it. Instead, you get a fun time-waster with competent direction, likable characters, and plenty of 70’s PG-rated gore. In the realm of rip-offs, there’s much worse to be had.

For a film that left such an impact, one might be remiss if they overlooked the “grizzly bear-on-the-loose” film. Thankfully, Severin Films didn’t forget and gave the film a special edition Blu-ray release.

The bear stands on its hind legs with Stober in the foreground, his back to the camera, holding a rifle.

The package features a reversible art wrap with two designs of similar ilk. The disc contains two audio commentaries: one with Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth, and the other features co-writer/producer David Sheldon and his wife and co-star of Grizzly, Joan McCall.

The Thompson/Howarth discussion traces the film’s history and the analytics of Grizzly through a contemporary lens. Each man comes to the track with plenty of knowledge as they discuss its standings in film rip-offs, the messy production, and their feelings on the film. While their knowledgeable comments seem to run out of gas before the film’s credits roll, they still make for a great team and offer a valuable discussion. If you’ve ever heard Thompson or Howarth discuss genre films on other audio commentaries, you know they are knowledgeable and will make it worth your time to give them a listen.

The second commentary, which interestingly isn’t listed on the disc art or Severin’s website, focuses more on the film’s initial production. Sheldon takes the lead on this track, with McCall chiming in throughout with production factoids. Sheldon discusses writing the film with Harvey Flaxman, defending the idea that Grizzly is a Jaws rip-off and praising the final product. As the film, and Sheldon especially, had a litigious and fraught production, it’s not surprising to hear him want to sing praises about the film and tell his side of the goings-on with Grizzly.

“Nightmare USA – Author Stephen Thrower on the Career of William Girdler” is as the title suggests. The featurette has Thrower tracing the life and times of Grizzly‘s director, William Girdler. He starts with his upbringing and fascination with film through his first produced feature, Asylum of Satan. Thrower then breaks down each film within Girdler’s filmography, Grizzly included, up to his unfortunate death at age 30. There is also considerable time spent discussing Ed Montoro, the notorious producer of Grizzly, who had a fraught business relationship with the director. As someone who did not know much about William Girdler, I enjoyed this feature, and Thrower packs the discussion with plenty of information for those curious about the director.

“Making Movies with Girdler” is an extended interview with Girdler’s business partner and friend, J. Patrick Kelly III. Where Stephen Thrower focused more on the filmmaking aspects of William Girdler, J. Patrick Kelly III discusses his close relationship with Girdler and their business models, giving an insight into the director’s mindset. The interview sounds as if conducted over the phone—the comments overlaid with behind-the-scenes footage Kelly filmed on set. It took a bit for me to get used to the audio quality, but the thorough and lengthy discussion features plenty of stories and thoughts from a man who spent many years working closely with William Girdler and is worth checking out.

A woman, with feat on her face screams and holds her hand out.

“The Towering Fury” is an interview with actor Tom Arcuragi. As Grizzly is almost 50 years old, many associated with the film are no longer with us, so having any actor sit to discuss Grizzly is a welcome sight. Arcuragi played the supporting role of park ranger Tom, discussing his time on set. He understands the type of movie Grizzly is and has plenty of fond remembrances—most notably, the experience he gained when he took over as boom operator for the latter half of the film. He chalks it up to more knowledge gained in the Hollywood scene and makes for a fun listen.

David Sheldon and Joan McCall sit down for an interview to discuss the film with “The Grizzly Details.” Much of what Sheldon and McCall have to say comes out in the audio commentary, though some topics are fleshed out here. Sheldon again discusses the turbulent production, the shady practices of producer Ed Montoro the subsequent lawsuit that followed. “The Grizzly Details” works well as a chaser once you’ve finished the Sheldon/McCall commentary.

Jaws with Claws” is an archival featurette discussing how Grizzly came about. Featuring co-writer Harvey Flaxman and actor Andrew Prine, along with Sheldon and McCall, this feature hammers home additional details of the Grizzly production. Having Flaxman and Prine’s (who just passed away) comments helps shine a light on their thought process. All recount stories about their time on set—Flaxman does tread on the topics as Sheldon, but Prine is a hoot. He talks about hopping onto a plane without a script, working with the bear, and (jokingly) claiming screenwriting credit. There is a lot of overlap with other features, but “Jaws with Claws” marks the only disc appearances of Flaxman and Prine, so it’s worth watching at least once.

There’s also a vintage, behind-the-scenes making-of titled “Movie Making in the Wilderness.” The making-of doesn’t add much for those seeking production details. You get some behind-the-scenes footage featuring Girdler, who narrates the feature. It’s interesting to be a fly-on-the-wall with “Movie Making in the Wilderness,” but there isn’t much insight provided.

The disc closes out with trailers and TV spots for Grizzly.

Close-up shot of the bear roaring.

And there you have it! Severin Films didn’t leave Grizzly high and dry in the physical media department; quite the opposite. Grizzly is far from the level of Jaws, to be sure. The film hits all the familiar beats of its nautical counterpart but sits nicely as one of the best Jaws rip-offs you’ll ever see. Featuring two informative audio commentaries and a handful of detailed interviews, this Blu-ray disc of Grizzly will make you want to exclaim, “Smile, you son of a bit—“!

Oops, wrong movie.

Written by Robert Chipman

Robert is a lifelong cinephile and has had an admiration with film for as long as he can remember. When he's not checking out the most recent theatrical release, viewing a movie on one of a 1,000,000,000 streaming services or picking up the latest physical media disc, he's trying and failing to make it in Hollywood as a screenwriter. He also has a weird fascination with Stephen Dorff. Make of that what you will. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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