For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: Grizzly, directed by William Girdler, 1976 The Film
An expansive national park is at the height of its tourist season. Hundreds of campers, hikers, bikers, and bird-watchers flock to the park to take in all the natural splendor. Unfortunately this year, a danger lurks in these woods the likes of which has not been seen in a millennia. A predator is loose in the forest and it has a real appetite for unsuspecting back-packers. As the body count begins to mount, the put upon captain of the park rangers must find a way to curb the megafauna's reign of terror. But his efforts are hindered by the greedy park administrator who refuses to let him close the park while they dispatch the troublesome ursine. Maintaining profit margins being his chief motivation, the administrator makes no qualm over jeopardizing the lives of the numerous campers even as their severed limbs being to adorn the trees. Can our hero stop this grizzly menace while being encumbered by bureaucracy? Can anything stop this primal eating machine?
I loved the ever living hell out of Grizzly! Apart from being just utterly entertaining, Grizzly satisfies double criteria for my yearly projects: attend every Terror Tuesday and view every Jaws rip-off. Grizzly might just trump Blood Beach as my favorite plagiarism thus far. The way in which it rips off Jaws may seem hazy at first, but by the time we get to the scene wherein the administrator is refusing to close the park (beach) even in the face of a legitimate and horrifying threat, familiarity will settle in. The two note approach music for the bear was a dead giveaway as well. I also loved how Richard Jaeckel's character was an amalgamation of Quint and Hooper; knowing a host of scientific data whilst also being certifiably insane. You need more proof that this is a Jaws rip-off? Scope the tagline on the poster!
But the moment in Grizzly that really sets it apart from the other Jaws rip-offs is the campfire scene. Our hero rounds up a posse to hunt the bear and during a round of bickering over a roaring fire, one member of the group silences the squabbling with an intense story. The story is about a group of Native Americans who fall sick with small pox and, as they lay dying, are besieged by a hoard of ravenous bears who proceed to kill them one by one. It would be kind of a nothing scene except that it is the only time I've ever seen a film rip off Quint's U.S.S. Indianapolis soliloquy! I would love to set those two moments side by side because I imagine that, on mute, they are quite similar.
Director William Girdler, who also directed Terror Tuesday alum Day of the Animals, is a master of minimalism. By minimalism I don't mean that he favors subtlety and nuance but more in the sense that he makes his films for about $75. So the approach to the grizzly itself is three-fold. First, we use a big, furry puppet arm for the swiping and grabbing. Next, we use first person POV and shake the camera around a lot to simulate the more intimate encounters. Finally, we briefly use footage of an actual, strikingly normal-sized bear doing nothing particularly out of the ordinary but amp up the growl effects. It is showmanship in its most pure, b.s. splendor. What Girdler does to compensate for this is to employ plenty of gore and splatter in the aftermath shots; the dismemberment of the little boy being the highlight.
There are scores of little things to love about Grizzly. It has easily the most deceptive opening of any horror film. A helicopter flies over natural beauty with whimsical music playing that creates the illusion that we are watching some bizarre hybrid of Willy Wonka and Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar. The killing of the two girls in the woods looks like the world's worst Jordache ad but is highly satisfying. Christopher George, in his third Terror Tuesday appearance, is fantastic. He is the George Washington Carver of bad dialogue; finding a hundred different ways to deliver a bad line. He does provide us, in his reaction to the park administrator, the confrontation that we always wanted to see between Chief Brodie and the mayor of Amity Island; intensely defiant. Richard Jaeckel and Andrew Prine compose the hunting posse and are both delightfully out of their minds.
Day of the Animals has already established the effect of William Girdler films on the Terror Tuesday crowd. I think part of the extra tingle in the air was due in part to the recall of DotA and partially a bit of residual buzz from last week's Troll 2. Whatever the reason, the rabble was fully charged and the rejoinder was powerful. I am not at all ashamed to say that the biggest reaction came at the sight of the young child being brutally maimed. I know it sounds crass, but again it served the very noble purpose of...making us cheer over our pint glasses. Fine, I'm just crass.