MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: GRIZZLY AND ALLIGATOR

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: GRIZZLY AND ALLIGATOR

This installment of MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature goes back to nature…nature run amok that is! Jaws inspired a number of animal on the rampage movies and along with Piranha, these two are among the best! Sure they are more B-movie level thrillers, but that’s all the more reason to love them, as mother nature strikes back with some of her most lethal critters!

first feature

Grizzly

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GRIZZLY (1976)

Grizzly is a 1976 Jaws rip-off that tells the horrifying tale of a massive 15 foot (the ads for the film say 18, but in the movie it is said to be 15) grizzly bear, who has wandered hungrily into a state park and begins snacking down on the campers and rangers alike. Chief Ranger Mike Kelly (Christopher George) has his hands full as he, Naturalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) and war vet chopper pilot Don Stober (Andrew Prine) have to somehow stop the relentless carnivore.

Grizzly follows the template created by Spielberg’s thriller quite closely with our three leads being the Brody, Hooper and Quint characters who are hunting a vicious, yet seemingly very intelligent predator, while it racks up quite the body count of innocent victims. We get the greedy head of the park refusing to close the place down despite the deaths and bringing in a bunch of amateur yahoos to hunt the bear down. But despite the blatant similarities, Grizzly actually works on a B-movie level. As directed by William Girdler (Abby, The Manitou), Grizzly is actually an effective and surprisingly gory PG horror flick. While it never matches the tension of the movie it was clearly inspired by, it does entertain in more of a low budget slasher flick kind of way, with the rampaging bear filling in for Jason or Michael Myers. For a 2000 lb. animal, it sneaks up on people quite easily. There is never much attempt to explain why the animal is so big, or why it has come to this park to feed, except for a quick throw-away line suggesting it might be a throw-back to it’s prehistoric ancestors. But like with the shark in Jaws, the grizzly is effectively portrayed and it’s background is unimportant to the carnage it creates. A live bear was used in filming and the 11 foot “Teddy” is quite effective in the part along with a prop arm for up-close mauling. It is said that the crew coaxed the bear into it’s roaring stance by offering it marshmallows, adding the roar in post production. Works for me!

Sure there is some silly dialog and all the acting is not top notch, but the leads are veteran actors and give the material the respect it needs to work and their characters are all pretty likable. This, along with some effectively gory kills and a nice fast pace by director Girdler, turns this low budget rip-off into an entertaining B-movie that works well enough on it’s own. Made for a reported $750,000, Grizzly grossed almost $40 million. Not bad for a Jaws imitation that, when you add the 70s nostalgia factor, is actually a fun Saturday night B-movie horror thriller despite it’s rip-off roots.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) rampaging grizzly bears

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second feature

alligator

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ALLIGATOR (1980)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

What happens when you combine a baby alligator flushed down the toilet and the corpses of dogs who have been experimented on with growth hormones and dumped into the sewers?…a 1980 horror flick/Jaws rip-off called Alligator. This fun monster on the loose flick takes place in Chicago with exactly that premise as Detective David Madison (the underrated Robert Forster) is trying to solve the mystery of body parts showing up at the sewer treatment plant and soon comes to discover…through the gruesome loss of a rookie partner…that there is a massive reptilian predator stalking the sewers of the windy city. Now with pretty herpetologist Marisa Kendall (a smoking hot Robin Riker) in tow, Madison must hunt the massive beast and expose the Slade Corporation whose illegal experiments have inadvertently created a monster…with an accelerated metabolism and appetite!

Directed by Lewis Teague (Cujo) and written with loads of wit by John Sayles (Piranha, The Howling) and Frank Ray Perilli, Alligator has just the right mix of seriousness and sly humor to tell it’s tale of a 36 foot predator in the sewers of one of America’s most famous cities. On the outset, the film is all business, but there are a lot of unobtrusive playful moments to let us know it’s all in fun…like the local merchants taking full advantage of the news frenzy of a gator on the loose in their city, or, Great White Hunter Col. Brock’s (a perfectly cast Henry Silva) choice of ‘guides’ to accompany him on his hunt through the city back streets. Very politically incorrect, but very funny. The film is unapologetically R-rated and we get some nice gore and carnage as our reptilian eating machine eludes capture, but not his dinner, and the creature itself is portrayed by a real gator on miniature sets or a fairly convincing mechanical mock-up. Teague creates some fun sequences, some solid and bloody action and some genuine suspense despite the goofy premise. He mixes the subtle humor and drama perfectly, while never overdosing on either. He also gets good work from his cast whose serious approach to the material helps us go along with the preposterousness of it all.

And while on the subject of that cast…the always strong Robert Forester gives us an every-man hero to identify with. He’s very likable and believable as a street-smart cop with some inner turmoil of his own, that adds depth to the character. And Forester gives it his all despite being basically in a giant alligator movie. Pretty Robin Riker is also solid as the pretty reptile geek Dr. Kendall and she is sexy and smart without ever becoming a helpless damsel. She and Forester have good on-screen chemistry and I loved the added irony that it is her alligator ‘Ramon’ flushed down the toilet 12 years earlier that she and Madison are now hunting. She’s never aware of this fact, but we are and it adds something to her character and the film overall. Henry Silva is hilarious as the arrogant big game hunter called in to track down and destroy the big guy and his eccentric Col. Brock is a hoot. Rounding out is Michael V. Gazzo, who is slightly over-the-top as Madison’s commanding officer and Dean Jagger who is perfectly arrogant and slimy as Slade, whose company has inadvertently created a monster. A solid cast that helps make this flick work.

I like this film. It’s another of the flicks scene at my beloved Oritani Theater and it is a fun monster movie made at a time where monsters where portrayed with charming in-camera prosthetics. John Sayles gives us another witty script that perfectly balances the fun with the more serious nature of this horror tale. The film never makes a joke out of it’s story, as guided by Teague, but never takes itself too seriously either, so we don’t forget to have a good time. It’s got a good cast and a reptilian predator who we almost root for. A really fun flick that has far more charm than the CGI overloaded SYFY beast run amok movies today’s audiences seem to think are so clever.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) alligators.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977)

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DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Nature run amok flick is one of many of this popular 70s sub-genre. Here a group of wilderness hikers are under siege from basically every animal in the park. The ozone layer depletion is the blame here, as the earth’s animals have had enough and decide to rid the planet of us pesky humans, starting with this bunch. Is there anywhere these folks can hide?

Flick is directed by WIlliam Girdler (Grizzly, Abby) from a script by Eleanor E. Norton and William W. Norton, based on a story by producer Edward L. Montoro. The film has a somewhat serious tone, which helps with such a silly story. Birds, bears, mountain lions and even rats are all on the attack and this group of campers and a remote mountain community are at ground zero. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as good as Girdler’s Grizzly and is a slow paced affair with most of the animal attacks coming across as more silly than scary. Shots of owls and other birds of prey staring at their potential snacks are fun and there is a mountain lion attack which works well enough, as does the wild pack of dogs in the last act. The bickering and whining between the panicking campers gets old quick and Leslie Nielsen’s alpha male, advertising executive engaging in a power struggle with nature guide Steve Buckner (Christopher George), gets a bit tiresome as well. Nielsen’s Jenson gets so over-the-top he becomes laughable. His bare-chested battle with a grizzly bear is extremely entertaining, though. The scenes of rival predators moving together as an army, under what appears to be the guidance of various birds of prey, do work better than they should. It’s too bad the animal attacks are few and far between, with things being far too talky for a flick like this. Too much melodrama and not enough mauling. Day of the Animals also ends very anti-climactically, when something with more “bite” would have served the film better.

Cast has a lot of 70s familiar faces. Christopher George is solid as nature guide Steve Buckner. Very much like his park ranger character from Grizzly. His wife Linda Day George, is a reporter. Leslie Nielsen is hilariously over-the-top as arrogant advertising exec Paul Jenson. This guy has issues and uses the situation to assert his perceived dominance. When the groups splinter, his abusive treatment of those dumb enough to follow him is hysterically tyrannical, as is his before mentioned bare chested battle with a grizzly bear. He definitely takes a badly written part into camp territory and not the camp one stays at when in such woods. Michael Ansara plays a Native American guide, a role the Lebanese actor played many times. He gives his Daniel Santee nobility and is the voice of reason between Buckner and Jenson. Richard Jaeckel is present as a professor and provides some possible scientific explanations. Rounding out is 70s TV and movie fixture Andrew Stevens and Robinson Crusoe on Mars star Paul Mantee as a cancer stricken athlete. A solid cast with not a lot to work with.

In conclusion, this could have been a lot better with a much better script. Grizzly proved Girdler could make a solid action flick, even from a derivative idea, as long as he had a good script. The film is very talky and very slow paced for a flick like this. The animal attacks range from effective to silly and it’s pretty tame bloodshed wise as it was a PG release. The character interaction gets tedious, as Leslie Nielsen’s tyrannical advertising executive gets ridiculous, despite an overall serious tone. There are a few moments and plenty of 70s nostalgia, but could have been a lot better.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2  (out of 4) rattle snakes.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GRADUATION DAY (1981)

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GRADUATION DAY (1981)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Graduation Day is a ho-hum 80s slasher that sees a high school track team being targeted by a killer as graduation approaches. The film opens with pretty track star Laura (Ruth Ann Llorens) winning a big race, but collapsing dead immediately after crossing the finish line. People blame her coach (Christopher George) for pushing her too hard. As her Navy Ensign sister Anne (Patch Mackenzie) returns home for Laura’s graduation, more members of the Midvale High School track team start to fall dead, this time by someone’s murderous hand. Is it a vengeful sister? Is it a deranged coach?…or does someone else have a reason to see the track team meet a fate far worse than Laura?

Film is directed by Herb Freed and co-written by he and David Baughn (who also co-produced with Freed) along with Anne Marisse. This is a very slow paced and dull flick with very flat direction and little suspense or tension. The killings are also very basic and routine, nothing special, nor especially gory. There really isn’t much going on here story-wise as we slowly try to figure out who the killer is and why the track team is their target. It is a little offbeat and weird that the killer often wears a sweatsuit and times the killings with a stopwatch, but once we get the reveal it does make a little more sense…a little. While on the subject of that, Graduation Day’s reveal actually works somewhat, as the character is simply someone you’ve kind of forgotten about, yet they do make sense, to a degree. There is a little creepiness at the end once we meet our villain, but it is too little too late. The final confrontation has some fun to it, but basically for the wrong reasons as it gets a bit over-the-top and silly.

The cast are also fairly bland as well, with only vets Christopher George and Micahel (Halloween 4) Pataki giving their thinly written roles a little life. The teen (some look like they’re in their thirties) leads are fairly dull with legendary scream queen Linnea Quigley once again showing up to show off her boobs before meeting her fate. Keep an eye out for a young Vanna White as a student, as well.

Overall, this is a dull and forgettable slasher that does have a bit of a following and did make back close to ten times it’s small budget at the box office. There is little suspense or tension, the kills are routine and with nothing interesting gore wise, but it is very 80s so there is that. The ending gets enjoyable goofy and there is a ridiculously long music video-ish segment featuring a band called Felony that brings giggles because it seems like it will never end. Not a total waste of time, but nothing special and I don’t see what it’s followers find so…worth following.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 knives.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: MORTUARY (1983)

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MORTUARY (1983)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Pretty Christie (Mary Beth McDonough) is certain that someone killed her father (Danny Rogers). The police think it was an accident and her mother (Lynda Day George) agrees, to the point where she is already spending time with the handsome mortician, Mr. Andrews (Christopher George). Andrews’ weird son, Paul (Bill Paxton) has a crush on Christie and now she keeps seeing a cloaked figure following her. Is it just hallucinations caused by grief?…or is someone stalking Christie with harmful intent?

Written and directed by Howard Avedis, this is an odd but fun 80s horror flick. We know from the opening scenes that Christie is not imagining things and her father was murdered and that there is something very odd going on involving Andrews and his mortuary. The film tries to play like a whodunnit, but it’s not too hard to figure out what is going on and who is involved, as Christie and boyfriend Greg (David Wallace) try to solve the mystery Scooby Doo style, complete with blonde Greg having a van. There is some bloodshed as our mysterious cloaked figure makes his way closer and closer to Christie, killing anyone in his way. Other than that, the body count is minimal and the film more atmospheric chiller than 80s slasher. Avedis does give the film a mood of dread and while there is little suspense or intensity, there are some well-staged action scenes and a few amusing red herrings leading up to the over-the-top mortuary/warehouse set climax. It’s a moderately entertaining flick, overall, even if you can see the big reveal coming a mile away.

The cast are fine for this type of flick. Mary Beth McDonough is a pretty and resourceful heroine. She has a fighting spirit and it’s alsmot a shame she spends a good part of the loopy climax unconscious. David Wallace is a solid hero as boyfriend Greg. He gives him a sense of loyalty to Christie and conveys his feelings for her well. He also comes to the rescue appropriately when she is a damsel in distress at the climax. Lynda Day George is fine as Christie’s doubting, self-absorbed mother, but makes her caring enough that she doesn’t become the stereotypical selfish shrew. Christopher George gives his Mr. Andrews an air of mystery as the mortuary owner who also runs seances on the side. Rounding out the main cast, young Bill Paxton is a hoot as Andrews’ son, Paul, who is an odd young man with a crush on Christie. He gets a large part in the action at the climax and is entertainingly over-the-top.

Mortuary is a moderately fun and entertaining 80s horror. It has a minimal body count, with modest bloodletting and plays out more like a Scooby Doo mystery complete with blonde hero with a van and the literal unmasking of the villain. He would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those darn kids! Fun and worth a look for 80s horror fans.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) embalming trocars…see the flick was educational, too!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: PIECES (1982)

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PIECES (1982)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Pieces is a Spanish made slasher that has a reputation, especially since it was decades before we got to see an uncut version here in the US. I wasn’t all that impressed when I first saw it at Fort Lee’s long-gone Linwood theater back in 1982 and recently revisited it to see if the added nostalgia might change my mind.

The film opens with a young boy being caught by his mother putting together a nude pin-up puzzle. She freaks out and starts to rant and rave, collecting all the boys hidden nude magazines. The boy does what any child would do and chops her up with an axe and saw. The film jumps four decades later as a killer dressed all in black and armed with a chainsaw, starts hacking up pretty girls on a campus and taking parts with him. If we don’t already get the idea, we are constantly treated to shots of the killer putting together that same bloodstained nudie puzzle and fondling mom’s bloody clothes. Police Lt. Bracken (Christopher George) is out to stop the killer and enlists a former tennis pro turned cop (Linda Day)…cause that sounds quite common…to go undercover as the campus tennis coach. Is it the hulking groundskeeper (Paul Smith)?…or is it the creepy anatomy professor (Jack Taylor)?…as the bodies pile up, the police are baffled as to who is chopping up the campus cuties and taking…Pieces!

Despite a lot of gore and bloodshed, Juan Piquer Simón’s flick is kinda dull and a tad silly. The script written by John W. Shadow and Dick Randall isn’t necessarily clever and just seems to take our murder mystery through it’s paces without really trying to make a good story out of it. The killer’s sudden reemergence after 40 years and why he wants to reconstruct his mother after all this time, is never explained, even after the last act reveal. There is little suspense in the investigation and we can see victims coming a mile away. There is some entertainment value here, though. There is the previously mentioned abundant gore and some generous nudity, as well as, some very unintentionally funny scenes, including Linda Day’s encounter with an over-zealous kung fu instructor and trained police officers not noticing a man hiding behind curtains right in from of them. There is some laughably bad dialogue and the performances are pretty wooden across the board. Only Christopher George’s scenery chewing and then wife Linda Day’s over-acting give the film any life.

As someone who loves 80s movies, I still say the film is worth a look. It has a reputation, though I’m not sure I agree with it, and it is not without some entertainment value along with the 80s nostalgia. It may not…in my opinion…be the classic some have proclaimed it, but it is part of a classic era and shouldn’t be ignored either. Not a favorite, despite the personal nostalgia, but a film that has gained a place in 80s horror infamy and I respect that, if not fully agree with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 chainsaws.

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WARNING: TRAILER IS QUITE GRAPHIC! NSFW!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

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THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

 James (Shakedown) Glickenhaus’ The Exterminator is a grind house flick through and through with it’s dirty, grimy depiction of a crime-riddled New York City and the cruel and blood-spattered activities of it’s criminal underworld and corrupt officials. The film focuses on Viet Nam vet John Eastland (Robert Ginty) and his friend Michael Jefferson (Steve James) who saved his life in the brutal opening sequence set during the war. When the two best friend cross paths with The Ghetto Ghouls, a vicious street gang, the vengeful youths attack Jefferson and paralyze him for life. This sets Eastland off on a bloody quest for revenge which starts at the Ghetto Ghoul’s hang-out and soon spreads out onto the streets of New York City itself as Eastland decides to become a one man war against crime, who proclaims himself to the people of the city as “The Exterminator.” With guns, flame throwers and even meat grinders at his disposal, The Exterminator is out to clean up the streets…but he’s got the attention of a hard-boiled cop (Christopher George) and made enemies even he may not be able to survive.

Written and directed by Glickenhaus, this is a sleazy and nasty little film that isn’t afraid to go deep into the alleyways and hidden sex dens to follow Eastland on his quest for justice, spurred by the mutilation of his dearest friend. Glickenhaus creates a New York City that is dirty, violent and corrupt on every level. A film where little or no moral characters exist and that makes you want to take a bath after it’s over. It’s a revenge, action film that’s directed more like a slasher movie, unafraid to go places mainstream movies won’t and smart enough to not try to be more than it is. It’s an exploitation movie to it’s core, showing a darker side of the world’s greatest city at a time where lawlessness was at it’s worst. Obviously, 80s nostalgia permeates the film now and adds to it’s cult classic status. The film’s not perfect. Eastland goes from mild mannered vet to homicidal vigilante far too quickly to appreciate the effects of his being pushed too far. Having no main villain after he deals with the Ghetto Ghouls early on, robs the film of a more focused story and makes Eastland’s actions appear random at times. The pace is rather slow…though not uncommon in this era of movies. The action, aside from the Viet Nam opening is rather unremarkable. The acting is passable at best and the ending, though unconventional, is rather abrupt. It is an exploitation film after all and it delivers the sleazy goods more than it stumbles and gives us a down and dirty look at NYC at a time when the Big Apple had lost a lot of it’s luster. It’s a bloody, bare bones grind house flick about vigilante justice, street style, without the Hollywood gloss of the similar Death Wish.

The cast are all efficient enough, though, we won’t be handing out any awards. Robert Ginty is fine as Eastland. He is a bit wooden, but his boyish looks and calm delivery make him a good choice as Eastland, as he is not someone you would immediately expect to be a psychopathic vigilante. Christopher George is his usual reliable self as the macho, tough-guy cop tracking The Exterminator and he works in the type of part he played often in his career. The rest of the cast are an assortment of gangsters, gang members and slimy CIA agents and everyone fits in with the exploitation atmosphere just fine. Samantha Eggar has a small role as George’s doctor girlfriend and she may be one of the only nice people in the film apart from Michael’s wife Maria (Michele Harrell).

Released by legendary studio Avco Embassy Pictures, I didn’t see The Exterminator when it first came out, but caught it a few years later on VHS and wasn’t overly impressed at that time. I did see the lackluster sequel from Cannon Films in 1984. The original is a cult classic and I think I appreciate it more now for what it is and that it presents such heavy nostalgia of the early 80s NYC in all it’s sleazy 42nd street glory. The city has greatly improved since then and while that is good for visitors and occupants alike, we can now safely revisit one of it’s darkest times, crime-wise, through exploitation films like this, that dove into the immoral muck and mire with both feet and swam through it proudly…and The Exterminator does just that as any good grind house movie should.

3 about to become chopped meat mobsters.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GRIZZLY (1976)

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GRIZZLY (1976)

Grizzly is a 1976 Jaws rip-off that tells the horrifying tale of a massive 15 foot (the ads for the film say 18, but in the movie it is said to be 15) grizzly bear, who has wandered hungrily into a state park and begins snacking down on the campers and rangers alike. Chief Ranger Mike Kelly (Christopher George) has his hands full as he, Naturalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) and war vet chopper pilot Don Stober (Andrew Prine) have to somehow stop the relentless carnivore.

Grizzly follows the template created by Spielberg’s thriller quite closely with our three leads being the Brody, Hooper and Quint characters who are hunting a vicious, yet seemingly very intelligent predator, while it racks up quite the body count of innocent victims. We get the greedy head of the park refusing to close the place down despite the deaths and bringing in a bunch of amateur yahoos to hunt the bear down. But despite the blatant similarities, Grizzly actually works on a B-movie level. As directed by William Girdler (Abby, The Manitou), Grizzly is actually an effective and surprisingly gory PG horror flick. While it never matches the tension of the movie it was clearly inspired by, it does entertain in more of a low budget slasher flick kind of way, with the rampaging bear filling in for Jason or Michael Myers. For a 2000 lb. animal, it sneaks up on people quite easily. There is never much attempt to explain why the animal is so big, or why it has come to this park to feed, except for a quick throw-away line suggesting it might be a throw-back to it’s prehistoric ancestors. But like with the shark in Jaws, the grizzly is effectively portrayed and it’s background is unimportant to the carnage it creates. A live bear was used in filming and the 11 foot “Teddy” is quite effective in the part along with a prop arm for up-close mauling. It is said that the crew coaxed the bear into it’s roaring stance by offering it marshmallows, adding the roar in post production. Works for me!

Sure there is some silly dialog and all the acting is not top notch, but the leads are veteran actors and give the material the respect it needs to work and their characters are all pretty likable. This, along with some effectively gory kills and a nice fast pace by director Girdler, turns this low budget rip-off into an entertaining B-movie that works well enough on it’s own. Made for a reported $750,000, Grizzly grossed almost $40 million. Not bad for a Jaws imitation that, when you add the 70s nostalgia factor, is actually a fun Saturday night B-movie horror thriller despite it’s rip-off roots.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) rampaging grizzly bears

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