Thursday, August 18, 2022


Grizzly, by Will Collins
April, 1976  Pyramid Books

I’ve never seen the movie Grizzly, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever even heard of it. It’s possible I’ve seen the poster, which appears to be the most remembered thing about the movie. But this is another one of those “I can’t believe they did a novelization of that” situations – and once again I have Robert Mann to thank for sending me his copy. I’ve failed to mention Robert in my previous tie-in novel reviews, but over the past year he has been sending me boxes of tie-in paperbacks, like Lethal Weapon and That Man Bolt!…just tons of great books I’ve been happy to receive, and I’ve been meaning to thank him in the reviews. 

This paperback was included in the most recent box, and also Robert noted about it: “It was a quick read thriller that was at least entertaining. The movie was horrible!” I haven’t reviewed a horror novel on here in a long time, so I decided to read Grizzly first. Robert was very correct – the novel turned out to be a quick read, and it was entertaining for sure. This is due to the skill of the author, “Will Collins,” which turns out to be the pseudonym of Edwin Corley, a well-known author at one time. Corley takes what is a goofy concept and treats it with some gravitas; I’ve never read Peter Benchley’s Jaws (and hell I haven’t even seen the movie – though I did see Jaws III in the theater and had Jaws IV on VHS), but I’m assuing it was written in a similar style…for clearly Grizzly is like the wildlife take on Jaws. And speaking of which, last year Robert also sent me the novelizations of Jaws II and Jaws IV, and I intend to read them as well someday soon. 

The novel sticks to the horror template, with various characters meeting, uh, grisly fates at the claws of a giant grizzly bear that’s running amok in a park in Iowa. The cover says the grizzly is 18 feet, but the novel implies that it’s 15 feet, but why quibble. Another callback to the horror trope is that most all of the victims meet their gory fates just as they’re about to have sex, or stripping down for sex, or merely thinking about sex. To be sure, though, the only actual sex scene in Grizzly occurs off-page. That said, the novel caters to the rugged masculine ethic of the day, as displayed in contemporary “nature run amok” horror novel The Deadly Deep – a nice reminder of the days when popular fiction was written and marketed for a male readership. 

Proving this posthaste, the novel opens with a park ranger who is “a slim girl, tightly contained in a uniform that seemed a size too small.” Corley does his best to convey her ensuing jiggling and whatnot, and later in the novel we’ll even have a part where she strips down and gets in a waterfall as preparation for a little outdoors lovin’. Surprisingly though this busty Playmate-esque ranger isn’t the lead female character; instead it’s a local gal in her thirties named Allison Corwin who is a professional photographer. But don’t worry, as we’re assured Allison’s attractive too, and the male hero of the yarn, Kelly Gordon, has already been putting the moves on her before the story begins. But as mentioned no actual sex material occurs in the novel – though we do get a lot of dialog about it, including the absolutely unforgettable line: “Harry simply went ape screwing to Bolero.” 

Stuff like this is clear indication Corley is having fun and not taking the material too seriously, which jibes with the eco sermonizing that frequently runs through the text. Way too much of Grizzly comes off like proto-climate change ideology, with lectures on how poor old mother nature is just suffering unmerciful because of man. White man, be assured, because we also learn in an aside that American Indians respected nature and etc, etc…the sort of stuff that once appeared in a pulp paperback tie-in but now no doubt is lectured as “the science” in universities across this once-great land of ours. 

I had to look on to see who played these characters; I was unable to get a visualization of them from the narrative, so I’m guessing Corley wrote the novel before production began. At any rate Kelly Gordon is the ruggedly masculine protagonist of the tale, very much in-line with the Marlboro Men-type protagonists of the era. Whereas today youth is key, in the ‘70s protagonists were often older, more experienced in various fields, and such is the case with Kelly, a 38 year-old Vietnam vet who acts as the chief park ranger, though he reports to a paper-pushing administrative government dweeb who has achieved his position due to politics. 

I haven’t yet gotten to the titular grizzly, who believe it or not has his own narrative sections. In some ways Grizzly reminds me of Snowman, which was also about a massive monster attacking a resort area, but whereas that one was totally sci-fi horror (complete with a giant monster), Grizzly tries to retain a semblance of realism. The grizzly, who is referred to as “The Beast” in his narrative portions, is a sort of throwback to the prehistoric era – or so it is quickly theorized at one point in the novel, so as to lend some unneccesary credence to the tale. The tale opens with the grizzly being kicked out of his usual foraging area high atop a mountain due to land developers; as I say, there is a definite eco-bent to the narrative, with man’s destruction of nature and whatnot often mentioned. But then personally I’d take a shopping mall over an 18-foot grizzly with a fondness for human flesh, so I fail to see Corley’s point. 

To his credit (or perhaps that should be to the script’s credit), Corley gets started on the horror action quick. Unlike Snowman, this nature-run-amok tale doesn’t spin its wheels in plodding setup. We’re introduced to the curvy rangerette (not a term used in the book, btw), then meet a few of the other rangers, and then we’re introduced to a pair of college gals who happen to be camping. They become the first victims of the bear, and Corley proves his horror-writing skills in an effective sequence. He’s also got the lurid vibe down pat because one of the gals happens to be talking about sex (with a park ranger she just met) shortly before meeting her fate…and also we get the tidbit that the girl happens to be having her period, the scent of which has gotten the grizzly’s attention! It’s all pretty violent, no doubt more graphic than the film version: 

Another thing the story doesn’t waste time on is people refusing to belive they are in a horror novel – I’m no expert on the genre, but “I don’t believe in any stupid old monsters!” seems to be a recurring schtick in it. That doesn’t happen here, so far as Kelly Gordon and his fellow rangers go. They come across the bloody remains of the girls and immediately know a bear is amok, promptly taking the necessary safety precautions. We get a bit of detail on how wildlife parks operate – Kelly is adamant that the rangers moved all the bears in the area to the high country months ago – and also we see some of the stupidty of the administrative ranks. The rangers work on the situation, demanding that campers move out of the vicinity…and of course, a few stubborn ones ignore the order, to their gory regret. 

With the help of a “hot-shot naturalist temporarily assigned to the park” named Arthur Scott, it’s soon determined that the attacking bear is actually a grizzly. Arthur Scott vies with Kelly Gordon as the star of the show; he’s a rugged individualist type himself, but one who likes to dress up in animal hides and lurk in nature for days, observing animals in the wild. In fact, there’s a bit of a Predator foreshadowing here when Arthur decides to buck the other rangers and go out after the giant grizzly on his own. Unfortunately for him he isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger, so it doesn’t go very well. This stuff was cool, though, and I liked it that Arthur was the only character who really took the fight to the bear, going out in the element of “The Beast” cloaked in animal skins and armed with an experimental dart gun. 

It wouldn’t be ‘70s eco-horror without a bit of random casual sex, though, and Corley also delivers on this – though as stated all the sex is off-page. Kelly and Allison find the time to get it on in a remote cabin in the woods, in the midst of the grizzly’s carnage. This part is enjoyably ‘70s with them mixing drinks and shooting the pre-sex breeze while the other rangers are out in the dark woods waiting in ambush for a massive bear that’s chewing up random victims. However it’s also very ‘70s in that Allison has no bearings on the plot; she takes some photos of the carnage (and vomits), but eventually heeds Kelly’s advice that she get the hell out of the park until the bear is found. So in other words we don’t have any of the mandatory “female empowerment” of today with rugged female characters also taking on the bear; even the curvy ranger babe, Gail Nelson, doesn’t amount to much in the narrative, other than the aforementioned scene where she strips down by a waterfall, deciding to take this moment to finally give the goods to a hunky fellow ranger. You don’t have to be a horror veteran to guess how this scene plays out. 

The book also doesn’t shirk on the grizzly carnage; there are frequent attacks on hapless campers, both in the woods and in civilization. The latter plays out in a sequence more akin to a supernatural thriller, with the grizzly attacking homes and a restaurant – one that happens to be owned by Allison’s dad, and is also one of the reasons why she decides to leave until the bear is taken down. But speaking of which that’s one element in which Snowman was superior…but then, that novel featured guys with frigin’ nuclear crossbows going after the titular monster. Here, we just have Kelly piloting a helicopter while one of his colleagues takes aim with a big gun. It’s cool and all, but nowhere in the crazed realms of the other novel. 

All told, Grizzly was a quick and fun read, with that “full ‘70s flavor” I demand in my fiction. (Can’t recall where I read that phrase, but I love it.) It was so good that in my mind Grizzly will just be a novel, and I see no reason to seek out the film someday. Well, I did read that the actress who plays the curvy rangerette was a Penthouse model, so maybe there is a reason.


Toad2112 said...

not sure about the book...but in the movie the bear actually takes down a helicopter! And decapitates a horse! The Penthouse model was Victoria Johnson.

Johny Malone said...

I saw it for the first time last night. I thought it would be a mess, but it's very solid. It's a conservationist film, not an ecototalitarian. There is some bizarre humor at the beginning, with the bear gasping at the women (almost a metaphor for masculinity in danger of extinction). Then the bear diversifies its victims. The film reaches its peak when he kills a child and his mother, a great scene. From when the cinema still stylized things, even terror.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments! Toad, both those incidents also occur in the novel. And Johny, thanks for the writeup on the movie!