Last month, the excellent home-video label Severin Films released a themed trilogy of Blu-ray releases focused on natural horror — i.e., animals fucking people up … and how! The titles, sold individually, include William Girdler’s rough sequence of 1976’s Grizzly and 1977’s Day of the Animals, which share cast members and a deep fidelity to the films they’re ripping off. Meanwhile, 1989’s Deep Blood takes the violence undersea for a sharksploitation adventure that is a lot less horrifying than one would expect from director Joe D’Amato, known best for Beyond the Darkness — one of the few films so graphically unpleasant that I still can’t shake it years after watching.
Here’s a quick rundown on the films, how I felt about them and whether I think they’re worth the boutique Blu-ray treatment. Keep in mind that Severin’s mission is to bring undiscovered and forgotten genre films into a new light and thus all of them require an audience prepared for often low-budget exploitation fare.
Bearing that in mind:
Girdler’s love for helicopter location shots is in full force here, as the start of the movie is built off seemingly endless shots of rural Georgia (a setting, I have learned, is used as an ample stand-in for just about anywhere). The story itself is as close to a 1-to-1 recreation of Jaws as has ever existed, but with more victims and funnier gore. Well, and it’s a grizzly bear instead of a shark, of course. Christopher George stars as Michael Kelly, the worried lawman facing institutional resistance to his hunt for the beast-killing visitors to his beat. He teams up with a bear expert and a helicopter pilot (can’t have boats to hunt a bear!) to do the deed.
Girdler may be ripping off Jaws, but this is exploitation fare and he makes changes where it counts. Most of the grizzly’s victims are young, beautiful, barely dressed women who happen to be camping out in the wilderness with low-cut shirts or bathing in mountain streams on their lonesome. The grizzly approaches from a first-person perspective, breathing heavily as it pushes through the trees to glimpse its victims and seemingly enjoy the sights of its pending meals. The peeping-Tom element is delightfully skeevy, particularly paired with the hokey dismemberments that follow suit.
Accordingly, Kelly’s ultimate defeat of the grizzly is more violent and absurd than anything in the first Jaws film; let’s not discuss those sequels. There are a number of moments where the action lulls and Grizzly starts to feel like a chore, but the payoff is worth it. On its own, Grizzly offers some choice delights. As a ripoff of Jaws, but more violent and sexual, it’s a pretty worthwhile investment.
Day of the Animals
Following Grizzly, Girdler dove right back into the killer-animals-attacking-hikers story, this time with a more environmentally conscious story. In Day, a hole in the ozone layer allows a virus to infiltrate that makes all animals above an elevation of 5,000 feet bloodthirsty for human flesh. Rats, jaguars, mountain lions, wolves, dogs, vultures, hawks, eagles … in some cases, it seems, even the men themselves. The gore is less absurd than Grizzly’s flying limbs, but the horror is much better developed … relatively. There’s still quite a lot of “nature footage with scary music.”
Still, some characters you’d expect to survive instead bite the dust in quick, awful fashion, and a pre-Airplane! Leslie Nielsen gives an iconic man-gone-mad performance. “Our father who art in heaven,” he screams at the storming sky. “You’ve made a jackass out of me for years!” George returns here as the steely hero once again, this time leading a group of stranded hikers to safety amid a world gone mad. Most don’t make it out alive. Day is a wacky, “you won’t believe someone made this” delight. Day is in all ways superior to Grizzly. Of these three new releases, it’s by far the must-own of the lot.
Although D’Amato is known for some pretty gruesome stuff, Deep Blood is a shockingly wholesome direct-to-TV ripoff of Jaws that spends a lot more time developing corny family drama than showing people being eaten by sharks. In fact, nobody’s really shown in their last moments; a shark death here involves actors flailing about in water with some red food dye. The shark is rarely seen apart from stock footage; most of the first-person “hunting” footage is clearly filmed in a swimming pool. Part and parcel for these Z-grade horror flicks.
The fact that Deep Blood is stuck in 4:3 and not a widescreen ratio gives it that “hidden VHS” aesthetic feeling desired by many fans of schlock garbage. Severin’s 2K restoration gives it much more quality than a VHS, of course, and the special features on the disc are a fun exploration of what was basically a throwaway film by D’Amato, which he directed only because a friend of his dropped out after filming one sequence.
I wouldn’t recommend Deep Blood outside of a sale period. Its charms are certainly present, but it just doesn’t have the substance to warrant being a must-own. In some ways, it’s probably better discovered at a discount or at a second-hand store on a whim.
Severin did a great job restoring these three schlock films. The special features on each are great because they treat the films with respect, and most of them sounded pretty fun to make. Day of the Animals is the must-own of the bunch, Grizzly is a fun watch, and Deep Blood has its problems but is ultimately passable.