I feel sorry for younger folks who'll never truly know the magic of b-movie novelizations. In the days before VCRs, movie tie-ins were the only way a person could re-experience films at will. Long after a movie disappeared from theaters, the story was preserved in a short paperback format that could be purchased for $1.50. Today, novelizations are reserved for box-offices firestorms such as The Phantom Menace. But once upon a time, scores of semi-popular or not-at-all-popular films received pulp literary treatment. And for many kids who grew up in the 70s/early 80s, novelizations were a great way to experience films parents disapproved of.
Novelizations are also precursors to "director's cuts." They're usually based on original scripts or pre-screened versions of movies. It's common for a tie-in to include scenes not found in a finished feature. Likewise, authors are encouraged to enhance a story line with new details so the book will take on a life of its own.
Two of Bill Girdler's movies received literary treatment: Grizzly (1976) and Day of the Animals (1977). But before we examine those books, we should look at Graham Masterton's 1975 novel The Manitou. In addition to being a wonderland of movie tie-ins, the 70s marked an exciting chapter in the evolution of the pulp horror novel. Books like The Exorcist, Jaws, The Manitou and Carrie weren't merely disposable print ventures; they spawned wildly lucrative film projects which, in turn, ensured that the books enjoyed extended shelf lives long after the films left theaters.
The Manitou marked Graham Masterton's entry into the world of horror literature. Prior to his tale of Indian magic running amok in New York City, Masterton earned a living by authoring sex manuals with titles like Girls Who Said Yes. He wrote The Manitou in under a week sometime during 1975. The book was an immediate smash in the UK.
But before Girdler ever laid eyes on Graham Masterton's The Manitou, the best-selling novel had already undergone at least one noteworthy change. Early hardback editions included a variant ending in which Misquamacus was killed by a rare venereal disease he contracted from Karen Tandy. When Pinnacle sought to release a paperback version, they asked Graham to alter the inflammatory climax. He complied, and composed a new ending in which Harry channels the 'Manitou' energy of a police computer to combat Misquamacus.
The book is pulpy and feels as if it was penned quickly. It still packs a punch -- even some 26 years later. The swift pace keeps the reader's disbelief suspended. (I couldn't count how many time an authoritative character says something like, "Well, normally I'd never believe this, but I can't find another explanation, so sure: I'll buy that she has a fetus growing on her neck!")
The most significant plot element Girdler altered in his film presentation is the relationship between Harry Erskine and Karen Tandy. In the novel, the two are complete strangers -- Karen is merely a cute tarot customer who evokes compassion from Harry. Several times throughout the novel, Harry makes comments to the effect of, "I don't know why I care so much about what happens to this girl, but I do." Girdler's love connection gives Harry a real motive for putting his life on the line. In my opinion, the relationship seen in the movie is superior to Masterton's original plot.
Girdler also shifted the location of the story from New York to San Francisco. Bill commented during interviews he made the change because San Fran was moodier, though it's more likely the decision was driven by budgetary concerns.
The character of John Singingrock as seen in the film strays far from the modern medicine man described in the book. Masterton's Singingrock is a sly profiteer who's not afraid of taking money from white men. He is paid handsomely by Karen's family to rid the young woman of the Indian nightmare growing on her neck. When he realizes the reborn spirit is Misquamacus, his first instinct is to drop the deal (he doesn't want to be the Indian equivalent of an Uncle Tom.) But upon learning that Misquamacus' new body has been injured via hospital X-rays, Singingrock decides to engage in battle anyway since Misquamacus will be hopelessly deformed.
Girdler's Singingrock is a simple farmer whose price for the exorcism is a donation to an American Indian charity. Bill felt his depiction was more accurate in respect to real Native American personalities.
In the novel, Amelia and MacArthur, the people who help Harry hunt down the origin of the Indian spirit, both meet grisly fates. Harry learns of their deaths while at the hospital. Girdler's version assumes the couple survived. Interestingly, Masterton brought the couple back in his novel Burial. The French publisher of the novel noted to Graham that they died in the original Manitou book. Masterton attributed the error to his clear memory of the film version.
Misquamacus kicks Harry and Singingrock's asses once he's reborn. The Lizard spirit also bites off Dr. Hughes' hand. The three leave the floor to find Hughes' medical attention. Against Singingrock's warnings, the NYPD sends up a squad of policemen to combat Misquamacus. In a very descriptive scene, the officers' remains are discovered piled into the hospital elevator.
Bill Girdler told Jeffrey Frentzen in 1977, "Much of the gore in the book has been eliminated. We had two choices in making the film. We could have made a drive-in shocker of immense proportions or a class production. I wanted to get away from the kinds of films I'd been doing up until that point. Graham's book went to extremes that I did not wish to deal with. I treated the story uniformly as a personal ordeal for the characters directly involved with this girl. Graham brought in things like the National Guard and the New York Police to undercut the credibility; it's like some of those science fiction films of the fifties where battalions of men were called in to fight off invading aliens."
Die-hard fans of Masterton strongly dislike Girdler's show-stopping finale. Graham himself thinks Bill might have laid it on a bit thick. Personally, I can't imagine the film without a naked babe firing laser beams at a midget. Girdler was especially proud of the film's climax, and talked it up at every opportunity. He told Jeffrey Frentzen, "One thing the audience will not be prepared for is the ending, which is completely different from the one in the book. My ending will leave the viewer in a state of shock. So, if you are oriented on Graham's finale, forget it. This finish is an end-all."
Indeed it is, Bill.
Grizzly's novelization contains numerous scenes not found in the final film; it also features a completely different ending! Will Collins penned this 1976 paperback, and he is successful at stretching the thin plot into 188 pages of pulp literature. His descriptions of settings and surroundings are somewhat underdeveloped, but he more than makes up for it via numerous sections told from the bear's first-person point of view.
You learn a lot about this bear. He was abandoned by his own mother as a cub because she feared his strength. None of the cute girl bears talked to him. He was always the last bear picked for teams in gym class. So he left the other bears and settled on the other side of the mountain. After many years of comfortable solitude, a group of oil barons decided to drill on his territory. Rather than fight it out, he opted to find a new home ... and a new food source. Thus, the bear is a sympathetic character in the novel. Not only has he suffered numerous socialization blows from his own kind, but now man has driven him from his safe haven.
Will Collins doesn't stop at personifying the bear -- he goes on to offer first-hand accounts from Sam the rabbit and Tex the horse! You just can't get those perspectives from a movie alone -- unless it's Babe.
Most of the plot differences are minor and feel like the author's own inventions. Much of the gore is described in higher detail, but that's typical of novelizations. Some of the more interesting plot developments include:
- The bear is drawn to the first victims because one girl is menstruating.
- Christopher George's character (who enjoys talking about impotency) gets laid in this book, giving Allison a little more significance.
- George's character is named Michael Kelly in the film; his name in the book is Kelly Gordon.
- The conflict between Kelly and Kittredge is prolonged.
- Kelly pleads with Allison's daddy to shut down the park.
- The scene in which the boy is torn to ribbons by the bear features the mother attacking the bear with a fireplace iron, as opposed to a (wimpy) broom.
The novel's climax is completely different from what closes the film. Instead of whipping out a government-issue rocket launcher, Kelly brandishes a flame thrower to finish off the beast (this after lobbing hand grenades). The death of the bear really gets to Kelly; he has tears in his eyes as he looks upon the bear's smoldering remains. Andrew Prine's character, who is presumed dead in the film, survives in the novel! Upon realizing this, the end of the film changes a bit. When the end credits roll, you see Christopher George rush to his friend's side. One can almost imagine George giving comfort to his injured Nam Vet buddy as they wait for help to arrive ...
Day of the Animals
Donald Porter's novelization of Day of the Animals is a real treat! While it follows the film's plot line pretty closely, the novel offers up one or two deviations that are rather insightful.
Like Will Collins, Porter presents a few first-hand accounts from the animals' perspectives, though they lack the personal touch found in Grizzly. These animals don't know why they are suddenly so angry at mankind, but for the first time, they are willing to work together to see human blood spilled. Cougar joined with grizzly joined with wolf joined with hawk -- all focused on one vengeful agenda.
The novel establishes that this group of misfit hikers was the brainchild of Steve's boss. The nature tours usually cater to experienced hikers, but Steve's group of "tenderfoots" all had money to burn, and the park was more than willing to accept their cash. Daniel Santee (Michael Ansara's character) joins the group partially as a favor to Steve in case the tenderfoots prove especially helpless.
Throughout the novel, ALL of the characters suffer from the virus brought on by the hole in the ozone layer. They sprout ugly, painful lesions. They grow horny (the professor makes a play for Lynda Day George, and again, Christopher George gets laid). They all become irritable and reckless.
The first major plot deviation occurs after Mandy is attacked by the cougar. Frank and Mandy leave the group to seek first aid. As they travel down the mountain, Mandy grows disoriented and weird, chattering mindlessly and such. Tired and belligerent, she refuses to go any further without a rest. Frank urges her to continue, but she won't budge. He turns to leave her. She is attacked by a group of birds. They don't force her down the cliff just yet -- they tear out her eyes. Frank chases them off. He and his blinded wife stumble away. Eventually, after several more bird attacks (Frank grows adept at crushing hawks with his bare hands), vultures force Mandy down a steep cliff. Frank resumes his lonely journey down the mountain, and in accordance with the film, he finds the little girl. As he and the brat travel, he calls her Mandy, mistaking her for his dead wife.
The most significant deviation comes toward the end of the novel, during the "dog attack." First of all, the 'wild German shepherds' are wolves in the book, which makes a lot more sense. As in the movie, Steve's surviving tenderfoots are holed up in a wooden shack and surrounded by angry canines. The wolves invade the cabin and attack the group. Roy, the football player with cancer, becomes the group's savior; fearlessly taking on the wolves in direct hand-to-hand combat. The professor joins him and bravely engages in battle. They yell to Steve, Terry, and Daniel to leave. Steve refuses, but Roy insists. Steve somberly complies and the trio dashes to the river, and eventually, to safety. In the movie, it's hard to believe that Steve would just casually abandon the professor and Roy after everything they'd been through, but it's a logical move as presented in the novel.
Then there is a final scene of Roy and the professor in the cabin. Surrounded by dead wolves (which they offed themselves), Roy drags himself over to the professor's broken body. The two smile and quietly congratulate each other on their triumphant victory. They hope their efforts were enough to save the others. Roy is brimming with an unfamiliar yet pleasurable sensation of peace. He has faced his own mortality and is no longer afraid of death. The professor and he join hands, then die happily.
The sudden ending seen in the film is even MORE abrupt as depicted in the novel. To give you a good idea of what I mean: the book is 168 pages long. The ending kicks in on page 165.