In 1976, director William Girdler delivered what was described as “Jaws with paws” with Grizzly…
…Following an eighteen-foot murder-bear tearing through hikers and hunted by a ragtag group of rangers, Grizzly was a direct response to the Spielberg blockbuster, with the goal of doing for the woods what Jaws had done for the ocean. The film is legendary in its own right, noteworthy for its gruesome violence and anything goes attitude towards victims, despite its PG rating.
70s horror was hardcore, all.
The film saw some success, so of course producers decided to dip their toes in the sequel honeypot. Filmed in the early 1980s, Grizzly II: Revenge aimed to be epic, but instead became an epic disaster thanks to production issues, and was left unfinished, leaving Grizzly fans like me crying our giant bear-loving eyes out. But, after more than three decades, Grizzly II: Revenge has finally been finished and is officially releasing after all of these years, and it already has my vote for the best worst movie of the year.
Directed by Andre Szots and written by returning Grizzly writer David Sheldon and Joan McCall, who appeared as Allison in the original, Grizzly II tells pretty much the same story as the first, with a giant grizzly on the loose, hunted by rangers, only this time, there’s a giant concert about to go off, and everything is utterly comical.
Grizzly II may be 37 years in the making, but it has not aged like a fine wine.
Revenge opens with a long sequence of newly shot, glossy, drop-dead gorgeous footage of nature and animals in their natural habitat, including some adorable bear cubs, one of which is shot in front of its mother, who of course must now take…REVENGE! The whole thing plays like an overdramatic nature documentary, and for as beautiful as the footage is, there’s just one problem: Grizzly II was not shot to be a meaningful discussion on mankind’s intrusion on nature. It was shot to be a campy creature feature, and the two styles do not mix at all. It’s like trying to host a classy party where all of the waiters are dressed like the subway dwellers in C.H.U.D. Neither goes together and everyone is confused.
From the get go, Revenge is a bear trying to dress itself in a tuxedo that just does not fit.
Thankfully, the intrusive modern footage is short-lived (though reused a few times), and the film is onto a trio of hikers played by Charlie Sheen, George Clooney, and Laura Dern, all before they struck it big, and they’re so adorably young! Nerds like myself will get a kick out of seeing the three soon to be legends in an early appearance, but don’t be fooled by the poster: these three are not the stars of the film, and you can probably guess how long they last. The film gods do bless us with an awkward sex scene between Dern and Clooney that plays out like its own bad mating doc, so there’s that.
Leading the cast instead is ranger Nick Hollister (Steve Inwood), his teen hippie daughter, Chrissy (Deborah Foreman), bear expert Samantha (Deborah Raffin) and Jaws mayor-esque Eileene (Louise Fletcher), who refuses to stop the activities because of those sweet, sweet concert dollars. “I don’t want a cloud of fear on this concert,” she warns Nick at one point. None of them are interesting, and Fletcher, who had recently won an Oscar for best actress in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is totally wasted, though still steals every scene she’s in. The real MVP of the cast is John Rhys-Davies as bear trapper Bouchard, who hams it up as a weird eccentric who can deadlift whole trees over a goddamn jeep like the Hulk, yet makes you believe his terror when he says that our heroes are dealing with the “devil bear”. Rhys-Davies seems to be the only one truly embracing what kind of movie he’s in as he bellows and roars his way through the film like the Grizzly Man meets Nic Cage, rambling about bears like a madman.
Grizzly II is the shaved bear cousin of its predecessor, with much of the same story, types of characters, and tropes (all of them a play on Jaws), but with an attempt to go bigger in almost every way. Despite the concert playing almost no role in the film other than a distraction from more bear carnage, the setup is impressive, and some of the best moments of the film are when we’re treated to 80s rock ballads. Granted, it’s to the extent of Grizzly II becoming part music-video, but that’s a welcome reprieve from dragged out scenes of dialogue that feel heavily improvised with no direction.
The bear itself is a gigantic, mechanical monstrosity designed by Nick Maley that leans into the animatronic creature work that was becoming prominent in the 80s. Some won’t like that it’s less realistic than the real bears used in Grizzly, but fans of 80s creature features will adore the effort to create something truly monstrous. The thing is clunky as hell and must’ve been difficult to shoot though, because most of the footage with the bear is reused throughout…even though said footage is from night, yet is used while the bear is attacking…during the day. Grizzly II reuses footage with a shameless abandon that I haven’t seen in years.
One area where Grizzly II surprisingly whimpers more than roars is in the violence. The original Grizzly has that “nothing is off limits” attitude of the 70s, and, even though the 80s was a decade where fans were flocking to horror to see more gore, Revenge is about as tame as Yogi Bear stealing picnic baskets. There are a few bloody bodies, but most if not all of the carnage happens off-screen. I understand a kid getting his leg torn off in the original is tough to top in the shock department, but you could have at least tried, Grizzly II! Suspense is a word that is not a part of Grizzly II's dictionary.
Executive producer Suzanne C. Nagy and her efforts to restore and release Grizzly II should be commended, and to her credit, the restored footage looks much crisper and cleaner than you’d expect. That being said, this film is a mess, and even after 37 years, still comes off like a work in progress with many moments that feel like shots are missing. From the uneven tone, to paper-thin characters aka grizzly meat, and sporadic editing so wonky you’ll have to watch the ludicrous ending twice just to accept that it is so suddenly over, Grizzly II is eighteen feet of pure, bear-sploitation nonsense. And it’s hilarious.
Grizzly II won’t win over viewers hoping for a legitimately scary, bloody, killer bear movie, but for those who crowd to midnight screenings for the likes of Troll 2, it isn’t hard to imagine that same group having a blast with Grizzly II. The first Grizzly is smooth honey. Grizzly II is a greasy, fried turkey leg drenched in some synthetic syrup meant to taste like honey. No doctor in their right mind would recommend it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t satisfy that hungry craving as you hibernate for the night with a bucket of buttery popcorn and a six pack. It’s bad, atrocious, even, but it’s also exactly the kind of film that midnight screenings were made for.
Just make sure to clean up after, and don’t feed the bears.
Grizzly II: Revenge comes to select theaters, VOD and Blu-ray on January 8th from Gravitas Ventures.
By Matt Konopka