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Grizzly II: Revenge

Last week we discussed GET CRAZY, a movie about a bunch of bands putting on a concert that was just barely released in August of ’83. Today we’re going to take a look at a 1983 film also about a bunch of bands putting on a concert, but this one wasn’t released at all until 2020, because it was never finished. Technically the thing they released is considered finished, but I’d dispute that description.

GRIZZLY II: REVENGE is officially the sequel to William Girdler’s GRIZZLY (1976). Over the years I’ve stumbled across it occasionally on IMDb when looking up various filmographies – I believe it used to be listed as GRIZZLY II: THE CONCERT and GRIZZLY II: THE PREDATOR – but it said the production fell apart before they finished filming. Little did I know there was an executive producer out there still determined to release it.

The first film’s co-producer and co-writer David Sheldon (FOXY BROWN, SHEBA BABY) wrote the sequel with his wife Joan McCall (a soap opera writer and actress in PEOPLETOYS and ACT OF VENGEANCE), and was set to direct, until the producer hired commercial director André Szöts behind his back. Though it’s set in Yellowstone National Park it was filmed on a Soviet military base in Budapest, in an unusual act of artistic cooperation during the Cold War. The premise is that poachers killed a baby bear to sell its bladder in China, so a giant mama bear is on an angry rampage at the same time a huge music festival is going on nearby. SPOILER: eventually the bear shows up outside the concert, and awkwardly smashes her face through the stage for like half a second at the very end, but mostly the bear and the concert are able to occupy the same movie without disturbing each other.

As the movie exists today, released digitally and on disc by Gravitas Ventures, it opens with footage clearly not shot anywhere close to 1983, and making no attempt to look like it was. We get these establishing drone shots of trees and clean digital stock footage of bear cubs, and then a ludicrous shot of a CG bullet hitting one of the bears. It looks more like a funny meme than something to put in a real movie, and the font choices on the credits are even less professional.

The first scene of the ’83 footage is a classic/typical low budget horror opening: three partying youths are hiking up a hill in Yellowstone, ignoring all the signs posted about bear danger. They find a place (near a cave) to camp out, play their boombox, drink some beer. One of the two men wanders off for a minute while the woman dances around the fire, strips to her underwear, crawls into a sleeping bag with her boyfriend. We see this from behind some trees, the perspective of a bear watching them, and then galloping toward their screaming faces. Their friend comes back in time to see their offscreen but presumably mangled corpses and then run away and also be eaten by the camera.

What makes the scene notable, and I’m sure what allowed them to release the movie, is that the three young campers are played by George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen, who are of course given top billing for their brief appearance. This would’ve been Clooney’s second movie (after something called AND THEY’RE OFF), Dern’s followup to FOXES, and Sheen’s third role, following “Boy Under Lamppost” in BADLANDS and “Kid at Wedding” in THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE SLOVIK. They all look fresh as the morning dew, and though the sound mix is weird it does appear to be their actual voices. The best part is Dern muttering oddball Dern-isms as they come up the hill. But then they’re dead.

There are other big names who actually do have enough screen time to deserve their place high up in the credits, most notably Academy Award winner Louise Fletcher. She plays local bigshot or politician or something Eileene Draygon, who’s putting on the concert as a fundraiser and pulls a the-mayor-in-JAWS when it comes to responding to the grizzly situation. The actual lead of the movie (as much as there is one in this not-very-coherent footage) is park ranger Nick Hollister (Steve Inwood, who played the director Jesse in STAYING ALIVE). He finds the dead bodies and leads a search for the large revanchist bear.

The female lead is Head of Bear Management Samantha Owens (Deborah Raffin, GOD TOLD ME TO), and coincidentally these two have a dynamic similar to Dennis Quaid and Bess Armstrong in JAWS 3-D. Samantha keeps making tearful pleas not to kill the bear, since she’s only seeking vengeance for the murder of her child, just like you or I would do, she says.

They quickly recruit French-Canadian expert bear hunter Bouchard (John Rhys-Davies from that movie RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), who wears a fringe jacket and face paint, speaks in poetic gibberish about their crusade against the “devil-bear,” and constantly refers to himself in the third person. He comes off the silliest of any of the actors, but he’s about the only one able to make much of an impression.

Samantha gets mad at Bouchard for saving her life by killing a bear moments before it mauls the shit out of her. Since it wasn’t female or giant it’s obviously not the bear they were looking for. A senseless tragedy. Should’ve let him tear her open and munch on her.

Meanwhile, we also follow some poachers, some of whom obviously suffer severe bear defeat. There’s a cool biker guy (he actually rides a motorcycle around in the woods) and the best one is a redneck played by CLEOPATRA JONES director Jack Starrett.

The odd and interesting thing about the movie (besides its disastrous production and late resurrection) is that all this killer bear stuff really is intercut with a concert movie. There’s setting up the stage, a little rehearsal, some incidents with the head of security (Dick Anthony Williams, UP TIGHT, THE STAR CHAMBER), and a part where a stagehand offends Draygon by stopping her from bringing VIPs into the off-limits area, and the stagehand is played by Timothy Spall.

It seems from the footage – and this is confirmed in a really entertaining and informative 2020 The Ringer article -that the producers really put on a big concert and filmed it. Apparently called “The Beast Festival,” it drew between 40,000 and 50,000 fans. The bands we see in the movie are mostly new wave/synth-pop type of stuff, but when they show the crowd coming in it looks like a HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT type of situation, lots of stoners with sleeveless W.A.S.P. shirts, jean jackets and studded leather gauntlets and shit. It turns out that’s because the headliners (not shown in the movie) were the band Nazareth.

In the movie the festival is headlined by a fictional synth-pop band called The Predator, whose lead singer (Nigel Dolman) uses his corny-ass hit song “So Good, So Pure, So Kind” to win over and then dump stagehand Chrissy (Deborah Foreman, VALLEY GIRL). The Predator also features Kevin Connolly (who, with Dolman, was a not-very-established duo called Michelangelo’s David). Barbie Wilde, a future cinematic icon for playing Female Punk in DEATH WISH 3 and Female Cenobite in HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, is for some reason credited as “The Predator Robotic Drummer,” but sadly she is not dressed as a robot (though she looks cool).

The other acts are real bands from different countries, including a cool English all-female new wave group called Toto Coelo, a Scottish synth band called Set the Tone, and a Hungarian group called KFT (Korlátolt Felelősségű Társaság, or “The Limited Liability Partnership”). An interesting thing about that last band is that they did exist at the time but it appears their footage in the movie is shot decades later when they’re old.

That’s one of the funniest things about GRIZZLY II: you’re constantly time traveling while watching it. They have all this really impressive vintage footage of these bands playing to an enormous crowd but they’ll suddenly insert totally different looking shots of an audience who were definitely not alive in 1983. And then there’s this band that doesn’t seem to be of the same era, with a singer shot close up, without a microphone, looking into the camera, like a music video… because sure enough they’re just using the song and some clips from this 2016 video by a band called The Dayz.

It’s both amusing and frustrating to watch this mixture of a crude but somewhat impressive b-movie and a not remotely passable stock footage editing project. Reading that Ringer article gives me some sympathy for executive producer Suzanne C. Nagy and her decision to revive the movie decades after being screwed over by unscrupulous financiers, but without that context it feels insulting. You imagine some cynical rights holders asking themselves, “Short of finding actual filmmakers and giving them a budget for reshoots, what can we do to make this seem like it technically counts as a movie?” Initially I was shocked how little they cared about matching the new footage with the old, but the credits made me realize that there is no new footage – they credit numerous stock footage companies like Shutterstock, Pond5 and Getty Images, plus 19 different Youtube channels that provided sound effects. And there are nine different composers credited, which explains the constantly shifting, distractingly modern score.

One of the few killer bear shots in this killer bear movie

But by far the biggest problem of the movie, and really the only one that matters, is how little you see the grizzly. Your average comedy that has one scene feature Bart the Bear has several times more bear in it than GRIZZLY II does. There are no trained bears at all, just the occasional licensed nature footage, and some fun but minimal glimpses of an adorably lifeless looking animatronic bear that was apparently 16 feet tall and built by Nick Maley (KRULL). They didn’t get around to shooting the main FX scenes before their budget ran out, so they promised he could do them second unit back in the States. Unfortunately the three bears he built were confiscated by the Hungarian government and/or destroyed in a warehouse fire, so it never happened.

In what little they did shoot with the bear she’s rarely seen next to anybody or anything else, so I didn’t realize how big she was supposed to be until the part where Bouchard lassos her and tries to climb up her back. Yeah, when they called her giant they really meant giant. Seems like something that should be shown in the movie.

Of course I’m happy to have finally been able to see what this was, and I’m especially glad it inspired me to read about the crazy behind-the-scenes story, but I do wish someone had come up with a way to make what they had into a passable killer bear movie instead of just a curiosity. That mama bear deserved her revenge. And so did Toto Coelo.

p.s. As long as we’re releasing incomplete movies, somebody find what they shot for THE RETURN OF BILLY JACK in 1985, please.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 7th, 2023 at 7:05 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror, Music. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “Grizzly II: Revenge”

  1. I’ve had a bootleg DVD of this for a lot longer than the official release has been out but never actually watched it. It seems likely that it’s a workprint that was leaked in 2007 so it wouldn’t have any of the stock footage. I wonder what that version is like? Somehow I doubt it fixes the lack of bear problem.

  2. According to that article the workprint is longer despite not having the added footage. I would guess they had too much concert footage, but then why would they add new bands to the concert in the released version? Very weird.

  3. I will never watch this, as I find these obscure cult movies painful to watch.

    But that was a great review, and the Ringer article is also awesome.

  4. I don’t think I will ever feel the urge to watch this, but from what I gathered that seems to fall right between “respectable B-movie” and “soulless cashgrab that shouldn’t be rewarded with our attention”, which is quite an achievement.

  5. David Sodergren

    August 7th, 2023 at 5:10 pm

    If you want to get a taste if the lunacy of the work print, here’s an old review of it I did many years ago.


  6. This thing has two cinematographers, and those cinematographers are László Kovács and Jean Badal. I’ll probably never watch GRIZZLY II but in my mind its visual style fuses the sensibilities of FIVE EASY PIECES and PLAYTIME.

    I know Toto Coelo from their not-really-a-hit “I Eat Cannibals.” The song’s all right.

  7. The Allusionist

    August 9th, 2023 at 2:04 am

    Conflicted feelings about seeing this one. Having read that article on The Ringer, you can’t help but be happy for the filmmakers (at least for the ones who aren’t con artists) who finally managed to complete their work and get it out there all these years later. But dear god is the final product awful, and the added footage clashes so badly with everything from the original shoot.

  8. This is on Amazon Prime in the UK. I thought it was OK, all things considered and having been briefed by this review. Granted, it’s largely people talking about nothing particularly interesting or related to Grizzly bear attacks or concerts, but so are most of the early FRIDAY THE 13TH films, which also don’t have many characters as colourful as Davies here.

    “I Eat Cannibals” did go Top 10 in the UK. It also must have caught the ear of one Charles Band, who announced a film of the same name in 1986. Seems like it would have been more of a RAMBO/COMMANDO parody than anything reflecting the lyrics of the song, but we were still fairly close to having a Coeloverse.

  9. I’m glad the DVD doesn’t use that poster or I’d feel compelled to buy it like an idiot just for that cover art that looks like Supermassive Games made another PS4 horror game with famous actors following THE QUARRY, but then would never actually watch it.
    Isn’t there another 80s movie with John Rhys-Davies as a hunter but trying to catch a killer elephant?

  10. Grizzly 2 is better than Jaws 3.

  11. As far as I can recall, “Return of Billy Jack” had just 10 to 15 minutes of film, most of which was street footage and one or two scenes. If it still exists, it should certainly have been included as an extra feature in the “Billy Jack” set(s), however.

    However, concerning bears: it’s almost a crime to even list the name of this picture next to cheerfully childish Z-rate silliness that is “Grizzly II”, but 1970’s “Lokis” is certainly the most unique member of the entire “killer bear” sub-genre of horror (which is not as small as one might expect – in fact, it has nearly 20 representatives at the moment, and that includes both “Grizzlies”, as well as “Lokis” itself!).

    “Lokis” is based on Prosper Mérimée classic story, and is, arguably, the best film adaptation of any of his horror writings. However, where Mérimée is not hesitant to make it clear that there is indeed a supernatural element at work, and that in his world, the monster in the darkness outside the window is real, the film deliberately avoids any certainties in that regard.

    The plot follows the story quite faithfully: it is 1869, and Reverend Wittenbach, clergyman and bibliophile, travels into the eastern regions of Polish-Lithuanian forests, to explore the vast library owned by a rich family of noblemen. Hosted in their luxurious mansion, the reverend learns the strange secrets of the surroundings and discovers the dark and disturbing secret of the family: there are whispers that his host, the enigmatic young Count Szemiot, may be something other than a man – that he was born of an unholy union of a woman and a bear.

    Its almost constant dream-like atmosphere, along with the deliberate choice of the color palette which makes almost every exterior scene resemble an expressionist painting, make it more of a Gothic fantasy than Gothic horror. The most interesting aspect of the film, and the one that makes it so unique in its small genre, is the ambiguity – nothing seemingly supernatural is definitely shown as such. Perhaps there is a witch walking on water… or perhaps it’s just an old woman who happens to know a secret path through a forest swamp. Perhaps (spoiler) there is a blood-thirsty werebeast lurking around… or perhaps there is just a deeply damaged man, driven into insanity and murderous lust by his deepening psychosis. Almost all is left for the viewer to decide.

    Since “Lokis” is largely a period, costume piece, it could be compared to some of the more subdued Hammer productions from the 60s, but it goes even further in playing up the uncertainty and subtlety factors, so much so that calling it “old-school” is not nearly enough. Most old-school horrors come across as positively on-the-nose compared to its take. “Ancient-school” would probably be a more appropriate description – so much so that those used to modern films would, no doubt, be immediately annoyed by its very slow pace, its relatively tiny amount of direct horror, and, of course, its utter lack of showing, explaining and pointing out every element of the plot.

    Interestingly, however, in spite of avoiding the direct take on horror, it also (something of a spoiler) goes beyond the ending of Mérimée’s story, and actually suggests (definitely a spoiler!) a rather sad outcome for the unfortunate Count.

    A reviewer on “Monster Kids’ Classics” described “Lokis” amusingly, and rather accurately, as: “Something of a cross between a movie of Val Lewton’s, and one of Corman’s Poe movies, in which a young stranger visits a manor whose lord is Vincent Price”.

    Here is a poster, by the painter Franciszek Starowieyski: https://i0.wp.com/easterneuropeanmovies.com/wp-content/uploads/316.jpg

    Another poster, with photographs, which make it seem as if the film was a historical romance (of course, to a certain extent, it is one): https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0598/2925/products/w101fpD.jpg

    And some selections of the score (which seem to have been recorded straight from a TV set): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMZTVQaC9-E

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