Friday, October 2, 2015

Into the Grizzly Maze (2015) review


James Marsden (Rowan), Thomas Jane (Beckett), Piper Perabo (Michelle), Scott Glenn (Sully), Michaela McManus (Kaley), Bart the Bear (The Killer Grizzly), Billy Bob Thornton (Douglass), Adam Beach (Johnny Cadillac), Kelly Curran (Amber)

Directed by David Hackl

The Short Version: Grisly killer Grizzly movie about a four-legged Jason Voorhees that stalks and eats assorted loggers, poachers and hunters trapped in the title wooded labyrinth. Ostensibly an unacknowledged remake of William Girdler's GRIZZLY (1976), director Hackl (SAW V) pits a strong cast against nature much like Girdler did in his 70s smash. Unlike the earlier ursine classic, this Super Bear sneaks up on ya', providing viewers with a lot of those, "Look out, he's right behind you", moments from all your finer slasher flicks. If you've ever wanted to see Billy Bob Thornton with half his face torn off staring down a charging Grizzly, this one's for you. Loosely based on Timothy Treadwell, the controversial 'Grizzly Man', any attempt at seriousness is obliterated during a spectacularly over the top, bear-handed brawl at film's end. With a handful of faults there's still a bit of fun to be had in this B(ear)movie.

Two brothers, one a cop, the other an ex-con, put their differences aside when they must journey into the Alaskan wilderness to locate a wife and a close friend after a rampaging Grizzly has begun feasting on the local populace. Along with an eccentric hunter, the group move deeper into the woods, and are soon stalked by the stealthy Grizzly, intent on making them its next meal.

The second feature from the director of SAW V (2008) is a good old-fashioned monster movie reminiscent of the surge of 'Nature Gone Wild' flicks back in the 1970s. Since its main characters have a cop, a conservationist, and a kooky hunter among the bunch, the scent of JAWS (1975) is in the air, or that might just be the smell of an unacknowledged remake of William Girdler's GRIZZLY (1976), instead. Mixing CGI and practical effects, it's an occasionally wobbly pairing; but for every severed limb or Piper Perabo falling into the rotted guts of a moose carcass, there's CGI blood, fire, and enraged bear face. 

Unfortunately, Hackl's movie went through a dense maze till audiences finally got a chance to see it, and, unfortunately, it's been a mostly sour reception.

Sporting an unusually good cast for what is basically a flashier example of a SyFy Channel "original", INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE may as well of debuted there. Initially intended for wide release, original distributor Open Road Films dropped the picture last year and Vertical Entertainment picked it up. It got a virtually non-existent limited release in June, 2015 after a VOD premiere earlier this year in May. Additionally, the picture has went through four different titles in almost as many years. Originally titled RED MACHINE, Open Road changed it to ENDANGERED some time after acquiring the property, and then later tagged it with the GRIZZLY moniker. Shot in 2012 and taking some three years to see the light of a projector (or DVD player), it finally ended up with the less than encouraging title of INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE.

RED MACHINE was arguably the best title for the picture; it had significance since it was the name of a big Grizzly known to the late Timothy Treadwell, a controversial bear enthusiast and documentary filmmaker. Both Treadwell and his girlfriend were, to put it mildly, killed in 2003 by a bear, and were the subject of Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005). The GRIZZLY MAZE title is likewise significant--Nick Jans wrote a book on Treadwell titled 'The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears'--only most people won't know what a 'Grizzly Maze' is.

Given the strong cast, the participants all give believable line delivery even if the film feels like scenes were either left on the cutting room floor, or simply aren't connected very well. We get the 'bear' minimum (pun intended) of details about the characters, and the occasional backstory that subs for genuine exposition. Despite big names like James Marsden (Rowan), Thomas Jane (Beckett), Scott Glenn (Sully) and Thornton (Douglass), so little is done with them that it keeps the movie confined to SyFy Channel purgatory; granted, for many, this will be a recommendation. 

Adrien Brody and Gerard Butler were reportedly attached to play the roles of Rowan and Beckett respectively. Butler had reservations about the fate of his character and eventually bowed out, as did Brody.

Further, an early trailer contains shots and dialog not in the release version. Curiously, an unnecessary sub-plot about bear poachers and their connection to a character whom we bear-ly see was left in, crowding an already overly populated cast list for an 84 minute movie (89 counting ending credits).

Initial sources reported this to be a PG-13 rated movie, but a scene of gratuitous nudity changes all that; while welcome, this too feels out of place. There's quite a bit of grisly Grizzly violence to keep the pacing up. Some of this appears to have been cut for whatever reason, but the attack sequences are energetic if occasionally edited so tightly we barely get to absorb the moment. However, the action is no-holds-barred during the film's last ten incredible minutes....

Those who have issues with CGI will find plenty to stir them up in Hackl's movie. The use of computer imagery is obvious much of the time, the most blatant being the insanely over the top finale. Any deficiencies ailing INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE are cured during the literal man-vs-bear climax. The filmmakers have envisioned a cartoonishly ballsy showdown that recalls the similar tussle with the mutant bear of PROPHECY (1979), but takes things way off course in what could be described as a bear-handed (last one, promise) brawl. Said battle royal involves a ring of fire, a boat, bladed weapons, and the massive Grizzly smacking the testosterone-infused male cast members from one side of the screen to the other. 

Many of the reviews trash the CGI seen here, but it's not as bad as what passes for special effects on those lazily put together monster pictures on the SyFy Channel. One of the best SPX in the picture is the living and breathing Bart the Bear 2 (who's sixth billed!), the successor to Bart the Bear--the Alaskan Grizzly actor who appeared in movies like THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR (1986), THE GREAT OUTDOORS (1988), and THE EDGE (1997). Incidentally, Bart's mother was the title GRIZZLY (1976) in William Girdler's box office hit. Bart 2 is no relation, but has amassed quite a resume. 

There are scenes where it's all real bear, CGI bear, and moments where it appears Bart's face has been augmented to look vicious and ready to dine on whichever member of the cast is currently in his path. Moreover, I can't recall another rampaging bear movie where the ursine killer could Pearl Harbor its victims the way Bart the slasher bear does. It's another area of the film where the unreality of it all balances out the production anomalies.

With the aforementioned finale capping the picture on one helluva note, there's also some stunning photography from James Liston and a rousing horror score by Marcus Trumpp; not to mention a lot of macho posturing you just don't see anymore.

If you're a fan of Girdler's GRIZZLY (1976), you'll want to see this. If a modern update of JAWS with Bart the Bear in place of Bruce the Shark interests you, you might want to give this one a look. If seeing Billy Bob Thornton with half his face torn off staring down a charging Grizzly sounds appealing, this awkwardly, and numerously titled horror movie is a surprisingly entertaining popcorn muncher.

This review is representative of the Sony DVD. Extras and Specs: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; no major extras aside from various trailers.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Green Inferno (2015) review


Lorenza Izzo (Justine), Ariel Levy (Alejandro), Aaron Burns (Jonah), Kirby Bliss Blanton (Amy), Magda Apanowicz (Samantha), Ignacia Allamand (Kara), Daryl Sabara (Lars), Nicolas Martinez (Daniel), Eusebio Arenas (Scott), Richard Burgi (Charles), Matias Lopez (Carlos), Ramon Llao (Bald Headhunter), Antonieta Pari (Cannibal Elder), Sky Ferreira (Kaycee)

Directed by Eli Roth

The Short Version: Lost and presumed eaten by studio red tape, Eli Roth's jungle horror adventure finally surfaces to tell its story in theaters beginning September 25th, 2015. An ode to the Italian cannibal films of the late 70s and early 80s, the production and promotion of Roth's movie mirrors those gut guzzlers of old in multiple ways. Basically a group of obnoxious activists interested more in selfies as opposed to selflessness, pursue what turns out to be a false cause and end up getting their just desserts by being someone else's dinner. Aside from some rough spots, THE GREEN INFERNO is a delicacy for those with a fondness for red meat.

Justine, a college student and activist in training both fascinated and repulsed by studies in primitive practices, joins up with a brooding revolutionary harboring a secret agenda. Along with a number of other overly anxious and ill-informed radicals, Justine and this motley crew fly into the Amazon to bask in personal glory masked as social justice. Supposedly an attempt to stop the deforestation of acreage that will harm a remote native tribe, the protesters violently interrupt the land renovation while projecting the footage live via satellite. After a harrowing altercation with the workers and their armed escorts, the group is arrested and eventually allowed back to their plane and out of the country. Shortly after takeoff, the plane blows an engine and crashes back into the jungle. Losing a few of their group in the crash, the remaining survivors are quickly captured by headhunting cannibals, the very tribe they were proclaiming to save. Believing them to be part of the bulldozing crew, the Anthropophagans prepare assorted tortures and menu ideas for their unwilling guests.

THE GREEN INFERNO is Eli Roth's paean to Italy's second most notorious brand of extreme cinema, the cannibal film--which is the neolithic successor to Italy's Mondo Shockumentaries (MONDO CANE and the like). His script (co-written by Guillermo Amoedo and an uncredited Nicolas Lopez) is a blood-soaked buffet of nods to prior 'man eat man' epics both classic and classless.

The plot itself is engaging if standard for this sort of thing, but upgraded for modern times--supplanting the usual search for a missing person to a bunch of (mostly) phony activists on a misguided quest who end up paying for their selfishness. Taking its title from the film Professor Monroe (Robert Kerman) watches in Ruggero Deodato's seminal CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), it bears mentioning that there's another Italian jungle affair (minus the cannibalism) bearing the title of THE GREEN INFERNO--the last such film of the sub-genre from 1988, and directed by Antonio Climati.

Roth's cast and crew shot the picture in Peru giving the production the authenticity of its antecedents. Much like some of the other films from Lenzi and Deodato, the natives used as actors had never seen a movie before, nor knew anything about television. Reportedly, Roth and his crew aided the natives as part of their payment by reinforcing their huts, giving them metal roofs. Despite their onscreen frightening appearances and cannibalistic savagery, the Peruvian members of the tribe seemed to enjoy the experience. And speaking of the man-eaters, it's time for this films main course....

The cast and director survive the jungle hell to tell of their horrible ordeal.

THE GREEN INFERNO (2015), as repulsive as it is, never goes for the jugular in quite the way its inspirations did. Definitely not a movie you'd want to show your grandmother, there's just nothing you really haven't seen already in other films. You just expect it to go farther than it does, but never quite crosses the line. I half-expected to see John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) show up to be dismembered and castrated. Naturally the live animal killings are gone; and the rape and misogyny--a staple of the genre--is nowhere to be found. Today's social climate is so fragile, so PC, it's highly doubtful the filmmakers could have gotten away with going to the extremes of the sub-genres master chefs Lenzi and Deodato. The film has already been attacked for being racist--likely more to do with Roth's skewering of the SJW movement than its depiction of ravenous natives. For the seasoned fans, your expectations of what the primitive revenge will entail may leave you hungry for more, although mainstreamers who have never seen nor heard of such pictures will likely not want to eat at all for a day or two after seeing what lies within Roth's green hell. 

The main reason for seeing such a film is for its scenes of depravity; and if you're a fan, the script is fattened up with a cannibalistic cornucopia of references from other Italian pictures envisioned through Roth's directorial eye. These are listed below. If you've not seen THE GREEN INFERNO, or any of the Italian cannibal films, you may wish to skip past this section of the review...

  • In CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), we discover the documentary film crew incite, provoke, and engage in violent acts to sensationalize their stories. This attribute of Deodato's movie is as relevant now as it was back then. For Roth's film, the activists want to stop big business from bulldozing and displacing property occupied by primitive tribes. However, there's an ulterior motive behind it--shared by some, and unknown to others. Overall, Alejandro and some of his leftist extremist pals aren't interested in halting deforestation so much as they are in obtaining their 15 minutes of fame. Just like in Deodato's movie, the cannibals aren't the real villains.

  • Towards the end, we see a few victims impaled, fully clothed, on poles forced into their rectums. You see the same scene in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST; instead of a group it's just one individual, a young and totally naked Indio woman who, after being raped by the male members of the doc crew, is killed in the same manner, only the pole protrudes from her mouth making for a far nastier image. In neither film do we see this happen, only the grim aftermath.

  • In CANNIBAL FEROX (1981), Rudy (Danilo Mattei) attempts to escape the cannibals and is killed. Later on, Gloria and Pat (Lorraine De Selle and Zora Kerova) are placed in a hole. At dinner time, the cannibals lower a hunk of meat down into the hole. Pat anxiously grabs it, but Gloria stops her noting, "It might be Rudy". In Roth's film, Samantha, Amy's lesbian lover, manages to escape the bamboo cell they've been placed in. She makes it to a canoe before the film cuts away. Later on the prisoners are fed. Believing it's pork, they gobble it down. As Amy finishes her meal, she notices skin in the bottom of the bowl bearing a familiar looking tattoo--they've all been eating Samantha.

  • Again in Lenzi's FEROX, Gloria is pitied by a young Indio boy. He helps her escape into the jungle, but the kid doesn't make it, leaving Gloria to find her own way out. In the INFERNO, Justine is befriended by a village boy who becomes entranced by the small flute she wears around her neck. In turn, the little savage helps her escape.

  • Once more the presence of Lenzi's movie is felt, this time during the concluding sequence. In his film, Gloria returns to civilization to submit her thesis on the supposed myth that is cannibalism. However, having been tortured and witnessed horrific events that involved angry primitives devouring warm human flesh, she decides to never reveal these horrible truths. The film ends with a closeup of her emotionless face. In Roth's movie, the film ends with Justine returning to civilization and openly lying about her experience. She claims the tribe was kind to her and the only aggression was enacted by the workers clearing the forest. Justine has done her part in protecting the indigenous tribe of headhunters, but has done so with lies--much like the false cause initially begun by the radical Alejandro.

  • If you stick around for the end credits, you'll not only get an additional scene (just after the credits begin), but towards the final crawl you'll hear a reworked version of Fiamma Maglioni's 'Jaywalking Lizard' cue from CANNIBAL FEROX.

  • THE GREEN INFERNO (2015) features a torture/death scene involving one of the captives tied to a post. The man has his arms and legs broken and is covered with a coating that attracts a dozens of ants that crawl all over him and bite him. A similar scene plays out in Deodato's THE LAST CANNIBAL WORLD (1977), only the victim is not a white prisoner, but a captured warrior of an opposing tribe. The man has his arm tied to a large ant hill and covered in some sort of syrup. Red ants engulf his arm and eat it away to the bone.

  • Again from Deodato's CANNIBAL WORLD, aka JUNGLE HOLOCAUST, the films major man-eating set piece involves Burmese actress Me Me Lai being trapped and killed in graphic fashion; she's ripped apart and her innards prepared by turning her chest cavity into a makeshift grill! It's a disturbing sequence that lasts a couple minutes. Roth replicates this to a degree in the single most graphically gory sequence in his film wherein a victim is dismembered and decapitated before the remaining carcass and limbs are meticulously prepared for a village-wide cannibal barbecue.

  • In Sergio Martino's MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978), Ursula Andress's body is covered in some sort of sticky coating as part of a ritual that has something to do with her being worshiped as a goddess. In ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980), aka QUEEN OF THE CANNIBALS, Alexandra Delli Colli is treated in a similar fashion, only her naked body has flowers painted on it. For Roth's picture, the character of Justine is prepared for a ritualistic female genital mutilation ceremony and covered in white paint. Similarly, Bo Derek was covered in white paint as part of a primitive ritual in John Derek's unintentionally hilarious TARZAN THE APE MAN (1981).

  • While an end title card reads, 'Per Ruggero' (For Ruggero), Roth's movie seems to contain as many homages, if not more, to Umberto Lenzi's CANNIBAL FEROX (1981), also known under its more infamous moniker, MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. Lenzi started the whole cannibal craze with 1972's MAN FROM FROM DEEP RIVER. You could also draw comparisons to Cornel Wilde's brutally violent THE NAKED PREY (1965). If you're into this sort of specialty cuisine, you can read about some of these entries HERE and also about the animal cruelty often seen in these and the Mondo films HERE.

With the main course served, there are some tough parts that are difficult to swallow. These bits of gristle keep THE GREEN INFERNO from being Anthro-perfection. In Roth's past work (excluding his best film, HOSTEL 2), these bizarre instances of comic shenanigans creep into the narrative that end up momentarily stopping the films dead. In CABIN FEVER (2002) it was the Kung Fu fighting, pancake shouting kid; in THE GREEN INFERNO, we get flatulence humor at the most inopportune of times, and a scene where Alejandro decides to jack off after being cooped up in the bamboo cage too long. In another sequence, the remaining survivors strike upon the idea of getting the cannibals high by stuffing a corpse with marijuana. This works, but ultimately backfires and costs one of the prisoners their life. These failed attempts at humor and overall weirdness hurt the flow of the film. As for the cast....

The performances are fine even if the characterizations aren't all that strong. Exposition isn't something a cannibal movie needs be concerned with, and a large number of the cast are dwindled down during and immediately after the plane crash (one walks right into the propeller!), anyway. For the remaining hour, the basic requirement of the actors is lots and lots of screaming. Luckily two characters get a lot of mileage out of the script, and that's Justine (played by Roth's wife Lorenza Izzo) and Alejandro....

.... and of all the characters destined to end up lining the stomachs of hungry natives, the one whom is of the most interest is Alejandro (Ariel Levy of 2012's AFTERSHOCK). Possessing attributes of Communist murderer Che Guevera, Alejandro is the embodiment of the SJW (Social Justice Warrior). Akin to the so-called Occupy Movement, he has no intentions of affecting any serious change so much as disrupting social mores while simultaneously making his name and some money on the side. At one point in the movie, he reveals himself to be a 9/11 truther, so his grasp on reality is suspect from just that alone. By the end of the film, and without revealing too much, Alejandro has become something of a cult figure; his countenance adorning T-shirts in the form of Che--the product of the very capitalism he and his ilk portend to hate (Crony Capitalism to be exact).

Elsewhere, Antonio Quercia's photography captures some stunning vistas that lushly and dangerously accommodate the films title. THE GREEN INFERNO might be a nauseating experience per its subject matter, but it's pretty to look at in some instances.

Manuel Riveiro's music score is an unusually soaring piece of work, sounding nothing like the soundtracks of its predecessors. The composer settles on a particularly boisterous sound; even the threatening cues have bombast.

Eli Roth's apocalyptic cannibal feast is a bit of a celluloid bastard child. There's nothing quite like it out there at the moment. Bringing the sub-genre of primitive vengeance into the modern age, Roth has cooked up an impressive gore ghoulash that, while not entirely successful, will satiate the palette of horror fans with an affinity for the primal side of grueling big screen terror.

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