Sunday, February 21, 2021

Grizzly 2: Revenge (1983/2021) review

Steve Inwood (Nick Hollister), Deborah Raffin (Samantha Owens), John Rhys Davies (Bouchard), Louise Fletcher (Eileene Draygon), Deborah Foreman (Chrissy Hollister), Dick Anthony Williams (Charlie), Jack Starrett (Papas), Charles Cyphers (Steve), Marc Alaimo (Luke), Laura Dern (Tina), George Clooney (Ron), Charlie Sheen (Lance)
Directed by Andre Szots
The Short Version: Remaining largely unfinished and now advertised as "37 years in the making", original producer Suzanne Csikos Nagy has decided to unleash what remains of GRIZZLY 2 on DVD/blu-ray to satiate horror fans curiosity for it. Even with some additionally shot footage, the world's only killer bear/new wave rock band movie is hardly feature-length at 69 minutes (74 including credits). Lacking suspense of any kind in what footage exists, the film, as it is, wastes too much time on a real concert that, in a stunningly genius bit of free production value, attracted some 50,000 patrons. Having to contend with criminal money-men and communists in Soviet-controlled Hungary, the constant sabotage and snafus behind the scenes would've made a more harrowing movie than what the makers of GRIZZLY 2 ended up with. As is, this ill-fated sequel, with its monster of a cast and bear-ly any killer ursine action, should've remained in hibernation.

A giant, rampaging grizzly bear terrorizes campers, poachers, and anyone it can get its claws on at Yellowstone National Park. A park ranger, a bear expert, and a big game hunter track the human-hungry grizzly as it makes its way to an enormous rock concert being held inside the park, where thousands are unwittingly on the menu.
It needs to be said it's not possible to review GRIZZLY 2 fairly since it's an unfinished movie. It also needs to be said it's questionable to release an unfinished movie onto unsuspecting buyers since the entire picture isn't there; same goes for some high-profile news sites to refer to it as "recently completed". A newly shot opening sequence showing a hunter shooting a bear cub and its mother (accompanied by atrocious CGI) and an additional rock group number (as if the movie didn't already have enough bands playing) doesn't prevent GRIZZLY 2 from being an unbearable viewing experience. 

Since none of the mechanical bear sequences to have been shot by special effects director Nick Maley (STAR WARS; THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK; KRULL) were ever filmed, there's gaping holes where action is supposed to take place. All you get are brief shots of the bear puppet, one scene of a gory aftermath, and off-screen kills that have no build-up or tension. A large bear arm lazily swatting an actor; a wall of fur knocking over a forklift; and Davies ascending the raging grizzly like it's an indoor climbing gym are the only times you see the monster and the actors share screen time together.

Then there are incomprehensible character exchanges that are choppily re-edited from a 100 minute workprint that once floated around on the internet. Reportedly, principal photography was indeed completed. But viewing this compilation of scenes, it's clear by that alone, director Andre Szots (who later went on to a successful career as a producer) was out of his element.

It's unfortunate because the director initially assigned to GRIZZLY 2, David Sheldon, who worked on the original GRIZZLY (1976) with its director William Girdler (as well as some of his other movies), would have been a better choice for the material. Sadly, Sheldon had the job taken away from him like a thief in the night; being surreptitiously replaced with Szots by producer Joseph Ford Proctor without any notification whatsoever. A shady individual, Proctor nearly derailed the movie on its first day of shooting in Soviet-controlled Hungary after he ran off with the financing. Hungarian producer Suzanne Nagy was now in the difficult position of keeping the picture going although problems too numerous to mention here ensured the movie would remain in hibernation for decades.

In what could be described as 'The GRIZZLY Curse', the producer of the 1976 original, Edward L. Montoro, covertly made off with the profits of his company and was never heard from again. That film's director, William Girdler, was killed in a helicopter crash while scouting locations in the Philippines for what would've been his next movie, 'Opium', on January 21st, 1978. For GRIZZLY 2, everything imaginable that could go wrong did go wrong. As mentioned above, the initial producer, Joseph Proctor, did a Montoro on the production. He also attempted to steal the movie back several years later. In 2012, the 66 year old Proctor was arrested for tax fraud and sentenced to five years in prison.

Basically a do-over of the first movie, there's brief instances of quality in G2, but these moments are fleeting. The photography is really good in places, even surreal with the Hungarian landscapes subbing for Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. These moments show promise for what could've been a decent horror picture; in a visual sense, anyway. The editing is erratic and some scenes have dialog playing but the actor saying it isn't moving his mouth. Elsewhere, dialog doesn't even sync up at all.
The film's most intriguing aspect from a production POV is the concert they put on that attracted some 50,000 people. Sadly, Nazareth, the act that played an integral part in bringing in all those people, didn't make it into the pseudo-final cut.

Also unfortunate, the crew expended more time and money in putting on the musical acts than they did focusing on the main attraction, the grizzly. Roughly half the movie is footage of this concert. The aerial and wide shots of the event do give the picture some grand production value; only nobody's watching a movie called GRIZZLY 2 for 80s synth-rock song and dance numbers. If the already plentiful stage performances weren't enough, scenes of a new act were added to the existing footage!

The plot point of the mega-bear attacking the concert backstage while the audience thinks it's part of the show is a unique twist but the lack of footage to make this more apparent is jarring in the extreme. At one point, camera zooms are supposed to give the impression the bear is running up a ramp where it's electrocuted in a scene we never even see. There's a couple closeups of the bear's mouth on fire; then a shot of what looks like a stuffed animal wrapped up in tin foil and wires.

The cast, though, is amazing, and the acting mostly good in spite of the fractured narrative. Granted, it was brief, early roles for George Clooney, Laura Dern, and Charlie Sheen. The future big names are killed off at the beginning but many would be scratching their heads at the participation of Oscar-winning actress Louise Fletcher and John Rhys Davies; the former being well known for playing Nurse Ratched in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1962), a film she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The latter was fresh off RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), and the one major bright spot in this movie.
Fletcher doesn't have much to do in what footage of her is here, and she leaves no mark on the picture and probably wasn't trying to; mechanically delivering her lines. She plays the park superintendent who refuses to shut down the music festival despite some deaths by the big bear. She's in the last shot of the film and it's one of the cool moments the movie had to offer, but is crippled by all of it not having been filmed.
Meanwhile, John Rhys Davies is having a heckuva time playing the big game hunter Bouchard. He's such a colorful character he makes goofy lines like, "You got the Devil Bear!" sound believable. A shame the movie wasn't properly completed. It doesn't appear it would've made GRIZZLY 2 a match for its predecessor, but it would've been a more enjoyable experience with all its FX sequences lending weight to the human cast.

The list gets more interesting with Steve Inwood (STAYING ALIVE), Deborah Foreman (VALLEY GIRL), Deborah Raffin (DEATH WISH 3), Charles Cyphers (HALLOWEEN), and actor/director Jack Starrett (BLAZING SADDLES). As the protagonists, Inwood is basically playing the Christopher George role from the first movie. Despite having the silliest dialog, Raffin is good as the feisty bear expert; a similar role to the one Richard Jaeckel played in GRIZZLY. 

Apparently, the scant seconds of the giant grizzly puppet (sources say it was anywhere between 14-18 feet tall) were all filmed, leaving the mechanical bear footage unaccounted for. Nick Maley's bear head does look good, what's seen of it. Intended to have been shot by Maley back in the US once more money was available, the more articulate bear creations were reportedly seized by the communist government because the production left bills unpaid. Unlike the movie they were to feature in, the beasts were never seen again.

In addition to releasing the movie after its near 4 decades slumber, Ms. Nagy also wrote a book about the disastrous production called 'Swimming Among Sharks: the Story Behind the Making of Grizzly 2: Revenge'. It's her first-hand account of what went wrong in attempting to make the movie back in Hungary in 1983 (you can also read a detailed account of the films frenzied production HERE). On the film's official website, you can purchase these items as well as GRIZZLY 2 attire like T-shirts and hoodies HERE. However, it would have been more sensible to have made a DVD/blu-ray + book package instead of selling the fragmented movie on its own.

As is, GRIZZLY 2 is borderline unwatchable. It's akin to the early days of cable, when you tried to watch a channel you weren't paying for. You couldn't see what was going on but you could hear what was transpiring. Occasionally, the scrambled picture would stabilize and you'd enjoy about five seconds before the image distorted again; that's GRIZZLY 2. 

It took 37 years for GRIZZLY 2 to be legitimately seen. If nothing else, it's worth seeing at least once for the astonishingly good cast. Otherwise, this is recommended only for those who have held years long curiosity about the film's existence. Actually, a movie within a movie about the making of the sequel would make for a far, far more satisfying, and harrowing, horror movie experience. At just 69 minutes (74 including credits), and way more band play than grisly animal attack scenes, GRIZZLY 2 bear-ly passes muster.

This review is representative of the Gravitas Ventures Blu-ray. Specs and extras: 1.78:1 16x9 widescreen; English subtitles; running time 01:14:18.

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