Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Fright Flashback: Bear Sequels

Welcome back to Fright Flashback, where every week until the end of summer we will visit an older horror film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to an upcoming new release. This week we are anticipating Ted 2, a followup to the largely un-unpleasant talking bear movie with Seth MacFarlane. In celebration, we'll be revisiting Grizzly II: The Concert, the fabled sequel to the 70's classic Grizzly, which might not technically exist.

Year: 1983
Director: André Szöts
Cast: Steve Inwood, Deborah Raffin, John Rhys-Davies
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Grizzly II: The Concert (AKA any combination of Predator, Concert, or Grizzly) just might be the strangest film I've ever had the sick pleasure of unearthing. As if being a B-horror picture about an out-of-control grizzly mama attacking a national park which is hosting a massive New Wave concert wasn't enough, the film had to go ahead and never get finished. The executive producer disappeared with the funds before the animatronic bear effects could be worked out and thus Grizzly II (which according to the impossibly vague nature of legend, was either filmed in 1983, 1985, or 1987) entered the apocryphal netherworld which holds an unfair amount of irresistible magnetism over the horror fandom.

It might have totally been forgotten had a dodgy workprint of the film not resurfaced in 2007. It's a mostly finished cut of the film that uses an entire Michael Jackson album as temp music, includes a good half dozen full musical performances (several of which are performed by the mildly notorious British one hit wonder girl group Toto Coelo - performing every song but their one hit wonder), features *$&%ing Laura Dern, Charlie Sheen, and George Clooney as horny campers, and only contains about three shots of an actual bear. 

Oh, and the final scene collapses into a complicated mash of half-cut dailies, in which people repeat actions three times in a row, the director audibly shouts "Cut!," and a bear hunter is impaled on a spike, comes back to life, then runs around a bit before getting impaled on the spike again. Naturally, the pop culturally-concentrated, utterly bonkers Grizzly II: The Concert is the perfect candidate for hardcore cult adoration.

For those with a sick interest in following this whole mess, the entire workprint is available online here.

For those who don't find short short/neon fanny pack-clad rock stars to be enticing, feel free to skip the film and follow me directly into the fray.

The plot, insofar as Grizzly II has one (and in fact it - startlingly - has several) goes as follows. A poacher kills the cub of a vicious grizzly bear who goes on a rampage in a national park some 40 miles from the site of a massive "rock" concert headed by Charlie (Dick Anthony Williams), sponsored by money grubbing park owner Eileene Draygon (Louise Fletcher), whose name sounds like she belongs better in a Game of Thrones episode, and defended by Nick Hollister (Steve Inwood), the security manager and perpetrator of the world's most intense Grizzly Adams beard.

Nick's daughter Chrissie (Deborah Foreman of April Fool's Day) is also on hand to fall in love with a "ruggedly" handsome "rock" star and generally be of no use to the plot. She doesn't even get eaten. She just kind of vanishes three-quarters of the way through the film. 

Nick becomes obsessed with defending the concert from the rampaging bear for obvious reasons, but Draygon refuses to let him ruin the show (and her chance to obtain status and political influence - she has invited the local senator), so she forces him to deal with it on his own. He enlists the help of Samantha Owens (Deborah Raffin), the park's director of bear management, which is apparently a thing, and Bouchard (John Rhys-Davies AKA freaking Sallah from Indiana Jones and Gimli from Lord of the Rings, what the hell), a French-Canadian lunatic who dresses and talks like a Native American because he hates bears because one of them killed his family. Or something.

But how could you hate a cuddly face like this?

Grizzly II is bad. Obviously. But it's bad in such a strange way that it's rendered totally distinct. Sure, it's got your usual B-movie crap like a giant puppet bear paw smacking dudes around, the forest cycling between day and night about every one and a half scenes, and the usual bad dialogue and terrible acting (especially from Rhys-Davies, who really should know better). But there's also an ineffable, almost whimsical quality to the bulk of the film's badness.

Grizzly II is a film in which a group of poachers can't figure out their character names and end up calling each other "Drew" for a whole scene.

Grizzly II is a film in which the Bear POV shots depict the bear breathing (like Darth Vader, inexplicably) and roaring simultaneously.

Grizzly II is a film in which the bear hunter Bouchard is introduced in two consecutive scenes, each of which contradicts the other.

Grizzly II is a film which sees fit to have said bear hunter sing a full, improvised song which ends in him hoarsely grunting the words "HA! HA! HA!"

Grizzly II is a film in which, during an ongoing performance by the rock star (whose name I never could quite make out), cuts to that very same rock star lifting a barbell backstage and screaming, then cuts back to him still singing the song.

It's pure crap, but it's about as inimitably enjoyable as pure crap can be. It's not quite as engaging as the bad-good movies that I truly love, like The Room or the Friday the 13th sequels, and it's not a movie you should watch under any circumstances. But if someone is holding a gun to your head, it's entirely possible to have a good time sitting through this.

Also, George Clooney and Laura Dern get busy in a sleeping bag, so there's that.

Everything that isn't admirably atrocious in Grizzly II is equally inexplicable, whether it's the Rasta wanderer known only as Dealer, a broken lamp causing a forest fire politely in the background, or Bouchard's introduction, in which he lifts a tree across a road for no reason. And everything that isn't that is so egregiously 80's that it might as well have come from an entirely different universe from our own.

Characters quietly do calisthenics to "Beat It," discuss their peanut diets, parade about in checkered bleached hair, and perform entire musical numbers in glittering suits of armor. It's almost like a teen culture documentary with some bits about bears attached.

Only bearly.

The genuine best thing about Grizzly II is that its surprisingly committed to attempting something truly significant in its character moments. These are spread infinitely thinly among the poorly shot, underlit bear attacks and the full blown, cheesy musical numbers that are wanly displayed with no affectation at all, but they are patently present. Every single thematic thread shrivels and dies an unceremonious death, of course, but in the process, it introduces ideas about preserving the environment, human nature, and learning that we have influence over others that might lead them down a negative path if we're not careful.

It's trying, and that's commendable enough. And, honestly, if that final scene ever made it into an actual useable form, there could be a truly exciting action setpiece buried in there, as rampant fireworks explode over a bear battle full of bloody impalements and crashing construction equipment.

At the end of the day Grizzly II: The Concert is still a woefully terrible movie. But during the course of its 97 minutes (which should really be cut down to 80, but I think we're beyond minor considerations like that at this point), it's a magnetically strange curiosity and an extremely special example of the lost apocrypha of film history.

TL;DR: Grizzly II: The Concert is a beautiful, terrible, wild ride through the back channels of 80's cinema.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1335

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