Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Why ZOMBIES & SHARKS? Well, those are the two things that I’ve had the most nightmares about. It’s the reason I rarely swim in the ocean. It’s the reason I have an escape plan from my apartment just in case of a zombie apocalypse. Now if you’ve ever had those fears or fears like them, inspired mainly by nights upon nights of watching films of the frightening kind, this is the place for you. Look for AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS every Friday for the foreseeable future, horror hounds, where we’ll be covering horror in all forms; retro, indie, mainstream, old and new.
While Hollywood rapes our childhood with the YOGI BEAR movie, I decided to drudge up a quartet of bear horror films that have to be far better than the abomination hitting theaters this weekend. But before we do, bear with us and check out these horror tidbits…
You might have missed it, but due to the new format at AICN, last week’s column was delayed a bit. I posted my Indie Scares column featuring reviews of IF A TREE FALLS, MY BLOODY WEDDING, DEAR MR. GACY, PORN STAR ZOMBIES and the excellent LONG PIGS (plus an interview with the director, actor, special effects person, and producer) on Tuesday. I’ll link to it here just in case you missed it!
KletusCasaday decked the halls with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD HOLIDAY SPECIAL!
Molly McIsaac turned us on to some surreal stuff in BLACK HOLE!
Henry Higgins is My Homeboy looked at BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER’s comic book season finale!
Optimous Douche visited the weird world of SWEET TOOTH here!
Finally, I swooned over the latest issue of THE WALKING DEAD!
Be sure to check out these horror comics reviews from AICN COMICS!
Now, before we begin, I have to admit something. Much like zombies and sharks, bears scare the living shit out of me. They’re like sharks on land. Huge. Powerful. With teeth and claws! But honestly, I don’t think there’s been the perfect “bear” film yet. Here’s hoping that someday folks can get it right. If there’s one thing the following flicks have in common, it’s that they get one or two things right when it comes to bear-ror (made up a new word there!). Enjoy…
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
EXECUTIVE KOALA (2006)
And finally…APOCALYPSE POOH!
GRIZZLY aka CLAWS aka KILLER GRIZZLY (1976)Directed by William Girdler
Written by Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon, & Andrew Prine
Starring Christopher George, Richard Jaeckel, & Andrew Prine
Retro-Reviewed by Ambush Bug
“If ya feel a wet snout in ya face, whatever you do, don't move. And don't kiss it back 'cause it ain't me.”
Guess the movie…a predator makes its way to a well populated area. A lawman tries to shut down said populated area, but the leaders of the community don’t want to lose money, giving the predator the perfect opportunity to sink its teeth into unsuspecting human prey. A trio of men set out to take on the beast in an ultimate battle of man vs. nature.
If you guessed JAWS, you’re wrong, Boo Boo. It’s GRIZZLY. But the folks who made this one certainly have seen Spielberg’s classic a few times because this is basically JAWS WITH CLAWS AND FUR. Directed by William Girdler who also directed DAY OF THE ANIMALS, SHEBA BABY, and THREE ON A MEATHOOK, GRIZZLY is a rip-off, but a pretty fun rip-off mainly due to some charismatic acting from Christopher George (from one of my personal faves PIECES, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, ENTER THE NINJA, and MORTUARY) playing the Roy Scheider role and Richard Jaeckel (from THE DIRTY DOZEN, AIRPLANE II, and DAY OF THE ANIMALS) doing his best Richard Dreyfus. The majority of the budget seems to have gone toward the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London, who slum it here to provide a pretty fantastic score to a less than fantastic movie. Treading in the wake of JAWS, the film was a pretty successful rip-off and it was even adapted into a prose novel at the time.
The film starts off with the mauling of a pair of scantily clad woman (one who looks a lot like Penelope Cruz) in a sequence that is actually pretty gory for the time with a lopped off arm and a few slashes from what looks to be a man’s arm covered in fur with a bear claw on the end. Instead of the usual “Duh-nah! Duh-nah!” cellos from JAWS, each attack is prefaced with the bear’s POV accompanied by some bear breathing. The breathing gets a bit incessant at times, leading one to think we not only have a man-eating bear on our hands, but an asthmatic one as well. Our heavy breather seems to have a preference for young ladies, especially hot ones who go off on their own to go swimming in mountain streams or sleeping in their tents.
The story pretty much follows the same plot of JAWS beat for beat, even down to a trio of nature men going out into the wild for some male bonding. There’s even a Quint-like story told by a campfire, though not as harrowing as Robert Shaw’s monologue about the sinking of the Indianapolis, delivered by Andrew Prine (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, AMITYVILLE II). As with JAWS, there’s also a park commissioner who seems to want to populate the scene with beer-swilling weekend hunters, nosy reporters and moronic tourists despite our trio of heroes’ attempts to close the area and hunt the beast themselves.
The main problem with the film is that once the bear is seen, he’s really not that scary looking. So whenever the camera pulls back to see the real bear, it just sort of looks like it’s doing tricks taught to him by a trainer…mainly because that’s exactly what’s going on. To top it off, the bear awkwardly walks on its hind legs most of the time, which looks more goofy than scary. Director Girder does a much better job with the tighter shots earlier in the film, amping the intensity level with quick cuts and special effects. And the director deserves props for going the real bear route; otherwise it may have looked like this...
A little research shows that comic book artist Neal Adams did the sweet art for the poster with a bear looming over a distressed damsel. Digging a bit deeper I found that a sequel to the film was supposedly shot in Hungary called GRIZZLY 2: THE PREDATOR starring George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, Louise Fletcher, John Rhys-Davies, and Laura Dern. Apparently, additional scenes were filmed in which the bear attacks a concert and it was to be renamed PREDATOR: THE CONCERT, but it was never released. If anyone has any info on this, I’d love to hear about more about this unreleased gem.
GRIZZLY is far inferior to JAWS, but there are some nice scenes of gore (there are lopped off appendages galore—a horse head, arms, and a legless kid) and a few scenes that are cut effectively to make for some chilling moments such as the tent scene. The ending is a bit ludicrous with the bear burying one man for some reason then just killing him and the way the bear is taken out in the final minutes caused me to laugh out loud more than shiver. While I’m averse to doing anything as trite as having a categorical ratings system for this column, this movie is one of those films you can sit and watch with your friends whilst drinking beer or booze or other drug of choice and going all MST3K on it.
PROPHECY (1979)AKA PROPHECY: THE MONSTER MOVIE
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by David Seltzer
Starring Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart, & Vactoria Racimo
Retro-Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Though PROPHECY is filmed beautifully and isn’t without its moments of gore and fright, I have to say, the film had me laughing my ass off quite a bit. PROPHECY was one of those movies I watched as a kid and loved. The mutant killer bear was larger than life and scarier than hell. Its funny how, as a kid, you can look past the obvious man-in-suit-ness with the awkward movement, the quick shots so as not to show any seams or zippers, and the nearly immovable eyes and mouth. Seeing the actor in the bear suit run and flop around probably had the actors and crew laughing more than screaming. This would have been an awful film if not for one thing: you had John Frankenheimer behind the lens, so somehow, he makes it all work pretty well, despite the bad bear suit.
The cast is pretty good here too. Talia Shire, just off of ROCKY & GODFATHER (where she played a weepy waif) plays a weepy waif pretty good here. Shire gets good practice for ROCKY II, as she’s playing pregnant and fragile like few others do. Robert Foxworth is doing his best Donald Sutherland impression with the white man’s afro and beard thing happening all over his head area. Though he’s not imposing at all, he does pull off a few nice scenes as an overly intense doctor, especially towards the end when he goes apeshit on the bear with an arrow. Armand Assante plays a Native American who of course is good with a bow and arrow. And Richard Dysart plays the owner of the paper mill who swears up and down that the lake his logs flow into which spawn foot-long tadpoles, ten foot salmon, and of course, big fucking mutant bears, isn’t full of pollutants. Though most of the time the actors have little to do but stand in the woods and try to look scared as a man in a giant bear suit flops and stumbles toward them, the ensemble of talent does raise this film a head above other schlockers.
Frankenheimer does begin the film impressively as a crew of lumberjacks tread through the woods lit only by their headlamps. This is a moody opening, giving the woods an almost unearthly feel. There are some inspired kills, with the scene where the bear hits a chick jumping in a sleeping bag so hard she explodes into a cloud of feathers being the highlight. But PROPHECY peters out in the last act as the survivors stupidly watch the bear submerge on the other side of a river, leave a trail of bubbles leading right towards them, then have the nerve to act surprised when the bear explodes out of the water in front of them. This is definitely a movie that gets worse the more you see the monster. Frankenheimer is able to amp the scares when the bear is off screen, but the special effects of the time may have made for a cool looking bear-beast standing still, but when the tumor ridden monstrosity begins to move, the magic is gone. The story tries to pepper in heft by adding such social issues as abortion, pollution, and the relocation of Native American culture. But in the end, all of that is forgotten when everyone tosses out their issues to kill a man in a slimy bear suit. You may laugh more than scream while watching this one (especially during the scenes where the bear mauls obvious dummies or the ferocious raccoon attack sequence!!!). Having just rewatched it, I wish I could somehow unwatch it and just hold on to the faded childhood memory that this was a much cooler flick.
EXECUTIVE KOALA (2006)Directed by Minoru Kawasaki
Written by Masakazu Migita & Minoru Kawasaki
Starring Lee Ho, Eiichi Kikuchi, Arthur Kuroda, & Hironobu Nomura
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Is EXECUTIVE KOALA as goofy as it sounds? Yes. It’s a story of a man-sized koala trying to succeed in life. Though not necessarily a horror film, it does possess elements of fear and terror, as well as moments of over the top cuteness. It’s such a weird little film that when I decided to put together this bear themed column, it immediately came to mind.
EXECUTIVE KOALA is one of those movies that is to be watched for dumb fun. Played straight, as if a man with a stuffed koala bear head and paws wearing a suit was absolutely normal, the film is absolutely hilarious and full of Japanese quirk such as a courtroom musical number, animated opening segments, and trippy kung fu demonstrations.
Our koala businessman Temura is interested in two things; his girlfriend and selling pickles. When his girlfriend shows up dead, he believes he is to blame even though he can’t remember. And his murderous ways are making his work intolerable. Though the mystery is paper thin, that’s really not the point of EXECUTIVE KOALA. The film is just a lot of brainless fun.
The inspired animated and musical moments, coupled with the hilariously maudlin interactions Temura has with those around him make the film something pretty special. Though it involves betrayal and murder, EXECUTIVE KOALA is pretty bloodless. Although some might think it’s out of place here in this column focused on horror, it is one of those weird curious films that strays from the norm. EXECUTIVE KOALA won’t be winning any academy awards, but it is goofy and something I honestly say I haven’t seen before.
BEAR (2010)Directed by John Rebel
Written by Roel Reine & Ethan Wiley
Starring Brendan Michael Coughlin, Patrick Scott Lewis, Katie Lowes, & Bill Rampley
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
You know, I think the folks behind the movie simply named BEAR share the same fear of bears that I have. There is a lot here that could be great. The story is pretty simple; four people wreck their car in the middle of a forest and run into a bear. One kills it and they think everything is ok until the bear’s mate shows up for revenge. The concept of a bear with vengeance in its eyes is both goofy and fun. But given the right conditions, it could make for a pretty frightening tale.
At the point of the film when we find out the bear is out for blood, BEAR could go either way—deathly serious or full-on camp. In order for either to work, I think another factor should have come into consideration—budget and effects. If the story were to go the deathly serious route, the best way to do that is to make the threat of the bear real and scary. If the story were to go a more campy route, corners could be cut with the budget to amp up the laughs rather than thrills. Unfortunately, BEAR cut corners and played it deadly serious, and in doing so, the resulting film isn’t that great.
Because the bear in BEAR is either a bear being filmed from a safe distance wrecking up a minivan or a man in a floppy fur suit pawing at screaming actors, the story isn’t really that terrifying. The actors are playing things completely straight. They are supposed to be terrified as a guy wearing a bear rug circles their car. The thing is, the bear simply isn’t that frightening and because of that, the film falls completely flat.
There are elements to like about BEAR. They were going for a claustrophobic CUJO feel with a vicious beast circling a car full of folks dealing with their own demons. It’s an ambitious film, but one held back by its limitations of budget and effects and maybe the abilities of the actors, who are shooting for the gold here, but may be in need of a bit more target practice.
At the beginning of this column, I said that a film that captures the true fear a bear attack could produce hadn’t been made yet. That feeling may have been captured in Herzog’s GRIZZLY MAN, but since that was a documentary and out of respect for the dead, I didn’t want to include that with these picks. All of the films featured today, even BEAR, had a moment or two that twinged my fear of bears at least a bit. BEAR didn’t fully succeed, but it served as a reminder of that fear.
And finally, here’s Winnie the Pooh set to APOCALYPSE NOW…
See ya, next week, folks!
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