Grizzly II: Revenge (2020)
Director: André Szöts
In 2020, a bear cub at play in an idyllic forest is killed by a CGI bullet. Back in 1983, the bear’s mother mutilates Laura Dern, George Clooney, and Charlie Sheen on a camping trip in Hungary. Meanwhile, Nurse Ratched is organizing an outdoor music festival.
Nurse Ratched wants the bear stopped at any cost before it ruins her show, but a local wildlife expert insists the bear be tranquilized humanely and then rehabilitated somehow. Several poachers who appear to be in a different movie altogether are shown from various artistic angles, sometimes in a real forest and sometimes on what appears to be a set.
The chief ranger’s daughter, Chrissy, gets a job answering the phone for the sleazy guy setting up the concert, and the chief ranger warns her about him. But he needn’t worry. Chrissy will hardly appear in the movie again and never with that particular guy.
The poachers then club a meddling forest ranger over the head. When he comes around, he runs from the camera as though it were a bear, and he climbs into a tiny cave. Freeze frames imply that he’s killed by the bear but don’t show how, leaving room for the imagination.
The other rangers locate the man’s body immediately. This is the last straw for them. Humaneness is abandoned, and the chief ranger consults John Rhys Davies, a “French Canadian” who speaks in aphorisms that we’re told are Native American in origin.
The chief ranger’s daughter makes a last appearance. She’s apparently slept with a waxed Euro pop singer reminiscent of Limahl. He says that he can’t commit to dating her because of his migratory lifestyle, but it seems like there may be other reasons.
Like the witches in “MacBeth,” John Rhys Davies stands over a cauldron, boiling bear traps so that they don’t smell like people. In another part of the forest, the poachers reflect on how their way of life may not be so smart, and shortly thereafter, they’re murdered by the bear.
Around this point, we see much of the same 2020 stock footage of nature and bear cubs at play that we saw at the beginning of the movie, to remind us what’s at stake: revenge. That said, the movie is only about halfway over, and much of the rest will be concert footage.
Back at the music festival, Toto Coelo, a female group of marginal fame for the song “I Eat Cannibals,” sings and dances. They’re followed by less well remembered acts. A group from 2020 performs somewhere else entirely. At last, Limahl, dressed in a gleaming, skintight body suit, walks around the stage while women dance in the shadows behind him.
Suddenly pyrotechnics are going off like crazy, setting everything on fire behind the stage. Stagehands flee, one of them on fire himself. The bear stands off to the side, watching.
The chief ranger comes out of nowhere and attacks the bear with a forklift, but he’s immediately turned over. John Rhys Davies, who has also materialized, hatchets his way up the bear’s back only to be thrown off and impaled on the scaffolding. The chief ranger lures the bear into the electrical wiring, and it gets zapped. No one at the concert is any the wiser.
You can read elsewhere about how Grizzly II was originally filmed largely in 1983, shelved for 37 years, and then cobbled together and marketed at optimistic masochists such as myself who regularly subject themselves to terrible movies in search of unintentional laughs and that special sort of surrealism that arises when movies are made in the absence of big Hollywood’s expectations to perform well at the box office, launch careers, etc.
I feel vaguely guilty for giving this movie an IMDB rating of one star. I mean, apart from the fact that I enjoyed watching it, it’s almost like the movie was, in the manner of Frankenstein’s monster, given life against its will, after it had already died, and those who conducted the unholy experiment weren’t properly equipped. The ending credits are littered with thanks for the free stock footage, sound effects, etc. used to pad out and polish the movie.
That said, the whole idea of taking footage that you haven’t looked at in 37 years and collaging it together into a movie is kind of alluring, right? This is a production that provokes a viewer to think, “Give me the same footage and access to Adobe Premiere, and I’ll make you a different movie altogether.” I get energized by creative work that reveals the process used to make to it, and process is splattered gorily all over this movie.
It’s virtually impossible at any point in the movie to immerse oneself in its world, to the extent that it has one. Apart from the obvious clash resulting from the attempt to marry 1983 and 2020 materials, we never get to know any of the characters. It’s as if the filmmakers started by shooting all the dialogue of people talking about the bear, their attempts to trap it, and the final showdown but never got around to shooting anything that might establish motivation.
Who is Nurse Ratched anyway, and why is she so set on the music festival? If I’ve learned anything from horror movies, she’s motivated by money and/or interest in public office, but we don’t really hear much. She says something about introducing someone she knows to an important person, but who exactly are they? And why does Chrissie sleep with Limahl? She never interacts with him at his rehearsals. She just watches with the same bright-eyed expression of innocence that she wears throughout the movie. We have no sense that she’s starstruck or that Limahl is some kind of lady killer. Indeed, we have no clear sense that he’s heterosexual.
And over what time period does the movie take place? One day? Two? A week? It doesn’t help that many scenes cut back and forth between footage with dark skies and footage with daylight. Does Chrissy even have time to have slept with Limahl?
The movie and its resurrectors also deserve some good karma for making the first Grizzly movie look actually like a descent production. There’s a largely coherent plot and characters whom we sort of get to know. Above all, everything was shot in the same century.
And then Grizzly II does do some fairly audacious things. Many have pointed out that the poster advertises Laura Dern, George Clooney, and Charlie Sheen as the stars, despite the fact that they’re killed off within the first few minutes of actual ’80s footage. But that’s an easy target. Here’s something that I haven’t heard anyone mention: Despite the fact that Grizzly II is firmly entrenched in the terrain of B horror, there are absolutely no female topless scenes. We see some male construction workers with perms standing shirtless on cranes, but the closest we get to a skinny dipping scene or a forest bath is Laura Dern in her underwear for a few seconds before getting in a sleeping bag. There’s no sex. No teenagers making out. Nothing. It’s remarkable.
So is the world better because Grizzly II now exists in “finished” form? That’s hard to say. There are certainly other extremely bad movies from the ’80s. Necropolis comes immediately to mind. And there have been other extraordinary rediscoveries of shelved, forgotten movies like Miami Connection. But Grizzly II is the kind of bad that one might have thought belonged to an earlier time, the kind of mongrel badness one finds in The Curse of Bigfoot, which was pieced together from footage from the ’50s and ’70s and doesn’t ultimately involve Bigfoot but a mummy from a cave. Contemporary film fans are used to ill-starred grade-Z projects appearing in Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Mill Creek Entertainment box sets, but to have something fresh appear in 2020 is exhilarating.
Grizzly II isn’t just bad. It was dragged into the light of day despite everything. And it begs the question “What other incomplete footage from the ’80s, or even beyond, is lying around for someone to collage together?” I can only hope that there’s lots and that we’ll see it in time.