Here’s a film that for decades has been nothing more than a rumour: a jaw-dropping, so-bad-it’s-bad meisterwerk to be savoured by masochists and awfulness connoisseurs. Watching it turned my face into a replica of Munch’s The Scream. This is the thankfully long-lost 1983 film Grizzly II: Revenge (sometimes known as Grizzly II: Predator or Grizzly II: The Concert), the proposed sequel to the mediocre but profitable 1976 Jaws knockoff Grizzly, about a huge bear that goes ape, if you will, after its cubs are killed by poachers and conceives a murderous loathing for all humans straying into its forest.
Grizzly II was abandoned after filming finished (with a 16ft mechanical bear and Hungarian woodland standing for a US national park). But its producer Suzanne C Nagy has, after 37 years of legal wrangling, finally got the unedited footage into shape, bulked it up outrageously with new ambient material, repeating the same drone shots of the forest and stock footage of cubs gambolling – and shamelessly released it, capitalising on the extraordinary fact that the first three kids to be killed by the crazy grizzly are played by a big-haired, denim-clad George Clooney (22 years old), Laura Dern (16) and Charlie Sheen (18). This before-they-were-famous triple cameo lasts only a few minutes but the future megastars are cheekily billed above the title.
The film also features a while-she-was-famous appearance from Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), playing the bland official who, in the style of the mayor in Jaws, refuses to let the reported bear eruption cause the cancellation of a lucrative pop concert near the forest, and an extraordinary appearance from John Rhys-Davies in the Robert Shaw-ish role of Bouchard, the “French-Indian” bear hunter who has hated the creatures ever since one killed his wife and daughters. They are all duly credited – but incredibly, there is also a tiny role for our own Timothy Spall, playing the concert’s sound engineer and wearing the same sort of sideways cap he had in Life Is Sweet, and he isn’t credited at all! Could it be that the people behind this release don’t know who he is? Or does Mr Spall, understandably, want his name taken off it?
Watching this film is a nightmare in all the wrong ways. Every bear attack consists of a cheesy closeup of the victim’s wide-eyed screaming face, a flash of the mechanical bear– which looks like a moth-eaten old taxidermist’s display item – a roar on the soundtrack, and the actor sheepishly lying face-down on the ground. The film’s outdoor concert scenes mean that for we have to sit through pointless footage of boring local bands. But you have to hand it to the evil geniuses creating Grizzly II: Revenge. These thousands of kids at the concert weren’t “extras”. The movie’s producers had evidently created a real concert for showbiz-starved Soviet-era Hungarian youth, with real customers. It’s quite a business model.
Once the lockdown lifts, Nagy should maybe try to get the movie released as a double-bill with Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. Tagline: Can you bear it?