With a Cocaine Bear running rampant through movie theaters this past week, we thought it might be fun to look back at some other examples of Killer Bear cinema, a sub-genre that's been around since at least the 1970s, albeit with frequent bouts of hibernation.
Ten years before the Killer Bear sub-genre truly kicked off we got this late-era Western that wanders through all sorts of familiar tropes -- greedy land developers included -- only this time a ravenous killer bear (named "Satan"!) is among one of the many threats our heroes must contend with. It's never actually scary, but this goofy obscurity deserves some credit for combining westerns and horror flicks; two genres that don't always congeal, but are usually fun to watch.
The golden age of Killer Bear cinema began where lots of low-budget producers found great success: by ripping off the brilliant 1975 film Jaws. This was one of the very first of the Jaws-inspired nature thrillers to hit the screens, and with a nearly $40 million haul on a production budget of $750,000, Grizzly quickly proved that there was money to be made in copying the Jaws template as closely as (legally) possible including the plot: a grizzly bear runs amok in an unnamed national park, and it's up to a very familiar bunch of character types to deal with it.
An aggravated grizzly bear makes a real nuisance of itself up in Alaska, dispatching a few stock characters and an unfortunate boy scout, which means it's time for a few bland people to track it down. One or two scary attack scenes liven up the proceedings towards the end, but there's not much fun to be found here. Claws is not very good on any level, but it does earn points for managing to rhyme with the movie it's ripping off.
The producers of Grizzly were back a year later with sort of a eco-sensitive animal attack variety pack of a movie that wavers between silly, scary, and then silly again. Wolves, snakes, dogs, birds, mountain lions, and even more angry animals find themselves devouring a bunch of unhappy hikers -- and why are these creatures so angry? A depletion in the ozone layer, of course, which just goes to show that even silly b-movies can be oddly intelligent in some ways. Plus it's not every day you get to see the last Leslie Nielsen, shirtless, doing battle with a grizzly bear.
Made for network TV, super obscure, very goofy, and barely even a horror movie. I only included it because of the wacky title and a wildly irresponsible "bear v. tiger" scene that feels like it fell out of a low-budget circus act.
This premium piece of Generation X nightmare fuel holds a special place in a lot of hearts mainly because it's the most mainstream killer bear flick there was... for a while. Prophecy was a pulpy and dated piece of eco-horror the moment Paramount unleashed it on screens, but it lives on in cult fandom thanks to some memorably gory special effects, a strong cast, a freaky mutated monster-bear, and that infamous "sleeping bag" sequence that must be experienced to be properly appreciated. Even the poster freaks some GenXer's out. Not me, of course.
Remember a few movies ago when I called Claws mostly bland and uneventful? Well it's a virtual bear extravaganza compared to this deservedly obscure snoozefest. It's about a couple on a romantic trek to a log cabin who find their romantic adventure interrupted by a pair of criminals and a very mean grizzly bear. Get through the resoundingly boring first half and you may find some enjoyment once the bear hijinks commence.
The killer bear movie finally gets a big, flashy Hollywood treatment, although to get to the good stuff we have to contend with a good deal of mid-life crisis management and macho posturing between Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins before with get to the killer Kodiak. But to its credit this film does feature a smart script, some lovely cinematography, and one of the most horrifying bear attack scenes you'll ever see. It's full-bore nightmare fuel!
A group of young jerks runs over a bear cub and briefly live to regret it in this generic and low-budget exploit. It doesn't take much for me to get behind a creature feature, but this one's overloaded with awful writing, acting, cinematography, and special effects. Frankly I'd rather revisit one of those bear-ly enjoyable snoozefests from the mid-'70s than think about this one for much longer.
This deceptively titled low-budget yawner is more about a an oddly non-threatening serial killer chasing a bunch of young stereotypes through the woods and then a few bear attacks hit the screen in the flick's final 15 minutes. One of those horror movies in which most of the characters are super obnoxious, so we start to root for the killer. And the bear.
A pair of interminably bickering couples find themselves trapped in a broken-down car after running afoul of you guessed it an infuriated grizzly bear. As is often the case, the animal has a legitimate grudge; these jerks shot one of his loved ones. But without any sort of recognizable humanity from the characters (seriously. they're awful people) we're left counting the minutes to the next bear attack -- which, to be entirely fair, are the most worthwhile components of this tiresome affair, mainly because there's an actual bear on hand, as opposed to a bunch of ill-fitting stock footage.
A stripped-down, admirably straightforward, and entirely effective slow-burn bear thriller that's loosely based on an actual tragedy, Backcountry hails from Canada, where they know a little something about bears. This one's about a stressed-out couple who go on a hiking expedition, and run into all sorts of trouble -- mainly in the form of a mean-spirited black bear. Two strong leads and some striking cinematography add some quality to the proceedings, and what this movie lacks in body count, it makes up for in suspense, tension, and a few moments of outright terror.
A pair of estranged brothers have a gruesome reunion when a massive grizzly bear starts making bloody trouble in their Alaskan hometown. Conventional and predictable in all sorts of ways, but Maze also earns points for pacing, suspense, and a game cast that includes Thomas Jane, James Marsden, Piper Perabo, Scott Glenn, Adam Beach, and Billy Bob Thornton. Surely watching this cast contend with a virtually unstoppable bear nemesis is a decent way to spend 91 minutes. The movie struggles a bit with its melodrama somewhere in the midsection, but when it sticks to the bear shenanigans this is a fairly entertaining flick.
The majestic polar bear is sadly underrepresented when it comes to schlocky monster movies with an ecological bent, so it's nice to see at least one production give it an earnest shot. Plot-wise, this one takes a few moments to warm up (ha) but this is, in many ways, a serviceably entertaining killer bear flick, thanks in large part to a dry sense of humor and some suspenseful attack scenes. A solid cast also helps a lot: James Remar, Sherilyn Fenn, Graham Greene, Q'orianka Kilcher, and just a dash of legendary character actor Ray Wise.
This brutal yet fascinating Oscar winner isn't about killer bears, but it does feature one of the most terrifying and visually impressive bear attacks you'll ever see. Right up there with the aforementioned examples found in The Edge and Backcountry. Oh, and the rest of the movie is pretty damn good, too.
Much like with The Revenant, this movie isn't entirely focused on a killer bear, but the one it has on hand has a few moments of remarkable scariness. This dark, excellent sci-fi movie deals with a team of scientists who are tasked with exploring a mysterious shining "shimmer" that's taken over a small part of the forest. Inside said forest is all sorts of mysteries, including a horrible creature that easily steals the prize of Freakiest Mutated Bear away from good ol' Prophecy. And it screams.
Now here's a weird one. This in-name-only sequel to Grizzly was meant to be released way back in 1983, but it was never completed, and it was left to live on only in the minds of genre nerds who pay attention to such things. Ahem. But then someone dusted the old footage off, added some bear-ish footage, and released the thing. Suffice to say it's not good, and was never going to be. But why would anyone go to all that trouble over something like Grizzly II: Revenge? Because the cast list includes not only reliable character actors like Louise Fletcher, Laura Dern, and Timothy Spall, not to mention a young George Clooney. And Charlie Sheen!
Take the basic appeal of the original Grizzly, add a wide array of broad (and frequently dark) humor, hire a bunch of familiar faces, and deliver the goods in a quick and colorful fashion. (Bonus points for including a Depeche Mode song, too.) Some will call it mindless, which is fair, while others will find it to be a bizarrely amusing and entirely worthwhile entry into the annals of Killer Bear Cinema. Guess which side I'm on.
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