By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Steve Inwood, Deborah Raffin and John Rhys-Davies
Directed by André Szöts
Written by Joan McCall and David Sheldon
Viewed as a movie, GRIZZLY II: REVENGE is pretty awful–but that’s not how it likely will, or should, be viewed. It’s of interest more as a resurrected piece of horror history, a long-lost flick that has been restored (somewhat) and made available to fans decades after its production.
Filmed in Hungary in 1983 as THE PREDATOR, the project actually dates back to 1979, when it was supposed to be shot in Canada under director David Sheldon, who co-produced and co-wrote William Girdler’s 1976 GRIZZLY. Sheldon also scripted with the original film’s co-star Joan McCall, and the producing team included Edward L. Montoro of Film Ventures International, which released Girdler’s movie and was to distribute the sequel in the U.S. Those plans fell through, and it was picked up by financier Joseph Proctor, who partnered with Hungarian producer Suzanne Csikos Nagy to shoot in her home country. Along the way, Sheldon was dropped as director and replaced with local André Szöts, who had one TV movie to his credit (and would go on to produce a number of high-profile movies in Hungary, including 1990’s Oscar-nominated CYRANO DE BERGERAC).
The shoot was beset with problems, including an animatronic bear created by veteran makeup and effects artist Nick Maley (KRULL, THE KEEP) that wouldn’t work properly. Eventually, Proctor disappeared along with the financing, and the movie was never finished; he wound up going to jail years later for tax evasion. (For a more detailed chronicle of the production, check out this article.) A bootleg workprint of the movie started circulating in the late 2000s, and last year, Nagy was able to piece a version together and sent it on the festival circuit. It’s now in select theaters and on VOD, with the big pitch being that it “stars” George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen, the only actors who get up-front billing.
Needless to say, the trio of then-fledgling actors (Sheen got his SAG card from this appearance) only appear for a total of four minutes in GRIZZLY II, and their scenes have been moved up from midway through the movie to its beginning, the better to satisfy curiosities early. The surprise here is not so much that they did this schlocker early in their careers, though it is remarkable that all three did this film together (perhaps the producers felt there was value in their famous last names?). The real shock is that Louise Fletcher took part less than a decade after winning an Oscar, and that numerous other actors who should have had better things to do got involved, including Deborah Raffin, John Rhys-Davies and Deborah Foreman. Their presences are now part of the appeal, and so is seeing filmmaker (RACE WITH THE DEVIL) and actor Jack Starrett, HALLOWEEN’s Charles Cyphers and fellow character players Marc Alaimo and Charles Young as beer-guzzlin’ hunters, Timothy Spall also taking a brief early role and future Cenobite Barbie Wilde as a drummer in a band called (like the film at the time) The Predator.
GRIZZLY II was also subtitled THE CONCERT at one point, though its balance of those subjects is so lopsided, it suggests the movie should have been called THE CONCERT II: GRIZZLY. An inordinate amount of the story is devoted to the preparations, rehearsals and the event itself, thronged with thousands of fans (extras who paid $5 a ticket for the privilege) that gives the film its only aura of production value. Elsewhere, the new cut employs modern wildlife stock footage, with some of it used twice and a few shots of bears digitally repurposed for an opening scene establishing why the grizzly wants revenge.
There’s only about an hour of the originally lensed material in the final cut, and what’s there ain’t great. Fletcher plays the park superintendent whose name is imaginatively spelled Eileene Draygon, and won’t close the beach…er, stop the concert despite the grizzly attacks; Raffin is “director of bear management” Samantha Owens, who says, “Each grizzly is precious” and just wants to tranquilize and relocate the killer; Rhys-Davies is Bouchard–coincidentally, the same name as Louis Gossett Jr.’s role in ’83’s JAWS 3-D–a bear hunter with a come-and-go French accent who talks about the “great manitou” at one point (Girdler in-joke?); and the actual lead is Steve Inwood as Nick Hollister, the heroic park ranger who has a rather inappropriate scene with his daughter Chrissy (Deborah Foreman from APRIL FOOL’S DAY and WAXWORK). A much smaller role is played by the grizzly itself, which is largely represented by a point-of-view camera and quick glimpses that don’t always match the surrounding scenes (a victim seen running for his life during the day is intercut with the roaring bear at night).
Of course, expecting consistency from a movie that’s been patched together the way GRIZZLY II: REVENGE has is beside the point. Right down to its choppy, abrupt conclusion, it is unmistakably a rescue job rather than a fully realized film–and given what we see of the original intention, it has more value now in a historical context than it likely would have if it had been completed as planned at the time.