Tag Bears

Blackfoot Trail (2014)

Blackfoot Trail (2014)

Survive

Urbanite boyfriend and girlfriend Alex and Jenn head to the Canadian wild for a romantic getaway. Having visited the woods several times in his life, an overconfident Alex shuns bringing a map or mobile phone and is determined to veer away from the hiking trails into the true wilderness along the Blackfoot Trail. Before they know it, Alex and Jenn find themselves lost and even worse, they end up stumbling into the hunting grounds of a black bear with a voracious appetite.

 

Based on a true story, apparently, Blackfoot Trail comes with an overhyped reputation. I’ve got to wonder what films other reviewers are watching when they claim that this “does for the woods what Jaws did for the ocean” or “the best horror movie in ages” which are two quotes plastered on the front cover of the DVD. Whilst it’s not the worst film you’re ever likely to see, Blackfoot Trail is hardly the second coming of Spielberg’s classic, nor is it remotely near the top ten horror films of the past year. I feel that some people just want to get their reviews on the front cover with some cheesy soundbites.

The premise of a killer bear is one that hasn’t been used too often – Grizzly from the late 70s springing to mind as the standout of this sparse sub-genre – and you have to wonder why. Bears are real. They are extremely dangerous when confronted in the wild. And they have attacked and killed hundreds of people across the world. So you’d expect them to be a little more popular when it comes to horror films. Grizzly, Grizzly Park, Grizzly Rage and Bear are the only four that spring to mind and looking at that ‘elite’ list it’s pretty easy to see why they’re not as popular as snakes or sharks.

Blackfoot Trail will do little to enhance the reputation of the killer bear sub-genre. At least it treats the material seriously and with as much respect as possible. This isn’t just a daft killer bear slasher-type film. This is a serious survival horror-thriller pitting man against nature. It is more interested with trying to create an ominous tone, knife-edge tension and rounded characters. Notice I said trying. Whilst the excellent cinematography goes a long way to providing an eerie and isolated location for the film, you need something else to build upon this. Sadly Blackfoot Trail provides little else.

The film is devoted to the two main stars and their relationship (and then the inevitable arguing and bickering when they get lost). Actually three quarters of the film is devoted to this character development, with the bear toddling into view with about slightly more than a quarter of the way to go. Whilst they are a fully-rounded couple, even if Alex is a bit too arrogant, I’m not really here to see squabbling between human characters. Too long is spent developing them as individuals and by the time we have got to know them, their continual domination of the film soon begins to bore the viewer. The danger needed to be introduced quicker and the film spend longer on them trying to stay together both physically and mentally. As it turns out, the bear shows up and the proverbial hits the fan way quicker than it should have done. This slow burn build needed a longer and more focused onslaught to really get us on the side of the characters, rather than the short, sharp burst towards the end of the film. The much-anticipated third act fails to materialise and the bear does its thing very quickly.

Whilst I’m not arguing for the bear to go crazy, you would expect a lot more pay-off than the eventual human-bear confrontation. The film is hardly soaked with blood, nor is the bear a killing machine. It savagely kills one character in the entire film and, whilst the attack inside a tent is pretty realistic, this is no gore factory. There are a few suspenseful moments inside the tent waiting for the bear to go away but this whole portion of the film is moved along far too quickly given how much time was spent building the characters up.

Arguably more suspense and tension comes from the introduction of Eric Balfour’s Irish guide early on in the film, who just so happens to stumble upon Alex and Jenn and immediately imposes himself as the alpha male, much to Alex’s annoyance. The “is he a psycho or just a friendly local?” narrative plays out over ten minutes or so and is far more interesting than the stuff with the bear. However his insignificant contribution to the film ends abruptly and pointlessly as his character never leads to anything worthwhile happening and seems to have been added to pad out a few extra scenes before they stumble across the bear.

 

Blackfoot Trail attempts to put its audience through the ringer by subjecting a couple of developed characters to the perils of Mother Nature. You’ll be sick of the characters by the time Mother Nature rears her bear-like form and, even then, she does her thing far too quickly to warrant such an overlong build-up. The film has suspense and tension in sporadic patches but it’s too forgettable to make a lasting impression.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Grizzly Park (2008)

Grizzly Park (2008)

Eight troubled young people. Six days community service. It’s gonna be a bear.

Eight young delinquents are sent to do community service at Grizzly Park under the watchful eye of Ranger Bob. Whilst on the way to the park, their corrections officer is killed by an escaped psycho who assumes his identity and plans to kill the teenagers off during their stay. But unbeknownst to anyone is the fact there is a giant grizzly bear on the loose in the woods which smells blood and begins to kill off the group one-by-one.

 

Grizzly bears have never been the go-to monsters for low budget creature feature films. Save for the 1976 Jaws-inspired Grizzly, the killer bear sub-genre was hardly been touched upon until the mid-2000s where a handful of killer bears have been unleashed across rural America. However, the recent Grizzly Rage and Bear have both proved that there is a reason why bears don’t make for good killer monsters and Grizzly Park reinforces that fact – whilst there is no question they are ferocious animals when faced with in the wild, they just don’t have that same stigma that sharks or snakes do. We’d rather cuddle up to a bear than go swimming with a shark.

Grizzly Park seems to have got its scripts mixed up with that of a low budget slasher film, or at least that’s the impression it gives in the first hour. The escaped psycho looks to be the primary antagonist of the film and with a major lack of killer bear action, you’d hope that he’d live up to his billing. A lot of time is spent up building up the character in the expectation that he’d pose to be a bigger problem to the teenagers than the bear, or even come to their rescue and have his character arc go full circle. But no, the film drops him when he’s served his purpose to pad out a bit of time.

It’s an unnecessary waste of running time but the entire film is in all honesty. Grizzly Park has the lure of a killer bear, false expectations of free-flowing blood and potential to do something vaguely different with the whole monster-on-the-loose formula that this film is pandering to but opts to not only play it safe but rarely put itself into first gear. We feel every arduous step of the trek that the teenage cast take through the woods because that’s pretty much all that happens for the majority of the film. The characters bicker, the characters walk, the characters do some ‘wilderness’ stuff like make a campfire, the characters bicker, the characters walk…..etc.

I like how these films always manage to cram every racial stereotype into their little groups of teenage tearaways. The parole office have gone to great pains to ensure that this group has the requisite white trash fascist, the Latina gangbanger, token black guy, rich preppie, Asian girl, blonde bimbo and more. I’m sure that putting together such socially-polarised groups is all done in the name of community relations but let’s get real – there’s no chance of this ever happening in real life. There’s no sympathy to this group – none of the characters are likeable in any way and it comes to something when the Neo-Nazi guy moves closest to establishing any form of relationship with the audience. Glenn Morshower is one of those character actors who appears everywhere. He’s great as the stoic Ranger Bob who seems to be representing the audience in the film, with his shrugging, his ho-humming and general lack of enthusiasm for what is going on. With no one to root for, the film becomes a waiting game as we sit and wonder when the first character is going to be killed off.

This takes ages to happen though and Grizzly Park will lose you long before the entertaining cheese kicks in during the final third. I didn’t realise this was supposed to be a comedy until I checked the IMDB page. It does kind of explain the over-the-top gore effects, which are the film’s saving grace. Mercifully done with the use of old school latex instead of CGI, though the effects look a little goofy, they’re still highly enjoyable. From having silicone breast implants being ripped out to arms being torn off, Grizzly Park showcases some light-hearted splatter. But it all comes too late in the day and though the bear finally makes an appearance to kick off this massacre, it’s all over rather too quickly.

 

Grizzly Park‘s final reel gives some evidence as to what the final product could have been had the cheap and cheerful splatter been more evenly spread throughout. Instead we’ve got a film which tries to live and die by its final third but unfortunately by that point the film is beyond resurrecting thanks to the woefully-lacklustre first two thirds. Grizzly need not worry – there is still no usurper to its crown of ‘best killer grizzly bear film ever’ moniker. And judging by recent efforts, it is a moniker that it is likely to have for some time yet.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Grizzly (1976)

Grizzly (1976)

18 FEET OF TOWERING FURY!!

When an eighteen foot, two thousand pound grizzly bear begins to maul and eat campers and hikers at a state park, it is up to Head Ranger Michael Kelly to capture or kill it. However his efforts are constantly hampered by the Park Supervisor, who insists on keeping the park open.

 

Or Jaws on land. Grizzly was one of the first post-Jaws animal-on-the-loose flicks and it’s basically a shameless rip-off with a different beast, however a surprisingly decent rip-off at that. I don’t know whether the film was already in pre-production when Jaws was released or whether it was dreamt up in a few months after Spielberg’s classic but there’s not a lot of difference between the two films at all. Characters are pretty much the same: Head Ranger/Chief of Police, Naturalist/Scientist, Park Supervisor/Town Mayor. The film follows the same sequence of events with a few kills leading up to pivotal moment where the trio of main characters head off into the woods to hunt the monster. The film even uses Jaws in its many tag lines – “Not since Jaws has the terror been like this!” and so forth. Talk about cashing in!

Like I said, Grizzly is surprisingly decent. It’s not on for as long as Jaws but it certainly makes up for it with a constantly quick pace. There’s never too long to wait between kills and the bear does get well fed. It is the main focus of the film here too, as the characters aren’t given as much development as I’d have liked. The threat of the bear is always lurking so even when it’s not on screen, you know you’re moments away from another mauling.

Speaking of which, the film is pretty bloody! The bear does get quite dirty with its kills and, in the best moment of the film, isn’t fussed about lopping a horse’s head off with one swing of its huge paws. Like the shark in Jaws, the bear here isn’t picky about its next meal and again, I like it. Too often do these films feed the monsters pointless or clichéd characters like the dumb blondes, the slimy businessmen, the jocks, etc and leave the decent folk unscathed. Not here I’m afraid! The bear mauls several minor characters as well as a family with a small boy and his mother. When it comes down to the main characters in the final third, all bets are off because not all of them are going to make it out alive. I like a bit of unpredictability in this type of film and Grizzly certainly delivers in the kill section.

Christopher George is no Roy Schieder but he does pretty well in the lead role. You can see the gradual strain of the mounting kills telling on his character throughout the film, eventually leading to an outburst of insubordination to his boss. Richard Jaeckel combines the Robert Shaw/Richard Dreyfuss roles into one here with his naturalist knowing the every move of the bear but his character being an eccentric who wants to do things his way. The performances from both men are pretty good – look at the terror in Jaeckel’s face when he’s finally confronted with the bear and realises that his plan was doomed to fail from the start.

Ah yes, the bear. No models or stuffed animals here. The bear is just a normal grizzly bear which doesn’t look anywhere near as big as it’s supposed to but even then, I wouldn’t want to greet that in the dark woods. There are plenty of POV shots of the bear stalking its victims which do give it the impression of its enormity. Not only content with killing people, the bear smashes up log cabins and pulls down spotter towers.

 

Although it lacks the heart and character of Jaws, Grizzly is one of the better rip-offs out there and certainly holds it’s own in the action stakes. For a mindless, painless and entertaining ninety-one minutes of bear-hugging, cabin-smashing, deer-dragging action, Grizzly delivers.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Grizzly Rage (2007)

Grizzly Rage (2007)

Ripped apart at the screams!

A group of teenager friends are out celebrating their graduation with a car trip through the woods. But they break into a restricted area and accidentally run down a young bear cub. Soon the friends find themselves running for their lives from the gigantic mother grizzly who comes looking for her cub.

 

Let’s forget the notion that animals take revenge on humans when one of their offspring or family is killed. We’ve seen it before in many films (Roy Scheider even asks a scientist that question in Jaws 2) and it’s an implausible but necessary plot device. So just go with the flow. I’m not a huge fan of killer bears. To me, they don’t have the same menace as a shark or tiger. Don’t get me wrong, they’re just as deadly and I wouldn’t want to face one in the woods somewhere. But they’ve always been portrayed in a more positive light in the media. When someone says bear, I think of a teddy bear, a Care Bear or even Gentle Ben – not a huge killer grizzly. Grizzly Rage does little to change my opinion.

With only a handful of characters, a handful of outdoor locations and only so many things that can happen between four teenagers, a car, the woods and a killer bear, Grizzly Rage is slow going which is ironic since the film gets going quickly. The bear cub is run over early on, the mother bear makes her oath of revenge and the situation goes pear-shaped for the teenagers. Maybe it was done too soon because the characters have little chance to develop and the rest of the film involves the same few characters trying to escape from the bear. The script is worthless. Characters survive all sorts of mishaps including getting their car flipped over by the grizzly and getting caught in bear traps. They obviously come out of the situations in the greatest of health, with perfect smiles, perfect hair, etc.

Not only are they super human and near invincible, they’re also super daft. These characters are just mindless idiots without a shred of common sense or a brain between them. They make some ridiculous decisions – in order to get help, one character sets off on a long walk through the woods wearing only flip-flops and in the knowledge that a giant bear wants to kill him. Catching salmon in a river was never as easy a meal for the bear than this dumb teenager. These dumb decisions mean that you end up rooting for the bear to kill them all. After all, she does have a valid excuse for wanting them all dead – they killed her cub. To be fair, I was rooting for the bear from the beginning but seeing these jackasses mow down that cute little cub just made me more bloodthirsty. The small cast also means that the body count is low and we’re going to be stuck with some of these annoying characters for a long time simply because there’s no one else to kill off!

The bear is the best actor in the entire film. It’s varying talents range from frenzied range to sombre sadness. Maybe it’s because it was acting in an entirely different film (or documentary) and the makers of this one just culled some stock footage. A stage hand wearing a pair of ridiculous over-sized fake bear hands is ready for the close-ups during attack scenes. The editing between shots of the bear and shot of the head is pretty bad and it happens way too often which means it draws attention to itself and the fact it looks rubbish. I guess its common sense not to actually film a real killer bear interacting with the cast, no matter how tame or trained the bear may be. So the director does as good a job as possible in trying to make it realistic.

But this is David DeCoteau we’re talking about, a man who has made such awesome films as Final Scream, Legend of the Mummy and Retro Puppet Master. So you know there’s going to be some weird slant to the whole thing and low and behold it does. What was a reasonably realistic story about a killer bear wanting revenge for her cub’s death is suddenly turned on its head when we are told that there is a toxic dump nearby and the bear must have been mutated! Woah! Not just a gigantic killer grizzly bear but one that has been feeding off toxic waste for years. No wonder it can send people soaring through the air with one swipe of its paws. The film also lacks decent blood effects. Bear attacks are accompanied by CGI blood splatters on the screen as opposed to more traditional make-up effects. It’s almost as if the effects were made for an entirely different film but they just nabbed them for this because they thought it looked cool.

 

I’d rather watch The Care Bears Movie than have to sit through Grizzly Rage again. I wonder whether the killer bear knows that documentary footage of her has been used without her permission. Get your royalties whilst you can!

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Bear (2010)

Bear (2010)

Just play dead.

Late for a 30th birthday party, a trip through the country turns into a nightmare for a group of four friends when their mini-van blows a tyre. This attracts the curiosity of a grizzly bear which one of the group quickly kill with a gun. This turns out to be an even worse mistake as the grizzly’s massive eight-foot tall mate arrives, trapping the group in the mini-van.

 

We need another killer bear film like a hole in the head. It’s a sparse sub-genre that began with Grizzly back in 1976. We’ve already had a recent killer bear film in Grizzly Rage from 2007 and it’s not like the plots of the films are vastly different. I guess it shows the limitations to what one can do with the notion of a killer grizzly bear and there’s a reason why there are so few killer bear films (look at the amount of killer shark and killer snake films in the meantime). Bears just aren’t in the same fear factor bracket as the aforementioned creatures because, as I said in my review for Grizzly, they’re usually portrayed as cuddly animals in the media. The Care Bears, Gentle Ben, Rupert the Bear, Paddington Bear, Fozzy Bear, Barney, Sooty, Winnie the Pooh, Superted, Yogi Bear….need I go on? I know they are deadly in real life and I certainly wouldn’t want to cross one in the woods. But come on, we’d rather picture them as furry and cuddly as opposed to something that would crush you and maul you. Bear will not change my perceptions of that in any shape or form.

Apart from not taking a bear as serious as a threat as the film would want you to, the problems with Bear are evident from almost the first scene – that of characters. They are so annoying and spend most of their time arguing with each other. It’s funny how these life-or-death situations cause people to suddenly reveal all sorts of secrets and histories with each other that they’d never disclose. It usually makes the situation worse because instead of pulling together, they turn on each other. Here is no exception as it turns out they’re all sleeping around with someone else and one of them is pregnant. The constant bickering and sniping between the four people means that you’ll quickly forget they’re trapped inside the van with a giant grizzly bear outside. Such is the lack of focus that the bear receives for a good proportion of the running time. These characters talk about their lives, their careers, their loves and anything but the freakin’ grizzly bear outside the car and how to escape.

I don’t know about you but I’d rather be putting together a plan of action rather than worry about how much my mortgage is going to cost. The small cast need to be able to handle themselves in a film like this because they’ll share a bigger proportion of screen time. It’s a shame then that Katie Lowes, Mary Alexander Steifvater, Brendan Michael Coughlin and Patrick Scott Lewis are probably the four worst actors that director John Rebel could have found. Not one of them has an ounce of screen presence. In fact if black holes were actors, then surely these four would be blacker than black (am I allowed to say that?)

The bear is the best actor in display here. It’s pretty ferocious when it’s clawing at the van or growling hard through the window. It keeps plugging away at the van, slowly tearing it piece-by-piece so you know that eventually it’s going to get to the people inside. But the big problem is that you will root for the bear. I mean it hasn’t really done anything wrong. It just wants some good old fashioned revenge for the death of its mate. Given how bitchy and stupid the characters are, you’ll immediately warm to the bear and wish it to succeed in ripping them all apart. Thankfully the bear is also real which adds a degree of authenticity to proceedings. There’s no daft CGI here although I’m sure there was a fake paw and silly stuffed head in some close-up shots. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the bear. It’s just not used enough. As I’ve already said, the characters spend little time in worrying about their current predicament so the bear becomes a secondary threat to the brothers wanting to batter each other for sleeping around.

 

Bear is a total waste of time. Nature runs amok in other films far better than this. It was that abysmal, I spent most of time thinking of really bad puns to end my review. So here we go: I could bear-ly contain my dissatisfaction with the film. It’s un-bear-able at times.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆