Of the many things we've learned from television pundit Stephen Colbert, one of the most important is the danger of bears. On Colbert's online resource Wikiality, the Truthiness Encyclopedia, the entry on bears tells us that "Bears' strong vitality and resilience makes them one of mother nature's nearly unkillable animals. A bear has never been downed by any less than five gunshots. Combinations of high explosives, assault weapons, and trebuchets have been known to only piss the bear off."
But, you may ask, do they count as villains? Aren't scary bears in movies merely monsters, without the intellectual capacity to plot and scheme? I say bears are definitely villains, and as proof I offer three movies that feature relentless bears with more on their minds than just eating berries and looking for places to poop in the woods. Bears with purpose, with vicious intent. Bears who are, again in Mr. Colbert's words, "Godless killing machines."
The posters promised "18 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror!" (alternately, some ads also promoted "18 feet of towering fury") and indeed, Grizzly featured one large, nasty ursine villain. Sure, the whole movie was a cheesy rip-off of Jaws, which had been a phenomenal mega-blockbuster the previous year. But as cheesy rip-offs go, Grizzly is one of the best. The flick features a laundry list of 1970's B-listers like Christopher George, Richard Jaeckel and Andrew Prine, but the true star is the grizzly bear, chomping and mauling his way through a buffet of idiot campers at a state park.During the course of the film, hikers are torn asunder, cabins are smashed to bits, and the occasional deer gets dragged off to serve as a snack.
Should you decide to give Grizzly a view, the DVD release commemorating the movie's 30th anniversary offers a very good featurette called "Jaws with Claws" on the making of the film, plus a fun behind-the-scenes promo from the time of the movie's release, all about the bear. His name was Teddy. Seriously. As if naming him that will fool anyone into believing that he's not one of Satan's children.
The Edge (1997)
Written by David Mamet, The Edge is a film about men being tested, confronting challenges both emotional and physical, all the while spouting Mamet-ian dialogue that's surprisingly light on the F-word. And the biggest challenge in the picture involves the men battling a big-ass, evil bear with a grudge.
The men being tested are Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins), a surprisingly timid man considering that he's a billionaire, and cocky, self-aware fashion photographer Robert Green (Alec Baldwin), who may or may not be having an affair with Charles' young model wife. Stranded after a plane crash, they watch as a terrifying Kodiak -- played with suspicious assurance by 9'6", 1,500-pound Hollywood veteran Bart the Bear -- kills the third member of their party. With a hunting knife and a lot of mutual class resentment, the two men eat squirrels, make a compass out of a leaf, and deal with the fact that the Kodiak's decided that the first guy was just an appetizer.
In a just world, Bart would have received third billing in The Edge. With credits that include Clan of the Cave Bear, Grizzly Adams and On Deadly Ground, Bart was the top animal actor of his time. Hopkins, who also worked with Bart on Legends of the Fall, reportedly called him "the John Wayne of bears." His performance in The Edge is so riveting, one has to wonder of it was based on his real-life experiences eating people. Because, you know, he's a damn bear.
Not to be confused with The Prophecy, which features Christopher Walken as a pissed-off angel Gabriel, the 1979 John Frankenheimer schlockfest Prophecy features instead a pissed off, genetically mutated bear. Yes, it was directed by the same man who brought us The Manchurian Candidate and Year of the Gun, which only proves that in lean times, a man goes wherever the work is. Think of Prophecy as Frankenheimer's first step toward directing Val Kilmer in The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Ben Affleck in Reindeer Games.
Penned by David Seltzer, whose novel The Omen opened the door to his largely mediocre screenwriting career, Prophecy is a valiant attempt by Hollywood to dramatize the effects of environmental pollution that ends up just being a dumb horror flick about a wrongside-out bear. But what a wrongside-out bear! The mercury that's been dumped into a lake by a logging company has mutated our furry villain into something slimy, massive, pink and altogether grotesque. The local Indian tribe (led by hilariously non-Native American actor Armand Assante) believe the thing to be a vengeful spirit-animal. But scientist Robert Foxworth figures out the truth ... only to be hunted down by the hideous bear-creature for his efforts. Rawr!
If nothing else, Prophecy teaches us this valuable lesson: Mummy bags, when combined with bears, are death traps: