We’re often told to be proud of our roots, but I’m not sure that George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, and Laura Dern feel the same way about Grizzly II. Either way, the world is finally getting to see this film… four decades later!
A sequel to 1976’s Grizzly – a low-budget B-movie ripoff of Jaws about a killer giant grizzly bear that was an unexpected box office success – Grizzly II boasts a production story that’s worthy of a movie itself. The Ringer has a very lengthy but incredibly entertaining write-up on the entire affair, put together from conflicting reports, rumours, and conversations with the few people involved in the movie that are still alive today.
Prompted by Edward Montoro, the infamously sketchy distributor of the first film, Grizzly co-screenwriter David Sheldon and his wife penned a screenplay for a follow-up about “a mama bear who, after the death of her cub, seeks revenge by feeding off tourists, rangers, and poachers, before finally making her way to a gargantuan pop concert.” The idea was they double down on success by selling a soundtrack album as well. It was a good pitch.
Suzanne Nagy, an aspiring Hungarian-born producer living in America, secured a perfect shooting location in her home country. Sheldon would make his directing debut, but would be assisted by some seriously high profile talent assembled by Nagy, including the cinematographer for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The three fake bears that would bring to life the giant grizzly was designed by an Emmy-nominated effects artist who had worked on Star Wars and the like. Several real bands, headlined by popular Scottish rock band Nazareth, had been tapped to play in the movie’s concert, drawing a crowd of eager extras 50 000 strong.
In front of the camera, Raiders of the Lost Ark star John Rhys-Davies would star as the film’s obsessed bear hunter, and Oscar-winning actress Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) would play a scheming local bureaucrat who ignored the danger in favour of staging a big local concert. And for the young victims of the bear attacks, Sheldon and Nagy decided to get some generational star power (“I thought that could help the box office,” said Sheldon) who also looked good on camera.
George Clooney and Charlie Sheen were complete nobody actors trying to find their first break back then, but they had very famous parents. For Clooney, it was his TV broadcaster dad Nick Clooney and his singer and actor aunt Rosemary Clooney. Sheen – who actually had no intention to be an actor until he blew a baseball scholarship – was the son of acting legend Martin Sheen. Then there was Laura Dern, who had been in showbiz since a child, actually acting alongside her parents Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.
The trio was signed up quickly – this would be Clooney and Sheen’s feature film debut, while the first gig for Dern after she legally emancipated from her parents at age 16. The roles were minor, but for the ambitious young actors, it would be a chance at some much-needed exposure. Things looked relatively good overall for the film… and then stuff fell apart in ridiculous ways.
The full story of Grizzly II’s nightmarish production is too long and weird to recap here, but here are some highlights:
- Sheldon, who was supposed to direct, was replaced last minute by a commercial director and only found out when everybody got flown to Hungary and he was left behind.
- The new director, André Szöts, was completely out of his depth and didn’t make matters easier by not wanting to film the written script.
- Not one, but two different producers stole all the film’s money and disappeared, resulting in new financing needing to be secured
- The second bout of refinancing came from a mysterious American surgeon who happened to be visiting the set and whose identity has never been revealed.
- Local crew refused to allow the Hollywood team who designed the film’s animatronic bears to operate them, resulting in numerous breakages and mishaps, and almost no usable footage of the actual killer bear.
- The plan was to shoot additional footage later, but local Hungarian cast, crew, and various businesses had not been paid resulting in the government seizing the animatronic bears… which then got destroyed in a warehouse fire.
- Nagy and Szöts fought over the remaining cut of the film for years, resulting in a production stalemate.
- What they eventually produced was considered a disaster by everybody they showed it to with nobody willing to distribute it.
There’s a whole lot more madness to be found in The Ringer‘s write-up, but the important thing is that Nagy never forgot about the film. Grizzly II had become a national embarrassment in her home country, and as the years went by and her career continued, she regarded it as a huge regret. Before his death in 2006, Szöts would remind her of the unfinished work that was supposed to have been released in 1983. And in 2017, while penning a memoir, she decided to finally finish this film once and for all. And thus Grizzly II: Revenge came to be. At long last.
With the help of numerous filmmakers and books about modern filmmaking techniques, Nagy trimmed the cut down to just 75 minutes, the film has also been re-edited to give more prominence to Clooney, Sheen, and Dern. As for the missing bear attack scenes that were never shot – which would be rather obvious in a movie about bear attacks – stock footage of bears was licensed on top of shots of bears captured at zoos. The long, looooong delayed sequel is now finally being released after Nagy screened a cut at a film festival and signed a deal with distributor Gravitas Ventures. And you can check out the trailer below.
Don’t worry, it’s every bit as terrible as you would have hoped.
Last Updated: September 9, 2020