‘Grizzly Park’ – The Killer Bear Horror Comedy You’ve Probably Never Seen

So far in the history of “killer bear” cinema, only Grizzly Park opens with an excerpt from The Bible. As “The Children Destroyed by Bears” goes (without getting too deep into other interpretations), a pair of bears mauled many kiddos after they insulted God’s prophet. The absurdity of such a tale would naturally lead to a movie just as, if not more inane. However, who or what exactly is pulling the strings in Tom Skull’s one and only directed feature is not so clear, at first. Is this fuzzy destroyer acting of its own free will, being manipulated by a human, or is there really an omnipotent force meting out bizarre retribution for naughty youths? In a movie as oddball as Grizzly Park, not a single one of those notions would be considered unsuitable.

After setting up a threat not of the bear persuasion — professional animal trainer Jeff “The Bear Man” Watson played escaped killer Butch — Grizzly Park delivers its gorgeous opening sequence. The previously mentioned Bible story provided inspiration for graphic designer Howard Nourmand, whose creative animation gives this movie a touch of class. Of course, that sophistication is short lived once all the ill-fated and loathsome characters show up. And with them comes a twisted sense of humor. As these eight diverse delinquents gather for their mandatory punishment in the story’s namesake, a fictional national park closing for its off-season, it becomes more and more clear that this movie should not be taken seriously. The earliest sign of Grizzly Park’s humorous nature is the conspicuous use of “The Other Day I Met a Bear.” Heard as the teenage fodder report for their court-mandated duty, this jaunty rendition of a classic camp tune indicates the levity in store. 

Members of this Breakfast (for a Bear) Club display their origins and most obvious personality traits upon arrival, and those declarations — be it vocal or visual — are too amusing. These almost satirical depictions include a racist nicknamed Scab (Randy Wayne), whose washboard abs are emblazoned with a “White Power” tattoo, and Lola (Zulay Henao), the Latina caricature destined to become Scab’s taboo love interest. Rounding out this diverse crew of misfits are cunning bimbo Bebe (Emily Baldoni), affluent sex pest Ryan (Kavan Reece), professional gold digger Candy (Julie Skon), relentless buffoon Trickster (Trevor Peterson), scammer of elders Ty (Shedrack Anderson III), and aspiring matricidal maniac KiKi (Jelynn Rodriguez). With a group as repulsive as this, can anyone really blame the bear once things go south during the outdoors trek?

Grizzly park

Pictured: Glenn Morshower as Ranger Bob, Emily Baldoni as Bebe, Kavan Reece as Ryan, Zulay Henao as Lola, Randy Wayne as Scab, Trevor Peterson as Trickster, Shedrack Anderson III as Ty, and Jelynn Rodriguez as KiKi.

The most surprising casting in Grizzly Park is Glenn Morshower, a seasoned actor whose screen résumé includes plenty of genre fare. While it seems like Morshower is above this type of movie, his presence surely helps emphasize the moral contrast at hand. His Ranger Bob character is the straight man to all these clowns and deviants. He keeps Skull’s story grounded as well as gives the audience someone to identify with when Scab and the other miscreants become too cartoonish and repellent. Viewers nod in agreement as Ranger Bob makes a face at these lowlifes and says in response to their shameless admissions of guilt, “I think I’ve heard all about I need to for one night.”

From The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to the more recent X, the clash between young and older people in horror is typically charged and violent. However, Grizzly Park’s own undertaking of this timeless theme is a touch more roundabout. No adult is killing off teens because they directly overstepped or caused offense. And in a few instances, the youths’ transgressions are not even unique to their generation; Scab’s bigotry was passed down to him, and Ryan avoiding a statutory rape charge is only possible because of his family’s influence and money. Nevertheless, being young, immature, and disrespectful toward their elders ultimately damns these characters.

Considering how everything plays out, Grizzly Park is more surreal than its basic concept lets on. Assembling these problematic characters out in the middle of an enchanting forest — cinematographer Matt Cantrell made the Virginian and Tennessean scenery look especially picturesque — to reflect on their past is in the vein of other stories with therapeutic setups. The miscreants are, in a way, trapped in limbo as they are guided deeper and deeper into the woods by Ranger Bob. Morshower’s character, someone acting more like a counselor than a mere guide or proctor, motivates his wards in hopes of their repentance. Had this been a sappy spiritual drama rather than a horror movie, the teens trapped in their own version of purgatory might have reformed and lived longer.

Grizzly Park

Pictured: Zulay Henao as Lola.

It takes more time than expected for the bear to show his furry face. Until then, it appears as if Butch will be the one to slaughter the cast; Jeff Watson’s character trails the others after snuffing out tertiary players along the way. Before anyone panics about a bait-and-switch situation, there is indeed a killer bear in the movie, albeit not a grizzly. Animal actor Brody the Bear, a Kodiak, plays the beast with a taste for young flesh. His entrance comes quite late into the movie, however, the bear carnage is worth the wait. As Ranger Bob goes off in search of missing lambs in his flock, the remaining characters meet their ursine undoer. 

The bear’s anticipated massacre could be viewed as too short and concentrated; in one extended set-piece during the third act, Brody picks off the nasty humans with both accuracy and speed. The bloodthirsty bear, in fact, has limited facetime, but this glorified cameo cuts out any need for the usual chintzy CGI found in movies of this budget and caliber. The most egregious effect is the pair of fake bear arms and paws spotted when someone is yoinked through a shed window. The audience’s imagination also does most of the work when the movie cannot permit any physical contact or shared screen time between the characters and Brody. Pushing past that small gripe, the bear’s final fatality belongs in a hall of fame for zaniest movie kills performed by animals.

As demonstrated by Grizzly Park and other similar movies, bears tend to bring out the weirdness in horror. Gentle Ben caught on a very bad day has been done before (and will undoubtedly be done again and again), so hats off to Tom Skull for doing something a bit different. The outcome is not without its schlocky qualities — here that is considered a positive! — although there could have been even more exploitation. The conclusion comes off as preachy, yes, but was anyone expecting anything less with this bunch of rotten kids? Grizzly Park just made it easier, not to mention more fun to root for the bear.

Horror contemplates in great detail how young people handle inordinate situations and all of life’s unexpected challenges. While the genre forces characters of every age to face their fears, it is especially interested in how youths might fare in life-or-death scenarios.

The column Young Blood is dedicated to horror stories for and about teenagers, as well as other young folks on the brink of terror.

grizzly park

Pictured: Glenn Morshower as Ranger Bob.

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