Cocaine Bear hits theatre this weekend! And in preparation for what is sure to be a rock-em sock-em gore-ride, we’re taking a look back at some of cinema’s best bear attacks. Join usssss…
There’s a reason why people say you should play dead if you ever encounter a bear in the wild. It’s so you can practice for when you’ll actually be dead within a matter of seconds. They may look cute in pictures, but bears are vicious killing machines in person. Although the creature feature subgenre of horror has historically been dominated by sharks, statistically an encounter with a bear is more likely to be fatal than an encounter with a shark.
Now imagine a 500-pound black bear having ingested several kilos of booger sugar with a taste for human blood, and you have Elizabeth Banks’ thriller Cocaine Bear, inspired by a true story (Banks has also expressed interest in doing a follow-up feature, Cocaine Shark). To help mentally prepare you for the coke-fueled onslaught that opens this week, here are five bear attack movie moments, some achieved with a live trained bear, others generated by CGI, with some bonus bear content added at the bottom of the list. So the next time your friends invite you to go camping, you tell them you can get the full wilderness experience from the comfort of your living room.
Grizzly has a similar premise to Jaws (which was released the year before), except the action takes place in the woods instead of in the water. Park rangers and a group of drunk hunters scramble to stop a giant grizzly bear after it has killed several campers, which isn’t too good for the national park’s business. It was directed by William Girdler (who unfortunately died in a helicopter accident a couple years later after shooting his final movie The Manitou) and starred Christopher George (Pieces) and Andrew Prine (The Lords of Salem). A sequel called Grizzly II: Revenge was filmed in 1983 with George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen in minor roles, though it wasn’t officially released until 2020.
Like Jaws, the grizzly bear isn’t seen for most of the movie. All we get at the beginning are point-of-view shots as it navigates through the forest, and close ups of its paws as it attacks its victims. When the bear is first fully revealed in all its terror, a ranger in a watchtower spots it and tries to shoot at it. But the bear attacks the beams of the tower, causing it to fall to the ground, killing the ranger. The bear is finally taken out in a final showdown when our hero fires a missile launcher at it, blowing it into a million pieces before the credits roll.
Distributed by IFC Midnight, Backcountry is a Canadian flick inspired by a true story about an Ontario couple who got lost in the woods and were attacked by a bear. It’s directed by Adam MacDonald, who later went on to direct Pyewacket and two seasons of the Slasher series.
Genius boyfriend Alex (Jeff Roop, Vampire High) decides he doesn’t need to bring a map on his romantic hiking trip with his girlfriend Jenn (Missy Peregrym, SyFy’s Van Helsing) because he’s convinced he knows the mountain trail like the back of his hand (spoiler: he doesn’t). The couple is soon lost, and to make matters worse, deer carcasses and paw prints indicate a bear is nearby. Alex assures Jenn that they’ll be safe if they stay inside their tent, but they can’t hide from the black bear’s keen sense of smell. The bear tears into the tent like a candy wrapper, bites off a chunk of Alex’s leg, then drags him out to rip him to shreds offscreen, leaving Jenn alone and petrified with fear.
The Revenant (2015)
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Based on the real-life story of a frontier huntsman who against all odds survived a brutal bear attack in the 1820s, The Revenant was the follow-up feature for director Alejandro G. Iñárritu after his Oscar-winning triumph Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The film won Iñárritu another Academy Award for best director, and its lead man Leonardo DiCaprio was awarded best actor, well deserved after the amount of punishment he endured on screen.
The most common reason for a female bear to attack is to protect her young, and Leo’s character Hugh Glass finds that out the hard way when he comes across two bear cubs wandering in the forest. Before Hugh has time to react, the mama bear mows him down from behind, mauling and scratching him. Hugh lies still on the forest floor until the mother goes off to check on her offspring. He crawls over to his old-timey musket and squeezes a shot at the bear’s head, but that just makes her angry all over again, so she resumes throwing Hugh’s body around like a ragdoll. With his last bit of strength, Hugh reaches for his hunting knife and stabs the bear several times in the neck, causing her to collapse directly on top of him. All of this is captured in one long agonizing shot, a staple of Iñárritu’s films.
Into the Grizzly Maze (2015)
How many bear attack movies do you need in one year? Apparently one ain’t enough! Into the Grizzly Maze is centered around yet another bloodthirsty grizzly loose in an Alaskan national park. Park ranger Beckett Moore (Thomas Jane, Deep Blue Sea) wanders into the forest along with his ex-convict brother Rowan (James Marsden, X-Men) to put an end to the carnage. Billy Bob Thornton plays a professional tracker who is also in pursuit of the bear. The movie was directed by David Hackl (Saw V) and was released directly to VOD.
The film has some of the better kills than those I’ve mentioned above. In one sequence, the bear is about to ravage our heroes when Billy Bob Thornton emerges from the trees with half his face missing– having previously been thought to be dead– firing at the grizzly with his rifle. As the bear charges at him, his gun jams at the last minute, and he soon becomes the bear’s next meal. Probably the best kill though is when Sheriff Sully (Scott Glenn, The Silence of the Lambs) has his skull crushed between the bear’s teeth with an audible crunch– a satisfying death after it’s revealed he made backdoor deals with poachers, allowing them to kill a dozen bear cubs for extra cash.
Preyis the fifth installment in the Predator franchise, though it’s set up as a prequel that predates the first four by a couple hundred years. Set in the Northern Great Plains in 1719, we are introduced to Naru (Amber Midthunder, FX’s Legion) of the indigenous Comanche tribe as she encounters the alien Predator, who has touched down on Earth to hunt the most dangerous game. The film was written by Patrick Aison and was directed by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane). It was released as a Hulu original film to critical acclaim, revitalizing interest in the franchise after its abysmal fourth entry The Predator.
Naru is trying to convince the rest of her tribe that she is worthy of being a hunter instead of a healer. She sets her sights on a brown bear chowing down on a dead deer near the creak. But as she’s lining up her shot, the string on her bow snaps, attracting the attention of the bear, who starts charging in her direction. Her only option is to swim into a nearby beaver lodge for safety. The bear tears at the pile of sticks and gets very close to taking a bite out of Naru, until it’s distracted by the shimmering cloak device of the Predator. Naru watches as the invisible figure wrestles with the beast, delivering a fatal blow to the bear’s head. It then picks up the bear’s corpse over its head and victoriously showers in its blood, revealing the Predator’s true form to Naru before she swims away.
BONUS: REAL LIFE BEAR ATTACK
Grizzly Man (2005)
Grizzly Man is a documentary by Werner Herzog about the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, a bear enthusiast who had been observing grizzlies in an Alaskan national park for 13 summers in a row. During this time, Treadwell camped in the woods and filmed the bears, sometimes getting close enough to touch them. On his last trip up to Alaska, Treadwell– along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard– decided to stay longer than usual, when most of the bears had gone into hibernation, following one male bear as it searched for food, which at that time of year had become scarce. It was only a matter of time before the bear went after Treadwell and Huguenard. The documentary serves as a reminder that bears– as well as most wild animals– can be unpredictable, and even a self-proclaimed expert like Treadwell isn’t safe from their attacks.
The footage of Treadwell’s final days is recovered from the scene by park rangers. Although the video camera’s lens cap was left on during the bear attack, the audio still remains. In one scene, Herzog listens to the audio of the attack on headphones. Visibly disturbed by what he has heard, he suggests the tapes should be destroyed so no one else can hear it. Although we never see or hear the attack, we get enough gory details from the coroner who performed the autopsy on the two victims. Herzog does admit that Treadwell captured some breathtaking shots during his trips, one of which shows a bloody fight between two male bears.
DOUBLE BONUS: BEARS NOT OF THIS WORLD
Continuing down the path of sci-fi, we’re now exploring mutant and alien bears in horror. Our first terrifying monster appears in Annihilation, written and directed by Alex Garland (Men) based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer. Natalie Portman plays a biologist who leads an expedition team of four other women into a mysterious bubble surrounding the area of a meteor landing, referred to as the “Shimmer.”
Inside the Shimmer, nature has evolved at a rapid pace, taking on strange new forms. One such mutant is a giant bear, whose skin has been stripped away its face, exposing its skull, with what appears to be a human skull growing out of the side of its head. When one of the group’s members Cass (Tuva Novotny, Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom) is killed by the bear, it learns how to mimic Cass’s dying screams, which it uses as a lure for its prey, since it’s completely blind. Later on, Anya (Gina Rodriguez, Deepwater Horizon) reacts to the scream and is brutally attacked by the bear, ripping off her lower jaw.
Slash/Back is set in the small arctic hamlet of Pangnirtung, Nunavut. An alien has landed within the arctic circle and is assimilating every animal and human it comes into contact with. It’s up to four Inuit teenage girls (all of whom had no previous acting experience) to stop the alien invasion. This science-fiction coming-of-age tale is the debut directorial feature for Nyla Innuksuk, who wrote the script along with Ryan Cavan (Sinister Switch).
The alien functions similarly to The Thing (to pay tribute to their inspiration, one of the girls even describes the defibrillator scene from John Carpenter’s masterpiece at the beginning). However, the alien hasn’t figured out how to be a perfect imitation and wears its victims’ skin like an ill-fitted suit; from afar, it appears normal, but as it gets closer, the more unworldly it looks.
When our four heroines go off on a hunting trip, they spot a polar bear from a distance and shoot it with their parent’s rifle. But soon the bear is back up again and charges at a young girl who had followed the teenagers, wanting to join in the fun. Up close, the bear moves unnaturally with jerking motions. In a panic, they shoot the bear again, splattering the small girl in black blood. As they carry her away from the scene to get help, a tentacle pops out of the bear’s eye as it comes back to life.
Which brutal bear attacks scared you from ever going camping in the woods? Do you think Cocain Bear will be as bloody and as gory as the trailer promises? Share your thoughts with us over on Twitter or in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord! Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.