Thursday, 13 August 2015

Into the Grizzly Maze (2014)

The good old-fashioned 1970s-style ecohorror picture makes a more than welcome return with INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE, which is a far better title for this than either RED MACHINE (its German release title) or ENDANGERED (one of its working titles), mainly because it tells you what kind of monster you’ll be getting.

A massive, rampaging grizzly bear is killing people in an Alaskan forest in a variety of horrible ways - tearing out throats, ripping off arms and legs and not caring a jot if its victims are armed with guns or chainsaws. Bad boy hero with a girl’s name  Rowan (James Marsden) arrives in town with the intention of finding the bear and killing it, and hopefully finding his missing friend and native American guide Johnny Cadillac at the same time. Meanwhile his cop brother Beckett (Thomas Jane from THE MIST) isn’t happy to see Rowan back, nor is he happy to have to go into the forest himself to hunt one of the bears he has been involved in an extensive protection programme with. Meanwhile Beckett’s deaf wife Michelle (Piper Perabo) is in the forest as well, doing something eco-friendly but hardly equipped to deal with the weather let alone a rampant evil grizzly.

How do we know the grizzly is evil? And desperate? And perhaps ‘something unnatural’? Because resident expert bear hunter and all-round marvellously eccentric Douglas (Billy Bob Thornton) tells us it is. Soon he’s been recruited by Sheriff Sully (Scott Glenn) to shoot the bear as well, and pretty soon everyone is in the misty depths of the freezing forest, discovering maggot-ridden corpses and fending off bear attacks before the final, supremely entertaining, showdown.

Director David Hackl was production designer on SAW II, III & IV and directed SAW V. Here, in INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE he demonstrates a fine understanding of how the old ecohorrors like ‘Big’ Edward L Montoro’s production GRIZZLY (1977) worked, and actually manages a far better job here than director William Girdler did with that film. He’s more than ably assisted by a fine collection of character actors who help immensely to make everything in between the bear attacks interesting. There’s a reasonable amount of CGI but it’s never intrusive, and the movie never has to resort to using a man in a bear costume for close-ups because the performance they get out of Bart the Bear (playing the villain of the piece - or is he?) is just splendid, and he fully deserves the cast credit he gets at the start.

Well made and well acted, INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is an old-fashioned eco-horror in the very best sense of the word. The preview disc contained no extras. 

Signature Entertainment are releasing David Hackl's INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE on Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 17th August 2015

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