Into the Grizzly Maze (2015)

Summer can be a bear.

Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, “Jaws” continues to terrify audiences and inspire knock-offs in the theater (see “Jurassic World”) and on the Syfy Channel (see “Sharktopus VS Whalewolf”). The classic Man VS Nature story is one we can all relate to and watch over and over again in endless variations of the age old theme.

One of my favorite “Jaws” knock-offs has a Louisville connection. The 1976 exploitation/Drive-In thriller, “Grizzly,” was directed by Louisville filmmaker, William Girdler, who delivered a number of B-movies like “Asylum of Satan” (1972) and “Three on a Meathook” (1973) to the southern Drive-In movie circuit. Ultimately graduating to bigger budget horror films like “Day of the Animals” (1977) and “The Manitou” (1978), Girdler scored a huge box-office hit with “Grizzly” before his untimely death and burial in Cave Hill Cemetery.

I caught a late night broadcast of “Grizzly” on local television in the late 1970’s and I’ve had a serious bear phobia ever since. I am absolutely terrified of grizzly bears. There are only a small handful of good shark movies and an even smaller fistful of good bear movies. “The Edge” (1997) and John Frankenheimer’sProphecy” (1979) are among my favorites. When I stumbled onto the trailer for “Into the Grizzly Maze,” (available now On Demand with a DVD release scheduled for August 4) with its cast of A-list actors and good production values, my curiosity got the best of me.

I’m not sure how the producers of “Into the Grizzly Maze” lured the laundry list of onscreen talent seen here to appear in a killer bear movie, but the cast includes Thomas Jane (“The Mist,” “The Punisher”), James Marsden (“The X-Men”), Billy Bob Thornton (“Sling Blade”), Scott Glenn (“The Silence of the Lambs”) and Piper Perabo (“Looper”). All of these Hollywood thespians suffer the indignity of being upstaged by a massive grizzly bear named Bart who chews the scenery and the supporting cast with bloody relish.

Jane and Marsden play two estranged brothers reunited in their Alaskan childhood stomping grounds when Marsden gets out of prison after serving a number of years for manslaughter. The former convict decides to come home to search for a friend who is missing in a dense patch of wilderness known as “the grizzly maze.”

When a series of illegal killings of protected grizzlies by sleaze-ball poachers causes a rogue male grizzly to go on a bloody rampage, Sheriff Jane must reluctantly recruit his sketchy brother to help him locate and rescue his deaf conservationist wife (Perabo) before she becomes killer bear food.

Chief of Police, Scott Glenn, who may be on the take and partially guilty for the whole bloody situation hires gruff bear hunter, Billy Bob Thornton, to kill the bear before things get worse. Jane, a reborn conservationist who wants to capture the bear, clashes with Thornton who thinks the only good bear is a dead bear and who spouts off all kinds of ridiculous theories about this particular bear’s intelligence and motives.

This bear isn’t territorial or hungry. He’s pissed off.”

Running a sparse 89 minutes, “Into the Grizzly Maze” shows all the signs of being hacked by studio weed trimmers who likely cut the fat and their losses to deliver a faster paced action/horror product to sell to foreign markets where their A-list cast might have some marquee value. The pacing feels odd and subplots are either rushed or dropped all together. The location cinematography, however, is stunning and evocative.

I wish I could say the same for the rest of the movie, but “Into the Grizzly Maze” kind of mauls itself into the corpse of a better movie. I will give the movie credit for not skimping on the blood during several gory bear attacks, and for delivering a genuinely scary and exciting final 10 minutes that, minus a couple of sketchy CGI effects shots, gives the audience the bear-on-human action they’ve been waiting to see.

There is one shockingly gruesome death in particular involving one of the A-list cast members (I’m not saying which one!) whose head gets crushed in the bear’s vice-like jaws that will probably give me nightmares for years to come. One squishy ripe melon effect aside, there aren’t enough other highlights in the remaining 79 minutes for me to recommend anyone sitting through the entire movie to see.

“Into the Grizzly Maze” was directed by “Saw” series production designer and “Saw V” (2008) director, David Hackl.

The Phantom of The Ville

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