John Rhys-Davies remembers the 'fantastically mad' making of Grizzly II: Revenge
Thanks to the pandemic we have become accustomed to the release of films being delayed. But Grizzly II: Revenge belongs in a different category of late-to-the-screen movies altogether.
This sequel to 1976's hit animal attack movie Grizzly was directed in Hungary by local director André Szöts way back in 1983. But lack of funds, behind-the-scenes fights, and the disappearance of the 8-foot tall animatronic bear costume, which was supposed to inject proceedings with a furry fear factor meant the movie was never released. Over the years, the film has become a subject of curiosity among film fans thanks to a cast which included three stars-in-the-making — George Clooney, Laura Dern, and Charlie Sheen — as well as Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher and Raiders of the Lost Ark actor John Rhys-Davies, who played a bear-hunter in the movie.
"I thought at the time that the performance was okay," says Rhys-Davies, whose other credits include The Living Daylights and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. "I was a bit miffed when it just vanished!"
Grizzly II: Revenge has now finally been completed thanks to the efforts of Suzanne C. Nagy, one of the driving forces behind the original production, and will be available to watch in select theaters and on demand from Jan. 8.
"Suzanne Nagy did a desperate job to preserve it," says Rhys-Davies. "She put so much time and effort and energy into it. And good for her. This is not going to be the great film of 2021, though the way things are going, it might be up there! But I'll lay money that this becomes one of those silly little cult films that people look at, and laugh and howl and talk about, and look at again. You know, 'Let's have a pizza evening and watch The Grizzlies.'"
Below, Rhys-Davies talks more about his experience on Grizzly II: Revenge and the mystery of the missing mechanical bear.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is it like having this film coming out which you made back in 1983?
JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: [Laughs] When I was just a handsome young boy! Well, I was never just a handsome boy. But when I was just a young lad! I think it's rather fun, really. I have to tell you, I haven't seen it yet. Of course, I was merely one of the strange cogs in the production. It was a fantastically, extraordinary mad production. We had strange people turning up, pretending they were the co-producers. [A woman] announced grandly that she was taking over the art department, to which the head of the art department said "No." And then she announced that she would take over the costume department, to which the costume department said "No." And finally, she settled on a per diem and being an executive producer.
There was a tragic moment. Little André Szöts, the director, lovely lovely man, and this was his first real chance of doing an American, potentially popular movie, which would have changed his career. And he had all sorts of problems. [Laughs] I will not detail some of them but egos might have had a small part to play in it. [Laughs] But he summoned me to his room, and we are in Hungary, and we've got a very small sofa, it's the only thing to sit on other than the bed. So, we're two men sitting on this rather small sofa, trying to keep as much distance between ourselves as we can. And he's pouring his heart out. He's got this problem and that problem. He can't use her because of her condition, he can't use him because he's throwing moodies all the time. Suddenly the phone rings and it is this new producer lady who has just turned up. So, I'm trying not to hear the conversation, but I have to because we're sharing the same sofa. "Andre, we've got a problem." "We have? What sort of problem?" "Well, I've just seen the dailies and we have a problem. I have to talk to you about this, they're very repetitive." He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we thought of all the possible meanings of that, "very repetitive." And we realized she had never seen dailies before. And that was the moment we realized that we were deep in the pit. [Laughs]
I believe the animal threat in the film was supposed to be represented by a giant mechanical bear, which is not really seen in the finished film at all. Did you ever see it in real life?
The big mechanical bear actually didn't work. And when you've got your superstar that won't work, you're sort of getting a little bit desperate. But the idea was, oh, don't worry about that because we can get the mechanical bear sorted. All we need is a bit of a dummy bear for interaction with people. I don't think the animated engineers got enough payment to make sure that they could really keep the thing going. It was one of those wonderful moments in guerrilla filmmaking that you learn more from than you do working on a Bond or on Lord of the Rings or anything like that. [Laughs]
George Clooney, Laura Dern, and Charlie Sheen appear together in one of the film's early sequences. Did you meet any of them on set or was that filmed separately?
There was a nice bunch of kids somewhere. They weren't important for god's sake! I wish I had any memory of these three superstars from the film. I don't, but they've all done rather well, haven't they?
Were you aware of the considerable amount of interest in this film? It's essentially the Holy Grail of animal attack movies.
Well, yes. I've been asked about it several times. You know, there are great students and lovers of film and they love a mystery, don't they?
Did you get paid for appearing in Grizzly II?
Yes, my checks cleared on Grizzly II and I was happy with that. But what was tragic for the Hungarians was, this could have really given more momentum to their innate pulsating nationalism. Hungary produces extraordinary directors and films. In a way, it didn't just betray the working people around the thing, it sort of let Hungary down as well. And that's heart-breaking. But as films go, I enjoyed it!
Watch the trailer for Grizzly II: Revenge, below.