Based on the title alone, "Cocaine Bear" could be my most anticipated movie of 2023. The upcoming horror comedy is directed by Elizabeth Banks (another box checked) and, for such a hilarious premise, the cast is absolutely stellar. Having the late Ray Liotta involved, in addition to Keri Russell ("The Americans"), Alden Ehrenreich ("Solo: A Star Wars Story"), Margo Martindale ("The Watcher"), Kristopher Hivju ("Game of Thrones"), and O'Shea Jackson Jr. ("Obi-Wan Kenobi"), should be a clue that "Cocaine Bear" might be a hidden character piece, too. Obviously, with a title like that, there are certain expectations at play. The movie needs to have a lot of white powder, a lot of roaring, and a healthy dollop of blood and violence. It's unclear how many victims will perish at the paws of said cocaine bear, but rest assured, the kill count should be remarkably high.
If your interest isn't already piqued, at a recent press conference premiering new footage and the trailer for the film attended by /Film's Valerie Ettenhofer, Banks revealed that she took inspiration from the splatstick of Sam Raimi, the coming-of-age classic "Stand By Me," and Steven Spielberg's two creature features, "Jaws" and "Jurassic Park." Banks didn't want to just make a monster movie, saying that the characters make "Cocaine Bear" feel unique:
"The reason I made it was not necessarily because of the crazy bear. I do love these movies and I love horror and I love gore. And I love horror comedy. I love Sam Raimi and I love John Carpenter … This takes place in 1985, so it's a real opportunity to create an homage to some of those kinds of films, but also to do something really unique tonally because it's also a character piece."
'I Love Putting Kids Into Adult Situations'
To get the tone right with such an over-the-top premise, Banks wanted to ground the idea behind "Cocaine Bear" in some sort of reality. She looked to another film that follows a group of kids in the woods as a touchstone. "The movie that we watched sort of as a group before we started filming was 'Stand By Me,' which is also about walking through the woods and seeing something crazy and it has kids in it." The actor-turned-director apparently delights in placing children in harm's way, saying:
"I love putting kids into adult situations. I find that really fun. And 'Stand By Me' was a movie that had all that sense of horror and adventure in the woods. We're skipping school, we're doing something we're not supposed to. It's a much bigger adventure than what you think it's going to be. I think that was a big part of it."
Featuring a killer bear rampaging on hardcore narcotics could be fairly ridiculous if it's not handled right. Banks looked at "Jaws" and "Jurassic Park" as examples of unveiling the "monster" in a subtle way. Presenting something that seems wondrous at first and turning it into something scary is a delicate balance that Banks wanted to try and achieve. She continued:
"The other thing about bears that's different from sharks is that when you see a bear in the wild, sort of, across the field or whatever, you don't immediately need to run away. You think, 'Oh, they're cuddly, and they're cute.' I thought 'Jaws' did such an amazing job of taking that sense of wonder and awe that you have at seeing something and then turning it into horror when you realize it could be you. That was a feeling I wanted to get out of the audience."
The True Story Of The Cocaine Bear
When asked about how successfully "Cocaine Bear" manages to skirt the line between comedy and horror, Banks quipped, "Hopefully as well as Sam Raimi" without missing a beat. The fact that the far-fetched story is actually based on a true event should also help make every outlandish death seem a little more believable. In September of 1985, police found the body of Andrew Carter Thornton II in a driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee (according to an investigative article in Backpacker). A former paratrooper and lawyer, Thornton had turned to drug smuggling, flying back-and-forth from Columbia to the U.S. in his own Cessna 404 plane. His accidental death came when his parachute failed to open after he jumped out of the plane after setting it on auto-pilot. Thornton was found heavily armed, wearing a bulletproof vest, strapped with thousands of dollars in cash and about 77 pounds of cocaine in a duffel bag.
In a bizarre twist about two months later, a random hunter came across the carcass of a 175-pound black bear in the woods of Georgia. Another duffel bag of coke was found near the poor bear that had apparently overdosed after sniffing too much of the illegal blow. Then, a morbid medical examiner decided to take the bear, affectionately referred to as "Pablo Escobear," to a taxidermist to have it stuffed. The bear eventually wound up in a pawn shop where country singing legend Waylon Jennings ended up purchasing it. Today, Cocaine Bear's final resting place is the Kentucky Fun Mall, of all places.
Truth is surely stranger than fiction, and it seems unlikely that the new "Cocaine Bear" film will touch on the actual true story. Maybe Waylon Jennings could make an appearance, though?
Find out when "Cocaine Bear" hits theaters on February 24, 2023.
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The post Yes, Elizabeth Banks Used Cocaine Bear to Pay Homage to Sam Raimi (and Also Stand By Me, Jaws, and Jurassic Park) appeared first on /Film.