Cocaine Bear: Not your average slasher movie

By Stephen Aspeling25 October 2023

Cocaine Bear: Not your average slasher movie

When you hear the title Cocaine Bear, it’s difficult not to conjure up images of an American black bear looking more like a polar bear. As cute or funny as this visual may be, there’s a much more sinister edge to this horror comedy thriller. While the Winnie the Pooh: Cocaine Bear novella would suggest a possible middle road, this story takes place a blood-soaked country mile from the Hundred Acre Wood. In truth, it’s got one up on Snakes on a Plane because it’s based on a true story … the stuff of legend. 

In 1985, a corrupt narcotics cop, lawyer and part-time drug smuggler discovered his parachute’s limitations when he exited an overladen plane with 80 pounds of cocaine strapped to his body. The daredevil dropped packages of cocaine over the Georgia national forest before colliding with a driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee. While Johnny Knoxville may have taken inspiration from this wildly tragic and unintentionally hilarious event to fuel what would become Jackass, the real-life tragedy resulted in the adventures of Pablo Eskobear. 

Cocaine Bear is on Showmax

The now legendary bear was discovered next to 40 open containers of cocaine, having ingested several kilograms and overdosed. Stuffed and displayed at a mall in Kentucky, the story of Pablo Eskobear eventually inspired a documentary and the killer b-movie by producer and director Elizabeth Banks. “Killer” because the film has taken a few liberties, opting to undo decades of Yogi and Boo Boo brainwashing to convince us that our immediate reaction to seeing a bear is to run, fight or die, horribly. 

Films like Beast and The Revenant would make you think you’d have a good chance of survival after being mauled by a lion or bear but it’s best not to test this misguided Hollywood theory. Cocaine Bear keeps its star within the realm of reality, opting for a life-size American black bear. While bigger than its real-life inspiration, the visual effects hold up, refusing to cave into the guilty pleasure of a colossal mega bear. As fun as it would’ve been to have a Jaws-size bear tearing up the community of goofballs, the film-makers keep one paw on the ground. 

Described by one pundit as aspiring to be a Grizzly Man-Scarface hybrid, Cocaine Bear has drugs, gore and violence but leans more heavily in the direction of Snakes on a Plane. Being the big drawcard on the poster, it’s clear that Cocaine Bear is numero uno on this show. While his marauding runs, growing addiction and penchant for blood-letting take centre stage, the supporting cast is pretty stellar for a b-movie. While no one’s clamouring for Oscar recognition in this woodland fiasco, it doesn’t hurt to have the likes of Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ray Liotta dodging bear claws. 

Cocaine Bear is on Showmax

Straight Outta Compton star O’Shead Jackson Jr may not be in the same league as Samuel L Jackson yet, but has enough pluck and promise to build on Ice Cube’s legacy and make it his own. Keri Russell is always a welcome presence, whose association with Elizabeth Banks recalls her role as Melody in Scrubs. Then in a similar bent, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Margo Martindale’s teamwork echoes Banks’s role as Sal opposite Mitch and Cam in Modern Family. It’s a wonderful surprise to see standup comedian Scott Seiss in a big cameo. Better known as that disgruntled IKEA employee, his hilarious rants speak to the edgy brand of horror comedy at play.  

Ray Liotta may not have wanted Cocaine Bear to be his swansong but in many ways his casting and type of crazy funny-serious underscores the movie. Having passed shortly after doing his final bit of voice work, the cult horror comedy thriller will endure in his memory. Speaking of tone, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) originally wanted Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett to take Cocaine Bear to screen. Testament to the wink-wink horror comedy at play, the Wes Craven devotees handed the reins to Banks when they were attached to the Scream reboot instead. 

This b-movie is a wildly entertaining spectacle that truly captures the nutty spirit of the true story it’s based on. The over-the-top performances flirt with danger, remaining real enough to ground the action and silly enough to entertain – even when they’re being shredded limb from limb. Scrambling to get the duffel bag of drugs, there’s a sense of urgency as the coked-up apex predator arrives to stir scenes up. Cocaine Bear may not be the first movie you think of when it comes to Halloween but makes a splash as an eco-friendly slasher with its violent drug-fuelled rampage.