The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
[Editor’s Note: Since the time this plea was written, Universal announced the release of their own 4K edition of the film. Of course, we’d still like to see it get the full Shout! treatment, but if you want to hop on the Wish List to pre-order the film from our friends at Diabolik, you can do so here.]
Cocaine Bear opened nationwide February 23rd, making a review of the film today a little more than 6 months late. But this is no review. It’s an appeal. Cocaine Bear is ideal for a physical media release in 4K Ultra HD. The UK’s ahead of the curve on this one, recently announcing their release of Elizabeth Banks’ third directorial feature on 4K. Yet, as of this writing, no word of a 4K release here in the states, and that is just unacceptable.
Premiere physical media sanctum Shout! Factory’s subdivision Scream Factory is ideally positioned to get the distribution rights from Universal and add Cocaine Bear to its oeuvre of alien, animal, and creature flicks, which already includes Alligator on 4K. With Chuck Russell’s The Blob getting a seasonal release this fall, Cocaine Bear is a no-brainer. Horror with its premise sold in the title, like Night of the Demons and Pumpkinhead, are already set for 4K releases come October, leaving a gaping cartilage free nostril-sized hole in Scream Factory’s release schedule, and a bear hopped-up on coke is the only thing that can fill it.
Come on, Shout! Give us a limited-edition poster, and an enamel pin set. Better yet, mirror the recent 4K releases of John Carpenter’s They Live and The Fog and include a NECA action figure of the bear or Keri Russell’s sheriff Sari in a set.
Not only does Cocaine Bear meet all criteria to enter the Scream Factory canon, but it does so with flair. Banks leans into the style of 1985, making a contemporary film that’s super entertaining. Instead of making a dire horror film with some laughs, Banks saw the camp in the premise and went full ridiculous, corralling willing actors to play it up. There are scares and thrills, yet the humor and campiness provide a welcome undercurrent of warmth. Successfully mixing aesthetics is not easy, and it pays off delivering a film that will linger in the social conscience.
Cocaine Bear is unquestionably the star of the film, yet stupidity makes a strong showing as a vital supporting player. Yes, people make foolish choices in horror films. Audiences expect to roll their eyes at dumb choices the human fodder make before being sacrificed at the altar of horror and the final girl takes decisive action and slays the monster. Yet, Banks amps up the stupidity of nearly all the supporting players to another level, again giving the film unexpected, and most welcomed, flair.
There is a caliber of movie, often made with a low budget, that hits. These films have staying power not because they’re quirky, but because their quirkiness threads successfully into their story, entertaining an audience, convincing them that the wild pitches thrown are hard and fast strikes. It’s a magic trick. The audience knows they’ve been fooled and love the magician for taking them for a ride. Elizabeth Banks took domestic audiences for that ride, and they loved her for it to the tune of nearly double its estimated budget.
In what feels like an homage to the king of simply titled creature features, Jaws, Cocaine Bear keeps the kills off screen for the first act. Then, in Act 2, at the moment the audience becomes crestfallen, with all hope lost of gruesome, gnarly deaths, the bear tears into people and we’re so happy to see it that we catch ourselves giggling joyfully at the horror. Well done, Banks.
Hidden gems, unexpected joyful cinematic experiences- they warrant specialty releases. Cocaine Bear delivers on all of the above. It’s also the last film Ray Liotta completed before his untimely passing. Liotta’s screen presence was larger than life, and he deserves a similar cinematic send off in Ultra HD. Scream Factory, get it done for this generation of cinephile’s Ol’ Blue Eyes.