Horror & Comedy: Why Cocaine Bear Works

How a simple, ridiculous story can be spun into a nightmare


Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear is the actress-turned-director’s first foray into horror-comedy, a mainstay genre that has recently been gaining traction through the introduction of movies such as M3gan that tow a fine line between terror and hilarity, where the viewer can very much empathize with the antagonist despite their appalling actions.

“It’s so out there and bizarre,” says Keri Russell, who stars in Cocaine Bear alongside O’Shea Jackson Jr. and the late Ray Liotta. “And the real story is out of control.”

The real story, is indeed, hard to believe.

Slated to release on the 24th of February, Cocaine Bear is loosely based on a true story. In 1985, a black bear ingested roughly 80 pounds of cocaine that was discarded by the American narcotics officer Andrew C. Thornton II. Though the real life “Cocaine Bear” died shortly after digging in, the potential for chaos resonates almost thirty years later and it appears Elizabeth Banks’ imagination has run wild.

“This bear is going to f— some people up!” says director Elizabeth Banks in the latest trailer for her horror-comedy.

In the trailer for Cocaine Bear, the viewer is treated to a veritable cast of characters traumatized by the rogue bear, aptly nicknamed Pablo Escobear. An average adult male black bear weighs over six hundred pounds, which would be terrifying if met face-to-face even if he were sober. What bridges the divide between horror and comedy is the anthropomorphization of imagining how a bear would act when hopped up on powerful stimulants — and how impossible it would be for the average human to escape its clutches if the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity were to occur.

In Cocaine Bear, the titular bear replaces a lumbering, knife-wielding serial killer or an evil-incarnate paranormal entity. The world is familiar with animals as antagonists, such as the bear in The Revenant, or the pack of wolves in The Grey. Knowing that the abilities of a sober, run-of-the-mill black bear is enough to cut an individual down if provoked, the viewer is exposed to a ridiculous but anxiety-inducing “what if?”. After all, potentiating the strength and speed of one of man’s natural predators is another theme we’ve seen in movies such as Jaws and Lake Placid.

The real life Cocaine Bear never had the chance to live out his potential as a cold-blooded villain. In a way, Elizabeth Banks’ movie can be considered as both an homage and a revenge story for the beast who lived out his short but inherently meaningful chapter before perishing from a stroke in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. The director gives Pablo Escobear a second life and reimagines him under the guise of success. Though the bear is very unlikely to have an obvious character arc, the continued survival of the creature is a relatable goal that every human watching can empathize with. The sad nature of the real life bear’s fate draws an additional audience, one that remembers and wishes to memorialize the life of Cocaine Bear while enjoying his story through a fictionalized, mostly comedic lens.

Whether the Cocaine Bear is chasing victims up trees or finding them in narrow hallways, each trailer revealed to the public promises a fun ride featuring sweaty palms and riddled nerves.

As Ray Liotta once said in an interview with Newsweek, “[laughing] It’s just kind of nutty,” he said, barely able to contain his laughter. While shaking his head, he said, “But I think it’s going to be really good. Yeah, that’s an odd one — and I play the guy whose coke it is. Imagine that. Just the title! Cocaine Bear! What the fudge?”

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