Welcome to Freaky Fridays, your fifteen-foot tall, 1,500 pound, fur-covered guide to the dusty old out-of-print paperbacks of yesteryear. We eat our weight in fresh salmon every day.
Bears are the most employable members of the animal kingdom. Kuma is the bodyguard for Heihachi Mishima. Billy Bob Brockali leads the Rock-afire Explosion Band at Showbiz Pizza (his evil cousin, Freddy Fazbear does the same over at the pizza parlor bearing his name). Fozzie Bear is a professional stand-up comedian for the Muppets. And Smokey is the most famous park ranger of all time. Then there are the questionable bears. The illegal immigrant bears (Paddington), the freeloaders (Yogi), the addicts (Winnie the Pooh), and those stupid lazy polar bears who just sit on their butts and drink Coca-Cola all day long.
Far worse, however, are the thug bears.
These bears grew up in neighborhoods so failed there aren’t even buildings to live in, just trees. There are no supermarkets, the public schools are so bad they’re non-existent, there are no fire or emergency services, very little tax base, and life is cheap. It’s a “survival of the fittest” situation where might makes right and baby bears don’t even learn how to read! The list of stone-cold super-predators that come out of these wildernesses reads like a roll call of the damned. There’s Kesagake, the serial killer bear. The Sloth Bear of Mysore. That bear in the Werner Herzog documentary. Even worse, is an ethics free entertainment industry that glorifies bear crimes in motion pictures like Grizzly (1976) and books like Marian Engel’s perverted Bear. Some of these so-called artists say they’re just telling the truth about the gang-banging lifestyles these bears lead on the streets, and that their movies and books have redeeming social value. Tell that to the bears. They see these depictions as glorifications of their lifestyles and after watching them they’re inspired to go out and commit even more bear crimes! Case in point, Kodiak, a disturbing, ultra-violent book that will leave the reader convinced that the time has come to get tough on bears.
Written in 1978 by Malachy McCoy, freely adopted from the original screenplay by Derek Robbins we’re told on the copyright page (but never made into a movie, thank god), Kodiak starts in Glennallen, Alaska as a bunch of fellows go looking for their buddy, Sam. They all work for an oil company, known only as The Company, that has a big refinery up here and the grizzled old timer, Charlie Ostermeyer, is leading the hunt. Well, they find Sam…torn to pieces. Then word comes in that a prostitute’s head and torso have been found 40 miles away. Making it worse, she’s been mutilated in a “sexual frenzy.” Normally, when I’m reading a book and encounter a foreign (Alaska is basically Canada’s appendix) serial-killing pervert bear on the rampage by page 10 I buy all the copies I can find and set them on fire, but for your sake, I’m going to keep reading. If you have any little ones reading along with you, now’s the time to go let them go watch something more wholesome on the internet, like snuff videos or C-SPAN.
According to Johnny Sianook, the suspect is a Kodiak bear, which he’s seen and describes as being 15 feet tall and weighing 1500 pounds. There are a lot of reasons to discount his so-called eyewitness testimony. First of all, he’s an Athabascan, which is a kind of indigenous Alaskan most notable for being hard to pronounce. Second of all, he’s very old and old people are liars. Third of all, he has six wives and fourteen children, which is completely irresponsible unless you’re Strom Thurmond. But then two young hippies, Robert and Betty Reardon, are snowmobiling into town from their commune when they run into the Kodiak with their snowmobile and it promptly bites off Betty’s breast. So, maybe we all should have listened to Johnny Sianook after all.
Charlie Ostermeyer and his boss, Mr. Sneed, want to kill the bear, which makes sense. But also employed by The Company is a pinko liberal college professor, Oscar Langsdorf, and he wants to capture the bear and that’s just crazy. Even crazier, he’s dating a librarian. Not so crazy, he hires Johnny Sianook to help him hunt the bear alongside Johnny’s half-white son, Dan-Jack.
“There are many mysteries with bears,” Johnny says, which is such a typical Athabascan thing to say. Translated into into normal people talk that means: bear hunting is messed up. Right from the get-go, this bear hunt is a line of dominoes made of stupid getting knocked over by a drunk monkey. Betty Reardon is in a coma and probably going to die, which makes her husband go crazy. He shows up with a gun to demand that Johnny Sianook take him bear-hunting so he can beat the Kodiak to death with his outrage, but wife #6 bashes the screaming hippie over the head with a log and knocks him out. Then Johnny goes off bear-hunting alone without even waiting for his professor friend or a plane.
The Kodiak finds Charlie Ostermeyer’s bear-hunting blind and casually tosses it off a 100 foot cliff, then raids a pumping station along the pipeline just for fun and is helping himself to the human buffet when Mr. Sneed tries to ram him to death with a bus, misses, hits the pipeline, and unleashes a 50,000 gallon of crude oil flood that drowns any survivors. The Kodiak heads into town and starts sidling up to bars, setting fires, getting drunk, and not once does someone ask for his ID. The mayhem escalates until a bleak final shitshow of a showdown that involves near-decapitation by plane propeller, a pilot accidentally knocked unconscious at the worst possible moment, combat on a frozen lake that’s cracking apart, an ill-timed sexual fantasy about librarians, and a delusional hippie with a gun.
Cynical, blood-thirsty, and the kind of book that refers to all its characters by their last names, this is basically a Walter Hill movie in novel form, all stripped-down, minimalist action and mean-spirited machismo without an ounce of fat on its sinews (it runs a brisk 141 pages). And that’s a bad thing. Because as long as pop culture insists on glorifying thug bear behavior, we’re going to have thug bears breaking into our picnic baskets, eating our scientists, and taking our jobs.
Grady Hendrix has written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today; his previous novel was Horrorstör, about a haunted IKEA, and his latest novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is basically Beaches meets The Exorcist.