Lake Placid (1999) — Can we admit that this is load of croc?

“I’m rooting for the crocodile. I hope he swallows your friends whole.”

Justin’s rating: I’ve been chomping at the bit to see this

Justin’s review: Nobody’s going to argue that making or starring in a creature feature is a step up in any respectable Hollywood career. It’s not going to put you on the path to an Oscar, or even a Golden Globe (and you can get those from vending machines these days). But you keep seeing decent talent still flock to such movies. Why? I think they’re just fun. Fun to make, fun to watch, even if everyone from the director down to the audience member knows that they’re cinematic junk food.

So let’s not be too surprised that Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, and Betty White might be attracted to the idea of doing a feature-length film about a killer prehistoric crocodile. They didn’t have to worry about turning in the performances of a lifetime, they just had to be snarky, scream on occasion, spit out ridiculous lines to sew together plot threads, and be OK kicking off a franchise that’s gone on for six movies (part four was the “final” one, if you were wondering).

Despite the name of the movie, Lake Placid actually takes place in Black Lake of Maine. So I’m already confused, because Black Lake sounds like a much better horror movie title anyway. Anyway, some diver gets chomped in half by a mysterious critter while investigating an underwater lair, and that sparks a whole lot of interest from various parties. Our hero squad of the hour consists of Fish and Game Officer Jack Wells (Pullman, coasting on his affable blandness), paleontologist Kelly Scott (Fonda, playing fussy and crabby to the hilt), and mythology professor Hector Cyr (Platt, who was legally required to be in every movie from 1995 to 1999), all of whom start hunting what turns out to be a plus-sized Asian saltwater croc.

In a freshwater lake. In Maine.

Listen, I’m no Fish and Game Mytho-Paleontologist, but this all raises a lot of questions. Yet such questions are largely moot, because this is a movie that kindly asks you to power down your thinker and enjoy the pleasant, slightly gory stupidity of it all. Lake Placid was part of that wave of late ’90s creature features (see: Anaconda, Mimic, The Relic, Deep Rising) where filmmakers went nuts thinking that roughly animated CGI critters was all it took to draw in millions of ticket buyers. Sometimes, they were right.

Lake Placid aimed to be one of those horror movies that you could bring your slightly squeamish significant other to, thanks to a dash of comedy, over-the-top personalities, and the fact that about 90% of this movie takes place in broad daylight. Internally, I call these “compromise movies,” where it has a little of something for everyone without being fully committed in any direction. It’s hard to find any of this movie actually scary, even with all of the shots of dangling feet from below in the water.

Yet I kinda liked it. The cast here is jokey and likable, even Fonda, who appears as a first-year theater major overdoing every little thing. They’re a bizarre bunch that ping-pongs between extremes. If they’re not seeing people decapitated, they’re falling into traps they themselves made. They take every advantage to keep going back out onto (and into) the water, even knowing that Certain Death is out there.

And even at the point where the crocodile has three confirmed human kills (not to mention numerous cows, a bear, and a helicopter) under its belt, Hero Squad decides that it must be saved at all costs because it’s a beautiful miracle of nature or something. This last point had me rolling, because when was the last time you saw protagonists in a creature feature deeply concerned about the welfare of the thing that wants to kill them?

And I haven’t yet mentioned that Betty White plays a crazy lady who gleefully feeds these killer crocs (yes, shocking twist, there’s more than one). It’s not every movie where you have a character rooting for the killer, but here you go. It’s just a shame that Crocodile Dundee didn’t join the party.

And while we don’t see much of the croc itself (less than four minutes of screentime), it is an authentic Stan Winston creation. Those are to be cherished and loved, for we only have a limited number of them.

Sure, it’s a dumb movie that mistakes murky water for true suspense, but it’s a lovable kind of dumb that we put up with in the ’90s. See you later, alligator! After a while, crocodile!

Didja notice?

  • Movie law says that if you’re a fat guy, you’ve got to be seen eating food in your first scene to establish your gluttony
  • Apparently you can keep yelling and screaming even if you’re missing the lower half of your body
  • Moose head!
  • If you’re a crocodile hunter, your helicopter should be painted with crocodile scales
  • I don’t think Oliver Platt gets to call someone else “fat” without Alanis Morisette adding him into the lyrics of “Ironic”
  • Cops can be bought off for $500 to dig a hole
  • Crocodile hunts trigger the best parties
  • Crocodiles have been more worshipped than Jesus, apparently. This movie is not the best of teachers.
  • Jumping fish are a sign of crocs
  • Decapitation by crocodile
  • Haha fat sheriff walks into the trap
  • There is no way that fake bear was in the same scene as the real people.
  • Also, croc just ate a bear for no reason.
  • “Well now someone’s happy I brought my big gun.” That was funny.
  • “I keep getting hit with heads!” Hey, let her scream. I would too.
  • How many cows has this old lady gone through after six years of feeding the croc?
  • Don’t know why everyone is this concerned about saving the life of a killer crocodile
  • That’s not a happy cow
  • The thing just took down a helicopter. Why do you think that standing two feet up on a truck bed is going to protect you?

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