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September 17, 2014

Movie Review: Lake Placid (1999; 20th Century Fox/Shout Factory)

...killer crocodiles, this...monster alligators, that...over the years, we've had rogue crocs, super-crocs, gatoroids, dino-crocs, mega-gators, and 'what-a-croc' everything in-between (...if I may be so applicably sarcastic). Heck, if it wasn't for all these king-sized blood-thirsty, CGI-rendered mutated 'monster gator' and 'killer croc' movies...why, the SyFy Channel NYSE stock would most assuredly plummet, and the audience for said genre cable channel staple, would probably shrink down to the size of...say, that of The Singing & Dancing Ampersand Channel (...nothing like comparative sarcasm, right??). And yet, amongst these almost countless, generic and often forgettable cinematic reptilian terrors, there's the standout misfits...the often bantered-about cult film oddities, with vividly striking visuals and lively, albeit eclectic characters...revered highly amidst the genre-embracing crowd. For instance, y'all remember the classic 1980 subterranean gut-muncher, "Alligator", right?? The clueless, burnt out, inner-city police officer, investigating some mysterious disappearances and deaths?? The unscrupulous, money grubbing, middle-aged industrialist, who represented, then sheltered illegal and careless discarded chemical experiments, which turns out to have adverse effects on...uh, oh?? The arrogant, ballyhooed and pompous big game hunter, who's come to the big city, in search of the ultimate game?? The invariable clash of characters, between the three?? And of course, the film's titular 'protagonist', itself...oh yes, who can't forget the classic visual of that monstrous 35-plus foot gargantuan reptile, breaking through the concrete streets, from it's underground sewer lair...an ear-shattering roar, emitting from it's gaping, razor tooth-lined maw...

...really!! Can another film of this ilk, come along and possibly top that level of camp...or at least equal it??

...meanwhile, up north, there's something...or rather, some thing in the still, dark and glassy waters of Black Lake...a quaint and rustic little locale in Maine...something large, deadly...predatory; despite having been an on-the-spot, witness to the gruesome death of a hapless Fish and Game representative, Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) is quite sure of something there, himself, though is quite hard pressed to imagine what it is, exactly. Looking for answers, the sheriff calls in seasoned Fish and Game warden Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), but gets more than he bargained for, when young, untried and rather attractive museum paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda)...herself, grossly inexperienced in field study...as well as knowledgeable, albeit arrogant and overly enthusiastic crocodile expert Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), also arrive on the scene, to investigate the mysterious and harrowing situation...
...in the midst of the investigation...a violent canoe usurping, the gory decapitation of yet another hapless Fish and Game officer, the discovery of a number of body parts, both animal and human...as well as a startling demise of a rather large, towering brown bear...convinces the group that there is, in fact, an unusually large breed of crocodile, staking claim in the waters of Black Lake. And if that wasn't enough, our intrepid investigators are shocked to discover that this giant crocodile has been routinely fed livestock over the years, by a cantankerous old woman, one Delores Bickerman (Betty White), living just off the shore of the lake, in an isolated cabin...a situation suspected, when they stumble upon, and witness one such feeding...
...placing a rather defiant Delores under house arrest, Sheriff Keough, with the recommendation of the Fish and Game Commission, lays down an ultimatum, in that the monster crocodile is to be hunted down and destroyed, by whatever means at their disposal; however, a convincing and somewhat metaphysical argument by Hector, suggests the possibility that they capture the beast, drug it, and preserve it for study. A combative wavering of such decisional impasse amongst the intrepid group ensues, as they attempt to lure the gargantuan reptile into a trap. And after further encounters, and ensuing fatalities with the deadly beast, as well as well-too-close-for-comfort escapes by the daring, albeit argumentative crew, the question remains: What are they going to do...what are they willing to do...what do they have to do...
...now, at first glance, what do we have here, huh?? A rustic, woodsy and reptilian incarnation of the old, tried and true 'Jaws' formula, right?? Done countless times before, and countless times since, by seasoned and able-bodied filmmakers...and in some cases, less-than seasoned and able-bodied. And in the case of "Lake Placid"...fortunately, for us viewers...it is surprising a situation of the former, rather than the latter, as this torrid tale of reptilian terror is deftly placed in the hands of a filmmaker, not only familiar with the horror genre, but often prone to place a humor-laced tongue-in-cheek, amidst the horrific proceedings. And as he had done before, in films such as 1986's "House", the same year's ghoulishly funny "Night of the Creeps" (...second unit director), and 1989's "Warlock", as well as having worked explicitly direct horror classics, like "Friday the 13th, Parts 2 & 3", director Steve Miner, coupled with writer David E. Kelly...who has put his own stamp on humor-accented filmworks, with emphasis on television-based productions, such as "Ally McBeal", "Picket Fences" and "The Practice", amongst other productions...has proven adept to the task, in incorporating a deliciously campy level of hilarity, amidst the blood-curdling horrors, in these proceedings...
...and as perfectly amiable, the writing and the direction of "Lake Placid" seems evident, it is the equally amiable chemistry of the ideally unusual and unconventional cast, herein, which adds to the thrilling fun and delightful watchability of the film. Bill Pullman is well-cast to the task, as the seasoned, roguishly handsome Fish & Game officer (...carrying over, a measured bit of his 'Lone Star' appeal), Jack Wells, who is initially unsure of what's exactly going on, but inquisitively confident enough to suggest that, whatever it is, he's self-assured that he can handle the situation, no matter what it is, and without the intrusion of outsiders (...least to say...boy, is he in for a surprise, in both respects...). Of course, we just have to have our 'fish out of water' element, and that is played out in it's utmost hilarity, in the slightly jittery and mousy character of Kelly Scott, as played by the beautifully cute Bridget Fonda...the 'bookworm' museum paleontologist, called out...or rather, forced out of her 'comfort zone', and into an arena of intrigue, mystery and absolute terror...and hardly prepared for such a shocking encounter, as well as an unconventional situation, which proves to be clearly over her head...
...at times, being the proverbial thorn in each other's side...even more so than the man-eating reptilian adversary, which they are gamefully pursuing...actors Oliver Pratt and Brendon Gleeson clearly appear to be having a blast, in aggravating each other, cast in the respective roles of reptile enthusiast Hector Cyr, and cluelessly exacerbated & easily agitated small-town sheriff, Hank Keough. As arrogant as he is eccentric, Hector is played off as swaggedly smart-alack and recklessly self-determined, harboring an underlining, almost metaphysical desire to 'connect' with the very spirit of the menace, which he is pursuing. In opposition to Hector's eccentric ways, there's the invariable, albeit comical slow-burn reactions of Koeugh, whose shoulder-shrugging, eye-rolling response to just about every herein character's level of sarcasm, make him wonder how serious the so-called expertise, which he has called in, truly is...and of course, before he knows it, things do get quite serious...deadly serious...
...and with as much hilarity that ensues, in having these four opposing, dysfunctional characters, gamefully butt heads with each other, in the course of "Lake Placid's just-short-of-90-minutes running time, the result almost proves for naught, in favor of a certain verbally-abrasive scene-stealer in the film. It's one thing to see the incomparable comedienne Betty White...a celebrated and time-honored staple in television comedy, since the mid-50's...make a rather rare and unconventional appearance in a production of this particular fervor; however, for those who have yet to be haplessly privy of this particular genre entry, be prepared to see Betty in a performance light, quite unlike what might expect of her...even in considering some of her more edgy roles, which she blisterly, albeit comically exuded in, on television. Delores Bickerman...caring, and content in her solitude, in a sort of geriatric, addle-brained way...the same zany caring and content, which she exhibits, as she leads a daily cache of blindfolded cows...part of her livestock...to the nearby shores of her lone cabin on the lake...the locale, where a certain reptilian gigantis lie waiting to feed. And when ol' Delores is crossed...ho boy!! The mouth on that woman, just has to be heard, to be believed...not solely in the sense of the character being portrayed...but in the bewildering sense of...sheesh!! It's Betty White, we're talking about, here...and the resulting performance is sheer comic outrageousness...
...and in rounding out the overall deliciousness of the film, we can't, of course, possibly forget about the illustrious crocodile, itself...and this is most assuredly one film where the skilled special effects technicians over at the Stan Winston production company, without a doubt excelled themselves, in spades. Thinking back, those truly loyal to the genre can pinpoint a good number of films which have proved unremarkable, in the sense that a seamless balance between good, old-fashioned practical effects, and the renovative look of computer-generated special effects, failed to materialize (...on the top of this viewer's list of such visual mish-mash misery...the pathetic 2010 attempt to remake "The Wolf Man"); however, in recalling...and now, re-examining "Lake Placid's marriage of practical effects versus CGI...along with some rather adept editing skills...the film still proves quite awesomely rendered, in that respect. Scene after scene, one cannot help but catch one's self, jaw-dropped at the schlocky, campy-level realism and believability of the creature, in all of it's green, scaly regal...both in close-up, as well as in full-bodied engagement with the film's characters, and previously mentioned animal attacks. When the powers-that-be, in the special effects department, were told to 'make it real', the result culminated in...well, let's just say, they sure as heck weren't foolin' around...
...Shout/Scream Factory has once again afforded one of their best reconstructions and remasterings, with regards to "Lake Placid"; a spansive 2:35:1 ratio provides much, as far as encompassing the wild and outrageous proceedings...especially in scenes where the monster croc kicks insanely into gear. For this viewer, there are almost countless genre titles, which have seen re-issue on the Blu-Ray format of late, and as such, have suffered in the transition, in the sense that the greater resolution distractingly enhances the film's flaws; however, it can be relievingly said that, in the case of "Lake Placid", the resolution enhancement actually seems to improve the overall look of the film...indeed, even in close-ups of the killer crocodile itself...again, exhibiting the masterful work of special effects artists...which look absolutely awesome...

...Extras on the disc prove to be carry-overs from the original DVD release, such as a vintage concept piece on the making of the film, some crocodile test footage, and the prerequisite trailers & TV spots; however, one of the highlight extras is a delightful retrospective, starring both participants in front of the camera, as well as behind it...sharing some amusing and informative anecdotes & behind-the-scenes footage, exuding on how much fun it was to make the film...
...those, as-yet uninitiated with the dark terrors, which lie beneath the still, glassy waters of Black Lake, come on down and see 'em...and bring the young'uns, too; you are in for one hell of an experience. And for those already familiar with "Lake Placid's visceral, edgy and comically campy charms...well, aren't you long overdue to come back for a visit?? There's something in the woods, that they want you to see...they'll be waitin' fer ya'...and as the guy says in that commercial...(they'll) keep a light on fer ya'.....

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