In Tarzan the Ape Man, Johnny Weissmuller battled them under water.
In The African Queen, they forced Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn to stay on the boat.
In Live and Let Die, James Bond (Roger Moore) had to step on them to escape.
In Romancing the Stone, Michael Douglas needed to wrestle one over a jewel.
And in Adaptation, Oscar winner Chris Cooper had an intimate encounter with one in the Everglades.
Crocodiles and alligators, members of the order Crocodylia, have had a long and noble history in the movies. With their hundreds of razor-sharp teeth, scaly bodies, and a resemblance to the dinosaurs that are their actual ancestors, they fill us with terror, fascination and awe.
“The impact of alligators on people has been primarily psychological — based more on speculation about what a reptile the size of a small dinosaur might be capable of than on observed effects,” writes J. Whitfield Gibbons in Martha A. Strawn’s Alligators: Prehistoric Presence in the American Landscape.
Let’s keep such thoughts in mind as we check out the latest escapades of these crocodilians on film, the newly released DVDs of Lake Placid 2 and Croc. Both movies were first shown on the Sci-Fi Channel.
All one needs to know about the original Lake Placid, from 1999, is that the movie took place in Bear Lake, Maine (rather than Lake Placid, NY), that its starring reptile was a 30-foot-long representative of Crocodylus porosus (or estuarine Indopacific crocodile, usually found in India, Southeast Asia and Australia) rather than the more likely but still dubious Crocodylus acutus (American crocodile) or Alligator mississippiensis (Mississippi, or American, alligator), and that it was all the fault of Betty White.
The sequel, Lake Placid 2, is a species of cinematicus imbecilus, set at an unnamed lake and featuring John Schneider (Hunkus hazzardus) as the sheriff of the small town of Aroostook, Maine. Sheriff Riley has a bunch of dead bodies (body parts, actually) on his hands and the remembrance of prior crocapades on his mind.
Like its predecessor, Lake Placid 2 tries to add some campy humor to the horror, but the humor is as stupid as the plot. Director David Flores and screenwriters Todd Hurvitz and Howie Miller share the shame for this one, which for some inexplicable reason was actually shot in Bulgaria (which is as likely to be the habitat of crocodiles as, well, Lake Placid).
And all one needs to know about Lake Placid 2 is that the most obnoxious guys and the most attractive women — or at least those who choose to swim topless in the dangerous lake in order to provide the film with some gratuitous nudity — are the most likely appetizers for the CGI crocs (which have grown to 40 feet), and that it’s all the fault of Cloris Leachman (who plays Betty White’s sister, Crazy Sadie Bickerman).
Croc has several things going for it over Lake Placid 2: It was filmed where the action is supposed to take place and where crocodiles actually exist (on a coastal area of Thailand); it uses footage of genuine crocodiles who are much more realistic-looking than the computerized monstrosities of Lake Placid 2; and it manages to build a tiny bit of actual tension, if not horror.
It’s about an American named Jack McQuade (Peter Tuinstra) who runs the low-budget but crowd-pleasing Jack’s Croc Farm to amuse tourists and Thais, who stands in the way of some well-heeled rivals who want to take over his land. The bad guys use various means to try to get the local authorities to shut down the Croc Farm, including cutting a fence so that some of Jack’s crocs escape. And when a bunch of people get attacked by a rampaging croc, they try to blame it all on Jack.
But Jack’s able to prove that the terrifying killer is actually a “20-foot salty” — much larger than his own — when his nephew Theo (Scott Hazell) identifies it from a Web site as our old friend Crocodylus porosus.
And to catch the marauding salty, Michael Madsen (Heavyus reservoirus canis) joins the search as a croc hunter with a personal mission — a la Robert Shaw’s Quint from Jaws.
Any superiority Croc might have over Lake Placd 2 is undercut by the impression it gives that every beautiful Thai woman is irresistibly attracted to every ordinary-looking American man and by featuring some of the most absurdly rapid recoveries from croc attacks in the history of the movies.
In a Nova Web site about crocodiles, Dr. James P. Ross of the Florida Museum of Natural History discusses the intelligence of crocodiles, pointing to their ability to “learn quickly and adapt to changes in their situation.”
Similarly, the New Encyclopedia Britannica‘s chapter on crocs reports that “Of all reptile brains, the crocodile brain is the most highly developed.”
Far more developed and intelligent, one might say, than the makers of Lake Placid 2 and Croc.