New killer alligator movie, Crawl, hits theatres today. Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell) produces and Alexandre Aja (High Tension) directs the genre-blending horror flick. And much to probably everyone’s surprise, critics seems to really like it. Maybe that’s because we all know that alligators and crocodiles are damn scary. They’re basically living ‘dinosaurs’. Next to Great White Sharks, there’s not much scarier in the murky depths. Not surprisingly then, horror movies have frequently used the saw-toothed reptiles as monsters. For this edition of The Chopping Block, I take a look at some of the best killer alligator and crocodile movies from the past.
Three killer crocodile movies were released in 2007. Although it probably had the widest theatrical release, Primeval is the least interesting. Although it’s based on the story of legendary man-eating Burundi crocodile called Gustave, Primeval is a bit of a tonal mess. Part B-monster movie, part ‘socially important’ movie about Africa, Primeval has an identity crisis. It’s giant crocodile scenes are fun; this isn’t a boring movie. But there’s a lack of suspense and real scares. Ultimately, Primeval is the most forgettable movie on this list.
If you’re a fan of B-monster movies, then you’ll love Alligator. Writer John Sayles (The Howling, Piranha) already had experience satirizing horror movie tropes. And Alligator has fun chomping on eco-horror cliches. When a pet baby alligator gets flushed down the toilet, it lives off of disposed animal carcasses treated with an experimental growth hormone. Twelve years later, the 36-foot gator stalks homeless people in the sewers before breaking out to the surface. Alligator has it all – the grizzled cop no one believes, the intrepid female scientist, the corrupt business owner. Moreover, director Lewis Teague (Cujo) adds a surprising amount of style. Watch for the hilarious wedding scene. Not to mention the climax, which actually feels suspenseful.
Eaten Alive (1976)
They don’t make them like this anymore. Follow The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper directed this pure piece of Grindhouse exploitation cinema, Eaten Alive. Hillbilly motel proprietor Judd also happens to be a psychopathic who feeds guests to his pet crocodile. Eccentric is just one way to describe this movie. It’s grisly, sleazy, and often incomprehensible. Performances range from ‘gonzo’ to still. You’ll even find a young Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street).
Black Water (2007)
Black Water is the first of two Australian horror movies about killer crocodiles released in 2007. Sadly, this movie fell under a lot of people’s radars. That’s too bad because it’s an excellent thriller. A husband takes his wife and her younger sister for a crocodile river trip. Not surprisingly, a large crocodile flips the boat and leaves the trio stranded in a treetop. The rest of the movie is a quietly suspenseful ‘cat-and-mouse’ game as the survivors try to escape their relentless predator. As compared to other movies on this list, Black Water is small in scale. No CGI effects. But it understands what scares us about the water. And its ending is uncompromising. At times, you won’t know whether to laugh or be disturbed. But lovers of old-school midnight movies will love Eaten Alive.
Aussie director Greg McLean’s follow-up to Wolf Creek was criminally ignored at the box office. A giant saltwater crocodile attacks a tourist boat on a remote Northern Australian tidal river. Now the territorial predator is stalking the passengers on a tiny river island that’s going to disappear as the water gets higher. What a nice, simple hook for a ‘monster’ movie. And McLean executes the premise masterfully. The Oz-ploitation flick finds multiple ways to put its cast – which includes Michael Vartan, Sam Worthington, and up-and-coming Radha Mitchell – in danger. In addition, Rogue wisely keeps its crocodile hidden for most of the movie. What McLean chooses to show is just enough to make your skin crawl. But when the crocodile finally makes it full appearance, the special effects hold up quite well. The climax in the crocodile’s den is edge-of-your seat suspense.
Lake Placid (1999)
Technically, Lake Placid was a box office failure. Critics were equally unimpressed with the giant crocodile movie. But am if Lake Placid isn’t a fun B-monster movie. And director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2) knows exactly what kind of movie he’s making. Equal parts comedy and horror, writer David E Kelley ensures Lake Placid never takes itself seriously. This is pure popcorn horror with fun jump scares and quick gross outs. Moreover, its cast that includes Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Brendan Gleason, and Oliver Platt have a blast with the material. But it’s Betty White who steals the movie as a foul-mouthed resident. And the crocodile itself remains impressive, even 20 years later.