Maybe it was the impending fear of Y2K, but the summer of 1999 was a memorable one for horror movies. Both The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project hit theatres over the summer months. And Deep Blue Sea surfaced amidst the hot summer months, while Stir of Echoes closed out the season. Of course, there were a few duds as well, including The Haunting remake and The 13th Warrior. Somewhere amidst all these movies was the criminally underrated Lake Placid. From director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part II, Warlock), Lake Placid was a fun mix of humor and giant crocodile horror. Though critics shrugged it off, audiences knew better and made it a moderate box office hit.
On a quiet Maine lake, an unseen underwater predator fatally attacks and mangles a swimmer. At a loss to explain the source of the attack, Fish and Game officer Jack Wells brings in palaeontologist, Kelly Scott, to investigate. Along with an eccentric mythology professor and local sheriff, the group discovers a 30-foot crocodile has taken up residence in the lakeside community. Now the group must find a way to stop the apex predator before it expands its hunting ground.
Lake Placid Mostly Balances Out Laughs and Scares in Monster Movie Homage
Part of Lake Placid’s problem in winning over critics was the discrepancy between what was promised and what Miner and screenwriter David E Kelley delivered. On one hand, you had a fairly decent budget and strong cast. In the promotional materials, Lake Placid pretended like it wanted to be Jaws set in a lake with a crocodile. Yet Miner and Kelley’s movie is clearly intended to be a homage to B-monster movies. There’s more in common here with Tremors or James Gunn’s Slither than Jaws. After all, we’re talking about a movie where a crocodile bites off the bottom half of a character. And the character still manages a few lines of a dialogue. Later our killer crocodile lops off another character’s head. Are we really supposed to wonder how an Asian crocodile swam across the ocean?
Yet Miner and Kelley’s movie is clearly intended to be a homage to B-monster movies.
What counts in Lake Placid is the delivery of horror and comedy. Though not all the jokes and scares land, Miner and Kelley deliver more often than not. There’s a surprising amount of light suspense in the movie – the kind of jumps that leave audiences laughing in their seats seconds later. When Lake Placid keeps its killer crocodile partly under water it’s appropriately menacing. And Miner’s first full shot reveal of the big reptile is still a winner. If the climax is a little contrived, it’s in keep in with the movie’s tone. One final jump scare perfectly hits its mark. In addition, Lake Placid’s trim runtime leaves few opportunities to ask questions about what you’re seeing.
Lake Placid’s Game Cast Hold Their Own With The Giant Crocodile
Killer animal movies are only as good as their VFX monsters. For Lake Placid to work in 1999 (and still entertain 20 plus years later), it needed to convince audiences that there was a 30-foot crocodile terrorizing the screen. Early in the movie, Miner tries to pull a Jaws, keeping his killer crocodile out of sight. with only hints of its massive size and threat. But when Lake Placid finally pulls the curtain back, the effects mostly hold up. Yes, a few shots betray some shaky, early CGI effects. Yet there’s also a few decent full shots of the massive reptile that work, particularly considering Lake Placid isn’t intended as a straight-faced horror movie. Besides shaky CGI or not, the sight of the crocodile dragging a bear into the lake was pretty cool in 1999.
But when Lake Placid finally pulls the curtain back, the effects mostly hold up.
While many monster movies suffer from a lack of engaging human characters, Lake Placid’s cast keep the movie afloat when its giant crocodile is offscreen. True, Oliver Platt’s eccentric mythology professor Hector Cyr and Brendan Gleeson’s irascible Sheriff Hank have more chemistry than Bill Bill Pullman and Bridget Fonda. But all four talented actors are clearly having a blast in their respective roles. As a result, it’s hard not to enjoy their banter and bickering. It also helps that they’re working with a David E Kelley screenplay. In addition, Lake Placid was also the movie that re-introduced audiences to Betty White. Even when she’s sharing the screen with a 30-ft crocodile, White steals every scene as a foul-mouthed widower.
Lake Placid Proves Critics Don’t Always Know What They’re Talking About
Much of the critical hate for Lake Placid feels unwarranted. For what’s clearly intended to be a B-movie homage, Lake Placid is a fun update on the killer animals movie. Some of the CGI is shaky and a few of the recurring jokes wouldn’t fly today. But by and large, Steve Miner serves up an amicable horror-comedy that breezes through its 88-minutes.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL VERDICT: WORTH A RE-VISIT