Scream and Shout: Quint takes a look back at killer croc flick LAKE PLACID (1999)
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the latest Scream and Shout column. If you're new 'round these parts, Scream and Shout takes a detailed look at the Blu-Ray releases of Shout Factory and its horror arm Scream Factory.
This fine Sunday we will be talking about one of my favorites. I was enamored by this dark comedy from the moment I saw it in its initial theatrical run, which makes me feel incredibly weird/old that a film I saw in my full-on AICN days is getting a new restored spiffy home video release.
It's a genre film that has a bunch of (at the time) A-list starpower and probably didn't help the careers of those involved too much, but I'm sure glad they did it because the cast and their chemistry is a huge reason this flick works so well.
Yep, today's Scream and Shout is focused on 1999's Lake Placid.
Lake Placid is two parts screwball comedy and one part Jaws remake, so I suppose it was fated that I adore this movie.
Let's go back to 1999 and consider the circumstances of its release. Written by David E. Kelley who was hot off Ally McBeal and The Practice, directed by Steve Minor who had just done a decent job resurrecting Michael Myers in H20 and starring Bill Pullman (only a few years off of his ID4 box office domination) and Bridget Fonda straight off of two career-best roles in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan.
All this talent converged on a giant crocodile movie. It's kind of amazing when you think about it that way, but I can see why this script attracted people like Fonda, Pullman, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson and Betty White. The characters all speak in a clipped, sharp jabs reminiscent of those great screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s. What makes the dialogue special to me is it's not only smartly pointed, but also full of heart. Even though Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson say mean things to each other every damn moment of the movie they somehow build a true, close friendship by the end. You buy it even though there's no big moment where they drop the facade.
Pullman perhaps get the short end of the stick in terms of character. His Jack Wells is the most white bread of the bunch. He has an air of authority, but he's not mean about it. Jack is kind of the rational spoke in the wheel holding all the crazy characters together. Thankfully Pullman is so charismatic naturally that he keeps the character from being boring.
Platt and Gleeson get the juiciest stuff... at least of the main cast. What most people remember from this movie, if they remember anything at all, is Betty White's foul-mouthed old lady Mrs. Bickerman. Of everyone involved in the movie I think White came out the other end the best because afterwards she became the go-to crazy old lady. If someone wanted to have a sweet looking older woman saying foul things then Betty White was the first person to come to mind... much the chagrin of Cloris Leachman, I'm sure.
I can see why the movie didn't really catch on in 1999. Horror comedies don't traditionally perform well because general audiences tend to prefer either straight horror or straight comedies... at least in the short term. I can't explain why Lake Placid only has a 5.6 rating on IMDB because age is typically friend to mudblood genre films. Who knows. Maybe it's just me who likes this thing, but I'd wager once genre fans actually pick up this Scream Factory blu you might see that rating go up a little bit.
Or maybe I just have a fetish for giant alligator/crocodile movies. That could very well be the case. Lewis Teague's ALLIGATOR (1980) is friggin' awesome, the great and underseen Aussie killer croc flick DARK AGE starring John Jarratt is another winner. ROGUE was pretty good, too.
All of them nod to JAWS in one way or another as well. I mean, an oversized water-based predator main threat aside, the character archetypes for this kind of film are clearly defined. There's usually a noble local lawman, an experienced grizzled old bastard, a politician who doesn't want to rock the boat and a younger guy who is enthusiastically respectful of the animal they have to hunt down.
Lake Placid mixes and matches many of these traits so there's not one single Quint character or Hooper clone. Oliver Platt's Hector Cyr is kind of a Hooper (he's rich, brings all the toys and respects the predator), but he's got a touch of Quint's sardonic side. Brendan Gleeson's Sheriff Hank Keough is more the “let's kill it” Quint type, but he's not all that bright and in fact shares more in common with Brody. Pullman's character has bits and pieces of all three Jaws leads.
The unique character in this archetype is Fonda's Kelly Scott. She's a spoiled intellectual who doesn't want to go on this trip, but is forced to when her boss and newly ex-lover wants to cut down on the possibility of post-breakup drama in the workplace ships her off to Maine. They drop the fish out of water schtick pretty quickly in favor of more honest (if exaggerated) reactions to the craziness happening around her and a giddy excitement at being part of a journey.
Fonda is so good at comedy that the Willie Scott level of her complaining early on is easily overlooked... especially when she starts slapping people for throwing heads at her. Makes me really sad that she left the business shortly after this movie. But hey, at least we know she's awesome enough to have married Danny Elfman, so that gives hope to all geeks everywhere.
Still, I would have loved to have seen her actually do that remake of Fulci's The Psychic that Quentin Tarantino has talked about from time to time.
If you never gave this flick a chance upon release, give it a watch and keep an eye out for Natty Gann herself, Meredith Salenger. She has some pretty great moments in the movie, most of them surrounding Platt.
Rewatching the Scream Factory Blu I found the film held up in every aspect. Some of the CGI work shows its age, but a lot of it surprisingly still plays strong. Stan Winston's practical 30 foot crocodile still looks amazing, though. No complaints there.
Also worth noting: John Ottman's fantastic score. It's gotta be tough to avoid riffing on John Williams' iconic Jaws score when doing a movie like this, but Ottman found his own way to perfectly underline the pounding adventure and the light-hearted comedic aspect of the film as well.
THE SPECIAL FEATURES:
Not a whole lot to report on here. There's some older material (a featurette, theatrical trailer, TV Spots, old video crocodile test footage and a picture gallery) that are a little nostalgic in their '90s generic EPK style material. Scream Factory has a new half hour documentary included as well that chronicles the making of with recent interviews with Bill Pullman, Steve Miner and a lot of the behind the camera folks (sadly no Fonda, Platt, Gleeson or White).
The doc paints a picture of the similarities in constructing comedy and horror on a filmmaking level, how they built Lake Placid (they actually constructed most of it by building their own tank and bringing in real 100ft tall trees) and the building of the croc itself.
My favorite story comes from effects guy Nick Marra (who is the guy who did that amazing Robert Shaw sculpt I featured on here a while back, by the way) regarding the scene where the croc fights the grizzly bear. Apparently the live bear was brought out onto the set, saw the animatronic croc in the water and high tailed it off set, refusing to come back. He knows what's up!
The doc is significant enough to keep this release from feeling barebones, but I definitely would have liked to have heard more from some of the other actors and would have loved a commentary track with Miner and some of the cast.
Daryn Okada's anamorphic photography is treated very well here. The colors are vibrant, the blacks are black and the focus is sharp. There are moments where you can tell the set from location work a bit more because of the clarity, but it's definitely the best this film has looked since its original release. My DVD copy is for sure out-dated now.
Lake Placid might not be Tremors, but the dialogue, creature effects, performances and direction are all very strong. The movie's just fuckin' fun. I've watched it twice in preparation of this column and still laugh. I like these characters. I like the relatively unconventional ending. I like that it's a studio genre film that is fine being weird and kind of violent and totally foul-mouthed. I don't see studios lining up to fund and release a movie like that these days.
The movie's still a ton of fun, the transfer is gorgeous and there's just enough special material to not feel ripped off.
THE NEXT TITLE WILL BE...
Stay tuned for my thoughts on the early '80s woodsy slasher flick The Final Terror, which brought us super early performances from Daryl Hannah, Joey Pants, Lewis Smith and Rachel Ward.
Previous Scream and Shout Columns:
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