Written by: Don Michael Paul
Directed by: David Reed
Starring: Elisabeth Röhm, Yancy Butler, and Robert Englund
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"Jump into croc infested waters. That's smart."
We always talk about how we could listen to truly great actors read a phone book, but I’m not sure that’s the best standard. Instead, I propose that we start using SyFy monster movies as the true measuring stick: if you’ll put up with that bullshit because of one actor, that should mean more than an Oscar. Robert Englund is definitely one of those guys—in fact, he might be the sole reason I was even morbidly curious about Lake Placid: The Final Chapter. Even the promise of this one being the last one wasn’t that much of an incentive because we all know how that goes. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me—fool me three times, maybe I’m just an idiot (says the guy who watched all three Lake Placid sequels for the hell of it).
Speaking of ill-named Final Chapters, this one is sort of like Friday the 13th IV in that it surveys the carnage of the previous film and reveals that a character isn't quite dead after all. In this case, it’s Reba (Yancy Bulter), the loudmouthed poacher from the previous film, who scrapes herself up from the brink of death and decides to join the EPA in an effort to rid Black Lake of its crocodile infestation. After scores of outbreaks over the past decade, the nearby town has decided to finally erect an electric fence to lock them up and starve them to death, which sounds like a good idea until a group of poachers (headed up by Englund) sneak in. Compounding matters is a lecherous bus driver who gets distracted (while looking at nudes on his phone, natch) and accidentally drives a swimming team right into the infested area.
From there, it’s very much a Lake Placid sequel, full of unsightly CGI and broad characters. Where the second movie just tagged on some Jaws 2-style “teens in peril” stuff, that’s pretty much the entire gist of this one, with the results being as grating as you might imagine. I suppose the sheriff’s daughter (Poppy Lee Friar) qualifies as the main character since she’s the sweet, innocent girl who’s nervous about going on this trip and likes the popular boy who ends up being a poonhound. Honestly, the film barely gives much of a damn about any of this, so I don’t give much of one either. We already know most of these kids are going to wind up as croc shit soon enough, so their high school drama isn’t just filler—it’s completely empty calories. At this point, this franchise might as well just be a bunch of vignettes of people being eaten by digital crocodiles.
Of course, even that would only be a marginal improvement because we’d still be stuck with the penny-pinched effects work, which isn’t notably improved here. When The Final Chapter was released in 2012, it would have been thirteen years since the original, yet you’d never know it from the retrograde CGI that maybe would have been mind-blowing in a PSX game from 1999. Because of this, the death sequences suffer again despite a few inventive bits, such as a scene where a girl is caught in one of the poachers’ traps and gets decapitated by a leaping crocodile. I’d be more impressed if the gators were actually setting their own traps—in fact, why not go absolutely batshit in this, the “final” outing? These sequels are already a joke, so it’s not like you’d be hurting the integrity of the Lake Placid brand if the crocodiles suddenly became highly sentient.
Instead, this somehow represents a bit of a step down from part three, which at least had the decency to introduce some bigger locales. Meanwhile, The Final Chapter is content to keep hanging around the lake and the woods yet again. Repetition isn’t a bad idea if the formula works, but this franchise managed to screw up its blueprint right out of the sequel gate. Blaming that on lesser star-power isn’t even exactly fair, seeing as how the follow-ups managed to waste the likes of John Schneider, Michael Ironside, and, in this case, Englund, whose role is weirdly minor yet central to the climax. Perhaps in an effort to fly him out to Bulgaria for the fewest days possible, his character is introduced early in the film and all but disappears until the end, where his connection to previous films is revealed (it’s hardly a mind-blower—the most unbelievable thing is that a goddamn killer croc series managed to revolve around one family because Betty White was so indelible in the first one).
Wasting Englund is pretty egregious, but, then again, I don’t know if I really want to see him slum it any more than he has to. He’s fine here as a vaguely menacing poacher, even if it doesn’t give him much room to stretch beyond the same persona he’s been putting on in any number of low-rent films for the past decade. If anyone deserves a chance to break the mold of type-casting, it’s Englund, whose career never really had a chance after he essentially became Freddy. In an alternate, better universe, he would have been given ample opportunities to show off his classical training (he even did a stint at one of the Royal Academy’s branches) or even become one of his generation’s great character actors. Maybe there’s still time—I’d love to see Tarantino get a hold of him for something like The Hateful Eight and work some of his magic on Englund like he has other actors with sagging careers.
What we don’t need is another damn Lake Placid movie. I’d hope that the subtitle holds up, but apparently SyFy’s already green-lit Lake Placid vs. Anaconda, so the world will finally be able to crown a champion in the 90s Creature Feature division. Well, second-place anyway (behind Tremors), so it’ll be more like an Intercontinental Championship clash. Either way, whoever wins, we really lose, especially those who will bear witness to the live-snarking event of the season whenever it airs. Because it’s not enough to make a bad film anymore, these things need to be aggressively, knowingly horrible to re-assure its target audience that they can remain above junky schlock like this, thus reinforcing the notion that this sub-genre need only simmer in the bowels of hyper-ironic badness. Fifteen years ago, I would have absolutely been psyched by the thought of an Anaconda/Lake Placid crossover—now, I’m only supposed to be “psyched” for it. But I’m not--in fact, I think I'd rather listen to Robert Englund read a phone book instead. Rent it!
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