Written by: Fabrizio De Angelis and Dardano Sacchetti
Directed by: Fabrizio De Angelis
Starring: Richard Anthony Crenna, Pietro Genuardi, and John Harper
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"Crocodiles are sensitive. They get really mad when you insult them."
A killer crocodile snarls on-screen about 40 seconds into Killer Crocodile, a movie that knows what its audience paid good money to see. Director Fabrizio De Angelis leaves little doubt about what type of movie heís made when the giant beast--immaculately constructed and brought to life by Giannetto de Rossi--appears early and often. Even more doubt is removed when the opening sequence finds a young couple living it up riverside: the girl promptly disrobes and jumps in for a swim, leaving her beau on the shore, plucking at a guitar. Sheís mincemeat, of course, and so are any hopes that this isnít yet another Jaws rip-off. Because it might have been 1989, but Spielbergís masterpiece was still casting a long, fin-shaped shadow, and if there was any industry still willing to quench the thirst for brazen, schlocky knock-offs, it was the Italian exploitation scene.
Some doubts do linger past the credits, though. The early death sequences--which also feature a pair of ill-fated fishermen, further echoing Jaws--leave a lot to the imagination. While the camera rightfully captures the crocodile in painstaking detail, its carnage leaves a lot to be desired due to some frustrating cutaways. When the plot (such as it is) kicks in and focuses on a group American tourists investigating the toxic pollutants in the river, you start to wonder if this thing is really going to be as unhinged as you hope. When one of the group wanders off, the beast also dispatches them in a largely bloodless scene, leaving you to further hope you havenít been suckered by a movie that thinks you really want to see Americans battling corruption instead of being devoured by a giant crocodile. But fret not: soon enough, the wayward touristís corpse bursts forth from the river, gnarled and chewed up beyond recognition, allowing you to breathe easy. Killer Crocodile is exactly what you need it to be.
And by that I mean itís an incredibly brain-damaged riff on Jaws, one that finds the group of interloping tourists inhabiting the role of whistle-blowers that local authorities want to dismiss. In this case, they meet with a judge (Van Johnson) whoís way too eager to shrug off their friendís death as an accident. He even brings in a coroner to speculate that it could be a boat propeller, an homage so obvious and shameless you canít help but respect it. Unconvinced, the friends take to the river again and begin to put the pieces together: it must be that the pollutants that have caused a crocodile to grow to such a massive size, something the local tycoon Foley (Worham Williams) also doesnít want to hear. The only person on their side? Stop me if youíve heard this one before, but thereís a grizzled riverboat captain named Joe (Thomas Moore) who specializes in killing crocodiles.
All of this probably sounds painfully familiar, so much so that youíre wondering if you even need more of this nonsense in your life. Well, Killer Crocodile is a reminder that complete rip-offs can absolutely overcome deja vu by just diving headlong right into the cliches. Neither the judge nor his tycoon cohort are realized with that subtle, recognizably human shiftiness that Murray Hamilton brough to the role of Mayor Vaughn; rather, both are completely unhinged, unrepentant assholes, each of them trying to cover their own ass as the tourists uncover their scandal. In one of the filmís more remarkable and understated shots, the judge insists he cares about the safety of the locals without so much as glancing at the kid shining his shoes. This guy sucks, and not even a last-second attempt to thwart Foleyís plan to further pollute the rivers can spare him.
Likewise, Joe isnít just a cut-rate take on Quint. Heís more a deranged version of Richard Harrisís Nolan from Orca. Had he somehow survived his ordeal with the Orca, he might have eventually looked a little bit like Joe: completely deranged and utterly convinced that beasts exist only to haunt him personally. Joe insists upon this multiple times: for him, hunting down the crocodile isnít an act of heroism--itís an act of self-preservation, a manic journey to exorcise the paranoia that drives him. This is a man who genuinely believes he can lure the crocodile into a confrontation simply by insulting the beast. His alliance with the tourists practically becomes a vision quest when he takes it upon himself to shape the guys especially into vicious tamers of nature. At first, the tourists insist the crocodile must be preserved and studied, but good old Joe spends most of the movie disavowing them of that notion. Our heroís journey here involves not respecting or understanding nature; it involves completely obliterating it because thatís what a real man does.
Killer Crocodile threads this journey through nonstop monster mayhem. Thereís a reason de Rossi earned a well-deserved special credit for his crocodile effects, and De Angelis shows his appreciation by frequently featuring the creature on-screen, its enormous size and detail proving to be impressive no matter how many times you see it. Thereís a school of thought that says monsters are sometimes best unseen; this is not one of those cases. Killer Crocodile unleashes its titular creature as part of its mission statement, turning it loose against everyone: kids, fishermen, tourists, and sleazy authorities. The effects crew also serves up an assortment of mangled corpses and severed limbs, with De Angelis orchestrating the carnage like a master symphonist: his early restraint soon yields to extravagant sequences of mayhem, each of them more outrageous than the last as he builds to a feverish crescendo.
The climax here is a work of mad genius, highlighted by a glorious overkill sequence (letís just say De Angelis knows how to dish out well-earned comeuppance) thatís outdone moments later by our heroesí climactic showdown with the crocodile. A character thought dead returns with an unexpected talisman as our boys embrace their own inner beasts to slay the creature with the most inexplicable explosion this side of Jaws: The Revenge. You may roll your eyes when the coroner insists that a propeller killed the first tourist; what you donít know is that De Angelis is laying the foundation for one of the most unreal deployments of Chekovís gun imaginable. Underestimate Killer Crocodile at your own peril.
Once youíve worked your way through to the murkiest depths of aquatic horror, Killer Crocodile is the type of gem you hope to uncover. An Italian Killer Crocodile movie (especially from this era, when all bets were basically off) conjures up certain expectations, and this one meets them all. Itís not just that itís an unrepentant gorefest; as always, the cockeyed delivery--the bizarre dialogue, inconsistent character motivations, the feeling that the whole thing is barely held together with duct tape--gives it a distinct flavor. The various killer shark movies from this time have always rightfully been the headliners when it comes to Italyís Jawsploitation craze; however, Killer Crocodile deserves a place right alongside them. Like those films, itís just damn entertaining: itís not all a backhanded compliment when I say that Killer Crocodile is eager to live up to its title and does so with that very specific Italian-horror aplomb. In fact, itís so eager that it leaves you with a sequel tease that you know is coming the second the tourists spot a nest of eggs before they start blowing them away with shotguns. Good thing they missed one because the folks behind Killer Crocodile obviously had more to say about asserting your masculinity by taming oversized wildlife.
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