Killer Crocodile (Fabrizio De Angelis, 1989)
A group of young environmentalists head to an exotic tropical country to investigate an insidious corporation’s dumping of large quantities of toxic chemicals into the local swamp… and discover, to their surprise, its caused a crocodile to get really big and go on a killing rampage, munching on anyone it can get its teeth on… and that’s quite a few people before it’s all done.
Confession time. Out of all of the proliferate subgenres of sensational rip-off cinema that thrived in the 60’s through the 80’s in the Italian film industry – from Spaghetti westerns, giallos, poliziotteschi films, to sword and sorcery, cannibal films and beyond – the ones that have consistently underwhelmed me most are the killer-creature-in-the-water “Jaws” rip-offs. Not to say I dislike them… far from it. There’s almost always enough admirable chutzpah on the part of the filmmakers in the face of the absolute absurdity and illogic of the proceedings to be somewhat charmed by (and to help stave off the boredom in-between killings)… and the fact that the creature itself, shark or monster, is usually extremely limited in its mobility (and believability) flying in the face of the much larger budgeted slick Hollywood products, becomes something to celebrate rather than deride.
It’s just… where the Spaghetti Westerns re-defined and deconstructed an American genre into something of its (politically left) own, the giallos were filled with fascinatingly perverse style to burn, and the crime films were unabashedly brutal (and the zombies and cannibal films luridly and extremely violent), the “Jaws” rip-offs rarely had much to offer beyond being… well… just straight lesser versions of the film they’re taken from. Yet, they do their best, and certainly go all in no matter how ridiculous things get; just compare the explosive ending of the brilliant cinematic genre masterpiece Jaws with the amusing, head-scratchingly preposterous antics of our “Croc” hero (played by thesping son of actor Richard ‘Rambo-creating Col Trautman’ Crenna) taking on the croc with a boat propeller that conveniently explodes multiple times… and you can get a fairy good idea of the substantially different charms offered.
“Killer Croc”s biggest problem (other than the boring banter between set-pieces naturally, but that was expected); it was 1989 and — as with Luigi Cozzi’s Paginini Horror from the same year that proceeded “Croc” in this double bill of Italo treats (yes, I still think of them as treats… lesser ones, but still treats – hell, I appreciate a bad Italo horror film more than a status quo driven slick Hollywood mediocrity, Marvel superhero or otherwise, any day of the week) – it was time when the blood and grue was no longer being sprayed about with full tilt gleeful abandon up there on the screen. And, even Spielberg with the original Jaws knew, if you’re gonna sell the expectation of a killer water creature with nasty teeth killing unsuspecting swimmers? You gotta show some gore! Not to say that “Croc” is entirely bereft of any glimpses of blood and guts — it’s got a few quality munching scenes – just not enough. While the croc itself looks surprisingly impressive for a mechanical thing with very limited movements, alas, when it grabs someone… it’s mostly a lot of frantic motion, some bubbles, and the water turning red (though, there is a nice early moment of a female victim’s hand just skimming the surface as she is dragged out to deeper waters, with her panicked lover watching from the shore).
Lee Van Cleef look-a-like
Unsurprisingly, the narrative brings us its own Quint character (Ennio Girolami, who I’ve seen in a number of his director brother Enzo Castellari’s films, and yet somehow have never noticed before what a ringer he is for Lee Van Cleef – a smaller, slightly lesser version, that is, but still… )… and manages some really goofy fun with the character (the incredible scene of the obsessed croc-hunter, like Ahab after his white whale, jumping off the boat and onto the croc’s back, riding him like a slowly sinking surf board, was arguably the high point as far as inspired lunacy went for the double feature evening).
Another plus of many of these spaghetti genre films is the chance for some classic character actor from yesteryear to show up, long past their peak Hollywood years, clearly slumming for some cash – and “Killer Croc” doesn’t disappoint. In this case it’s ‘boy next door’ Van Johnson; he might look a lot worse for wear, puffy and I’m guessing a bit alcohol-soaked, yet still manages to steal his scenes as the corrupt local judge, who ultimately decides to stand against the big business powers who have corrupted him into silence (speaking of that, I always give points for making the corporate execs the greedy, callous bad guys).