LAKE PLACID (1999) Reviews of killer crocodile classic

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‘You’ll never know what bit you.’
Lake Placid is a 1999 American horror film directed by Steve Miner (Day of the Dead 2008; Friday the 13th, Part IIHalloween H20) from a screenplay written by producer David E. Kelley.

The movie stars Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, Betty White, Meredith Salenger and Mariska Hargitay.

The film’s soundtrack score was composed by John Ottman (House of Wax; Gothika; Eight Legged FreaksUrban Legends: Final Cut; Halloween H20; Snow White: A Tale of Terror).

When Lake Placid struck the summer movie season in the USA in 1999 the major point of interest was this: writer David E. Kelley was a name-brand TV scriptwriter, whose fame, resting upon the medical drama Chicago Hope and the dramedy Ally McBeal, (plus an enduring, scandal-free marriage to actress Michelle Pfeiffer) centred on a reputation of being a clever, compassionate screenplay-monger with a particularly acute sense of the female psyche. But this was his big theatrical breakout (midwifed by director Steve Miner) and it was an R-rated monster thriller. What possible special ingredient was the American living-room’s favourite sensitive-guy dramatist bringing to what sounded a lot like a grindhouse-gore premise?

Idea is that humans and animals are being bloodily devoured by some water beastie lurking in the waters of the title lake, in a small New England town. An eccentric group of scientists, hunters and investigators join the local sheriff (Brendan Gleeson); chief among them is a pretty young Boston palaeontologist (Bridget Fonda) with a recently broken heart over a failed love affair. She is supposed to identify a dinosaur-like tooth found in the corpse of an unlucky victim.

It is not much of a spoiler that the carnivorous creature turns out to be – no, not a Nessie-type prehistoric leviathan, but a 31-foot tropical crocodile, mysteriously out of place in Maine. This geographical anomaly is marvelled at repeatedly by the characters yet never really explained here, an oversight that I suspect was cleared up by Lake Placid mythos in the subsequent sequels (that something as slight as Lake Placid could even generate mythos is almost as disturbing as anything in the film itself).

A large piece of the puzzle falls into place with the culpability of an eccentric lakeside dweller, a salty old widow (beloved American TV comedienne Betty White, riffing on her offscreen image of an indefatigable but nicely polite animal-rights campaigner), and that’s amusing, a little. Meanwhile, as the rest of the cast squabble humorously over whether to kill the reptile or study it scientifically, more violent crocodile attacks occur, enabled by the special F/X of Stan Winston.

One soon realises the gimmick here, that as in Wes Craven’s Scream slasher flicks that were all the rage at the time, top-ranked actors and filmmakers were going all out with tongue-in-cheek to make a schlocky type horror-genre fare that one might usually think was beneath them. And you are supposed to be charmed that everyone is going along agreeably with the gag. This may be an incorrect assumption for many audiences – the Scream films have the advantage of being imaginative whodunit-mysteries as well, whereas this is just a giant-creature bloodbath. But at least the running time is brief, befitting a Roger Corman drive-in picture of yesteryear. And, as far as I know, the David E. Kelley-Michelle Pfeiffer marriage survived.

If Lake Placid wasn’t Jaws – for some, it won’t even have the raggedy appeal of Sergio Martini’s irony-free The Great Alligator (1979) – it did generate enough of a brand name to spawn several sequels that went direct to video, and Cloris Leachman took over the Betty White role.
Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA

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Other reviews:
“The actors seem to be having fun with the mixture of Kelley’s sharp dialogue and the inherent cheesiness of being in a giant crocodile picture. Pullman really gets the joke, acting like he can wear the beast down with menacing stares and grumbled speech. Fonda, who has acknowledged her love of horror films in the press, is clearly relishing the chance to act in one, and Platt uses this as an opportunity to go way out in left field as the rich wacko.” The Aisle Seat

“Kelley creates a handful of snappy one-liners, but a majority of the dialogue lacks the bite of his work on Ally McBeal. As with the Jaws franchise, the real moments of suspense arrive when the unseen croc lurks beneath the lake and prepares for a surprise attack. The impressive computer-generated monster surfaces frequently…” AllMovie


” …it’s the easy, underplayed performances and the slick dialogue that make this more than a rural cat-and-mouse (or croc-and-cow, since a heifer gets used as bait). But it’s not a spoof, and that’s crucial. You can enjoy Placid as a straightforward camping-holiday nightmare, or as a sly, ironic take on the same. It works deliciously as both.” Empire

“Despite the horror and gore (be warned though – gory deaths are a frequent occurrence!), Lake Placid has a playful tone overall, with plenty of comic relief to keep things nice and breezy. Most of the gags are either delivered by or pointed in the direction of Brendan Gleeson’s character, as he finds himself at loggerheads with pretty much everyone he meets (he seems to dislike people more than the crocodile!).” Geek Ireland

” …the human storylines take over and, minus the then-novelty of hearing White drop F-bombs, they’re more aggravating than anything else. Both back in the day and on this recent revisit, I found myself wishing the toothy terror would swallow the lot. Sadly, the body count, not counting CG bears and cows, is a paltry two.” Horror 101 with Dr AC

“Pullman’s a bit dry compared to the rest of the cast – may be a bit miscast – but he does just fine as the straight man with a wry sense of humor. Platt and Gleeson are a fun adversarial duo regularly trading barbs and one-line stingers.  The now 15-year-old special effects hold-up surprisingly well including some early-stage digital effects.” McBastard’s Mausoleum

” …an entertaining stab at making a tongue in cheek monster movie with the emphasis firmly on being funny rather than frightening. It’s by no means the best example of this sort of movie and a few more frights wouldn’t go a miss but with a wonderful performance from Betty White it is well worth a watch, just be prepared for plenty of stupidity.” The Movie Scene

“There’s some moderate gore here, most of it jokey. (“Is this the man who was killed?” Platt asks, wielding a severed toe. Gleeson replies, “He looked taller.”) And there’s also Betty White on hand to play the crocodile’s best human friend. Her character’s foul-mouthed dialogue is funny for its incongruity, less so for its real purpose.” The New York Times

” …it’s not exactly Jaws, but some of the sequences are rather intense. The climax especially provides plenty of jolts and one really neat surprise […] Miner knows not to let a horror flick last too long (seriously, check the run-times for just about any one he’s ever done). Lake Placid is short, sweet, and bites pretty hard–in a good way.” Oh, the Horror!

“Briskly paced and offering nice balance of humor and horror, Lake Placid isn’t likely to leave any sort of serious lasting impression on you but it is a fun way to kill an hour and a half. It offers up pretty much everything you’d want it to – a decent monster, some solid gore, interesting and fairly likeable characters and some witty dialogue.” Rock! Shock! Pop!

“It’s gruesome, and then camp, and then satirical, and then sociological, and then it pauses for a little witty intellectual repartee. Occasionally the crocodile leaps out of the water and snatches victims from the shore, looking uncannily like a very big green product from the factory where they make Barney toys.” Roger Ebert


“The strange thing is that for all of Fonda’s whining, Pullman’s wary squinting and muttering, the bad dialogue, the cheesy effects, the severed toes, the severed heads, the severed bodies and the cliched directorial choices, Lake Placid adds up to a halfway enjoyable time at the movies.” San Francisco Gate

” …it is derivative of many sardonic monster flicks that have been seen before. Add to that the zero chemistry between the romantic leads (you could accept them as friends, sure), plus an ecological dilemma over killing the croc (this was the nineties all right), and you get a film where you can see what they’re aiming for, but also the targets they miss.” The Spinning Image

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” …while he’s got all the tricks, and an impressively CG’d croc, Miner never loses sight of one thing: this is a horror-comedy and not an out-and-out scarefest. Terror takes a back seat as David E Kelly’s script develops sharp, well-observed characters rather than simple-minded croc-fodder.” Total Film

“Written by [Ally] McBeal creator David E. Kelley, this comic thriller owes a substantial debt to Tremors, in which a similarly off-center bunch find themselves up against a nest of gigantic killer worms. Tremors is a wittier, less predictable picture, but this one is smoothly enjoyable, undemanding entertainment and features a couple of knock-out giant croc attacks.” TV Guide

“Director Steve (Friday the 13th Part 3-D) Miner knows a thing or two about delivering shocks (that is before he lost all his credibility with the atrocious Day of the Dead remake) but too much of the film’s goofy intentional humor gets in the way of the monster mashing.  Platt’s constant mugging in particular gets kinda annoying after awhile.” The Video Vacuum

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