Lake Placid (1999) d. Steve Miner (USA)
Ah, Black Lake, Maine, where women are shrill, heroes are dull, asses are smart, and the sailor-swearing incarnation of Betty White is born. Another high-profile 1999 Fox horror effort that failed to find an audience (see: Ravenous), TV heavyweight David E. Kelley’s (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal) quip-laden dialogue must have looked great on the page, but without several seasons to flesh them out, his quirky, snarky characters barely register as human beings.
Even with an “all-star cast” of Bill Pullman (as an earnest government wildlife warden), Bridget Fonda (setting female paleontologists back decades, shriek by shriek), and Oliver Platt (this was 1999, after all), sitcom fans weren’t stoked to see a giant croc movie while horror enthusiasts were put off by the jokey antics and wacky punchlines. To say it ended up dead in the water would be punny if it weren’t also true.
Outside of the occasional animal attack, Brendan Gleeson’s hangdog small-town sheriff is the best thing about the film, primarily because he echoes the viewer’s disdain for everyone around him. Gleeson and Platt’s antagonistic relationship is at last occasionally entertaining, unlike the soggy tacked-on romance between Pullman and Fonda (who makes a point of falling out of every moving vehicle known to man because, you know, it’s hilarious).
Miner, who had been short-listed to direct a U.S. Godzilla film back in the early '90s before the deal went sour, finally gets his chance to tackle a giant monster movie, and does his best to balance the yuks with the yucks. Gleeson’s hauling an acid-tongued diver’s legless trunk out of the drink makes for a promising start, and had that gag/gag tone been balanced throughout, Lake Placid might have been a Scream-styled success.
But then 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. Again, a promising start....
|Note to Croc: EAT. THIS. GUY.|
Speaking of CG, Digital Domain, who had just received an Oscar for sinking James Cameron’s Titanic two years prior, delivers some worthy byte/bite augmentation to Stan Winston’s impressive full-scale animatronics, making the Cretaceous croc a worthy 21st-century monster. Unfortunate that it didn’t have a better vehicle in which to star, but it did spawn three TV-movie sequels, so hopefully those residual checks keep coming in.
Complaints and indifference aside, Shout! Factory’s recent BR issue looks fantastic, and the 15th-anniversary documentary is an enjoyable diversion in and of itself. Pullman, Miner, cinematographer Daryn Okada, editor Marshall Harvey, production designer John Willett, and effects men Nick Marra and Toby Lindala are on hand, all in agreement on the unusual nature of Kelley’s hybrid script and the difficulty of creating, maintaining, and shooting a giant creature feature on the film’s man-made lake. Yes, they built the whole freaking thing – laid the cement base, trucked in 1.5 million gallons of water, added all the trees and flora...and then shot late in the year when it was freezing cold. Ah, Hollywood.
|"Bill, I can't feel my fingers. Bill? Bill?"|
Lake Placid is available July 8 from Shout! Factory and can be pre-ordered HERE.
(Order directly from ShoutFactory.com to receive an exclusive 18"x24" poster featuring our newly commissioned artwork! Only 300 have been printed, so act quickly!)
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine