Killer Crocodile (1989)
A group of environmentalists discover that someone has been dumping radioactive drums along a Santa Domingo river, which in turn has mutated a crocodile into gigantic size and with an appetite to match. As attacks on humans begin to happen along the river, the company responsible for dumping the material blames the environmentalists for the spate of deaths to try and cover their tracks.
The Italians used to make rip-offs better (or maybe that should be worse) than anyone else. Two of their favourite films to rip-off were Dawn of the Dead and Jaws, both of which were the recipients of many terrible attempts to cash in on their success and popularity. But with the case of Jaws and it's many Italian clones, they were all released within a close period to each other whilst the popularity of the sub-genre was still high: Tentacles, The Great White, and Monster Shark to name a few. But the sub-genre was short-lived and the Italians milked it dry. Killer Crocodile was a very late attempt to inject some life into the formula by switching out locations from the ocean to the swamps and changing the titular beast. It has long-been overshadowed by the more famous (and inferior) killer shark flicks and undeservedly so.
Killer Crocodile knows its audience and what they expect to see so one minute into the film, you get a big money shot of the titular monster and then it frequently makes appearances throughout. There's no hiding it in the shadows or under the water; this crocodile is not camera shy. I'm not sure what to make of it but at least I can see where a lot of the budget went. It certainly looks fake and fairly immobile in places but it's big, pretty fearsome in close-ups and at least the animatronic crocodile is used for interacting during attack scenes so you see characters being bitten and dragged underwater by the mechanical monster. The crocodile doesn't care who it attacks - kids aren't spared. And this is precisely why Killer Crocodile works - it's one of the 'best' Jaws knock-offs out there purely because it doesn't care about the clichés or trying to reinvent the wheel; it just rolls with them knowing full well it won't be able to break free of them. Killer Crocodile has a mad energy to it and goes about presenting its material at full speed.
It's almost useless trying to make sense of the story at times because the dialogue is pretty rubbish, not helped by some poor dubbing. Just go with the flow because many of the same problems that face these Italian films are evident in Killer Crocodile so you'll know what you're getting yourself in for if you've a frequent purveyor of this type of cinema. Extremely bad dubbing which doesn't match the tone or mannerisms of the actors, a terrible script which tries to inject some seriousness at times, some poor actors who overact, a complete lack of atmosphere and suspense and an over-reliance on cruder shock methods like more gore are the film's problems, not to mention some totally obvious copying from Jaws. Taking into account the obligatory monster POV shots, there's plenty of other ripping. The opening scene is almost a like for copy of Jaws, with a lone female swimmer going out for a swim, being attacked in the water whilst a guy sits on the shore. The music is very John Williams-esque and it's easy to spot his signature ‘shark’ motif in there, albeit it twisted around a little bit to avoid copyright problems, and there's a token 'Quint' character in there to hunt down the crocodile.
But put the comparisons down and Killer Crocodile is more than a match for its counterparts. The crocodile is very well fed and the constant buffet it is served up keeps the pace of the film going. There are no victims of stock footage or bad editing here, just dummies and actors being ripped apart by an animatronic model. There is plenty of gore - the Italians were not known for being reserved in these matters - and so expect to see arms ripped off, mangled corpses and an explosive finale involving an outboard motor. Frequent Lucio Fulci collaborator Giannetto De Rossi provides the make-up effects and does a sterling job of conveying the carnage on-screen. Being predominantly water-based, obviously the crocodile needs people to come to it and so takes to smashing into boats or piers to knock people overboard. The destruction is always shown, which is a testament to the effects team and the camera crew who do a great job in hiding the crocodile's obvious deficiencies.
Fabrizio De Angelis was so confident of the success of this film, that he made the sequel immediately afterwards (presumably so he could re-use the surviving actors, the same crew and, of course, the same animatronic croc before they were sent back to Italy). But the Italian horror scene had almost virtually died by this point, unless your name was Argento or Soavi, and so Killer Crocodile and its sequel were never picked up for US distribution. Their first official releases came in 2019, thirty years after they were initially made.
Killer Crocodile isn't as bad as it probably deserves to be. There are plenty of decent moments, the crocodile at least looks plausible and it gets well fed throughout. It's not well made and there are so many holes and gaps in logic but it's not worth bothering about. You know exactly what you're getting yourself in for with an Italian exploitation horror from this decade and Killer Crocodile delivers a ton more than most of its contemporaries. It's not high art but it sure as hell is entertaining.
Director(s): Fabrizio De Angelis
Writer(s): Fabrizio De Angelis (screenplay), Dardano Sacchetti (screenplay)
Actor(s): Richard Anthony Crenna, Pietro Genuardi, John Harper, Sherrie Rose, Ann Douglas, Thomas Moore, Van Johnson
Duration: 90 mins