Killer Crocodile (1989)

Written by: Fabrizio De Angelis, Dardano Sacchetti
Directed by: Fabrizio De Angelis (as Larry Ludman)
Starring:, Anthony Crenna as Kevin, Pietro Genuardi as Mark, Sherrie Rose as Pamela and Ennio Girolami as Joe

There is an anecdote amongst a group of my friends that has passed into legend about one of them trying to locate a killer crocodile movie through an interlibrary loan. The conversation between the two librarians went something like this: “This guy wants a killer crocodile movie.” “Which one?” “Doesn’t matter, they all suck.” And then they got him the wrong movie. The abhorrent archosaur he was attempting to acquire was CROCODILE (1979), a Thai movie made by the notorious Sompote Sands. What he got instead was Tobe Hooper’s CROCODILE (2000). The former is, I can say from personal experience, a real hoot. The latter is, by my friend’s estimation, something of a chore to sit through. I have a feeling that if they’d gotten him tonight’s movie instead, he wouldn’t have minded the mix-up so much.

By the time the 1990s were on the horizon, the mighty rip-off juggernaut of the Italian film industry that had dominated the previous decade was running on fumes. As the grindhouse theaters and drive-ins began to die off, the power source that drove the once dominant exploitation machine dried up with them. Bruno Mattei managed to jump-start it again for one last sad little wheeze in the mid-2000’s before he succumbed to illness, but that’s a story for another time. One of the last gasps of its original run was 1989’s KILLER CROCODILE, a JAWS (1975) knockoff so far past its expiration date that even the JAWS franchise itself had given up a couple of years before. Then again, the Italians were never ones to let a good idea die a noble death.

A group of environmental activists led by a rigid, humorless asshole named Kevin (Richard Anthony Crenna, credited here as just Anthony Crenna, presumably to avoid confusion with the far more famous and talented American actor for U.S. audiences) have come to a swamp in some unnamed Central American country to investigate claims of illegal toxic waste dumping. The mayor of the little town they stay in while conducting their mission is obstructive and unpleasant in every way he can be – and it’s not long before we find out why. A representative of ConHugeCorp Evil Holdings Enterprises Inc., LLC shows up to tell him in no uncertain terms that he’d best get rid of those meddling kids before they uncover the truth or things will go very badly indeed for Mayor McCheese. This is all very vague. We never find out what kind of dirt the company has on the mayor or precisely what calamities will befall him should their illicit disposal activities be discovered. It must be pretty bad for the mayor to continue defying the advice of local great white hunter Joe (our Quint analogue from JAWS) when a girl’s body is discovered clearly chewed to pieces. I’ll give you one guess as to what he and his pet medical examiner blame it on instead.

It’s not long before the titular beast makes an appearance in town and nearly eats a child off a dock in front of half the town (which, I’ll grant you, is like six people, but still . . . ). Kevin and his crew forget about the toxic waste and instead focus their attention on preserving the crocodile, which is bigger than anything since prehistoric times and of great interest to science. The crocodile becomes very interested in them as well. Outside of lure hunters like anglerfish, it’s not often a predator has such good luck finding a group of prey animals that are practically falling over each other to leap directly into its mouth. Once a few of their friends get eaten, Joe gets his Quint death moment, sinking into the river while riding on the croc’s back and stabbing away at it with a spear in the one actually effective moment in the whole movie. Kevin and Mark transform from flaccid hippy activists to fully-erect jungle warriors and . . . I can’t keep typing without laughing. These morons are fortunate to have made it out of the swamp alive, and they barely would have, were it not for a lucky hat and the most badass outboard motor in all of maritime history.

While THE LAST SHARK (1981) is by far the most literal JAWS knockoff (to the point where Universal Studios sued it out of US distribution in perpetuity, although Rifftrax somehow got the OK to put their stamp on it) and there are certainly others that also did a more wholesale cut-and-paste job with the plot, KILLER CROCODILE copies certain scenes and elements so closely that I’m surprised it didn’t get slapped with a lawsuit too. The “this was no boating accident” scene in particular is virtually a re-shoot of its more famous counterpart, for example.

The most blatant element slavishly copied from Spielberg’s masterpiece, however, is the score. Beyond simply aping the DUN-dun DUN-dun theme, Grammy winner Riz Ortolani steals great swathes from John Williams’s iconic score. I don’t have the musical vocabulary to describe specific passages in the kind of detail I’d like, but when you see this movie, if you’re at all familiar with JAWS, you’ll hear exactly what I mean. Ol’ Riz wasn’t above a bit of pilfering, though. His main theme for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) bears more than a passing resemblance to Michael Holm’s work on MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970). I suppose in the days before home video and every obscure horror soundtrack ever recorded being released on special edition multi-colored vinyl with ten pages of liner notes and never-before-seen photos, it was a lot easier to get away with that kind of thing.

Oh, and then there’s the ending. This review took a long time to get off the ground because I kept going back and forth on whether to stick with the house rule of not spoiling the end of movies I write about (a rule I tend to follow on my own blog as well) . The final scene of this movie is one that has to be seen to be believed because it’s so goddamn ridiculous. As much as I desperately want to tell everyone I meet about it in minute detail, I think it’s something best experienced if you’re not entirely prepared for it.

I’d love some feedback from the readers when you do see it or if you already have seen it, please leave a comment in the space provided below.

And if you’re a member of the BBandBC Facebook group, shoot me a message there. I want to know what went through your head when . . . well, you’ll just have to watch to find out.

Contributed by Bryan Clark

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