The late ’90s saw a surprising boom of killer animal creature features, including Anaconda, Lake Placid, Deep Blue Sea and Congo, among others. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint how the trend began, for some reason it worked. It’s time to relive those strange days, as Lake Placid is making its way onto Blu-ray courtesy of the ever-reliable Scream Factory.
Lake Placid is one of the bigger titles in Scream Factory’s illustrious catalog. Although not exactly a classic, the killer-croc flick is more than a mere cult favorite. In 1999, it was a Hollywood summer movie, made for an estimated $27 million. It took in more than double that at the worldwide box office; enough to warrant three made-for-TV sequels (which failed to fully capture the fun of the original).
Lake Placid takes place, strangely, at Maine’s fictional Black Lake. A fisherman is killed by an unknown creature in the water, and a fragment of a tooth found in the remains is believed to be prehistoric. New York paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda, The Godfather: Part III) is sent to Maine to investigate. Kelly begrudgingly works alongside cocky fish and game officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman, Independence Day), with whom she is initially at odds but feelings quickly develop.
With the assistance of Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson, Troy), they unsuccessfully attempt to identify the aquatic assailant. It’s not until wealthy professor Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt, X-Men: First Class) shows up that they consider the presence of a crocodile. As it turns out, 30-foot, man-eating saltwater croc inhabits the lake. The team is tasked with stopping it before it claims more victims.
The entire cast is great, but it’s Betty White who steals the show. The foul-mouthed Delores Bickerman has to be one of the most memorable roles in her impressive career. It’s impossible to keep a straight face upon hearing the lovable, grandmotherly actress say, “If I had a dick this is where I’d tell you to suck it.”
The film holds up surprisingly well 15 years later. It’s heavy on the camp, but intentionally so, giving it a bit of an ’80s feel. Rather than merely settling on being “Jaws with a crocodile” – although there’s plenty of that too – writer David E. Kelley (creator of Ally McBeal and The Practice) injects the script with humor. Despite the lighter tone, director Steve Miner (a genre veteran responsible for Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3 and Halloween H20) is not afraid to get gory.
What impressed me most about my revisit of Lake Placid was the crocodile itself; the effects have aged well. Like he did with Jurassic Park, special effects wizard Stan Winston built a giant, mechanical monster, which was used in tandem with CGI. The digital work is well done for its time and, thankfully, used only as needed. Taking the Jaws approach, the crocodile is only shown sparingly prior to the climax.
Scream Factory’s collector’s edition Blu-ray presentation only makes me appreciate the film more. Being a more recent effort, the high-definition transfer looks immaculate. The disc also features a brand-new making-of piece with members of the cast and crew, including Pullman, Miner, director of photography Daryn Okada, editor Marshall Harvey, production designer John Willett, FX supervisor Nick Marra and puppeteer Toby Lindala.
Also included is a vintage featurette, croc test footage, trailers, TV spots and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. I would have loved to have had a commentary from Miner, who is often absent from these types of things, but the fact that he’s involved at all is a victory in my book.
If you haven’t seen Lake Placid in over a decade, it’s time to give it another look. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray provides the perfect opportunity to do so. Not only do the film’s effects hold up, the story remains fun as well. It’s no Jaws, of course, but it rarely tries to be. Instead, Lake Placid seems content with its place an entertaining popcorn flick. In the time of Sharknado and its ilk, it’s all the more appreciated.