Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Crocodile (1979)

Behold the power of exploitation movie poster art… I clearly recall stumbling across this one at the video rental store as a little kid during one of my many curious romps to the horror movie section. I was dually fascinated and terrified by the VHS box art of a crocodile, bigger than anything I had ever imagined, emerging from the waters with an explosion of destruction and carnage. The image had penetrated my subconscious, and for days I wondered what a movie that bared such menacing and awesome cover art could be like. After finally convincing my parents to rent it for me, I patiently waited for the household to fall asleep, in order to have the VCR and TV all to myself. Not surprisingly, the film ended up being nothing like I expected. The end result was a foreign, low budget, and awkwardly dubbed affair that didn’t leave me with a water phobia like JAWS did. However, it still managed to creep and gross me out with its eerie croc attacks and graphic under water carnage. For some reason, the movie really got under my skin, and to this day, its hold on me has never left. 

What unholy forces compel me to revisit this maddening tale of underwater terror? Is it a determination to confront and drive away an unsettling memory this film has procured in my mind, or is it to determine what has made it burrow its way deep into my sub-conscience and refuse to leave? It is also quite possible that I was just too young to recognize a lousy movie when I saw one. Well after viewing it again, I would have to say that I indeed was too young to notice the films flaws, and I’m glad that I was able to still put myself into a childlike mindset and still derive all of the feelings I experienced during my first viewing and more.

The film begins with intro credits that are set to a very tacky derivative of the JAWS theme that thankfully is never used later in the movie. The movie finally starts with a rather uninspiring quote before transitioning from the credits to footage of a stormy island setting: “From the very beginning, man has been trying to destroy nature, perhaps one day he may succeed… But then again on that day, nature may rebel, and this could happen”. What was meant by this, is a beach side village experiencing a hurricane with explosions, falling trees, and villagers fleeing from their crumbling homes. We start to understand what the narrator meant by nature rebelling against man from several slow motion shots of waves crashing into villagers and homes. I am sensing that this prelude of an island village being destroyed by the storm is an attempt to explain the existence of the giant man eating croc in this movie as a form of nature rebelling against mankind. Also, a little later it’s mentioned that this hurricane may have been due to some atomic explosion, presenting us with the pseudoscience notion that the giant croc might be the result of this same atomic explosion and possibly related to Godzilla.

The storm scene immediately cuts to a modern city and snazzy '70s rock music, in complete contrast to the films initial precedings, and it’s not long before we are introduced to the main characters of the film. Among them is the central character, Dr. Akom, who apparently has been way too busy at work, what with being a doctor and all. His wife has decided that the best thing he could use is a vacation get away at the beach. Along for the trip are Dr. Akom’s wife and daughter as well as his colleague Dr. Strong and his fiancée.




So we don’t get too bored during all of this plot development and to remind us that this is a creature feature, the film cuts to a very eerie under water travelling shot before leading into the first attack scene. During this scene, dissonant music and close ups of the crocs eye really do work in favor of the film's intention to give the viewer a feeling that the poor person on the lake is being stalked by a giant predator lurking beneath the water. This is a fairly satisfying initial croc attack that makes use of hissing sound effects and a real crocodile with a piece of meat in its jaws that is still moving. The choice to use a frail elder lady fishing in the river was a good one, since it gave me a feeling of “Oh know, it’s not going to eat that poor old lady is it?” sentiment. 




The film plods along some more and after some touchy moments of Dr Akom and his family on the beach and a love scene between him and his wife, that droning ominous crocodile theme begins to play again, which is definitely not a good sign. Dr. Strong’s Fiancée is going out into the water to see why Dr. Akom’s daughter has not yet returned from swimming alone in the ocean and is startled to find the little girl’s float all by itself. She is then pulled under by the crocodile before Dr. Akom’s wife mindlessly rushes into the water to try and help before getting eaten herself. This sets up the films revenge plot as both doctors have now lost those most close to them to the savage beast. While we don’t see the crocodile during this attack, it’s still a pretty good scene made quite eerie from the unnatural notion of a giant crocodile in the ocean. One thing that annoyed me though was that after this and most of the other crocodile attacks, the film cuts to a hospital where a god awful ambulance siren is sounding to depict that there has been another killing.




Spurred on by sadness, vengeance, and scientific zeal, Dr. Akom actually takes it upon himself to analyze the remains of his own wife and child in order to try and figure out what type of creature could be responsible. After examining the remains, reading about a fisherman who saw a giant crocodile in the sea, and verifying from an expert that a crocodile can in fact live in the sea, the doctor is convinced of what he must hunt and kill in order to exact vengeance for his wife and kid. In complete JAWS rip off fashion, Dr Akom and Dr Strong eventually find an experienced fisherman with a boat of modest proportions to hunt and kill the croc. However, for unclear reasons they wait around and conduct research on crocodiles before setting out. This is probably to give the film an excuse to show more croc carnage before they finally set sail to “slay the dragon”.


Eventually this crocodile starts to feel cocky enough to move on from hunting single victims to entire crowds of people. It makes use of its tail, and demolishes toy buildings ;-) and walkways off the coast of a port town causing numerous people to fall in the water and become croc feed. A grim and gory sight of the croc is shown under water with meat in its Jaws and a person swimming and thrashing nearby with missing limbs (A disturbing image I can’t get out of my head). Even after killing dozens of people during the town siege, hardly anyone bothers to hunt and kill it and so the croc continues its trail of terror.

One of the more amusing moments is when the mutant croc attacks a port town again and is able to generate a vortex in the water that sucks in victims. I believe that the vortex effect is a lot of fun and causes the film to start giving off more of a fantasy vibe. This monster starts using this cool new trick to attack several victims at once, causing the viewer to realize that all of that crazy croc carnage the art on the front cover of the film promises is actually happening (well sort of).


Eventually, Dr. Akom realizes that this beast apparently kills every three days and follows a pattern?!! (Just chalk it up to fantasy storytelling). By studying the intervals and villages the croc has attacked, the heroes of the story are able to pinpoint a crossroad where they can meet and challenge this beast. During the final battle, the croc actually jumps from the water and flies over the boat and bears down on it with its mighty tail. At this point, the beast feels more like a dragon than a crocodile. I don’t like to get in the habit of giving away endings, but it involves a giant explosion and that grooving seventies rock music heard earlier at the beginning of the film. 

Watching this a second time, I was surprised to witness a scene I didn’t remember, where three kids are swimming alone, and one gets savagely picked off from the croc, resulting in the most excessive amount of underwater blood I have ever seen. I am pretty sure this scene was cut from the VHS version I saw a long time ago, because I would have remembered it, and I likely would have developed a fear of water with paranoia of something big lurking nearby to devour me. There is something about this scene that made it feel real believable and tragic.


One thing I failed to mention at first is that the movie is extremely slow and quite dull in between croc attacks, but I think the patience is well worth it. I have seen a few giant crocodile movies, and I found this one to be the most memorable (IMO) due to the great, over the top, croc attack scenes. The film’s effects range from impressive, in a B-movie sort of way, to very bad. A scene that utilizes a shot of 2 glowing red flashlights that are supposed to pass as the crocs eyes nearly ruins it, though. But like I said before, this movie stuck in my subconscious since I first saw it as a little kid, and after seeing it again it still repulses me and creeps me out. For me, it possesses an ominous aura that gives me minor discomfort, and yet I can’t help feeling fascinated by it at the same time. Still, I do find myself having a difficult time recommending it because aside from the crocodile it really is a poorly paced film that most viewers will likely lose interest in early on, especially if the prospect of a giant man eating croc in the ocean isn’t compelling enough. I would say if this doesn’t sound like your thing, you probably won’t like it. Otherwise, it might be worth a look. There might be a movie here worthy of at least minor cult status. 


Beware the flying toy dragon.


5 comments:

  1. This sounds enjoyable, in a so-bad-its-good kinda way. And hey, it can't be as bad as Tobe Hooper's Crocodile, which was just BAD!

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  2. Yeah, it's a lot of fun. A little slow at times, but full of entertaining moments. I haven't seen Hooper's Crocodile yet, but for some reason I feel compelled to, despite widespread negative opinion. Thanks for commenting my friend. A memorable occasion since it's the first. Comment # 1 woo hoo!!

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  3. 2011 must be the years of Sompote Sands Crocodile, must be unique with two quite positive reviews so close to each other :) Good review and I agree with you. Would be very interesting to see the original Thai version (I still think it's completely Thai) with the original language.

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  4. Thanks! Your write up was very insightful http://ninjadixon.blogspot.com/2011/06/crocodile-1981.html
    I was thrilled to notice Nick Alexander's dubbing team when I watched this for the first time in well over 16 years or so. The familiar voice dubbing was nice, but if available I'd be highly interested in the original Thai version too.

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  5. Great review and love the box art. Will have to track this down.

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