There’s a lot to be said about the stellar work produced by director Steve Miner, having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham (on set of their respective experimental directorial debut features, Last House On The Left, and Friday the 13th) before giving charge to oversee the birth of Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2. Despite its gimmicks, Miner’s sophomore feature would project Jason out of the screen in all its 3D glory, but more importantly witness the now infamous hockey mask for the first time. By the time he rolled out his third feature, House, Miner appeared to have hit his stride with an off-beat blend of comedy and horror. That is until the diabolically awful Soul Man was released and then Miner went through the wringer serving up mediocre comedy drama movies that seemed to leave him trailing in the dust of his glory years in the directors chair. Fast track to 1998, and Miner finds himself thrust in the limelight once again and in charge of resurrecting another slasher villain Michael Myers in Halloween: H20. It looked like Miner had found his niche once more and showed that he was more than able to slide into the slasher world with relative ease.
The following year, Miner would step into fairly new territory, the creature feature and look to subject horror onto the screen in the form of a 30-foot-long man-eating saltwater crocodile. It’s been 20 years since Lake Placid graced the celluloid art and my only memories of the film was of Bridget Fonda (who had already captured this young man’s heart in 1993’s The Assassin), Oliver Platt (who at the time was only known to me as the guy with the camera in Flatliners, and playing Porthos alongside Kiefer Sutherland in The Three Musketeers. So, does this film still stand the test of time today? I went into my most recent viewing with pretty low expectations, but I was surprised to find out that it’s not too shabby.
Before, you raise your quizzical eyebrows at me, let me present a few interesting points about the movie that lift it out of the quagmire of cheesy dialogue and one-note characters.
Firstly, the cast are strong enough to mould some shape into their characters, starting with the afore-mentioned Fonda as a paleontologist called in to investigate the owner of a prehistoric tooth found embedded in a victim of an underwater attack. To begin with her frosty, cool demeanour is a little off-putting admittedly, but by the time she warms up, so does our reception of her, which helps with her flirtatious relationship with the charming Bill Pullman (playing the local Fish and Game officer). To round out our quartet of intrepid explorers, there’s Platt as mythology expert Hector (a sure thing to become croc fodder, but somehow survives the odds) and his own heated relationship with the often underrated Brendan Gleeson as the Local Sheriff. And let’s not forget Betty White as the batty old lady who’s been hand-rearing reptiles from a lakeside abode.
The effects are actually pretty gnarly too with a man ripped in two, and a nasty decapitation scene, there’s enough to whet the appetite of your average movie-watcher, but the real hero is in the croc, which could so easily fall prey of poor results, but thankfully this beast still looks remarkable solid, and that has a lot to do with the late, great Stan Winston who oversaw the creature effects. Even the climax of the movie, despite its faults does enough to step up and deliver.
Sure, Lake Placid plays it fairly safe, but it wins you over with charm and a bit of grit, a hallmark of Miner at his best. There have been other croc movies since that arguably have pushed the boat out and delivered a stronger film, but if you wanna just kick back, take it easy, and still be entertained, this croc movie more than holds itself above water.
As for Miner, he drifted away from the feature scene after this following a forgotten western starring James Van Der Beek (Texas Rangers) and a Day of the Dead remake, and has since been cruising the odd tv show instead. Who knows, he may well wash ashore again to resurrect a whole new franchise. Until then, we’re left with a few classics to measure him by.
- Saul Muerte