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Notable Crocodiles of the Big Screen!

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Compiling a list of appearances by crocodiles is both a little too easy (as monster movies they’re inherently similar) and a little difficult (there simply aren’t around of them, frankly). Unlike sharks, the other staple of the animal attack genre, crocodiles and alligators can stalk us on land just as easily, making them twice as scary if you like camping, ever holiday in Africa or have ever flushed a ‘dead’ pet down the toilet.

That’s why we’ve gone a step further, featuring not just starring but also cameo roles where our reptilian friends stood head, shoulders and scales above other set pieces in the movie.

1. Alligator (1980)

The granddaddy of the genre, Jaws in the sewer (or the suburbs), if you like. Director Lewis Teague and a young Robert Forster as hero David (fresh off Disney’s ”The Black Hole”) bring us a rollicking romp that riffs on the alligators-in-big-city-sewers meme that was popular at the time.

With surprisingly clever effects for the era (done with miniatures and animatronics), a campy Henry Silva as a big game hunter and enough blood to keep video nasty fans happy, it’s a popcorn-flavoured gem.

2. Lake Placid (1999)

On the surface, Steve Miner’s horror film looked like a CGI update of the genre classics, but the subversive script and priceless characterisations made it a modern classic. From Bridget Fonda’s dry, lovelorn biologist to Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson’s love/hate relationship and Betty White’s many immortal lines (‘If I had a dick this is where I’d tell you to suck it’), it’s both tongue-in-cheek and laugh-out-loud funny.

3. Rogue (2007)

Greg McLean’s follow-up to the searing ”Wolf Creek” ticked all the boxes and looked great on paper but came off strangely… soulless. The CG crocodile effects were by Sydney effects house Fuel and everything else seemed similarly two-dimensional.

Interestingly, it proved the erstwhile (and accidental) theory postulated by Jaws all those years before when Bruce the shark refused to work and couldn’t be shown too clearly. The most effective scenes involving the titular croc are when it’s half-visible, like when a dark shadow rushes the leisure craft piloted by no nonsense Kate (Radha Mitchell). During the climactic scenes, the all-too-visible croc loses most of its mystique.

4. Primeval (2007)

There seemed little else monster moves could teach us, but this little-seen flick reminded us about something we’d mostly forgotten since the days of Lon Cheney Sr – horror movies are supposed to be scary.

With some jump-out-of-your seat scares and a grimy aesthetic that matched the mucky, scratchy African locations perfectly, director Michael Katleman turns the true story of Gustave the killer croc (who menaced villages along a Burundi river and was reported to have eaten up to 300 people by 2004) into a horror story, not just an action thriller.

5. Live and Let Die (1973)

After his capture by Kananga (Yaphett Kotto), James (Roger Moore) is turned over to henchman TeeHee, who takes him to a Louisiana alligator farm in one of the Bond series’ trademark overly complicated methods of dispatch.

After he’s left on the small island in the middle of the croc-filled swamp, James sees his chance when four or five of the inhabitants line up between him and the other shore and uses them as stepping-stones to freedom. There were no computer graphics, they weren’t fake crocs and it took farm owner Ross Kananga (whom Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman liked so much they named the villain after him) five hair raising attempts to get right (http://youtu.be/ABBuCnaGW2U)

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

After Indy releases the slave children from Pankot Palace and he, Willie (Kate Capshaw) and Short Round (Wan Le) make good their escape from the mines, they get out of the frying pan and straight into the fire with the river crossing.

As Thuggee guards line up on both sides and crocodiles wait at the end of a long drop into the muddy river below, Indy raises his sword and does things his way, sending Mola Ram (Amrish Puri) into their clutches after a cliffside scuffle.

Watch for the continuity error too – wide shots of the bridge taken from side on show a much shorter drop to a thin, lazy stream winding through scattered rocks, not the wide river hundreds of feet down sheer rock walls.

7. Peter Pan (1953, 1960, 2003) & Hook (1991)

There’s no more decisive way to humanise your villain than to give him or her an irrational fear. Not that fear of crocodiles is irrational, but Captain Hook (vice of Hans Conried, Cyril Ritchard, Jason Isaacs, Dustin Hoffman) is sure the crocodile that swallowed the clock is stalking him alone, and amid his schemes to do away with Peter and the Lost Boys it’s the endless tick-tock that keeps him up at night.

Die J M Barrie just need a auditory device to warn the kids (and Hook) when his scaly nemesis was approaching from offstage, or does the clock-in-croc symbolise the inevitable approach of death? You decide.

8. Black Water (2007)

Horror is fun when it’s in movies, as good-time scream fests from ”The Evil Dead” to ”Piranha 3D” prove. But what if you really found yourself stranded up a tree on a swollen river with a crocodile in the water below, happy to wait until exhaustion or a mistake deliver you into its jaws?

The crocodile in Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich’s criminally underseen film isn’t a monstrously proportioned, computer generated or animatronic ogre – it doesn’t need to be. As damsels in distress Diana Glenn and Maeve Dermody discover, a regular croc is scary enough.

Instead of the killer lying in wait it’s the nerve-sawing, palpable, dramatic fear portrayed by the actors that will crawl under your skin and make Black Water one of the most effective horror experiences ever.

9. Crocodile Dundee (1986)

When Hoges and his creative brains trust (writer John ‘Strop’ Cornell, director Peter Faiman) sold the rugged romance of the Australian outback to the world in the runaway hit that put Australian cinema on the map, they knew they needed some danger with their wide-brown-land beauty.

The scene of the croc attack delivered both as leading lady Sue (Kinda Kozlowski) pulls her skirt down to reveal a g-string swimsuit so she can cool off at the water’s edge. Before she has time to blink a croc rushes her from the water, jaws snapping shut on the water bottle around her neck for a menacing tug of war (in hindsight of course, she could have just ducked forward and let go of it). Mick (Hogan) swinging in from the trees with his ‘this is a knife’ blade for a heroic rescue is the first step on their road to romance.

10. Fantasia (1940)

Always the innovator, Uncle Walt quite rightly asked why the order of Crocodylia had to be portrayed as hungry man-eaters. Why not have them doing ballet with hippos to Dance of the Hours, from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.

Like the rest of the film the sequence is one of whimsy and irreverence, the signature Disney method of using animals as characters all part of the charm.

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About Drew Turney

An Australian-based film critic and celebrity interviewer now based in Los Angeles, California.

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