In celebration of Alligator (1980) finally getting a 4K/Blu-ray release this week courtesy of Shout! Factory, I thought I’d pay tribute to my favorite killer crocodilians on the Silver Screen. Of the twenty-three living species of this ancient Order of reptiles, it’s no surprise that its largest members – alligators and crocodiles – are popular choices for “Man vs Wild” films. This is likely due to their reputation of occasionally killing folks off-camera as well but is their notoriety justified? Well, it depends on where you live. Last year there was one alleged human fatality by an alligator and an estimated one thousand by crocodiles. Even if you don’t share an environment with these apex predators, and have zero chance of encountering one outside a zoo, the movie industry’s got you covered. And here are ten of my favorites in no particular ranking…
Alligator (1980) – One of many JAWS-inspired films, this story plays off the urban legend of “alligators in the sewers.” Lacking the budget of JAWS, it’s a surprisingly effective film with excellent performances (most notably the late, great Robert Forster) and practical effects. After getting flushed down the toilet as a pet, the title creature grows up in the sewers of “Chicago,” though all the in-ground swimming pools in this feature make it pretty obvious it was filmed in Los Angeles. Feeding off discarded dog carcasses that were illegally used for lab tests, our supersized tyke breaks free from his subterranean confines and starts dining on two-legged prey instead. I saw this film on TV as a kid and remember being disturbed by several scenes. For one thing, I was one of those sensitive kids who’d get traumatized by dogs or cats getting killed onscreen.
There’s also a scene involving a kid and a swimming pool that gave me nightmares. This film even inspired its own tabletop game by Ideal Toys and I pray one day I’ll come across one at Goodwill someday.
As mentioned, Shout! Factory just gave this movie a 4K/Blu-ray upgrade replacing my now worn-out DVD. Their collector set included a poster of the cover art and also a Blu-ray copy of the television cut I enjoyed on my first viewing. It’s also being carried at some stores including Best Buy (but sadly, no Steelbook).
Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) – In addition to Alligator, Shout! Factory also released its direct-to-video sequel, Alligator 2: The mutation. Detective David Hodges (Joseph Bologna) and his scientist wife, Christine (Dee Wallace) discover there’s an oversized gator devouring the locals. The couple (who have one child and zero chemistry) are trying to convince the Mayor to cancel a big celebration he’s planning, thereby preventing him from serving up the community as a smorgasbord. The presence of Dee Wallace and the villainous Steve Railsback raise the film’s standards despite having to deliver crappy lines such as, “You’re a child…stick with me and I’ll make you a woman.” If you’re no connoisseur of physical media, you can currently watch this movie for free on YouTube. IMDB gives it a paltry 3.8 stars out of 10 but the mere fact that this pre-ScyFy Channel flick used practical effects elevates it to a solid 5 stars in my book. I just wish they’d shown the gator a lot more than they did.
Killer Crocodile (1989) – In contrast to Alligator II, Italian director, Fabrizio DeAngelis, doesn’t hide his homemade monster from viewers and I think it looks pretty good all things considered. Like many great Italian “man vs wild” films, it also isn’t shy in blatantly ripping-off JAWS; most notably the familiar, pulse-pounding score. A Group of young ecologists, testing a river for traces of pollution, discover it’s not only polluted but being used as a toxic waste dump. They also learn it’s home to an enormous, man-eating crocodile; particularly unusual for that region. At first, the eco-friendly bunch is determined to protect the animal from an over-the-top big game hunter but quickly change their tune once it starts eating them along with their pooch. In case you haven’t figured it out already, dogs usually don’t fare well in killer croc films. Cheesy as this movie can be, it’s never dull and the title creature shows up enough times to ensure you’ll never forget who the star is. The ending also sets up a direct sequel which brings us to…
Killer Crocodile 2 (1990) – This movie was filmed back-to-back with its predecessor giving it consistent crocodile SPFX along with Richard Anthony Crenna reprising his role as the main protagonist. Although the previous flick touched on the toxic waste angle, this one delves much deeper with the film often resembling an action movie rather than horror. To me, this created an unnecessary distraction from our friend, the Killer Crocodile doing what he does best. Severin released both films together in a single set and it was a welcome addition to my physical media library. I can also attest that Killer Crocodile and Killer Crocodile 2 make for a fun double feature.
Rogue (2007) – 1981 saw the release of two of the greatest werewolf films, The Howling and An American Werewolf in London. Likewise, 2007 saw the release of two of my favorite killer crocodile movies – both Australian. One of these is Rogue, a film I think never gets the love it deserves. A group of tourists (including an American journalist) embarks on a crocodile-watching tour before finding themselves under attack by one of their oversized subjects. The cast is superb and even features Sam Worthington in a minor role shortly before he’d go on to star in Avatar (2009). Its terrific croc effects and constant suspense will keep you at the edge of your seat. It was briefly released on blu-ray but good luck getting your hands on a copy for under $100. When, or if, this gets a proper re-release, I’ll just have to settle for my old, trusty DVD copy.
Black Water (2007) – This is the other 2007 killer croc film I love. Just like Rogue, it’s an Australian production which makes perfect sense since the country boasts the largest population of saltwater crocodiles in the world. What makes this film particularly effective, however, is that its killer croc is average-sized with a real one used in its biggest reveal. The film’s co-director, Andrew Traucki, would later use this same formula in his killer shark feature, The Reef (2010), another favorite of mine that I gushed about over ten years ago. The film opens with an expository message stating it’s based on true events and that both human and crocodile populations are exploding in northern Australia. This message, along with our happy trio of tourists visiting a crocodile farm, effectively foreshadows the horror that’s to come. When their ill-fated river tour results in getting capsized by a territorial croc, they find themselves fighting for survival in an isolated mangrove. From then on, the viewer is held in a constant state of suspense and terror. In one notable scene, the survivors are forced to listen to the crocodile slowly chomp on what’s left of a loved one. A sequel titled Black Water: Abyss was released in 2020 but pales in comparison. As of this date, the film is available on Blu-ray outside the United States only…and yes I bought a copy.
The Great Alligator a.k.a. The Big Alligator River (1979) – It’s got “Alligator” in the title but the creature is really an extra-large crocodile. The film takes place in Asia where there’s no Alligator River nor, for that matter, any alligators. This Italian film takes place at a newly built tropical resort which the natives believe has awoken their gator god, Kroona. The cheesy-looking crocodile and racist portrayal of the natives will make you cringe while the overall bad pacing makes for a difficult watch. Still, the movie’s got some decent gore, and did I mention beautiful Bond girl, Barbara Bach, is in it too?
Primeval (2007) – Although Primeval is a work of fiction, its killer, Gustav, was a very real man-eating croc said to have killed at least 300 people in the African Republic of Burundi. National Geographic even did a documentary on Gustav while attempting to capture the beast back in 2004. This film shows a group of American adventurers sharing that same goal while also trying to navigate the region’s political unrest. In fact, this film often gets criticized for delving too much into the political elements of the story, thereby creating an uneven narrative. I didn’t mind it so much and thought it added a realistic element to the story along with some interesting social commentary. My biggest complaint is with the crocodile. Gustav looks pretty good for a CGI monster but his Spider-Man-like agility detracts from his realism. My understanding is that alligators and crocodiles are good for short spurts of energy but this one chases one of the characters across the Savanna with all the endurance of a young lioness. Despite the grim subject matter, there are some humorous lines that successfully lighten the mood. One character in particular (played by Orlando Jones) consistently cracked me up. All in all, this is a solid killer croc film. It is also currently available on Blu-ray.
Incidentally, the real Gustav was never captured and, despite some reports claiming he’s been killed, no photographs or evidence support this.
Lake Placid (1999) – This film is really more of a horror/comedy than straight horror, but entertaining nonetheless. Stan Winston creates an impressive crocodile which, coupled with a talented cast and witty script, makes for a pleasurable watch. The recently deceased Betty White also gives a memorable performance while staying true to her reputation as an animal lover (as long as you aren’t a cow). Ever want to see a croc take on a grizzly? This is the movie for you! The film spawned three sequels (including one made-for-TV) but I’ve honestly never seen any of them. At this date, Lake Placid and Lake Placid 2 (2007) are the only ones on Blu-ray and readily available.
Crawl (2019) – I enjoyed seeing this at the theater with one of my daughters which worked out great since the film actually has a father/daughter theme. A champion swimmer checks in on her dad who’s been unresponsive and lives in the path of an oncoming hurricane. She finds him unconscious in a crawlspace surrounded by killer alligators that are taking full advantage of the hurricane floods. This plot isn’t as far-fetched as you may think. Remember that one 2021 alligator death I mentioned earlier? It was a Lousiana man devoured by a 500-pound gator that swam in from the floodwaters of Hurricane Ida. The bulk of the SPFX is digital but at least it’s decent enough CGI not to take you out of the movie. This is a fun flick with plenty of suspense. It also looks beautiful on its readily available Blu-ray!
And that’s my 2021 list of favorite killer croc films. I also have a few “Paperbacks from Hell” that delve into this subject as well…
If you know of any good killer croc films (or books) I may have missed, please share them in the comments.