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Friday, January 21, 2022

‘Killer Crocodile’ – The Italian Creature Features and Their Schlocky Charms [Horrors Elsewhere]

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

Vintage Italian horror is well stocked with ghouls, murderers and zombies, but fans of this niche-specific area of the genre rarely see animals going wild. While there is certainly no absence of animals — Inga from Dario Argento’s Phenomenon, the shark in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, and the many bestial casualties within Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust — creature-centric films like Wild Beasts and Rats: Night of Terror are in short supply. For the most part, though, the great names of Italian horror shied away from antagonistic critters.

A staggering amount of nature’s revenge films naturally followed in the wake of Jaws. Mainly sharks dominated these opportunistic copycats, but every now and again, other predators eagerly chowed down on humanity. Chief among them are the crocodilians emerging from their wetlands, larger than evolution ever permitted, and carving out a considerable spot for themselves in the creature-feature section. Their appearances are random and not always concentrated; they lunge out of nowhere like the Killer Crocodile duology.

Several years after animal-run-amok films were more or less retired following a deluge of them in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Fabrizio De Angelis produced two films about an oversized, mutated croc in some far-flung part of the world. The first of this toothy twosome, directed by De Angelis himself, trudges through familiar waters. Environmentally-conscious Americans descend upon an unnamed delta — both Killer Crocodile entries were shot back to back in the Dominican Republic — in search of industrial goings-on. This group of young, sun-kissed tourists uncovers illegal dumping of toxic contaminants in the river. Little do they know, the pollution has had an adverse effect on the crocodiles. One in particular has been transformed into a colossal monster with an appetite to match.

Kevin (Richard Anthony Crenna) and his fellow do-gooders insert themselves into the situation as these self-appointed “white saviors” who act like they know better than everyone else. On the opposite end of the morality spectrum is a corrupt judge (Van Johnson) and an unethical businessman (Wohrman Williams) named Foley. The former grows a conscience late into the game, whereas Foley remains unprincipled. Also present is a grizzled crocodile hunter named Joe (Ennio Girolami), who understandably wants to kill the abomination after it chows down on the locals.

When Kevin and his friends take issue with Joe destroying the croc, the film starts to feel like a parody of greenie culture. Maybe even a mockery of their beliefs. Kevin and Mark (Julian Hampton) shed their integrities the fastest and come to agree with Joe after he saves them from their recklessness. The women (Sherrie Rose, Ann Douglas) barely feel present as only the men take action, but now they express concern over their friends’ wavering principles. Jennifer and Pamela eventually hang back as the others enter the croc’s watery turf for a final showdown. When the time comes for either man or beast to prevail, Kevin’s transformation from tree hugger to full-on crocodile slayer is bloody and loud. An injured Joe passes the baton — or in this case his lucky, flying hat — to the next generation of hunters, effectively stripping Kevin of his original code of ethics.

Killer Crocodile plays out like other eco-horrors in the sense that they all embellish the consequences of toying with nature, and how only hard action rather than activism can rectify said ecological problems. Idealistic folks in these films are usually seen as too soft or outright ineffective at their jobs, and their romantic nature lands them in trouble unless they adapt. Eat or be eaten, in both the literal and metaphorical sense here. Although not everyone in the first film is willing to sacrifice their scruples, the one who does is the most rewarded.

As to be expected with these sorts of films, Killer Crocodile leaves room wide open for a sequel; the first croc’s surviving hatchling grows into an identical gargantua. At the same time, a scrappy, American reporter named Liza (Debra Karr) finds herself smack dab in the middle of the ensuing carnage as she investigates the river’s toxic state. Joining her later is Kevin, the only person capable of taking the new mutant down.

Giannetto De Rossi received the biggest promotion behind the camera; he went from being the first film’s makeup artist to the sequel’s director. The new addition of Karr as a spitfire reporter provides a touch of personality in an otherwise nondescript follow-up. While the kills here are definitely meaner and more like those in the Jaws sequels — the reptile stalks and devours two rowboats full of children and nuns in one notable scene — there is a distinct lack of energy all throughout. The recycling of past footage helps pad the runtime, the man-operated croc prop somehow seems more stiff this time around, and the conclusion is rushed. All in all, Killer Crocodile 2 is more of the same but now with only half the charm and spirit.

Italo-horror put a unique spin on the more well-worn stories in its heyday; ingenuity and style elevated the most basic tales of masked killers and zombies. In contrast, a cheesy latecomer like Killer Crocodile admittedly adds nothing new to its respective subgenre. Merciful and curious B-movie seekers, however, are sure to find enjoyment in this schlocky series. Ardent creature-feature fans are in the same boat; they can hardly pass up such a middling but entertaining croc flick.


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