Thursday, July 21, 2016
Director Report Card: Tobe Hooper (2000)
There was a time when I watched the Sci-Fi Channel, as it was then known, a lot. I loved “Mystery Science Theater 3000” while Sci-Fi often filled its schedule with old school genre television, classic horror and science fiction flicks. In the early two-thousands, the channel began to change its focus. Soon, the cable network began to show cheaply produced, direct-to-video monster movies over and over again. The special effects in these movies were often pathetic, relying on the shittiest of CGI. Nowadays, the channel’s biggest original movies are the “Sharknado” franchise, showing that this focus hasn’t shifted any. A common presence on the network at the time was “Crocodile.” For some reason, Tobe Hooper directed this movie. His long fall from the horror A-list had finally reached rock bottom.
Brady and Duncan are headed for a wild spring break in Florida. Once in the swamp, they meet up with Brady’s girlfriend Claire and a bunch of other kids. Their week of debauchery, drugs, and booze is interrupted when Claire discovers Brady has slept with Sunny, the loose girl in the group. Meanwhile, a pair of drunken hunters wreck a nest filled with mysterious eggs. Afterwards, they’re killed by a giant crocodile. A local legend, about a croc-worshipping hotel owner importing the reptile from Egypt, is connected with the beast. After the teens stumble upon the nest, the giant critter comes after them. Will any of them survive? Will the audience care?
During the Sci-Fi Channel’s rapid decline around the turn of the millennium, the network frequently showed movies produced by Nu Image. The company would eventually reach a certain level of main stream success by releasing “The Expendables” series. But they got their start producing low budget action schlock like “Cyborg Cop,” “Project Shadowchaser,” and “Operation Delta Force.” In time, the company would branch out into low budget horror schlock, such as “Shark Attack.” “Crocodile” was part of a loose trilogy of singularly entitled killer animal movies Nu Image released in 2000. “Crocodile,” “Spiders,” and “Octopus” were all shown on Sci-Fi Channel constantly. Their sequels – “Crocodile 2: Death Swamp,” “Spiders II: Breeding Ground,” and “Octopus 2: River of Fear” – were also frequently shown. “Crocodile” isn’t the worst of this particular suite of films. That’s “Octopus.” It’s also not the best, which is “Spiders.” (Maybe Nu Image agrees with that, as they bafflingly remade “Spiders” in 2013.) Not that quantifiers like “best” and “worst” mean anything when we’re discussing Z-grade garbage like this. “Crocodile” is still a monumentally shitty movie.
The fourth and final method the movie uses to create the title-lending monster is the most questionable. Back in the year 2000, mainstream Hollywood movies didn’t always have decent CGI. Studio produced creature features like “Anaconda” and “Lake Placid,” both of which were undoubtedly huge influences on “Crocodile,” featured digital effects that have aged extremely poorly. So what hope can we have for the computer generated images in a flick made with a quarter of those budgets? The CGI crocodile here doesn’t even appear to occupy the same plane of reality as the human characters. When walking, it floats an inch above the ground. When forced to interact with other objects, like a log or a gas station, the fakeness of the effects become even more obvious. The special effects are so crappy, they become insulting. How could anyone think this looked acceptable, much less good?
Okay, you’d at least expect a low budget horror movie to pile on the gore. Disappointingly, not so much. It’s clear that “Crocodile” was at least partially intended for a television audience. There’s no nudity and all the profanity can be easily dubbed out. As for the gore, it’s pretty meager stuff. We see someone get chomped by a croc, their body disappearing in a splash of blood. When a limb is bitten off, there’s a quick burst of minor blood. We don’t even see a weeping stump or get a gory close-up. The most explicit gag in the movie has a guy getting chomped in half by the croc, with the prosthetic being unconvincing. The lack of proper gore and nudity means “Crocodile” can’t even satisfy the most prurient of horror expectations.
Flat Dog for some reason, home with him from Egypt. Once there, he created a cult around the beast, worshiping it as an extension of Egyptian god Sobek. Apparently, the conservative Christian townsfolk were so scandalized by this, they chased him out of town and burned the hotel down. There’s a lot of foreshadowing concerning the dilapidated old building, with discussions about its checkered floors being stained with blood. That would’ve been cool to see, which means it was definitely outside Nu Image’s budgetary boundaries. This backstory suggest that something interesting could’ve been mined from “Crocodile.” Could’ve but wasn’t.
When he made “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” Tobe Hooper laid the groundwork for countless low budget horror movies about partying teens stumbling upon murderous terror. “Crocodile” also follows this familiar outline. While the teens in “Chain Saw” could occasionally be irritating, the teens in “Crocodile” are absolutely repugnant. Chris Solari’s Duncan has a stupid hair cut, hits crudely on all the girls, and spends most of the movie screaming profanity. Rhett Jordan’s Foster is similarly vulgar, obsessed with partying. Greg Wayne’s Hubs drinks until he pukes and plays cruel pranks. Sommer Knight’s Sunny, who also has a stupid haircut, is referred to as “that slut,” a character type she plays without subversion. Doug Reiser’s Kit shows a smidgen of self-awareness while Julie Mintz’ Annabelle is obsessed with her dog. They too get involved in the loud-mouth partying. Characters being poorly written is one thing. Making them outright unpleasant to be around is another.
You’d expect the main duo to be more likable. Mark McLauchlin’s Brady and Caitlin Martin’s Claire are at least more sensible then their friends. But only barely. Meanwhile, the movie quickly reveals that Brady cheated on Claire with Sunny. Why? Because he’s a scum bag frat boy, that’s why. When Claire discovers this, she acts coldly towards her boyfriend. Oh yeah, that’s what a shitty killer animal flick needs: Relationship drama. Since the script is utterly senseless, these disagreements soon dissolve into petty bickering and profanity-laced screaming. I hate it when B-movies do this shit. In-fighting, drama, and shrieking swears are not how you endear your obnoxious characters to the viewer.
some authority figures floating around inside “Crocodile.” Harrison Young’s Sheriff Bowman appears early on, warning the kids not to drink too much. He floats back into the story from time to time, occasionally providing some hope to the teens’ hopeless situation. Along for the ride is a local gator farmer named Shurkin. He has a personal grudge against Flat Dog, who ate his daddy decades ago. Yep, he’s the Quint in this scenario, proving that movies will never stop ripping off “Jaws.” Except Terence Evans is no Robert Shaw. Yes, of course, he gets chewed apart as well. Neither of these character end up adding anything to “Crocodile” at all. Instead, they only make the movie longer.
All right, so the script, special effects, and acting in “Crocodile” are total shit. But Tobe Hooper is a professional who’s been in the business for thirty years. Surely the movie at least looks good? Sadly, not even this holds true. When the crocodile is chasing after the teenagers, the camera often spazs pathetically. This kind of lame shaky-cam effort doesn’t add any intensity or urgency to the movie. Instead, it just makes the movie look like garbage. If you’re hoping to find some of Hooper’s trademark production design, you’ll be disappointed. Most of “Crocodile” takes place outside. The sets we do get are generic backwoods interiors. Even the opening credits are written in a cheap font, further emphasizing how careless a production this was.
There’s nothing notable about “Crocodile.” Does the film have any value at all, even of the unintentional variety? Occasionally. The redneck fishermen who wreck Flat Dog’s nest are so vocally anti-vegetarian that it becomes amusing. The white toy poodle named Princess somehow survives the whole movie. The dog does this by being smarter then the humans and running away from danger. A real laugher of a sequence has the poodle leaping between the crocodile’s snapping jaws. (John Kennith Muir suggest this is an intentional reference to Hooper’s earlier “Eaten Alive.” This time, the director allows the dog to live.) The funniest scene in “Crocodile” occurs where a stupid victim is tossed into the air by the croc and swallowed whole. Soon afterwards, the reptile vomits up the teen. How did he do this? By spraying the animal’s throat with bug spray. It’s gross but so dumb, it makes you laugh. Sadly, most of “Crocodile” is too boring, too obnoxious to produce much unintentional humor.