Examining the end of the Lake Placid saga

Feature Matt Edwards 5 Jun 2013 - 06:28

The fourth film in the Lake Placid killer croc series is called The Final Chapter. But does it bring the saga to a close? Matt finds out...

“What’s your favourite Lake Placid film?”

You’d be surprised at how many conversations don’t start this way. It’s not for a lack of trying on my part, but it’s a question that seems to bring an awkward air to interactions and induce a strange, saddening silence. I think the problem is that when people think of the Lake Placid films, they think of one complete narrative, rather than four separate films. When asked to consider them as individual entities, they become confused and don’t know how to respond.

Or it could be that most people have only heard of the first one. It’s difficult to know.

The recently released fourth Lake Placid film bears the subtitle, The Final Chapter. We all learned a great deal from the Friday The 13th films, but perhaps the most important lesson was not to trust the integrity of this subtitle (particularly from a fourth film). However, the Final Chapter waters have since been muddied, with the Saw franchise using it, at least for now, with accuracy at the end of the title Saw 3D.

If this really is the end of the Lake Placid saga, should fans expect be left fulfilled, like a woman bedding down with me for the night, or should they prepare to be left frustrated, like a woman who is actually  bedding down with me for the night?

The story so far

The original Lake Placid went like this: a small idyllic town, policed by the mighty Bill Pullman, is horrified to find that its picturesque lake has something of a giant blood-thirsty crocodile problem. The local authorities want to capture the beast alive, but find themselves relying on the resources of a wealthy hunter who is intent on slaying the creature. Things are complicated by the film's unlikely villain, a sweet little old lady (Betty White) who's been feeding the crocodile.

The film itself is a fun enough take on the creature-feature B-movie, with a strong cast and light, likeable tone. I don’t know that I’d be able to defend it against accusations of being slight and tame (I’m actually busy defending myself from such accusations from women who have bedded down with me for the night. I promise we’re done with that joke now), though. It could certainly do with a heavier dose of scares, laughs and gore, although I find it hard to muster any ill will towards such a good-natured film. It was a modest box office success, pulling in $56m worldwide. More importantly, though, the film established a cult following. 

Fans were made to wait eight years for their next visit to Lake Placid, with the creatively-titled Lake Placid 2. Released direct to video, the film was made for a considerably smaller budget than the first. It’s about another killer crocodile surfacing in the same lake, this time after a decent feeding from the crazy woman in the first film’s sister. A scientist wants to help the sheriff capture the creature alive, while a wealthy poacher wants me to copy and paste a chunk of my description of the first film, except in a worse font. Lake Placid 2 is a bit like that; it’s the first film, but in Comic Sans.

Lake Placid 2 has just the worst CG I’ve ever seen. People will often debate benefits of practical effects over CG. In the case of Lake Placid 2, the practical effect equivalent of this level of CG would be a crocodile hand puppet. It’s a lot less fun than the first film, with basically every element of cinema having deteriorated like the franchise had spent the previous eight years ‘doing a Mickey Rourke’ and taking up head trauma as a second career. If you’ve ever seen a MegaGator vs Dinoknobhead style film on the SyFy channel, that’s what this film is like. Lake Placid 2 is most notable for its disappearing/reappearing CG sea plane.

Lake Placid 3 is an even cheaper film, I was stunned to learn. This time a young lad gets caught shoplifting meat for the crocodiles in the lake that he has secretly been feeding for years (the Lake Placid saga features many characters feeding meat to human-eating crocs for no reason at all). His parents (the sheriff and a real estate agent) are livid, his babysitter is a dick and the crocodiles have had enough of the water and start eating anyone who crosses their path, no matter how ‘on-land’ they are. Meanwhile, a teenager hires some local toughs (headed up by the legendary badass Reba) to help him find his girlfriend, who is camping with friends by the lake. Then crocomania occurs. Chomp!

Lake Placid 3 is so remarkably cheap that they couldn’t even afford bricks to play the walls of the buildings; you can clearly see walls rucking up like curtains. It’s not very good, I don’t think, but it’s no worse than its predecessor. It does genuinely feature the line “Did I eat too much chili when he was in the womb and now he’s a sociopath?”

There’s also some gratuitous nudity, a staple of the series' DTV entries. Honestly, you girls, having your topless chats in the woods, completely oblivious to hungry predators; what are you like?

Lake Placid 4

Lake Placid: The Final Chapter sees Reba return from part three (although the character has, strangely, become a pansy), working alongside a team of government specialists to capture the mega-crocs populating the lake, so that science can work out what’s going on. There are also croc hunters on the scene again, because apparently we still have more ground to cover in this area, a sheriff with an antisocial daughter and a school trip that has, thanks to a combination of poor luck and bungling, ended up in an area with a particularly high croculation.

The Final Chapter was directed by Don Michael Paul, the hero behind Steven Seagal and Ja Rule-starring prison ruck-fest Half Past Dead. The budget is up, too. It’s still basically a no-budget film, but things look better than in part three. You get the impression there was money to feed to crew on this one. As it turns out, the film itself isn’t particularly good. It’s better than the last two, though.

It’s got Robert Englund in it. That suggests a bit of money right there. I don’t know how much money it takes to get Robert Englund, but between him and the catering, someone’s clearly loosened the purse strings. I took his appearance here as a nod to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre follow-up Eaten Alive, a grimy little film about a motel owner who feeds his guests to his pet alligator, which featured a young Englund as a riled-up youth with a taste for hookers. Here, Robert Englund has a hidden agenda, the dastard. His character is only in it for the money. No, I said his CHARACTER is only in it for the money. Come on guys, let’s be better than cheap shots like that. 

The CG has improved, but it’s still a distance from good. It’s like my cooking; I’m not hospitalising people any more, but each dish comes with a side serving of ‘risk of diarrhoea’. The film still looks cheap. There are no more disappearing CG planes, but you’re unlikely to ever mistake it for a film that’s been anywhere near a cinema screen.

The super-sized CG crocs move around with the grace of an elderly relative who’s been goaded into attempting to dance the Gangnam. It doesn’t matter too much how well they get where they’re going, as they seem to be having some trouble with their toughness. One of them chases down a tiny teenage girl only for her to bop him into submission with a gun. Another crocodile drags a teen boy away, only to leave him alive on account of his being one of the central characters.

Then we have the bus driver character, who treats the rules of the road with ridicule. While driving a busload of teens on a school trip, he watches pornography on his phone. Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the entire Lake Placid franchise is how much he seems to be enjoying this, despite the video being little more a wobbling patch of pixels. He takes a wrong turn into a highly secured area because a catastrophe has seen the gate left open, meaning that this film is driven by a less subtle version of the plot of the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios. Later in the film he interrupts a couple of girls having a topless splash fight in the lake by pissing in the water. It’s weird that someone would write that. I’d be interested to know what itch they were scratching with this scene. 

Other characters include a scientist, played by Paul Nichols, who used to be in EastEnders, and a cop played by PC Reg Hollis from The Bill. Not bad, right?

The people in Lake Placid: TFC are in a constant state of tumbling off boats. When they’re not doing that, they like to busy themselves by bumbling through the woods, being chased and eaten and unable to fight crocomonsters. How many times do you need to shoot and not kill a crocodile before you stop shooting and try something else? Also, are you sure those guns are working? That’s the same croc that the tiny pixie girl duffed up with the non-shooty end of gun. Are you all missing with every single shot? Couldn’t the director have brought Steven Seagal in to help with their marksmanship?

I’d like to add here that, while I’m happy to give these films a fair ribbing, it’s difficult to feel any malice towards them. They’re meant in good fun, they’re generally inoffensive and they’re easy to avoid if you don’t like them. Also, they obviously have a following – we’re not seeing a fourth film because no one has been watching. If this is your bag, there’s no reason your tastes shouldn’t be catered to.

So that’s Lake Placid: TFC, then. But where does this leave us?

Resolution

The ending here does attempt to tie things up. Well, kind of. They conclude that attempting to humanely capture and then study these crocodiles is a waste of time and has caused many unnecessary deaths. So, basically, the idea of environmentalism being a positive in the first film? Well, they’ve thought about it and they’ve decided we can get the hell out of here with that hippy dippy bullshit. Kill ‘em all and mount their heads on the wall!

Plot-wise, we end up with the final showdown at the old lady’s cottage from the first film. It turns out that Robert Englund has been searching for the cottage so he can collect some valuable mega-crocodile eggs. I’d have called this film Lake Placid: Robert Englund Goes Cottaging. That might be why I don’t get to write the movies. Anyway, the eggs get crushed, he gets eaten and everyone who is meant to lives happily ever after. So that’s some closure. If this really is the end, at least we’ve not been left with a Carnivale-style cliff hanger.

Unresolved

The Lake Placid films can’t be over. I still have questions.

Just how big is this lake?

The Lake Placid saga has not been the continual journey of a set of characters. I feel like there are fuller arcs for the people in these films, who I have come to regard as vague acquaintances over the course of the six hours I’ve spent watching them. I think only one character has ever appeared in two Lake Placid movies. This leaves behind many characters, and assuming we’re able to remember them, we might one day like to know what happened to them. Wait, what were they even called? I’m drawing a blank here. You know what? Let’s not worry too much about this point. They survived being attacked by gigantic crocodiles; they’re probably doing just fine.

Perhaps the biggest question I have, though, is how can we be satisfied with a series of films about murderous lake beasts that never had an entry called Underwater Slaughter? That’s bullshit. My personal suggestions for the future of the franchise would be:

Lake Placid 5: Underwater Slaughter

Lake Placid 6: World Of Leather

Lake Placid 7: World Of Leather 2: The Final Chapter

Lake Placid 8: Octocroc

Lake Placid 9: Lakequake

Lake Placid X: Attack Of The Killer Space Crocs

These are just my title ideas. Obviously I’ve got much more to offer. Lake Placid Producers – I await your call.

Can’t this just go on forever?

Well, they may have crushed the eggs at the end of this film, but they haven’t killed all of the crocs. They just don’t kill one of them, and even at the end when they say they’re all dead, there’s a ‘croc jumps out and eats someone’ moment.  There’s not even an attempt to pass this Final Chapter off as an end. This whole movie has been a lie!

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