Saturday, October 26, 2013

Italian Horror Blogathon: Killer Crocodile (aka Murder Alligator)

One of the staples of 1970’s/80’s Italian cinema was the cheap knockoff of a popular American blockbuster. These American films would infiltrate Italian cinemas and put all kinds of thoughts in the heads of struggling producers of Italian genre films. The general consensus was that aping these blockbusters was the surest way to financial success. Not completely destroying the industry—but certainly hampering its creativity—these knockoffs pretty much dictated what Italian horror directors could make. Certainly the big names like Bava, Fulci, and Argento could do what they wanted, but even they weren’t immune to this craze. Whether it’s Beyond the Door (The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby), The Night Child (The Omen, The Exorcist (again)), Absurd (Halloween/Halloween II), Great White (Jaws), or something like Tentacles (an odd amalgam of Jaws and American disaster pictures like Airport), the idea behind these films was that whichever popular American blockbuster had been imported at the time could be copied, made on the cheap, and turn a profit for little-to-no effort.

These knockoffs weren’t just relegated to the horror genre, though, as countless Mad Max, Conan the Barbarian, and Sly Stallone clones popped up with the likes of The Raiders of Atlantis, Conquest, and (a personal favorite of mine) Black Cobra.  Some of these films try to disguise themselves as being original, others are blatant ripoffs that just piggy-back off a popular title despite either having nothing to do with the original (Fulci’s Zombi 2 did this — and is probably the only film to be successful and original in doing so — whereas other filmmakers like Umberto Lenzi gave his film, Ghosthouse, the title of La Casa 3 simply to trick people into thinking it had something to do with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, which was titled La Casa in Italy) or not getting permission (my favorite might be the very unofficial sequel to the ozploitation favorite Patrick, Patrick Still Lives!), and some even steal from their countrymates (Fulci’s Aenigma is nothing more than a poor facsimile of Argento’s much better Phenomena).

Whew. All of that to say: I watched Killer Crocodile — a film surprisingly fun and professionally made (its 35mm look honestly shocked me) for not only being a bad knockoff of Jaws, but also being an Italian horror film made in 1989 (by the way, just what in the hell are they still doing making Jaws knockoffs in 1989 anyway?). Everyone has their own opinions about these kind of so-bad-it’s-good movies, but, hey, I had fun with what I was given, and if you’re a fan of said so-bad-it’s-good genre flicks, then there’s probably something for you to enjoy with Killer Crocodile.

In what would be another eco-themed horror film from the late ‘80s in Italy, Killer Crocodile opens with...oh, who am I kidding? It’s a Jaws knockoff; I’ll give you all one guess how it opens...



..., yeah, we have ourselves bad soundalike musical score, a woman skinny dipping while her doofus boyfriends sits on the beach aloof, subjective underwater camera, yadda yadda yadda. After the opening scene, we’re introduced to a group of environmentalists that arrive at the delta town where the killer crocodile (or MURDER ALLIGATOR! as the alternate title suggests) is running (swimming?) amok. For you see, there are some bad guys dumping waste in the water. About these villains: they’re hilariously cartoony and not the least bit menacing. Here, take a look:

Anyway, the film’s threadbare plot is essentially about those meddling kids, headed up by Kevin (played by Anthony Crenna, son of Richard), investigating the goings-on of this town and thwarting the polluting villains at every turn (with plenty of eco-conscious exposition along the way) as if it were an episode of “Captain Planet.” Every now and then the film takes a break from the team of ecologists yelling at the villains (one is a shady judge played by Van Johnson) about the damage they’re causing by polluting the waters to show us the killer crocodile (MURDER ALLIGATOR!) chompin’ on some townfolk. The characters are always finding interesting ways to fall into the water (the ecologists, especially, because I guess you have to be in the water to test it?). In particular the moment where a little girl on a dock hangs on for dear life and a man (her father?) tries to rescue her, but instead of pulling her up, he climbs down and attempts to push her up to safety, resulting in him falling down into the awaiting chompers of the killer crocodile (MURDER ALLIGATOR!). The whole thing is preposterous, yet it has the look and feel of a setpiece they were building their film to; instead, it ends up coming off as hilariously awful due to the obvious lack of budget as the film just speeds through the scene (there’s also little-to-no gore effects).

There’s also a subplot about a grizzled croc hunter named Joe that has to teach those pansy ecologists a lesson in killin’ not preservin’; they, of course, being the good liberals that they are, object because they’re “against killing of any kind” (this line is offered to you in the trailer below so that you can bask in Anthony Crenna’s wonderfully monotone delivery). However, when ol’ grizzled Joe gets injured, and is relegated to watching the rest of the film from the banks of the river, he must pass the torch to Kevin,(and he does this by throwing him his hat in a moment that plays like something of “The Simpsons” episode where they go see the The Poke of Zorro; I was half expecting the character grab the hat and yell, “yes!” before the credits rolled), who swallows his morals and gets the job done.

Killer Crocodile had some famous names working on it: Its director (working under the pseudonym Larry Ludman) is none other than genre producer extraordinaire Fabrizio De Angelis (who produced almost all of Fulci’s best work), the screenplay was co-written by arguably the most famous Italian horror screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti (some of his screenplays include: Twitch of the Death Nerve, Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes, Cannibal Apocalypse, The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, The House by the Cemetery, Demons, and many more), and the crocodile effects were done by Giannetto di Rossi (the man who was responsible for the makeup for Fulci’s Zombi 2; he also directed Killer Crocodile 2).

Obviously these guys are talented — or at the very least have done a good job of surrounding themselves with talented people — yet Killer Crocodile is so obviously tired and uninspired that one is left wondering what the hell happened. The lack of a legitimate director seems like the most likely explanation. Everything points to this being a case where a successful producer on a very popular film looks at the director of his film and thinks, “I could do that,” and then falling on their face when it comes time to do a little directing.

This isn’t the first time De Angelis went outside of the realm of producing and ended up making a film that was total crap (he watched Fulci closely on Zombi 2 and then proceeded to write a script for what would become the awful Zombie Holocaust, using the same actors and sets as Fulci’s film). Killer Crocodile ended up being the best thing he would direct, though, as he moved away from horror and onto bad action movies with the likes of all six Karate Warrior movies and, my personal favorite, Karate Rock (do yourself a favor and click on that link). As for the rest of the trio: Sacchetti was most likely just a consultant (but there his name sits, so “credit” where it’s due), and di Rossi was most likely hampered by lack of budget because his killer crocodile (MURDER ALLIGATOR!) looks really silly.

Many familiar with this blogathon know that I like to feature one goofy, “pizza and beer” movie. In the past it’s been films like Burial Ground, Contamination, Absurd, or Nightmare City (warning: some of those links will take to reviews from when I first started this blog, so...potentially awful writing awaits!). And so this year, I offer Killer Crocodile; it’s fun trash and should be seen as nothing more. Granted, your mileage may vary on a film like this, but in a subgenre rife with lurid trash that (at times) makes you feel icky, sometimes a goofy little number like Killer Crocodile isn’t such a bad thing, you know.


  1. Nice review. I've never seen this one, but I see it's on youtube in full, so I'll be all over this soon. As cheap and hokey some of these cash-ins are, they really have a lot of charm to them sometimes. You've got to love the Italians for beating films to death in every way possible. Sometimes you get a gem because of it.

    1. Be wary of some of those copies on YouTube--I think one is in French and the other is in Spanish. But, yes, the movie is worth seeking out. So much fun, and like you said, they have a lot of charm about them.

  2. I am in love with how far afield you managed to go with this one. Not the usual way to think of "Italian horror", but of course it totally works.

    You've sold me on seeing this one, anyway; always on the look-out for a good shitty movie, and my friends and I are just putting together our Halloween weekend viewing party schedule...

    1. Honestly, I put these bad knockoffs on all the time as background noise while I write my reviews for the blogathon, and this one made me laugh enough that it grabbed it my attention, making me want to write about it. I also wanted to make sure I got one fun review in here before I get to the stuff I have planned for next week.

      Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the tone of this one. I hope you'll come back and report your thoughts on the film.