The Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13: #10: Lake Placid (1999)

People love to go to lakes. Personally, I can't stand them. I'm not much of a swimmer anyhow, but offer me up a brackish pool of murky water where I don't know what could be lurking down there, and I'm going to pass. I've seen way too many Friday the 13th movies, and there could be a chained up maniac waiting down there for me to swim by so he can grab my leg. Paranoid? Perhaps, but I've gotten this far without it happening so I'm sticking to it. The reason I bring up Friday the 13th and lakes is that both have something to do with today's creature feature on the Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13. Coming in at number 10, the last of the double digits, it's the late 90s horror-comedy Lake Placid. Featuring some of my favorite actors, some genuinely funny dialog, and Betty White cursing up a storm before casting Ms. White in anything was cool, Lake Placid scores across the board for me. Add in the involvement of Steve Minor, director of Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3, and a giant killer crocodile, and you've got me hooked for sure. So come  along as I take a little trip to Black Lake, Maine and take a bite out of Lake Placid.  

When Sheriff Hank Keogh (Brendon Gleeson) escorts a Fish and Wildlife officer to Black Lake, he thinks it's just another day, but when a mysterious creature bites the man in half, it turns into anything but. A large tooth thought to be a fossil is found in the corpse, and sent to New York's Natural History Museum. Paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) identifies the tooth, but it's no fossil. It's of something more recent. Heading up to Black Lake, Kelly meets up with the new Wildlife officer, Jack Wells (Bill Pullman), and crocodile enthusiast and mythology professor Hector (Oliver Platt) who has gotten wind of the attack. The trio begin to investigate the lake, but the only full time resident, Delores Bickerman (Betty White) claims to have no knowledge of the giant beast in the lake. Slowly, they uncover that the monster is indeed a crocodile, grown to gigantic proportions in the lake where it has no natural predator. Also it's been given a steady diet of cows to eat. While Kelly and Jack wrestle over whether to save the beast or put it down, the croc maintains it's reign of terror until a plan can be formed to stop the beast.

Using a combination of practical effects and computer generated imagery, Lake Placid scores high in one of the biggest categories of create feature coolness; it looks marvelous. Especially compared to the work on display only two years earlier in Anaconda, Lake Placid is a giant leap forward for giant monster movies. The croc actually looks both real and extremely menacing. This is only aided by quick early cuts that show the aftermath of the reptile's violence rather than linger on the animal itself and later  with grossly funny scenes such as when the croc gobbles up a cow. The script also puts enough logic and reason behind the giant beast's appearance in the lake that, even if it was all malarkey, it sounded good which is actually more important for the suspension of disbelief. Lake Placid strikes a nice balance throughout of scary and funny, even giving the creature a couple of funny moments.

While the croc rules the roost in Lake Placid (which confusingly is not the name of the lake, but rather a lake in New York state), the cast is what really brings this movie together. Top to bottom, this has to be one of my favorite lineups of actors out there. First off, Bridget Fonda. Just like her Aunt Jane, Bridget has a talent for being both smart and sexy in a movie without being vulgar. It probably doesn't help that she's been a longtime crush of mine. (So if you're out there Ms. Fonda, call me.) Kelly Scott is a put together, brave, independent woman, but she just might also be making eyes at Bill Pullman's Wildlife ranger. Pullman (not Paxton) puts in one of the more solid "hero" roles that I've ever seen, and his "Aw, shucks" charisma works here. Oliver Platt is really the one to watch though. From the moment he shows up on screen, he is wildly entertaining. From his manner to his line delivery, Platt turns in a performance that I will go back to this movie time and time again just to watch.

Brendon Gleeson is perhaps the only performer that stumbles. While I still really liked his gruff sheriff character, especially when he verbally sparred with Platt, the Irish born actor has a hard time keeping his accent consistent throughout, and quite a number of times I heard it slip back into his native tongue. The revelation, which isn't much of a revelation anymore is the performance by Betty White. While she's made a unsurpassed late life career resurgence now, I remember when I first saw Lake Placid what a novelty it was for Betty to saying things like, "If I had a dick, now is when I'd tell you to suck it." and calling people "fuck-meat". It still is in a way (I don't know of any other movies where she talks like this.), and the inside joke of her character getting in trouble with PETA was pretty funny as, of course, Betty is a huge animal lover.

As I mentioned earlier, Lake Placid was directed by Steve Miner who helmed Friday the 13th 2 & 3. So obviously wherever his career takes him, he can't escape killer things in lakes. If you need further proof of this trend, he's also made Haddonfield all wet in Halloween: H20 and the C. Thomas Howell blackface comedy Soul Man, which I have come to understand that all the copies now reside under a manmade lake. Miner directed a fine film with Lake Placid, and there are moments when the way he shot the lake are just perfectly framed and thought out. Considering he was working with a real body of water (in British Columbia, Canada not Maine as the story says), which would be completely unpredictable, it was quite a feat. I had no idea that the script Miner brought to the screen was penned by David E. Kelley, the TV giant behind series such as Ally McBeal, Doogie Houser M.D., and Boston Legal. Listening to the dialog, it does make sense. The lines pop and sound like how actual people tend to talk. Kelley also has a way with writing very real, well rounded female characters, and from Ms. White and Fonda to the actress who played a small role as a deputy and Platt's love interest, he does just that.

I don't know how many times I've seen Lake Placid over the years. Anytime I stumble across it, even on cable, I'll check in and at least watch a few minutes. If it's not chopped to pieces, I might even stay around for the whole things. However, never try and watch any of the made for TV/ SyFy sequels as they are, as we call it in the business, quite horrible. Lake Placid  is anything but. I arrange these films ahead of time based on my memory of them, and frankly, I might have placed this one slightly higher on the list just out of sheer entertainment value. With a funny plot, tight cast, and a peppy pace that makes the 82 minute running time actually seem a little short, Lake Placid is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to swim there. That wraps it up for today folks, but there's nine more movies still to come. So join me back here and every night for the rest of the month for The Bigger & Badder Hallloween Top 13, but first don't forget to scroll down and check out today's list of submitted monsters.

Bugg Rating

Today's list of creatures comes from the one and only Cinemasochist Justin Oberholtzer of the Freakin Awesome Network who has recently published his first book Movienalia  (which I totally encourage you to pick up in E or hard copy forms). I met Justin at the last Horrorhound Weekend I went to, and he's a hell of a guy (as anyone who shares the same birthday with me has to be). Plus, his lips have touched those of Linda Hamilton, and you can't get much more genre film cred in my book. So check out Justin's list below.

The Cinemasochist's Top 13 Monsters and Critters

1. Godzilla
2. Gizmo
3. Predator
4. Alien Queen
5. The Thing
6. King Ghidora
7. King Kong
8. Seymour (Little Shop of Horrors)
9. Creature from the Black Lagoon
10. Gamera
11. Equinox
12. Gigan
13. Cloverfield monster

Those are some great picks, and there's a good chance some of the larger ones will still make an appearance on the B&B H13. So tune in for the next nine days to find out if they do. 

1 comment:

  1. Well, it's definitely not the scariest movie I've seen. Still, it does have enough in it to make some average people think twice about going swimming - especially in lakes.


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