Wednesday, October 8, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 3: Crocodile (1981)

Back when I reviewed Carnosaur 2, I mentioned a weird form of nostalgia wherein I felt a need to revisit things that I disliked when I was younger. Well, there is no better example of that than today's film. Though, it's slightly more complicated than that.

You see, it's not just that I disliked this particular film called Crocodile. No, it's that I had to at least partially convince myself that it actually existed and wasn't something I dreamed up. I mean, a Jaws rip-off where the monster is a giant crocodile whose size changes so constantly that it is hundreds of feet long or 20 feet long within the same scene? Surely no filmmaker is that relentlessly incompetent.

Well, no filmmaker prior to the advent of The Asylum, surely.

Oh, but you see Crocodile is all too real, and my fascination with it is entirely earned. For this is a singularly bad film and, in fact, even more nonsensical than my childhood memories had told me.

To begin with, I will be momentarily fair with Crocodile. The film hails from Thailand, and like many a foreign film imported for American audiences it was chopped to pieces to suit the needs of its distributor. Some of the nonsense within the film comes from it being torn up and stitched back together, with a few extraneous pieces added here and there. Set pieces that were originally one long sequence have been split in two, and a few scenes were no doubt placed out of order or removed entirely. I've even heard tell of an even more salacious and exploitative cut of the film that played the American drive-in circuit, but that cut is not what made it to VHS and later to DVD.

However, no amount of unwarranted tinkering by boorish American distributors can completely account for the fact that this film is a big ball of stupid and bonkers. This is not surprising when you consider that the film's director is one Sompote Sands, whose demented films are rather the stuff of legend and make this film look sane.
But no matter what country you're in, its poster art rocks.
After a title card for "Cobra Media", whose slogan is presumably "Good films are a disease. Meet the cure," we roll opening credits accompanied by a series of piano chords that are not at all reminiscent of a certain killer shark film. And then, the omnipotent narrator intones:

"From the very beginning, Man has been trying to destroy Nature. Perhaps one day he may succeed. But, then again, on that day Nature could rebel. And this could happen!"

Now, now, if Man just explained to Nature how destroying her will boost his corporate profits, I'm sure she would agree it's a grand idea!

At any rate, the "this" that "could happen" is a bunch of Thai extras running about screaming while miniature sets (admittedly, quite good ones) are destroyed by lightning, earthquakes, tidal waves, water spouts, and...colored lights. Clearly this footage of what will later be called a "hurricane" hails from an unrelated fantasy film. The only connection to this film is a few shots of agitated crocodiles (and alligators!), presumably one of which becomes our title beastie. The footage is so unrelated to our film that there is a completely jarring cut to an undestroyed major city, while a jaunty theme that sounds like it belongs to a 1970s cop show plays.

This is the beginning of our feature proper, as Angela Akom (Ni Tien, or "Tany Tim" in the US credits) and her sister, Linda (Angela Wells) are forced to amuse themselves while waiting for Angela's husband, Dr. Tony Akom (Nat Puvani) and Linda's fiance, Dr. John Stromm (Min Oo) to get home. Such is the life of a doctor's wife, Angela warns her sister. Linda goes to change so we can get a very brief bit of rear nudity--I see no other reason for that sequence--and then we cut to dinner with the two doctors and the women who love them.

Here we get the barest reference to the "hurricane" that "practically destroyed that island" and "just missed us." Linda asks if it's true it may have been caused by "that atomic explosion" (!) with Tony replying, "Anything's possible in this day and age." Angela suggests to Tony, who is busy reading a newspaper while smoking a pipe, that they should all go for a holiday at Pattaya before Linda and John's wedding. Tony thinks it's a swell idea. There's some joking about how married doctors are to their work that turns serious when the hospital calls and Tony must go. The scene ends with a truly bizarre zoom-in towards a ceramic duck centerpiece--

--which turns out to be an "auteur" move as we now cut to a flock of ducks on a body of water. The ducks are being watched by one of the most repeated shots of the film: a close-up of crocodile's eye as the nictitating membrane slides back.

"Okay, now which is better: 1 or 2? 1...or 2? Okay, now 3...or 4?"
I hope you like that shot, because I love crocodiles and even I get sick of it. Especially since, it leads to nothing in this sequence and we cut back to Tony and John assisting the wounded being trundled into the hospital while truly irritating sirens play over the scene. (Get used to that) Tony somehow finds time to talk to Angela on the phone and agree to the holiday at Pattaya.

Meanwhile, roving underwater POV footage set to a theme that sounds way too much like those Goddamn sirens stalks an old woman in a rowboat. Cue crocodile eye close-up! Via a series of weird cuts of what appears to be an actual crocodile eating a fish or bird, the woman is the first to be devoured by our crocodile.

"Okay, now tell me, can you see the number in the circle? What is it?"
In Pattaya, Linda plays with Angela and Tony's young daughter, Anne (no idea the actress, IMDb is no help here). When Tony arrives, Anne begs him for a new swimsuit. He agrees right before an uncomfortable sequence--for Western audiences, at least--where he undresses her for bed. Angela, Tony, Anne, Linda, and John go sailing the next day. Then they all take a group photo on the beach, which--as we all know-- can only mean tragedy is coming.


In the meantime, the group frolics in the surf and we discover that far scarier than giant crocodiles are the speedboaters in Thailand, as one drives past little Anne in her floatie with inches to spare. Oddly, nobody seems the least horrified by this--and indeed the same boater zooms past within inches of Linda as she begins drowning. Though, despite the close-up of a croc eye it turns out that Linda is just playing an incredibly unfunny joke that all the characters find hilarious. Wankers!

There's a bizarrely filmed shower sex scene between Tony and Angela before, finally, the travelogue portion of our film draws to a close and our "giant killer crocodile" portion finally gets going.

Linda goes out in the water to find Anne, who was apparently left to swim on her own (!), and poor Linda can't hear that damn siren-esque musical theme. However, when Anne's (oddly intact) floatie pops to the surface, she realizes something is amiss. Rather too slowly, however, as while she calls for Anne the underwater POV camera zooms straight into her crotch.

You thought I was kidding, didn't you?
Linda screams and goes under, but not until after putting up way more of a struggle than an average human should be capable of once grasped in the jaws of a crocodile that will turn out to be an average of about 50 feet in length. I can only assume that the crocodile is eating her toes first and moving its way up. At any rate, Angela rushes into the water to aid her sister--whereupon she is almost immediately yanked under. I guess the croc was tired of playing with its food by the time she showed up.

Luckily for Tony and John, they were not there so the film did not become a parade of characters diving into the ocean to be eaten by the crocodile. However, John and Tony find out what happened--and indeed, weirdly enough, there are apparently bodies for them to identify. John responds by crying against a post as reporters pester him with questions like, "Do you think your wife was eaten by a shark?" Tony eyes the fateful beach photograph and listens to a recording of Anne begging him for that new bathing suit, as he flashes back and then covers his ears and writhes on the floor.

Everyone grieves differently.

Tony resigns from his hospital because he has now entered the "Vengeance" stage of the grieving process, and indeed his letter of resignation states that he will, as offered by his former employers, "avail myself of the facilities of the hospital, by which means I pray I may stop the death and destruction being caused by the creature responsible for my family's death." Wow. No job I ever worked allowed me to use their facilities for monster hunting after I turned in my two weeks notice. Clearly, Thailand's job market is on a whole other level.

Tony starts by examining the remains of his family, in a sequence that looks rather like he is trying to put them back together! Alas, this film is not quite that weird. Although, it is not normal--as evidenced by the next scene where a group of fishermen discover their net is full of severed human arms. Just arms, by the way. I guess the croc is not a fan of finger food.

Damn, even the crickets booed that one.

Tony goes to see the optometrist (man, no wonder this film is obsessed with eyes), who advises he's probably just under a lot of strain from all the vengeance obsession. The optometrist helpfully asks him to read a newspaper article--that happens to be about a local fisherman, Tanaka (Kirk Warren), claiming he saw a giant crocodile in the sea.

You know what means it's time for!

"Now, you're gonna feel a slight puff of air..."
We cut to the crocodile as a monkey crawls onto its back to eat crabs off its tail. Now, unless the monkey and crabs are also giants, this scales the croc at 20 feet, tops. That will not be the case next time we see it. At any rate, giant crocodiles apparently dislike monkeys and the scene cuts back to Tony as the croc lunges at the monkey.

Having now being given a target for his Ahab complex, Tony is poring over every textbook on crocodiles he can find---a pastime I am happy to engage in without benefit of a dead wife and daughter to avenge--and playing around with crocodile skulls. It turns out the latter is to confirm that the wounds on his family's remains match the teeth of a crocodile. He goes to John with this, asking John to find Tanaka. Tony hopes that Tanaka will help them find the crocodile and destroy it. Meanwhile, Tony will visit an expert on reptiles.

Well, so he says. What actually happens is that Tony goes to visit a man sitting behind a desk with an ammonite fossil on it (!) and asks him, "Can a crocodile live in the sea?" The so-called expert replies with, "Hmm. That's a very interesting thought." End scene.

Presumably it was cut before the man behind the desk admitted he wasn't really a reptile expert, he just really likes sitting behind that desk.

The answer is not only a resounding, "Yes," but, "Of course, the Indopacific or Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) spends as much or more of its life in the sea as it does in fresh water." Also, this is a basic fact that Tony would have gleaned from any one of those books he was supposedly reading.

Cut to two beautiful women going swimming at dusk in their bikinis--though apparently in one cut, they were skinny-dipping. Random people we've never met before in the water? Why, that can only mean...

"Okay, now read the letters on the lowest line you can see..."
The croc's attack this time is also heralded by two glowing lights in the water, reminiscent of the Nautilus in Disney's version of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, but which are clearly meant to call to mind the reflection of light in a crocodile's eyes at night. One girl is yanked under, the other writhes around in the jaws of the croc--clearly indicating that the beast is now back to a minimum of 40 feet in length.

Cue those damn sirens as we cut to reporters are haranguing an Inspector about what or who is responsible for the series of killings. The scene, hilariously ends with the beleaguered Inspector hollering, "And put snipers on those cliffs!"

John and Tony discuss their plan to enlist Tanaka's help, the reptile expert apparently having finally admitted that a crocodile can live in the sea. Tony has a breakdown and cracks his new glasses as Anne's voice echoes in his head. He then calls a press conference, where he announces that he knows who the killer is: a giant crocodile. The press literally laughs this off and Tony throws them out. So...that was productive, I guess.

Tanaka finally comes over to visit Tony and John. Tanaka quickly agrees to assist them in hunting the crocodile, whereupon John excitedly exclaims, "We'll get that crocodile, if it's the last thing we do!"

Welp, I'm never inviting John along on my giant crocodile hunt.

Tanaka shows off the eagle Sharpied--er, tattooed on his chest and explains to the others that it is a sign of protection worn by his family for generations. It hails from an old legend, whereupon a monster will emerge from the sea and encounter the wings of an eagle. The legend, however, does not say that the eagle wins, so Tanaka ends his musing about the legend coming true by hoping it does not mean their deaths.

Okay, so John and Tanaka are not invited on my giant crocodile hunt.

Meanwhile, we cut to a coastal village where a crocodile farm is housed--and thus begins my least favorite portion of the film. Like many foreign films of this vintage, it was apparently decided that the film was incomplete without some animal cruelty. So we get to watch as a real, live crocodile is butchered. It adds nothing to the film other than a few extra minutes of run time and a lot of unpleasantness. Especially since, unlike some people, I like reptiles and do not enjoy seeing them harmed. Though perhaps it is there to make us root for:

"Okay, now: 5...or 6?"
The crocodile appearing in said village, creating whirlpools and waves with its tail. It also smashes buildings with its tail, which would make it approximately Godzilla sized. Once the water is filled with panicked villagers and tourists, the croc begins devouring them. In one memorable and tasteless shot, we see the croc's jaws in the background holding two severed legs--and then an amputee with fake flesh streamers attached to his stumps swims by in the foreground. Though, naturally, this means the croc has shrunk down to about 40 feet in the same sequence. That crocodile is fucking magic.

The croc swims off, leaving the village in flames and we cut to--more sirens. Oh, joy.

We leave the scene of chaos and ambulances, to John and Tony calmly walking along discussing how they're going to stop a crocodile big enough to destroy a whole village. Tony adds that the reptile expert has concluded that the crocodile is a mutant caused by all the atomic testing in our atmosphere. Well, naturally.

Back to the crocodile farm, where the Inspector tasks his underlings with capturing the croc. This they decide to do by setting a giant bear trap underwater. Unfortunately, their comically over-sized trap--attached to a floating barrel, naturally--is still too small for the job. The croc gets its tail caught in the trap, but quickly uproots the tree that the floating barrel is attached to, and swims off with the barrel dragging along the surface of the water, before the croc shakes the trap loose and sends it hurtling through the air--chopping a few palm trees in half.

Again, the croc must be at least a hundred feet long in this sequence.

Tony and John busy themselves by pouring red dye into a tank holding a small crocodile. I think they're testing poisons out on the poor creature, based on the dialogue, but they're having no success. I really don't think it's that hard to poison a crocodile, guys. You're just incompetent.

Speaking of which, our kaiju-sized croc goes for a swim. He then finds himself by where several young boys are skinny-dipping (and the Western audience is creeped out again!) and does his old standby.

"Do you ever wear your contacts to bed? Do you change them every day?"
Now, when the croc finally attacks the boys and grabs one, it is clearly only about 20 feet long again. And the truly curious part of this size-changing becomes plainly obvious here: it was not, as you would expect, merely a case of having a full-size prop and also using real crocs on miniature sets that accounts for the discrepancy in size. Yes, that does happen--but the croc that attacks the boys is a full-scale prop and only as big as a 20-foot croc. Yet the film also uses a full-size prop that indicates a 40-foot croc.

Basically, this film went out of its way to give a script girl fits.

Having eaten one of the kids, the croc now balloons back up to a hundred feet to pull the Godzilla act on another coastal village. Tail smashing, whirlpools, sinking severed arms (and again, only arms), flaming buildings--the works. Which means, MORE SIRENS! Aren't you just THRILLED?!

Did Sompote Sands have stock in an ambulance company or something?

John and Tony, for their part, have finally realized the crocodile attacks every three days. From this they also figure out where the crocodile will strike next: where the sea and the river meet. After Tanaka says goodbye to his wife and son, they get ready to set sail.

Meanwhile, the crocodile comes up on shore to attack a heard of water buffalo. This sequence features an impressive shot of the water buffalo walking next to a full-size, full-body prop crocodile--and, again, the thing appears to be at least fifty feet long. Of course, this is another excuse for animal cruelty as the full-size prop croc head chomps a buffalo to death and the filmmakers even include a shot of the dying animal urinating in fear.

There is a special place in hell waiting for the filmmakers.

We are now firmly in the "Orca" sequence of the film as John, Tony, and Tanaka take out Tanaka's boat and begin setting bait lines for the crocodile where the sea and river meet. Tanaka has already informed that he made some slight modifications--including adding a harpoon launcher and a machine gun, naturally. John tests the harpoon launcher by firing an explosive-tipped harpoon at a barrel. Which you wouldn't think you'd want to do if you're trying to lure an animal to that area, but whatever.

The three wait around, and the audience is forced to wait with them. While John and Tony worry that they were wrong and the croc isn't coming, they never stop to consider, "Hey, why are we hunting a 50 foot crocodile in a boat that's half its size?" Their monotony is interrupted when a speedboat approaches--which John almost blows up. Once they find out the boat's passenger is Peter (Robert Chan), a pushy news photographer, they probably wish they'd let John kill him. Oh, and during the whole sequence of Peter talking John into paying the boat driver, nobody thinks to warn the guy of the giant crocodile before they just send him on his way.

So I'm sure the smashed boat and chunks of human flesh they find shortly afterward are just a coincidence. Totally.

Peter proves so annoying and obtrusive that Tanaka smashes his own windshield to get the guy to move out of the way. Eventually, night falls with no other sign of the crocodile. So, finally, everyone goes to sleep (or passes out drunk) below decks and leaves Tanaka on deck, also asleep. And so, the crocodile strikes--by launching itself into the air and jumping over the boat!

You will believe a croc can fly!

John, Tony, and Peter are stuck below and unable to assist Tanaka as the crocodile finally swats him overboard with its tail. Tanaka almost makes it back aboard, but the croc grabs him and chomps him multiple times before leaving him with easily the goofiest death in the film, an image that stuck with me for years after but oddly goes unmentioned in most other reviews: the croc opens its mouth to show the camera a screaming, flailing Tanaka lodged in its throat.

Hmm. Inspiration for the poor bastard stuck in the shark's throat in Jaws 3-D, perhaps?

Tanaka thus disposed of, we cut to the next morning as the others have somehow gotten free and have resumed their hunt for the croc. John machine-guns a barrel of blood and then the croc attacks. A very weirdly editing sequence follows of John firing harpoons, Tony firing the machine gun, and Peter taking pictures as the crocodile roars at them. Eventually an explosion happens, and Tony declares, "You got him, John!"

The celebration is short-lived, as the croc rams the boat from beneath. Their attack only wounded it. John grabs a bundle of dynamite, but falls overboard when the croc rams them again. Tony tries to drive the croc away with machine gun fire as Peter tries to grab John, but it's no use. John is dragged under, which is delightfully rendered by giving a doll full of fake blood to a live crocodile in a tank, who shakes it around with gusto.

The boat begins to feel the stress of the various attacks and begins to sink. How much it has sunk depends on the shot--as the actual boat appears to be more or less level, while the miniature boat half-submerges at a 90-degree angle and then at a 45-degree angle. As Tony climbs the crow's nest with a bundle of dynamite, the model boat is again at a 90-degree angle and three-fourths submerged! Finally, the crow's nest tips over and Tony flings the (unlit?) dynamite at the croc.

And then the film takes a turn for the bizarre, as Peter reappears with a lit bundle of dynamite in one hand and several other bundles strapped to his body (!) before he dives into the water. Tony yells at him to stop, but our intrepid reporter swims right into the crocodile's mouth. The croc then swims over to the boat and--Ka-BOOM!

Did Tony survive the explosion, you ask? Hell if I know. The movie shows us a speedboat heading towards the wreckage of Tanaka's boat, but Peter is nowhere in sight--and then it cuts to a "The End" card, with the disclaimer that the film is fictitious and no identification with actual people should be inferred.

I'm sure you're stunned.

The story of how I finally got Crocodile on DVD again is almost as entertaining as the film itself, perhaps moreso. At the time, it was still in print but not on Netflix any longer (back when I still used it for physical discs) and I was not willing to spend the money to buy it at its current price. Well, my library at that time still had the budget to indulge my requests for them to add bizarre movies nobody else in their right mind would watch. So I requested Crocodile, making sure to specify that I wanted the film listed as 1981 on Amazon and not the 2000 film directed by Tobe Hooper.

They got me the Tobe Hooper version, and before I could put in a request again for the correct one, the DVD went out of print. Not even my library was willing to spend over $30 on this piece of shit. Thus it became a joke between Checkpoint Telstar and myself that the exchange between library employees about my request can be summarized as:

"Hey, this guy wants a killer crocodile movie."
"Which one?
"It doesn't matter, they all suck."
[And thus, I got the wrong one]

It's sadly true, of course. As with werewolf movies, I absolutely love the subject matter but the actual movies? Usually grade-A fertilizer. I can count the number of good killer crocodilian movies on one hand and have enough fingers left over to make rude gestures. And Crocodile does nothing to buck that trend.

Again, it's uncertain how much of the film's awfulness is a result of the hackjob it went through to get to the US market and how much of it was awful to start with. At least, I can't be certain because I have never encountered an uncut version of the film as it was intended. However, it's pretty clear to me that the film was awful from frame one.

Even if you were to remove the bizarre editing of the US cut--which, for instance, cuts the village attack sequence into two sequences and assumes you won't notice the re-used footage--you'd still have a monster that changes size dramatically from scene-to-scene and gratuitous animal cruelty.

That said, I do have to give props where they're due: the film's special effects are largely pretty damn good. While they're still stiff and inexpressive, the full-scale crocodile puppets are really well-done. Certainly more convincing than similar beasties in The Big Alligator River or Killer Crocodile (admittedly a low bar), and about as good as the title creature in Alligator. There's also some pretty great miniature work, almost on par with similar work you might see in a Toho studios production.

Like everything else in the film I can't praise the effects for consistency, of course, but when they're good they are good.

On the whole, I can't really recommend the film in good conscience, it is certainly an experience if you are a bad movie fan. It's a surreal and incompetent experience. And boy howdy, if you like crocodile eyes, this is the movie for you!

"Hmm, yes, I'm afraid you're going to need glasses. Also, please spit my receptionist back out. I need her."

Here we are at day 3 of 2014's HubrisWeen, where I and several of my b-movie comrades dive into 26 horror/sci-fi movies a day--one for each letter of the alphabet--culminating with the last film on Halloween. We're all just slavishly copying the pioneer of this madness, Checkpoint Telstar.

Click the banner to check out what the other maniacs chose, won't you?

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