CHOMPING Grounds

August 24, 2016
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2 mins read

Despite the cute songs in The Little Mermaid, there are lots of scary creepy things Under the Sea, especially in the movies.Jaws set the bar for film sharks in 1975; before that, an octopus almost got John Wayne in Wake of the Red Witch (1948) and a giant squid put the squeeze on Kirk Douglas and James Mason in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).

 

Of all the underwater man-eaters, none has spawned more good movies than the alligator and the crocodile. 

The two best films in the scaly genre were released in 2007, each featuring an enormous crocodile and neither receiving the box-office and attention it deserved. Besides requisite gore and suspense, both films benefit from gorgeous cinematography highlighting spectacular landscapes — Australia in Rogue and Africa in Primeval.

Directed by Greg McLean as a follow-up to his chilling Wolf Creek, Rogue stars Radha Mitchell as a guide taking sightseeing tourists on a boat tour of crocodile waters. Among the cast are Michael Vartan as a travel writer and Sam Worthington as the guide’s jilted beau. A mishap strands everyone on a tidal island, where they’re prey to the menace. The death count accelerates as the waters continue to rise.

McLean wrote the script for Wolf Creek Rogue, both taut and unpredictable. You sort of know what to expect, but McLean delivers the unexpected. In the supporting cast is young Australian actress Mia Wasikowski, whose breakthrough role was Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland three years later.

Primeval focuses on efforts of an intrepid (but veryy foolish) handful of human bait intent on capturing a voracious killer croc, nicknamed Gustave by the locals. To complicate things, the nation is fighting a brutal civil war; one of the contingents is led by a ruthless terrorist dubbed Little Gustave. The film’s ironic title reflects the dual savagery of nature and man, both of which are documented in graphic detail.

Dominic Purcell plays a cynical TV producer who, with his wisecracking cameraman Steven (Orlando Jones, who ought to be used more, considering his skills), are assigned to a project with on-camera talent Aviva (Brooke Langton). Rounding out the cast are Jurgen Prochnow as Jacob, as an experienced crocodile hunter out to kill Gustave, and Gideon Emery as dedicated herpetologist Matt, who’s determined to take Gustave alive.

Because its themes broach larger social issues, Primeval scores higher on the complexity meter than Rogue, but both films are terrifying and suspenseful with terrific special effects, solid acting and crisp direction. Oddly, Primeval is the only big-screen credit of director Michael Katleman, whose extensive efforts have been relegated to TV since the ’90s. Based on the quality of Primeval, we movie fans are the poorer for his absence.

Prior to the 21st century, one very good alligator/crocodile movie emerged each decade.

In 1976, Tobe Hooper followed up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Eaten Alive (’76) in which a loony hotel owner (Neville Brand) serves up various guests to a hungry long-toothed friend lurking nearby. Set in the Louisiana bayous, the story (like Chainsaw) was loosely based on a character from Texas. Shot almost wholly in a studio with a color scheme of which Hooper was quite proud, Eaten Alive featured Carolyn Jones (TV’s The Addams Family), Mel Ferrer and Stuart Whitman as its big-name stars, though the choice parts went to young Robert Englund and Marilyn Burns (Leatherface’s sole survivor in Chainsaw).

Prowling Chicago’s sewers and streets is one big reptile in Alligator (’80), well-directed by Lewis Teague (Cujo) and featuring John Sayles’ witty script. Trying to stay uneaten and save the day is Robert Forster, in a terrific performance as a rogue cop worried about his receding hairline. The pre-digital miniature work and special effects shine, but the heart and soul of the film is Sayles’s clever screenplay.

Also benefitting from an excellent script by, of all people, TV’s David E. Kelley (creator of Ally McBeal, Doogie Howser, M.D., many other series) is ’99’s Lake Placid in which an enormous crocodile hunts in the waters of Maine. Even more than Alligator, this film is almost as funny as it is suspenseful, with wry performances by Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda and Oliver Platt. Then only 78, Betty White (a former Golden Girl) has a key role.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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