While arguments can be made for lesser Tobe Hooper entries like Spontaneous Combustion and even The Mangler, the director really tests things with 2000’s Crocodile. This D-grade cheapie is akin to the direct-to-video features that come rolling out of The Asylum, only Crocodile lacks inherent humour and runs with an impossibly plodding pace.
This isn’t the first time Hooper’s messed with crocodiles or the swamp. His 1977 picture Eaten Alive featured a killer who fed his victims to a croc. That outing boasted a bizarre feel that doled out a brand of retribution for the misbehaviour of certain characters. Crocodile attempts similar subtext, with its wayward teenagers out for a spring break of drinking, pot-smoking and revelry.
The movie opens with eight nondescript teenagers heading out on a remote lake for some fun. Brady (Mark McLachlan) is going out with Claire (Caitlin Martin), but he had a dalliance with Sunny (Summer Knight). Annabelle (Julie Mintz) has a dog named Princess. The sheriff (Harrison Young) warns the teens not to mess around on the lake. Kit (D. W. Reiser) tells a scary story about a crocodile or something.
One night, two drunk fishermen destroy a crocodile nest and toss the eggs into the water. They’re promptly gulped by the owner of the nest. When the teens start messing around with the eggs, the crocodile sets its sights on the group and starts devouring them one by one. They try to escape with the help of the sheriff and two locals (Terrence Evans and Adam Gierasch).
Crocodile is one of those teen elimination movies, so it follows a very predictable plotline without adding much colour. The kids are snapped up by the jaws of the beast and cinematographer Eliot Rockett doesn’t have any interesting angles or aesthetic details to add. It doesn’t help that the crocodile in question looks like a slab of scaly pudding.
It also doesn’t help that Hooper seems to be phoning it in. Crocodile features a list of producers long enough to field a baseball team, plus the screenplay comes from as many as four writers. With a cast of unidentifiable performers and a cheap-ass score by Serge Colbert, it’s hard to argue the filmmaker has a lot to work with.
And yet Hooper took a similar cast of unknowns and created The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, didn’t he? Granted, he’d developed the story on his own and even composed the music along with Wayne Bell. And he had an actual drive for the material, too. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meant something.
Crocodile has nothing to offer beyond a hilariously bad central monster. It doesn’t aim for titillation or exploitation. With few exceptions, the teenagers are so drab that there’s no moral comeuppance to speak of. And any kind of “nature fights back” scenario is entirely meatless given the unintentionally hilarious croc.
While Crocodile may look low-down on the surface, the real downfall is a case of too many cooks. There are too many ideas, like the notion of an eerie hotel that goes nowhere and some sort of mythology involving an Egyptian crocodile god. There are too many characters and too many tonal shifts.
Because there’s too much of everything, Hooper drowns. He can handle schlock, as he’s proven before. But in the case of this feckless fiasco, the opportunity for camp is nowhere to be found. There’s no humour, no nudging, no winking, no nothing. The most scandalous thing about Hooper’s worst effort to date is that it’s so damn dull.
There’s a lot of stupid stuff in Crocodile, like how the teens take so long to determine that one of their pals has been missing or why the irritating fluffy dog gets to get away with everything. But the crap of this crapfest isn’t interesting or amusing enough to serve as a reason to recommend Hooper’s effort. And that, for all intents and purposes, is a real shame.