Guilty Pleasures: Lake Placid (1999)

From the filmmaking duo of Steve Miner and David E. Kelley comes this under-appreciated horror comedy. On paper it’s an interesting team; Steve Miner cut his directorial teeth on cult horrors such as Friday the 13th parts 2 and 3, and writer David E. Kelley wrote the hit television series Ally McBeal. With that in mind, we can already ascertain what we’re in for before the opening scene; desert-dry humour combined with the odd bowel-emptying jump scare.

Kelley has penned a witty script with frequently barbed dialogue, while Miner has presented it as an enjoyably camp horror. Add to that a small cast of credible actors including Brendan Gleeson, Bridget Fonda and Bill Pullman, who portray such sarcastic characters with infectious enthusiasm. Lake Placid is a deliciously dry humoured monster movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

After a Fish and Game officer is violently attacked by an unseen assailant in Black Lake, Maine, fellow officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman) and County Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) launch an investigation. Shortly into the investigation, they are joined by crackpot crocodile expert, Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), and clearly bio-phobic palaeontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda). This leads us to believe that they are indeed dealing with a staggeringly vast reptile, and, judging by Hector’s area of expertise, it’s most likely a crocodile.

“A giant killer croc you say? I’ll just fetch my snorkel …”

As the story trundles forward, we are treated to a well-executed slow reveal of the killer croc, plus some genuinely hilarious interchanges between the characters. Surprisingly, for a scenario where everybody is being stalked by a thirty-feet long crocodile, all of the characters find time to crack wise. Although there are a few gags that sink, the majority of them find their mark, punctuating the genuine tension with memorable one-liners.

With creature features such as this, a large portion of the movie’s effectiveness rests on the creature’s menacing aura. Luckily, Lake Placid is a prime example of how monster movies should be. The old trick of refraining from showing the creature until absolutely necessary is expertly implemented. Director Steve Miner does an excellent job of cranking up the tension without showing the crocodile, and when it does eventually lift its head above the water, it comes at a completely unexpected moment.

The crocodile itself looks spectacular, largely due to some splendid effects. At first, we’re limited to the briefest of glimpses, but when it finally surfaces, it does so with frightening splendour. There are a few moments where the relatively modest budget reveals itself, most notably in quick CGI shots that will undoubtedly suffer with age, but for the most part the effects are excellent.

“Is this the man that was killed?” – “He seemed … Taller.”

However, Lake Placid is not content with being your run-of-the-mill monster flick. It doesn’t just want to frighten you, it wants to entertain you, and in that regard it’s a runaway success. David E. Kelley’s script positively pings with acerbity. Each character has their fair share of quips, casually hurling humorous insults at each other with reckless abandon. The dry humour on display often bites more than the crocodile, but it’s all undeniably entertaining. There’s enough cutting sarcasm here to chip away at even the most mirthless of movie lovers.

There’s little in the way of depth here, and the only character with even a hint of a backstory is Bridget Fonda’s Kelly, but even then it’s forgettable. But to dwell on character faults and its shallow plot is completely missing the point. Lake Placid was clearly created solely to entertain.  The characters are witty enough for us to overlook any of their shortcomings, and it’s blatantly obvious that the actors are relishing the opportunity to just have fun with what little material they are given.

Lake Placid is a short and tidy comedy horror that absolutely drips with sarcasm. Admittedly, such levels of sarcasm can be unbearable for some, but if you enjoy playful barbs and cutting quips, and you are inexorably drawn to horrors that don’t take themselves too seriously, then Lake Placid definitely won’t leave a sour taste in your mouth.

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One thought on “Guilty Pleasures: Lake Placid (1999)

  1. I’ve seen Lake Placid a number of times of the years and always find it hugely enjoyable… and the great thing is that you want all the characters to survive which is very rare for a monster flick.

    Liked by 1 person

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