Crocodile (1980)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-08-09 08:15

Written and Directed by: Sompote Sands
Starring: Nat Puvanai, Ni Tien, and Angela Wells

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

From The Slimy Depths Of The Ocean... Nature Explodes With Savage Fury!

A lot of things have been said about Sompote Sands over the years, and I imagine most of them create an unflattering portrait of the low budget Thai filmmaker with a handful of directing credits to his name. It seems even more unlikely that anyoneís ever considered him to be very ambitious, but Iím willing to meet him halfway with Crocodile: in an era where everyone was ripping off Jaws, Sands decided to follow suit and bring the kaiju film to his native Thailand. The result has gone on to become one of the most infamous films of all-time because few (if any) Jaws imitators are as observably inept as Crocodile, a barely coherent intersection of these two trends that consistently blurs the lines between terrible and awesome.

The Godzilla influence is immediately obvious, as the film opens with a narration intoning against the proliferation of nuclear weapons before revealing a quaint Thai village. Typically, this is the point where the village would be stomped to shit by a shadowy Kaiju, but his oneís just ravaged by a hurricane (or at least stock footage of a pretty powerful hurricane). The devastation is but a precursor to the real terror, though, as the sea spits forth a salt water crocodile that begins to prey on the locals. Thatís especially bad news for a workaholic doctor who finally decides to take his wife and kid on a rural retreat, only to see them devoured by the beast. Heartbroken, he resigns from his practice and dedicates his life to hunting down the crocodile with the help of a local fisherman and his crew, one of whom is an absurdly tattooed, Quint-like figure who believes itís his familial destiny to destroy wanton beasts of nature.

With the exception of a few details, thatís the entire goddamn movie in a nutshell. Both this plot and conflict are established within the first half hour, so Sands is left with a ghastly amount of filler. Much of it (rightly) features the title creature tearing up the screen, but this doesnít prove to be nearly as interesting as it should be (or maybe it does) since Sands truly treads the line of incompetence. We throw that word around a lot as hyperbole, but itís truly deserved here: shots are woefully framed and often nigh-incoherent, the editing is baffling, and the whole thing looks to have been shot on film stock that had been rotting in a basement for 30 years. Even the dubbing (which admittedly wasnít under Sandsís control) is wildly terrible; forget being dramatically inappropriateóthese guttural utterances must approximate what itíd be like if extraterrestrials started providing voice-work. Aesthetically speaking, Crocodile is like being caught up in the dingiest, grungiest, feverish nightmare imaginableóitís a total abyss where competence and logic go to die.

Letís talk about this crocodile, though. At first, it looks like Sands is even going to screw this up because the early-going only provides brief glimpses of the crocís eye. Perhaps itís a roundabout homage to Orca, but it likely owes to the filmís shoestring budget, which couldnít afford an actual crocodile, much less any sort of animatronic simulation of one. Sands could, however, afford plenty of stock footage, only he didnít have a discerning eye when sifting through any of it; in fact, Iím not even sure he actually sifted through it so much as he decided to just use it all. Thereís even a random scene where the giant crocodile encounters a monkey before possibly devouring it (the footage never quite makes it clear, but, come on, the entire point of the scene is to establish that this crocís a huge asshole that wonít even spare an innocent monkey). At any rate, Sands at least shows some modicum of skill in the way he cobbled the footage together, as the initial decision to hide the crocodile seems to be a conscious effort to build suspense for its big reveal, a tactic surely inspired by the hordes of creature features being ripped off here.

The film reveals its monster in full during a couple of scenes where it makes landfall and lays waste to entire villages. Itís at this point Crocodile becomes an obvious kaiju imitator, complete with some glib musings on the crocís nuclear origins and the use of obvious miniatures to simulate the beastís rampant destruction. Instead of having a man-in-suit stomp around, though, this one features more stock footage that results in the crocodile often changing size from shot to shot (not to mention scene to scene). An oft-repeated shot features a crocodile bursting forth from the water right after a bunch of extras fall into the water and turn into a puddle of fake blood. Cheap though it may be, itís oddly effective since the rawness gives it sort of a mondo vibe (one of the rampages begins after a guy cruelly carves up an actual crocodile, a scene that only garnered the film even more infamy), and Iím pretty sure no other kaiju film ever inspired that sort of description, so Crocodile isnít completely without merit. Plus, I canít lieóI personally find crocodiles (and, naturally, alligators) to be among the most skin-crawlingly creepy species walking the earth, which makes this complete nightmare fuel, no matter how inept it is.

Speaking of inept, Crocodile abandons its kaiju aspirations to become a complete Jaws clone for the final thirty minutes. Unfortunately, most of those are comprised of dead air until literally the last minute, at which point shit goes off the rails with a wild variation on the old ďblow the monster to hellĒ theme. Iím not kidding when I say I had to rewind it just to confirm what I thought I saw. Itís appropriate that it ends on such a ďwhat-the-fuckĒ note because thereís a lot of that going around here. Iíd like to say that aficionados of this sort of thing know what theyíre in for, but Crocodile rises to a rare plane of existenceóitís technically terrible by any observable measure, but itís an absolute blast at times. Dismissing it as ďso bad itís goodĒ is both reductive and inaccurate because it shreds the lines of quality and simply demands to be seen on its own terms. This is what it looks like when a directorís reach far exceeds his grasp, but at least heís trying to reach.

Well, sort of. Crocodile apparently features a copious amount of footage from another film called Crocodile Fangs, so letís maybe hold off on anointing Sands as a misunderstood auteur. If this film is any indication, he was at least some kind of shameless, vulgar huckster, so it seems appropriate that Crocodile would eventually land in the grubby hands of American schlock-master Herman Cohen, who re-edited the film. He and fellow producer Dick Randall didnít seem to do it any favors since it seems like it resulted in an even worse version (it also seems like they may have been to blame for the pilfering of footage from other films, so perhaps we can let Sands off the hook for that one). This is the version that VCI brought to DVD over a decade ago, and they didnít do the film any favors either since the non-anamorphic transfer is often a murky mess. Only a couple of radio spots and a trailer serve as extras on a disc that once commanded pretty high prices on the secondary market (itís technically out of print), though that (thankfully) seems to have calmed down now. Crocodile admittedly takes some time to grow on youówithin the span of this review, Iíve found it difficult to deny both its faults and its charms, all of which add up to a jaw-dropping sum of incongruent parts. For better or worse, Iím sort of in awe of it, and that can only be the result of the alchemy is that is movie magic. Rent it!

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