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Lake Placid (1999)

Review

Author
Date
07-26-2002
Comments

A superb blend of traditional monster movie excitement and irreverent sarcasm and humor in general, Lake Placid both thrills and titillates.

The point of the movie is simple -- it's a crocodile film. What Jaws did for New England beach towns and sharks, Lake Placid does for quaint Maine forests and, well, crocodiles -- not exactly the kind of beast you might expect in that setting. But unlike Jaws, which is a fine movie in its own right, Lake Placid is a twisted black comedy that usually cares more to uphold its comedy status than its aspirations as a monster movie.

From the brilliant opening--after we're treated to beautiful scenery and cinematography while the titles roll and we zero in on the setting from a distance, director Steve Miner sets the dual tone of wonderfully gory horror film and a scathingly sardonic, no-one-is-immune-to-roasting humor. Within the first five minutes, we get everything from a loser sheriff who everyone seems to think is a dolt (and one of the persons who thinks this tags beavers for a living) to tongue-in-cheek jabs like, well, tagging beavers for a living, fat guys wolfing down Twinkies as soon as no one is looking, monster point-of-view shots headed for crotches, and one hell of a great, gory dismemberment as the entire lower half of a man's body is ripped off and we get to look at the results for quite a few seconds.

That's really all you need to know in order to determine whether Lake Placid is for you. If the above sounds like the ingredients for a good film--and it sure does to me because I love black comedies and campy horror films--then you should love Lake Placid. If, on the other hand, it sounds so far removed from Shakespeare in Love that you can't even fathom why someone would make a film with those properties, then by all means, avoid Lake Placid like the plague.

This is a black comedy that doesn't shy away in the least from either half of that subgenre description. While there's not as much gore as something like Zombi Holocaust, the gore that's present in Lake Placid would be at home in that Italian splatter film, and the jokes come so quickly and in so many layers that you could never catch them all in a single viewing.

Crocodiles in idyllic Maine forests are incongruous, but that's a lot of what makes Lake Placid work--much of the humor rests on absurd incongruities, probably the funniest of them all being Betty White's wonderful, but minor role as the only person living on the shore of the lake--and in a little farmhouse, even. White gets some of the best lines, but they're good because she delivers them with such sincerity, and because, well, she's Betty White. If only the Golden Girls could have been so bent.

But everyone gets to shine in their roles here, from Bridget Fonda's own special brand of loser who thinks she's a genius and everyone should know it, to Bill Pullman's simple hero and Oliver Platt's eccentric, insecure millionaire who happens to "worship" crocodiles. The entire cast does a great job, and everyone is likable.

All the technical aspects are well done, and in particular, Stan Winston also does an outstanding job with the creature effects, creating a monster that is both threatening and comically exaggerated.

I really couldn't find one flaw in Lake Placid, and the audience I watched the film with laughed hysterically so often that I unfortunately missed quite a few lines of dialogue. I can't say that Lake Placid is a must see for every film fan, since I know lots of fans are turned off by black comedies and campy horror films. Why that subgenre turns them off is the mystery I can't fathom.

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