Belatedly following in the footsteps of fellow Italian director Sergio Martino’s enjoyably ambitious THE GREAT ALLIGATOR (1979), which was shot in the jungles of Sri Lanka ten years earlier, producer / director Fabrizio De Angelis travelled to the tropical island of Santo Domingo to helm his very own giant monster movie, KILLER CROCODILE (1989), this time featuring another semiaquatic reptilian: a crocodile. And while we’re on the subject of giant crocodilian killers here, it’s difficult not to mention Sompote Sands’ Thai-produced CROCODILE (1979), for which, in Dick Randall’s extensively reworked U.S. version, an atomic explosion—’50s creature feature-style!—was included at the outset to help account for the croc’s inordinate size.
Directing under his usual anglicized pseudonym of “Larry Ludman”, De Angelis was, first and foremost, a successful, cost-efficient producer (he produced most of Lucio Fulci’s gore-soaked films from the early ’Eighties), who began his directorial career with the Rambo-inspired rip-off, THUNDER (1983) and its two sequels, all three of which enjoyed healthy domestic home video exposure via Trans World Entertainment Betamax / VHS videocassettes. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, KILLER CROCODILE has remained stubbornly unavailable for years, but thanks to Severin Films, this entertaining ‘nature-strikes-back’ flick finally makes its official North American debut on digital disc.
Audaciously stealing the entire template from Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975), if bringing a distinctively ’Eighties flavour to the proceedings with its toxic waste scenario, KILLER CROCODILE follows a group of ecology students led by Kevin (Richard Anthony Crenna, son of late American actor Richard Crenna [1926–2003]) who, in an unnamed tropical country in the Caribbean, quickly discover that someone has been irresponsibly dumping barrels of radioactive waste into one of the area’s many rivers. In a fitting nod to Godzilla, arguably the greatest movie monster of all time, which was also spawned by nuclear fallout, one of the environmentalists equates this hazardous waste to “Leftovers from Hiroshima!” After one of their party inexplicably goes missing, only to later turn up horribly mauled (making for a nice shock-scare), the gang head into town to see the Judge (token American name actor Van Johnson), who advises them to (quote) “keep away from that swamp!” In the one of the film’s many JAWS-inspired moments, in order to avoid a panic locally, the coroner is coerced into falsifying his findings by blaming the death on a (quote) “boat prop.” Eventually, the town’s venerable croc-hunter Joe (Enio Girolami [1935–2013]) vows to kill the actual perpetrator—a gigantic (quote, as per the title) “killer crocodile”, natch!—while Kevin, ordinarily ever the pacifist, has a sudden change of heart and decides that this (quote) “beast from hell” must die!
Granted, the film may be highly-derivative, but it is never dull. De Angelis really makes the most of his meagre budget, and KC’s greatest production value—as you might understandably be expecting—is unquestionably Giannetto De Rossi’s full-scale animatronic croc mock-up. While better-known for his splattery makeup effects on many of Fulci’s latter-day shock/gore films, such as ZOMBIE (1979), De Rossi does an admirable job given the poor working conditions he was afforded in Santo Domingo (as heard elsewhere on one of this disc’s many extra features). Even though it’s clunky, De Rossi’s fiberglass reptilian ravager never ceases to entertain with its relentless dubbed-on roaring (!) and cavernous mouth bloodily chomping-down on its human victims. As with most of these ‘last gasp’ Italo-horrors, many of the characters aren’t given much to do and likewise fall victim to the weak script they have to work from, with only Crenna and Italian actor Pietro Genuardi showing any real enthusiasm towards the material. Veteran Italian actor “Thomas Moore” a.k.a. Enio Girolami (the late big brother of Enzo G. Castellari) also does his darnedest to imitate Robert Shaw’s cantankerous shark-hunting sea salt Quint from JAWS. And, speaking of Spielberg’s film yet again, Riz Ortolani’s John Williams-influenced score keeps things moving along efficiently in spite of its highly-imitative nature.
Scanned in 2K from the original negative, Severin’s new disc looks mighty fine indeed, accentuating the lush jungle foliage and bloody croc attacks very nicely and, unlike the French double-DVD set from Neo Publishing (that included both KILLER CROCODILE and its 1990 sequel KC II), which was slightly squeezed to an incorrect 1.66 aspect ratio, Severin’s disc also reinstates the film’s proper 1.85:1 framing, thus increasing the pictorial data on either side of the frame. Severin’s disc contains both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio tracks, both of which sound very good given the inherent limitations of the film’s original recordings. Unfortunately—and quite surprisingly—though, no English subtitles have been included for the Italian track. Most viewers will likely prefer to go with the English audio anyway, which not only features Van Johnson’s familiar real voice, but also those of a number of voice talent veterans (such as Pat Starke and Frank Von Kuegelgen) as well. English closed captions for hearing-impaired are also included.
Along with Federico Caddeo’s Freak-O-Rama Productions, Severin Films produced a number of admirable special extras for this release, beginning with In the Jaws of the Crocodile (13m47s), an on-camera interview with Giannetto De Rossi wherein he talks about Fabrizio De Angelis and how he viewed making films as a (quote) “business opportunity” and nothing more, which meant he always kept costs low on all his productions. Apparently, the input of De Rossi’s F/X shop on the present film was especially feeble, with only (quote) “a few trainees” on set to assist him. De Rossi can also barely keep a straight face when he speaks about KILLER CROCODILE 2 (1990), his rather bland directorial debut, which he calls the (quote) “least-professional project” of his life and freely admits he is a (quote) “terrible director.” In The Fearless Crocodile Hunter (23m23s), Pietro Genuardi speaks with great candour about his three months on location in Santo Domingo and how De Angelis was (quote) “full of character… a bulldozer”; while, in Of Crocodiles and Men (14m34s), yet another on-camera interview, his co-star Richard Anthony Crenna, talks about his first leading role and how, as a first-timer, intimidated he felt on-set. In the final interview, DP “Frederick Hail” / Frederico Del Zoppo talks about the brass tacks of low-budget filmmaking, especially when allotted such little money and limited time constraints. He also refers to director De Angelis as a “cobra”, who was quiet but (quote) “knew when to use the stick against us.” And finally, the film’s spoiler-laden trailer (3m08s) is also included, which first-time-viewers might want to watch after the movie rather than before it!
As with Neo Publishing’s aforementioned double-disc set, Severin Films also offer both films in a 2-disc Limited Edition (allocated to a healthy 4000 copies) set, which houses the film’s sequel (also scanned in 2K!) on a separate Blu-ray. In spite of this much-appreciated gesture, however, KC II itself is inferior in every way. It spends waaaaay too much time detailing the efforts of a multinational conglomerate nefariously scheming to build a Caribbean vacation resort, while a pesky reporter (Debra Karr) arrives to investigate possible radioactive fallout in the area, only to discover not only a conspiracy of cover-ups but also that—once again—a giant croc is terrorizing the local river system. While exceedingly slow on the uptake, the film does at least feature a number of hilarious, laugh-out-loud attack scenes, which will certainly go far in appeasing more tolerant viewers. For the most part, though, this soggy sequel possesses little-to-none of the first film’s trashy verve, and is, at best, only sporadically entertaining. In what turns out to be a tribute disc of sorts to De Rossi, Severin have also seen fit to include Naomi Holwill’s feature-length documentary, The Prince of Plasma: The Giannetto De Rossi Story (82m), which focuses on the life and career of this celebrated—and highly prolific—makeup effects guru, making for one of the true highlights of this entire set. A short deleted scene from KILLER CROCODILE 2 (4m13s) plus the film’s equally-spoiler-laden trailer (2m44s) are also included. In addition, the Limited Edition includes a colourful slipcover, which, in keeping with the film’s blatantly copycat nature, includes slightly-reworked artwork from the U.S. one-sheet poster for Sands’ aforementioned CROCODILE.
In spite of KILLER CROCODILE’s many obvious imperfections, it nevertheless remains an engrossing and wholly satisfying film and, what with the crisp new transfers and all the plentiful extra features, Severin Films have provided Italo-horror fans with plenty of reasons to grab themselves this 2-disc Limited Edition! Order it from Severin Films here or as part of the Severin Films August Bundle.