Toxic waste, now there’s a good monster movie trope if I’ve ever seen one. Handy for creating mutations of all sorts in films, mostly just good for causing cancer in real life. Still, if you need some reason to have a giant animal in your horror movie, a few 55-gallon drums with a nuclear symbol on the side and a bit of green slime and you’re good to go. You don’t have to look any further than Italian writer/director Fabrizio De Angelis’s 1989 flick Killer Crocodile for proof.
Killer Crocodile is set in the Dominican Republic and starts out with a bit of romance. A young man serenades his lady love with a pretty good little ballad on his guitar. She tells him how romantic it was and then promptly runs off to go swimming in the water. Here’s a hint: if you’re really impressed with his love song to you, hang around and show it. Why? Because giant crocodiles love romantic love songs so you need to wait until they clear out before you go swimming in the river. Unfortunately, she doesn’t wait so cue the almost-but-not-quite Jaws theme music and enter the killer crocodile. The croc makes short work of the girlfriend and then doubles down for a snack on the musician boyfriend.
Later, a boatload of environmental researchers lead by Kevin (Anthony Crenna, son of Actor Richard Crenna) is chugging down the same river looking for pollution. They come across a collection of drums with nuclear symbols painted on the sides. Their voltage meter tells them it’s reading about 18 volts, which they interpret to mean the drums are indeed radioactive. So now that they’ve all probably received a fatal dose of radiation poisoning, they decide to make camp.
One of this team of crack environmental activist/scientists has brought her little yappy dog. That night the little yappy dog goes off into the jungle by the river. A couple of yelps later and it’s easy to guess that the croc has had a snack. That doesn’t stop the dog’s owner from going out to look for him. She kind of finds him as the crocodile decides to chomp on her too.
The next morning, the group notices she’s gone and after a surprisingly short search heads back to town to get the authorities for help. In the nearby town they ask about the police, only to find out there are no police. Instead, there is ‘The Judge’ (Van Johnson). The Judge doesn’t like that they have been snooping around looking for pollution, so he tells them to get lost. With no other help available, the gang heads out on the river to look for their friend.
They eventually end up back near where they camped the night before. They accidentally run the boat aground on a mud bank and have to get out to push it loose. As they work the boat free, one of them pushes on the wrong spot and their missing friend’s body pops up like a Jack-in-the-box from the weeds. She’s mostly chewed up, but still whole enough to recognize.
Now they know something’s going on and head back to confront the Judge. While they’re doing that, they meet Joe (Ennio Girolami). He’s a local hunter who vows to kill the crocodile because he knows that’s what’s got their friend.
Now it’s up to Joe and a bunch of inept environmental accidents, I mean activists, to roam up and down the river providing the crocodile with more and more human snack cakes as they try to stop it. Will they succeed? Will any of them survive? Will Van Johnson ever put a shirt on that doesn’t show his moobs?
Killer Crocodile is another of those “we don’t make spaghetti westerns anymore so let’s make horror” films from the 70s and 80s. Like other films of this genre, it was done on the cheap. The killer crocodile looks pretty convincing when it’s in the water, but when it pops up to eat someone or if it starts moving over land, the creature’s discount construction shows through.
Despite its dollar store origins and almost copyright infringing soundtrack, Killer Crocodile is a lot of fun to watch. The acting is not great and the dialogue is worse. However, there is a lot of charm in watching a good old-fashioned monster movie, although I did find myself rooting for the crocodile to eat as many of the annoying 20-something environmentalists as it could.
There was also the character who was the cheese-filled star of the movie--Joe. Apparently Ennio Girolami is who you call if you really wanted Lee Van Cleef in your spaghetti horror film, but since he died that year, he wasn’t taking calls. So Ennio ruggedly squints his way through playing a character who’s half Quint from Jaws and half Angel Eyes from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. He’s so tough in this film he can apparently get dragged under by the killer croc and still pop up a few minutes later to give his hat, and detailed instructions on how to kill the crocodile to Kevin.
So when you’re ready for more spaghetti horror fun than you can shake a Jaws rip-off at, check out Fabrizio De Angelis’s Killer Crocodile. It’s not Shakespeare, but it is fun.