Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (2015)

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The great Satan that is “Sharknado” has sort of spoiled B-movies. For ages there, it was a fun little world, full of stupid monsters and movies that at least pretended to take themselves seriously, with former stars rubbing shoulders with people from sci-fi TV shows. Now, of course, everyone has to be in on the joke and the threat must be hybridised – there’s a staggering amount of “Mega X vs. Giant Y” movies either released or in the pipeline.

 

A couple of years ago, I’d have at least tried to cover them all, but there’s no point, as they sort of defy analysis. They’re not made to be good, they’re made to get people on Twitter mocking them, to provide a few cheap “look at this garbage” laughs and make a few dollars. The theory of indifference, as I christened it a while back.

 

The reason I picked this one to cover is due to its sequel status to “Lake Placid: The Final Chapter”, which we reviewed a while back. Ah, “final chapter”, when are you not a lie? Apologies if I get one of the names wrong, but Black Lake is where all the bad stuff happened in that movie, and the action in this one moves to Clear Lake, a distance down the road. Returning are Yancy Butler as Reba, now the Sheriff of Clear Lake; and Robert Englund as poacher Bickerman, who keeps getting bits bitten off himself but carries on.

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Before we get cracking with the trademark ISCFC half-remembered recap of the movie, a word about Yancy Butler. She had a pretty rough time of it for a few years there around 2003-2008, in and out of drug treatment facilities, pretty heavy alcoholism, and lots of trouble with the law. While the roles have slowed down somewhat since then, it’s always fun to see her, and I hope she’s turned herself around.

 

Bickerman has taken Beach (Steven Billington) and some scientist guys to Black Lake (remember, despite being the title of the movie, there hasn’t been an actual Lake Placid in this series, ever) for reasons of evil science. Sarah Murdoch (Annabel Wright), evil CEO, is funding all this for a good old fashioned monster movie reason – eternal life! DNA from one of the super-evil crocodiles, injected into a gigantic anaconda, and from the eggs of the snake will come CROCOCONDA!!! I guess these guys will have something in their blood that Murdoch thinks will do the trick but, of course, humans are stupid and you know those creatures are getting out!

 

Much like the previous Lake Placid movie, it’s divided into three sections, I’m guessing to save money as you only need to pay one group of actors at a time. You’ve got Sheriff Reba, Fish & Wildlife guy Tull (Corin Nemec, sadly not playing his role for laughs), and their people; you’ve got Bickerman, Beach and Murdoch, doing their evil science; and the largest group with the most time devoted to them, two cars full of girls who are pledging to a sorority. Most of them are just meat for the beast, but there’s a core of excellent actors with properly set up personalities. Bethany (Skye Lourie) is Tull’s daughter – traditional for one of these sorts of movies; goth-ish Margot (Ali Eagle), who’s pledging so she’s got material for her psychology class; Tiffany (Laura Dale), the super-bitchy chief sorority sister, a magnificently monstrous performance; and Jane (Heather Gilbert), the sad-sack who gets mercilessly picked on.

Okay, this bit was great

Okay, this bit was great

Talking of actors, you may notice while watching this that there’s a heck of a lot of dubbing going on. Scrolling further down that cast list, you’ll notice that pretty much everyone who doesn’t survive has an Eastern-European name – filmed in Bulgaria, the home of low-budget US cinema since the late 90s, they must have saved money by just using anyone they could find who could speak English (so the lips roughly matched) and then dubbing them afterwards. A bit off-putting, to say the least.

 

This movie is really a lot of fun, though. You know what’s going to happen – crocodiles are going to fight giant anacondas – and they give it to you, with blood being thrown about like it’s going out of fashion. Crocodiles eat the smaller snakes, but the bigger ones just wrap themselves around the crocs, squeeze and rip. When you’ve got a croc with a nubile teenager in its mouth at the same time? Gore, and lots of it. Plus, for those of us used to the more chaste world of SyFy Channel movies, there’s a heck of a lot of nudity in this movie too – you don’t hire Eastern European extras for them to keep their clothes on, one would presume. Or SyFy were told they were allowed to have nudity in their movies now and leapt in with both feet, as it were.

 

Quick note about the special effects: they’re all terrible. If that’s your thing, avoid this like the plague. But if you’re drunk enough, you won’t mind!

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I think it’s important to keep mentioning this when it happens, on the off chance that the critical mass of voices will be reached, and movie companies will stop doing it – it’s the blatant double standards. One scene, on a speedboat, the male driver is wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a jacket, yet not only are the two women in the scene wearing tiny bikinis, one of them takes her top off pretty much just because the driver asks her to nicely. The two of them stood together is everything that’s wrong with recent B-movies, in a nutshell. I don’t accept that I’m being a prude, or that feminism is a dead cause, or any of that. No-one, absolutely no-one, watches a movie called “Lake Placid vs. Anaconda” to get turned on, and it’s sleazy middle-aged male producers, directors and distributors that insist on it. Lord knows why. I feel like society has moved on but low-budget movies seem almost to be moving backwards in some of their attitudes.

 

After the Deputy proves himself too stupid to live (yet somehow survives) and we get an ending which is just drenched in blood and guts, that’s it for another low-budget bit of monster fun. And I know I’ve just spent a chunk of this review criticising it, but that’s more the background noise that so many movies exist in these days than anything terribly specific to this one. It’s got a cast packed with dependable old hands, two low-budget royalty (Butler and Nemec), and a lot of really good new female actors who ought to go on to bigger and better things – I could absolutely see Heather Gilbert in a major network sitcom, for example. But let’s keep our fingers crossed this modern sci-fi portmanteau monster trend dies off soon so we can get back to the classics. I miss a good werewolf movie.

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Rating: thumbs up

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Rage Of The Yeti (2011)

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As a smarter man than I said “reality has an annoying left-wing bias”, and certain groups with money and power don’t like that. So schools get de-skilled and de-funded, and we’re left with a population with no critical thinking skills that believes in Bigfoot and Yeti and all those ridiculous fantasy creatures. No matter how many seasons the “Hunting X” shows get, and NEVER FIND ANYTHING, the faith never wavers.

If this weird, pointless obsession produced good entertainment, then I’d be less upset I guess (at least there are genuinely great zombie movies), but all we get in the giant monkey-like creature arena is the occasional funny segment on “The Soup” and stuff like “Rage Of The Yeti”, a SyFy Channel original movie, one from the era of getting people from their TV shows to make an appearance.

The guy in this is David Hewlett, from “Stargate Atlantis” and he’s Mills, an eccentric billionaire who’s after a Codex (a fancy book, basically). It contains the only written evidence of the Yeren, the Chinese take on the Yeti, and after disappearing in the 1800s aboard a boat bound from China to Europe, thawing ice reveals it in the far Arctic North of Canada. He’s sent a team out there to retrieve it, but they happen to run into a real pack of Yeren and are getting sliced up, so he has to send in a second team to rescue the first team.

All looking in slightly different directions

All looking in slightly different directions

That’s your plot, really. The big name of the first team is Yancy Butler, of “Witchblade” and “Lake Placid: The Final Chapter” fame; and the big name of the second is David Chokachi, formerly of “Baywatch” and featured by the ISCFC before in “The 3 Musketeers” and “Atlantic Rim”. She’s a steady hand, but Chokachi almost single-handedly saves the movie – he and his brother (Matthew Kevin Anderson) are constantly wisecracking, and play the part of cool rogues to the hilt.

The special effects are really bad in this one. To create the Yeren, it appears that the CGI guy just found a pre-existing gorilla animation, altered the face a bit and turned it white – done! They have no weight, and just float along the surface or wherever they happen to be, which is tolerable when there’s a lot of snow in shot (it does appear they filmed in a real snowstorm, at least briefly) but just looks awful when one of them is inside. They at least filmed somewhere with a lot of real snow, I suppose.

“Rage of the Yeti” is a whisker from being a straight comedy film, though. At one point, Chokachi shows his team members an advert for the super-gun he’s carrying, which is a tubby man on a tropical beach with two beautiful women firing it and being thrown backwards; the Stargate cast member says “if only I had a Stargate” at one point; every other line from Chokachi or Anderson is a joke; and there’s definitely a sense that the people involved in making this were exactly aware of how cheesy it all was.

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Which sadly doesn’t excuse it being rubbish. As well as being the wacky billionaire, David Hewlett directed this, but appears to have inserted himself in at the last minute – even when he’s supposed to be sharing a scene he’s green-screened. He’s desperate for the team to trap him a Yeren, but even though they don’t manage that, there’s a ton of dead ones knocking about, which would do almost as well. Plus, the Yeren are indestructible, until the plot needs them not to be – and some of them are suicidal, running into plane engines or wrestling helicopters in flight. One of the women from the second team is there at the beginning, then there’s a couple of scenes where she’s covered her entire face in a scarf, then she dies off screen and although we see her corpse, we never see her face. Did she quit a few days into filming?

It feels half-finished, is my best guess. There are segments that feel like they’re missing scenes (at least one scene right at the beginning, and the medical rescue of one of the team), and the Yeren special effects look like those “before” shots you see in special effects documentaries. Hewlett’s scenes have a whiff of improvisation about them, like maybe again he filmed himself as a placeholder and then the guy he hired never came through. It’s peculiar, and despite a couple of performances from Chokachi and Anderson that really try to save the movie (plus Laura Haddock, who’s giving it her all) it has all sorts of weird rough edges. And a truly spectacular example of “haha all our friends are dead” to wrap things up.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (2012)

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“The Final Chapter” when it comes to film titles is almost always a lie – take Friday the 13th (which has had 7 films since its final chapter), Saw, The Omen, Puppet Master…okay, “Amateur Porn Star Killer 3: The Final Chapter” (a real film, apparently) is the exception to the rule. But you get the idea. It’s a marketing ploy, pure and simple, to get people who enjoyed the first film in a series back on board. And given I’m writing this, it worked on me.

Without having seen parts 2 or 3 (I’m okay with that life choice), it would seem that this one starts the instant that part 3 ends, with Yancy Butler (remember her from “Witchblade”?) waking up from a seemingly fatal encounter with a croc, finding it still alive and shooting it again. She’s a poacher turned gamekeeper, literally, and the events of previous films have led to the main croc lake being entirely surrounded with an electric fence. We also get British former soap star Paul Nicholls playing…you know what? I must have not been paying attention when they said what his job was. He’s not the Sheriff, he’s not the gamekeeper, maybe he’s in charge of the fence? He’s there, and he’s eye candy, and he can carry a gun, and that’s all we need to know. The Sheriff is played by Elizabeth Rohm, formerly of “Angel”, a few years of “Law and Order” and a bunch of other things, including my dreams J She’s lovely, and despite being far too glamorous-looking to be the sheriff of some rural town, performs like someone who’s not aware her career has hit the “part 4 of giant monster franchise” level.

Yancy Butler strolls round, being a wisecracking badass and doing a terrible job of it (while she can do physicality well, the quips and one-liners do not suit her at all), and the crocodiles stroll round being almost entirely silent. Not even the sound of them disturbing the undergrowth is heard as they sneak up on their prey, and they’re also apparently mostly invisible (even if you’re looking fairly close to where they are, you won’t see them until they try and carry you off). If the idea of giant lumbering creatures being almost invisible and making no sound is okay with you, you’ll do fine with this film.

There's maybe a reason his most famous role had him wearing a full mask all the time

There’s maybe a reason his most famous role had him wearing a full mask all the time

After all this delightful setup, the film then breaks down into three different parts, presumably for budget reasons (the three groups don’t meet up again until right at the end). We have the kids first – the Sheriff’s daughter, Nicholls’ son, and their schoolmates, off on a camping trip to a different lake with a different beach. I need to relate this bit as it’s so brain-buggeringly stupid – the bus driver, possibly in the film to remind us of the first one’s Oliver Platt, is a bit of a rubbish pervert, watching a woman in her underwear gyrate via his phone while driving. After almost crashing, he puts the phone away…for about a minute, then just goes back to the least erotic erotica, completely missing his turn and driving through the accidentally opened gate into the realm of the crocodiles. Now, I can just about believe he missed it. Whatever. But no-one went “hey, driver, why did we go through that gate that said NO ENTRY?” As a method to deliver the cannon fodder to the scene of their death, it’s pretty lame.

We then get the poachers, the least of the three parts. Robert Englund and his pals are hunting crocs for some reason, and are absolutely the worst shots in the world. They inevitably get attacked by a big ‘un, and while it pauses for a few seconds they all shoot at it from maybe 20 feet away. Do any of them hit? Do they heck! But this incompetence is not just limited to the humans, as we get a croc POV shot. The croc kills someone, but is seen to move past one of the hunters to get one further away. Did the first guy smell bad?

The grownups have all sorts to do – try and calm down the locals, unconvincingly flirt (Nicholls and Rohm, for two such attractive people, have zero onscreen chemistry, and Nicholls is maybe the weirdest kisser I’ve ever seen on camera) and eventually go back to the lake to look for their missing children. The three storylines eventually merge again, and the only thing left to wonder about is who’s going to die before the final wisecrack is issued over the final corpse of the final croc (apart, of course, from the one who appears right at the end, as they always do in films like this, just to let everyone know this series will go on as long as there are people willing to pay to see it).

The bit in the middle, where the humans are trying to avoid the crocodiles, is just boring. The CGI animals have no weight to them, and can neither be heard nor seen til its too late, robbing every scene of any drama or tension. The film itself doesn’t seem that bothered, with continuity errors aplenty and one scene where our heroes are rescued by a boat and a harpoon gun, manned by three people we’ve never seen before and don’t see again (I can only guess they’re stunt doubles who they were expecting would be further away from the camera). Yancy Butler makes a reference to “Lake Placid”, despite the fact none of the films in the series are actually set on Lake Placid, it was just a cool title for the first one. Someone is eaten by piranhas at one point, it would seem, despite…you get the idea. Two of the main cast (Nicholls and Caroline Ford) are English, but speak with American accents, despite there being another character with an English accent in the film.

It’s not all bad, though. Despite my monster-sized Rohm crush, most of the eye candy in this film is of the male variety, a refreshing change. Actually, looking back through my notes, that’s pretty much the only positive I can find. Plenty of acting talent wasted (including Caroline Ford, one of the teenagers, who did a lot with the little she was given) on what I now hope is the end of the series.

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