‘Lake Placid’ is a Campy Summertime Horror That Deserves Greater Acclaim

Lake Placid

Summer is here, friends. In fact, we’ve already reached the midway point of the season. And that realization has me nostalgic for a creature feature that delivers chuckles, chills, camp, and carnage in spades. I’m speaking of the sorely underrated killer croc flick Lake Placid (which recently observed a release date anniversary on July 16). Lake Placid is the perfect lighthearted feature to put on while lounging on a lazy summer day. But because the film wasn’t met with much critical acclaim upon release, I suspect there may still be a faction of the horror crowd that hasn’t come around to it. And that is more than enough reason for me to speak to the picture’s numerous merits. So, here we go. 

Lake Placid follows Kelly (Bridget Fonda), a paleontologist at a museum in New York. Shortly after finding out her boyfriend is carrying on with one of her coworkers, Kelly is sent to Black Lake, Maine, to investigate what appears to be a prehistoric tooth recovered from the site of an aquatic animal attack. Once there, she quickly identifies the tooth as not being a fossil. But she opts to stick around to avoid her uncomfortable workplace dynamic. Kelly (along with the local authorities and an eccentric professor) comes to realize that a super-sized crocodile has infiltrated Black Lake. But because a crocodile infiltrating a lake in Main is such a far-fetched scenario, no one takes their claims seriously. That is, until the death toll escalates.  

One of the film’s greatest strengths is its exceptional cast. Director Steve Miner has clearly made his key players aware of what kind of film they are in, and everyone seems to be having a blast. Bridget Fonda is quite enjoyable in her turn as a slightly neurotic fish out of water; Bill Pullman brings his signature ‘aw shucks’ quality to his portrayal of a fish and wildlife officer; Brendan Gleeson is fantastic as the dimwitted sheriff; and Oliver Platt is delightful as a peculiar professor with an unlimited arsenal of one-liners. Perhaps the most memorable, however, is the late Betty White in a supporting turn as a foul-mouthed local that marches to the beat of her own drum. White has several scene-stealing appearances, each of which serves to add to the flick’s enduring comedic appeal. 

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In addition to great characters, the interpersonal relationships between the cast are also well-realized. Catching up with Kelly at such a pivotal time in her life makes her immediately accessible. Who hasn’t been through a bad breakup? It’s easy to see she’s in pain, even though she tries to mask her discomfort with sarcasm and a tough exterior. But it’s clear that Kelly feels more deeply than she lets on. So, it’s a welcome sight when she lets her guard down a little. It’s endearing to see her take an interest in Jack after initially expressing a strong dislike for him. The two are different in many ways but share a similar sense of humor and a propensity for stubbornness. Even though it’s immediately obvious to the viewer that they will end up together, watching their characters figure it out for themselves is engaging. 

Charming couplings aside, the picture also serves up a hefty helping of pitch-black comedy. It’s strange to think that Lake Placid was written by the creator of Ally McBeal (David E. Kelley). But at the same time, it isn’t that strange. The properties have a shared appreciation for sarcasm, and both possess a razor-sharp wit. Lake Placid is full of witty, outlandish, and often gruesome gags. The dark comedy pairs rather well with the campy carnage. And the end result is an enjoyable and lighthearted affair that will make you laugh, groan, cheer, and (in some of the more intense sequences) jump out of your seat. 

Ultimately, this is one where I think the majority of critics got it wrong (the film currently sits at 47% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). The flick has a charming sense of humor, killer crocs, and an endearing cast of quirky characters. What’s not to like? I have to assume that critics (and viewers) who didn’t connect with Lake Placid may have taken it too seriously. The flick is all kinds of over-the-top. But that’s by design. It’s fun and silly and ridiculous. Hell, the third act sees a cow dangled from a helicopter as live bait to lure the croc out of hiding. Accordingly, it’s not meant to be taken too seriously. But the picture is meant to be fun, lighthearted, escapist entertainment. And it succeeds remarkably well in that conceit. 

If you’re due to revisit Lake Placid (or even to check it out for the first time), the film isn’t streaming for free anywhere at the moment. But this campy affair is well worth the price of a rental. And you can find it available via all the usual suspects. 



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