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Retro Review: KILLER CROCODILE (1989) and KILLER CROCODILE 2 (1990)

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KILLER CROCODILE
(Italy - 1989)

Directed by Larry Ludman (Fabrizio De Angelis). Written by David Parker Jr. (Dardano Sacchetti) and Larry Ludman (Fabrizio De Angelis). Cast: Anthony Crenna, Ann Douglas, Thomas Moore (Ennio Girolami), Van Johnson, Wohrman Williams (Bill Wohrman), Sherrie Rose, Julian Hampton (Pietro Genuardi), John Harper, Gray Jordan, Marte Amilcar. (Unrated, 92 mins)

A very late-to-the-party "Nature Run Amok" Italian JAWS ripoff shot in the Dominican Republic, 1989's KILLER CROCODILE was never too hard to find even back in the VHS bootleg heyday prior to the circa-2000 Eurocult explosion on DVD. But for whatever reason, it's never been officially released in the US until now, courtesy of Severin's new Blu-ray (because physical media is dead). Directed and co-written by veteran producer (THE BEYOND, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS)-turned-exploitation knockoff specialist (the Rambo-inspired THUNDER WARRIOR trilogy, the Namsploitation OPERATION: NAM, aka COBRA MISSION) Fabrizio De Angelis under his trusty "Larry Ludman" pseudonym, KILLER CROCODILE doesn't waste any time, showing the titular beast front and center about 40 seconds into the film. Taking a page from 1980's ALLIGATOR, the croc here is an oversized mutant thanks to chemical contamination, in this case radioactive waste in barrels clandestinely dumped in a river surrounding an impoverished Caribbean island. A team of environmental activists led by Kevin (Anthony Crenna, son of the late, great Character Actor Hall-of-Famer Richard Crenna) are journeying along the river to find and expose the illegal waste disposal that's been orchestrated by corporate hatchet man Foley (Florida-based regional actor Bill Wohrman--credited as "Wohrman Williams"--who had a small role as a cop in PORKY'S and PORKY'S II: THE NEXT DAY), who keeps getting away with it because he's got a flunky with the corrupt local judge (Van Johnson--a long way from THE CAINE MUTINY--as Murray Hamilton) who represents the law on the island.






When one of the activists disappears, the judge blows off the concerns of her friends, and when her mutilated body is later found with clear evidence of crocodile chomping, the judge and Foley go full "Fake News" and accuse Kevin and the others of killing her. That lasts about a minute and a half until the massive croc destroys a dock and kills a few locals in the process. With the judge nervous about his corruption being made public and Foley threatening to "reveal who you really are," in a pointless attempt at throwing in a red herring (unless he's the croc wearing a Van Johnson disguise), Kevin and the activists team with wily local crocodile expert Joe (Ennio Girolami as Robert Shaw) to hunt down the beast and expose Foley's nefarious actions. De Angelis throws in a good amount of gore and dismemberment in the croc attacks, and there's no shortage of nonsensical bits that connoisseurs of Italian ripoffs know and love, such as the repeated mention of a big reveal about the judge not being much at all (he's a fugitive ex-con...big deal); dubious dubbing; Riz Ortolani's score being little more than barely tweaked John Williams/JAWS cues;  members of Kevin's group swimming around in contaminated water and deciding to make camp right by a shore lined with visible barrels stamped "Radioactive," ample proof that Foley and the judge are doing a pretty shitty job of keeping their activities buried, and a riotous outboard-motor-in-the-mouth demise for the croc at the hands of a crazed Kevin.



The most ridiculous character is Joe the Crocodile Whisperer, with his good luck hat that he tosses to Kevin for inspiration in an incredible scene that begins with Joe riding the Giannetto De Rossi-designed croc like the redressed immobile surfboard that it likely is, and earlier sensing the croc is near and talking to it from the boat, calling it a "pollywog" and advising Kevin that "They get really crazy when you insult them." It's not quite the USS Indianapolis monologue, but you get what you pay for, and it's good enough for KILLER CROCODILE. It's not quite Henry Fonda in TENTACLES or Richard Harris in STRIKE COMMANDO 2, but it's still strange seeing a beloved figure from Hollywood's Golden Age like Johnson doing some late-career slumming here, but work's work, and he was appearing in quite of few of these Italian exploitation obscurities during this period, including Stelvio Massi's never-completed slasher film TAXI KILLER, Ettore Pasculli's post-apocalyptic sci-fi FLIGHT FROM PARADISE, and Pierluigi Ciriaci's  DELTA FORCE COMMANDO 2. KILLER CROCODILE never even made it to US video stores and didn't even make much of an impression in Italy, but that didn't stop De Angelis from releasing the immediate sequel KILLER CROCODILE 2 the next year, shot back-to-back with its predecessor.




KILLER CROCODILE 2
(Italy - 1990)

Directed by Giannetto De Rossi. Written by David Parker Jr. (Dardano Sacchetti), Larry Ludman (Fabrizio De Angelis) and Giannetto De Rossi. Cast: Anthony Crenna, Debra Karr, Thomas Moore (Ennio Girolami), Terry Baer, Hector Alvarez, Alan Bult, Paul Summers, Tony De Noia, Peter Schreiber, Franco Fantasia. (Unrated, 87 mins)

Now available as part of a limited-edition two-disc Blu-ray set with KILLER CROCODILE, the even lesser-seen 1990 sequel KILLER CROCODILE 2 was cranked out so cheaply and so quickly that it doesn't even bother roping in a past-his-prime, "and with"-worthy name actor to pull Van Johnson special appearance duty. Fabrizio De Angelis farmed out directing chores to veteran Italian makeup effects designer Giannetto De Rossi, best known to genre fans for his trailblazing splatter work on Lucio Fulci gorefests like ZOMBIE and THE BEYOND. De Rossi designed the croc in KILLER CROCODILE, and constructs a bigger and even more ridiculous one here. An offspring of the first film's title monster, Killer Crocodile Jr. proves to be a huge disruption to the development of a tourist resort that's certain to boost the economy of the impoverished area, which somehow hasn't become a huge cancer cluster with all the barrels of radioactive waste being dumped in the area. The potential contamination is why NYC reporter Liza Post (Debra Karr) is sent to investigate only to spend much of her time fighting off leering locals in addition to the rampaging croc. It's first seen devouring a vacationing couple, then attacking two boats filled with schoolkids and their nun chaperones, followed by an insane scene where it plows into a hut in what looks like the world's worst Kool-Aid Man impression. Once Liza confirms the existence of radioactive waste, her boss calls in ace environmentalist Kevin (a returning Anthony Crenna, now dubbed by Ted Rusoff), who seeks out his old buddy Joe the Crocodile Whisperer (Ennio Girolami, dubbed by Robert Spafford), left hobbled and even more crazy after his fateful encounter with the first toxic monstrosity, resulting in him behaving less like JAWS' Quint and more like an Obi-Wan Kenobi-like Jedi master ("I feel something," he says, looking out at still water).






Starting with using the same Riz Ortolani score, KILLER CROCODILE 2 has all the tell-tale signs of a quickie sequel. While the crocodile set pieces are more over-the-top in terms of execution and splatter--with a climactic battle between Kevin and the croc that features an Anthony Crenna action figure attached to a toy croc in some shots that not even Antonio Margheriti would deem acceptable--the rest is padded with stock footage from the first film (including recycling the same initial appearance of the crocodile, which is just flipped) and absurdly longer-than-necessary establishing shots of buildings, people walking into offices, Crenna and Girolami on the boat, pans across the river, etc. It has to resort to these tactics just to make it to 87 minutes, yet somehow, top-billed Crenna doesn't even appear until around 40 minutes in. The actor is on hand for an interview in the KILLER CROCODILE extras (he now goes by "Richard Anthony Crenna") and explains that he went to Rome in the late '80s when his dad was working on a movie (most likely LEVIATHAN) and decided to test the waters of the Italian film industry since he wasn't catching any breaks in Hollywood. He quickly nabbed the KILLER CROCODILE gig, probably on the basis of his known surname, and recalls it being a fun shoot in Santo Domingo even though there were language barriers, the production got caught in a hurricane, and he contracted dysentery at one point. He returned for the sequel, which again took him to Santo Domingo, but when De Angelis offered him the lead in De Rossi's TERMINATOR ripoff CY WARRIOR immediately following the back-to-back KILLER CROCODILEs (and again scheduled to shoot in Santo Domingo), he turned it down because he was ready to return home, with the part eventually going to Frank Zagarino. Crenna's only notable acting job came with a recurring role on ROSWELL a decade later, as things ultimately didn't pan out for him like they did for his father. As with John Wayne's youngest son Ethan Wayne in 1985's THE MANHUNT and 1987's OPERATION: NAM, De Angelis did his best to make Anthony Crenna happen, but the young actor probably would've found more success in the Italian B-movie industry if he made the move a few years earlier. By 1989-90, the entire Italian genre scene was on life support aside from whatever Dario Argento or Michele Soavi were doing, as evidenced by neither KILLER CROCODILE film finding any US home video distribution.





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