Beyond the Slimy Wall: DinoCroc
By Stephanie Star Smith
June 23, 2005
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
The track record of the Sci-Fi Channel’s Original Pictures production house is a mixed one indeed. Most often the films they produce are merely adequate; sometimes they are downright horrendous; but every once in a while, you find one that’s brilliant. Which is why you keep coming back, checking out each new entry, looking for those diamonds amidst all the coal.
DinoCroc was part of a TiVo-created SFC Originals double-bill for me, and both films turned out to be the exact opposite of what I expected in terms of quality and interest factor. In fact, I very nearly didn’t TiVo DinoCroc, as the synopsis read as completely lame to me and the commercials didn’t help, what with the lousy Crocodile Dundee wanna-be giving some weird-ass speech about how dangerous crocs are in one of the worst Australian accents I’ve ever heard. However, the commercial did point out one crucial fact: legendary King of the Bs Roger Corman had produced the flick, and that was enough to convince me to take the chance. Not that Corman can’t make or produce a bad film, I’m sure, but my experience with his horror output has generally been very positive, so I decided having a look wouldn’t hurt.
Boy, am I glad I took that chance.
Not that the flick started out all that promising, as the first couple of scenes follow the adventures of the aspiring Steve Irwin in the Australian Outback, hunting crocodiles and having strange dreams about them. Then the opening credits roll as the camera pans over a bunch of fossilized bones and a series of newspaper articles describing an exciting new paleozoological find of a giant crocodile. As the articles moved on to describe scientists studying the creature’s genome to find out why it was so big, the strains of Weird Al’s Jurassic Park started playing in my head, and I was pretty much ready to write this one off by the time the film got to cloning DNA. Cause you wouldn’t think a film that reminds you of a Weird Al song just as the action starts would be interesting in any way whatsoever.
Here again, I was wrong.
Because it turns out the scientists discovered that what made these crocs so bloody big was something called accelerated growth hormone, which they took to referring to as AGH (coincidentally, the same substance is behind the wacky doings over on Sabretooth). As Joanna Pacula, president of Genreco, the company playing the part of that time-honored AEP bad guy, Greedy Evil Corporation, tells us in a promo film, ACH could be used one day to grow new lungs, new hearts, new livers, increase food production, blah, blah, bliddy-blah, greed and hubris gussied up in humanitarian trappings and sold to the shareholders and public.
And from here we head over to a lab, where we meet the two little products of this revolutionary research and our first Red-Shirt. Now I’ll praise DinoCroc right here for one of the things I derided Sabretooth for. While you can predict to a certain extent which characters are the Red-Shirts when they appear, the film makes an effort to steer you the wrong way, and there are a couple of Red-Shirts that come as complete surprises as well as a couple of seeming Red-Shirts who make it to the end credits. It’s always nice when an AEP keeps you guessing on the beastie chow.
Of course, one of the cloned crocs escapes into Genreco’s nature preserve, which consists of a lake and marshlands and also happens to be conveniently located directly behind the corporate complex. The lake also feeds into a local recreation waterway nearby, the better to terrorize the tourists later in the film. The local sheriff is stonewalled as to what happened to the first Red-Shirt in the lab, and Joanna Pacula gives her minions instructions to find the croc and bring it in. Another bit of praise-on-the-run for DinoCroc: While you’ve got a fair idea of who most of the bad guys and the good guys are here, you still get fooled in a couple of instances. I like a horror film that surprises me in a good way.
Genreco’s attempts to keep the ginormous croc in check until they can work out a plan to recapture it bring the rest of the characters into the plot, including assorted giant croc chow and our teens-in-love-
and-jeopardy, plus a subplot involving the local animal shelter and some dastardly doings by Genreco there. As one of Genreco’s scientists grows a conscience - or maybe he clones it - and our main players discover the extent of the situation, our Crocodile Dundee wanna-be from the opening is called in to kill the beastie. Or at least we’re supposed to think it’s the same guy, but there’s no way in hell those members of the audience who still have the majority of their visual acuity and their brain cells intact are going to buy that the young buck in the opening sequence and Costas Mandylor, who plays the croc hunter in the main body of the film, are the same person. The appearance of Croc Hunter Lite sends us on DinoCroc's Wild Ride to the end, which brings some expected results, some surprises, puppies in danger and not one but two false endings. The audience is also gifted with a very, very satisfying choice for a DinoCroc Happy Meal and a recall of an earlier anomaly that is then explained just as the final credits roll.
The items that made DinoCroc the superior of the two Jurassic AEPs I watched that night are the things that make any horror film - or any film, for that matter - enjoyable. A well-written script, a group of mostly - sometimes surprisingly - competent actors, enough twists in the plot to keep the viewer from being four miles ahead of the movie, and some kick-ass F/X. And special, nearly effusive, praise goes to the CGI Monkeys what made the eponymous beastie; although the standard brief-glimpses-to-heighten-fear technique was employed, it wasn’t used because the monster at the center of the film looked too goofy or unreal. Even the short-lived views we get through most of the film indicate a believable beastie, and when he finally goes on the rampage at the end that reveals DinoCroc in his full glory, we are treated to a very convincing bit of CGI, allowing us to concentrate on the action instead of laughing our heads off at the lousy-looking monster.
All in all, DinoCroc is one of the better Sci-Fi Original Pictures films, and lest that seem like damning with faint praise, allow me to add that DinoCroc stands in the upper echelon of AEPs in general. It’s no Jurassic Park, but it’s certainly a respectable entry into the genre.
And Roger Corman maintains his record as one of the most reliable horror-film producers and directors I know.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.