APRIL 29, 2016
"Unless [another entry] is somehow conceived, produced, and released in the next 5 months (when HMAD ends), I'll never see it. For me, this truly is the Final Chapter. Adieu, mostly lousy series!"
That's from my review of Lake Placid: The Final Chapter, posted a few months before the daily part of HMAD ended in March of 2013. The thinking was, while I still planned to update the site a couple times a week (I know, it's usually more like once at best), I wouldn't be bothering much with sequels to movies I never liked much to begin with. Alas, I was "forced" to watch Lake Placid vs. Anaconda for one of my freelance jobs, and when I was surprised to discover that it actually had some continuity with both of the series, I looked up my own reviews and realized that I had reviewed all eight previous movies - I figured I kind of had to post a review.
And yes, EIGHT - four Lake Placids, and four Anacondas. In terms of vs. movies, it's rather squarely matched - Jason had more movies than Freddy, Alien had more movies than Predator, but these guys are on even ground - except when it comes to money and theatrical success. The first two Anaconda films were released theatrically and were successful (especially the first - outgrossing the likes of Starship Troopers, LA Confidential, Jackie Brown, and The Game, among far too many others), but only the first Lake Placid was given such treatment - and it was technically a dud, grossing a mere 31m on a 35m budget. In fact, I'm kind of confused Lake Placid went first in the title, as not only is Anaconda a bigger brand name but it also comes first in the alphabet, giving it better placement in VOD menus (whereas L is pretty much right in the middle). But either way I think it's a pretty stupid title, since Lake Placid isn't the name of the crocodile. I mean it'd be cool if the snakes all decided to just fight a large body of water, but that's obviously not what happens - it'd be like if the 2003 film was called Freddy vs Friday the 13th.
Anyway, back to the continuity - I wouldn't say you HAD to watch the other movies, but I was surprised to discover that the writers clearly had, bringing back elements from the Lake Placid series (like the giant fence that encircles the area, letting these animals live peacefully) and the Anaconda series (like the Blood Orchid) in equal measure. The two characters that return are both Lake Placid vets (Yancy Butler and Robert Englund, who survived being eaten in the last film), but the main evil business lady is the daughter of John Rhys-Davies' character from Anaconda 3, so they reward people that have memorized those movies (or, like I did, took a second to look at a Wikipedia entry to understand the connection after she kept referring to unseen father, which is sequel shorthand for a dead character). Again, it's not like you'll be confused if you go in blind, but it tickled me that the movie actually seemed to care more about the two franchise's history than Freddy vs. Jason or Alien vs. Predator did about their respective series.
I was also tickled that the movie's production company was Destination Films, which I thought had went belly-up years ago. For horror fans they're probably best (?) remembered for Bats, the Syfy-level movie that somehow got a theatrical release in 1999 (a not entirely unsuccessful one! It outgrossed Idle Hands and Teaching Mrs. Tingle, for what it's worth), but to me they're the gods who gave us Drowning Mona, one of my favorite random comedies of all time ("Demoted mother"). Alas, my enthusiasm quickly vanished, as the very first shot of the croc was hideous - not even PS2-level, more like PS1 cut-scene, made additionally sad/hilarious by the fact that the shot was behind the VFX supervisor's credit. Supervising what, exactly? A Windows 95 computer running After Effects 2.5? FX are cheaper these days and more people know how to do them - it shouldn't be this hard to get an at least halfway decent shot of your title monster(s), especially in the first few scenes.
However, some of that hope returned a few seconds later, when an unexpected bit of wit intruded on an otherwise cliche and dumb scene. Early on, Englund (sporting a hook hand, metal foot, and eye-patch to explain his survival) has been hired by the shady scientist types to get them past the fence so they could steal eggs or whatever the hell, and he's trying to back out, so one of them has a gun on him. And they're going through the motions, muttering "Not so fast..." "I won't say anything, let me go!" sort of dialogue that no one actually listens to. Meanwhile, the non-gun-toting scientists are still going about their work nearby (everyone's in one of those mobile labs, like the one in The Lost World), and one of them needs to get to a microscope next to the guy holding a gun on Englund, so he just totally ignores their own personal problems and sighs "Watch the gun..." as he casually strolls between them so he can get on with his work. Like, I love the idea that the real scientists are so used to their employers pulling guns on each other that it doesn't even faze them anymore.
As for the "vs" aspect, as expected they don't spend a lot of time on it. They meet up around the halfway point and the croc gets destroyed pretty quickly, and then near the end another croc (there are several of each monster) flings a snake into the blades of a helicopter hovering above, killing the snake (duh) and sending the chopper into an off-screen crash. No, as usual, they spend most of the movie just going after random humans, following Lake Placid sequel traditions and pitting a group of Bulgarian-as-American teens against the beasts as one of their parents tries to rescue them. This time it's a bunch of sorority sisters/pledges, naturally led by a horribly bitchy girl who, just as naturally, will be one of the last to die (after pushing one of her friends into the monster's path to save herself, of course). But director A.B. Stone bungles the moment we've all been waiting for, opting to cut to the other girls' reactions before we see the croc actually chomp on her. He cuts back to at least show her (already dead) in his jaws, but still: personal foul, movie - ten yard penalty. The only reason to keep these awful kind of characters around for the majority of the runtime is to give them a really satisfying death (even with the MPAA cuts, the bitchy girl in New Blood is a fine example - axe to the head AND he throws her across the room!), so to not actually do that is kind of a huge betrayal of our trust.
But, you know, it's fine. I got paid to watch it so that might factor into my "excitement", but they've paid me to watch others that I wished I could pay them back to STOP watching, so I guarantee it's at least tolerable. Englund seems to be having a little more fun than he did in the previous film, and I like how Yancy Butler has a different job in every movie - she was a poacher in Lake Placid 3, then an EPA Agent in Final Chapter, and now she's the sheriff (Corin Nemec plays the obligatory EPA rep). The end of the movie sets up another sequel of course, so I hope if she returns she's the mayor or something. It also offers plenty of carnage (and an impressive amount of blood being tossed on our heroes during the climax as giant monsters explode around them), and even if they're brief the titular battles are at least funny to watch, bad CGI and all. I also loved (ironically) the bit where Butler comes across some wrecked vehicles and says "What the hell happened here?" as if she hadn't already seen this sort of aftermath in two other movies - maybe she has her memory wiped every time she takes on a new job?
The crocs get more human victims than the snakes, for the record. They're the ones who kill most of the sorority girls (only one dies by snake I think - he/she crushes the car the girl's hiding in), so between that and the two characters it seems that the producers favored Lake Placid over Anaconda a tiny bit. I think the problem with all of the modern vs. movies is that they're born out of two different studios (Jason was Paramount for majority of his run, so it made sense that "The House That Freddy Built" would prefer Krueger for FvJ), unlike the old Universal ones like Frankenstein meets The Wolfman that were all under Universal's umbrella from inception. They had the characters, the sets, the history... the team-ups were more satisfying, at least on that level, than these newer ones ever manage. I think we'll be seeing a shift toward more shared universes (like Marvel) as opposed to straight one on one matches. Take Civil War - a movie that was just Captain America vs. Iron Man would have been fine on its own, but it's the fact that it's part of this ongoing series that makes it truly exciting for everyone, because it's Cap 3, Iron Man 4, Ant-Man 1.5, plus a prequel to Black Panther (and Spider-Man). Marvel is the franchise, not any one character, giving them license to do whatever but also keeps favoritism at bay - you can guarantee if Fox agreed to temporarily lend them the X-Men characters for one "AvX" film that fans of the X-films wouldn't walk away as satisfied as Avengers fans. That said, there are enough junk franchises on Syfy (including Bats, now that I think about it) that they could probably build up some sort of half-assed universe going forward. Maybe Anaconda and Lake Placid can fight Sharknado. A man can dream.
What say you?