There are some franchises that will always continue on, no matter what. Dracula and Frankenstein have proven that they’ll be around forever, both lasting over a century. While the jury’s still out, it’s more than likely that Freddy and Jason will be around just as long. But there are some franchises that you often forget are still going strong, despite the odds, and Lake Placid definitely falls into that category. While the original movie was a big-budget theatrical studio venture, it was the only one in the series to hit cinemas. The bulk of the sequels were produced by the SyFy Channel, culminating in the ‘90s nostalgia monsterfest Lake Placid vs. Anaconda. Now SyFy is back with Lake Placid: Legacy. With a movie like this, you know what you’re getting into, the same way you can pretty much guess the major beats of a shark flick.
The only difference between a Lake Placid film and a shark flick is the animal involved, and really, the fact that there aren’t as many horror movies about crocodiles as their should be. It’s been three years since Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (review) and it’s clear from the beginning that the intent of Lake Placid: Legacy is to move the franchise in an entirely different direction from what that movie had been. This one’s much less focused on being an embracingly cheesy afternoon creature feature and instead goes for more of a grounded, serious horror approach.
And that might be a mistake, all things considered, because that’s never what Lake Placid has been. Most times, when a franchise wants to move in a more serious direction it’s a means of getting back to the tone of the original, but Lake Placid was a horror comedy to its core. Director Steve Miner brought just as much quirky humor to the “nature run amok” genre as he had to haunted houses in House.
Lake Placid: Legacy centers on a group of explorers/environmentalist hackers who journey out to the doomed lake when they receive a video message from a friend offering them $10,000 should they come. Naturally, they find themselves stranded and waiting to be picked off by a hungry crocodile. The tongue-in-cheek humor that defined the original is completely gone, with this one really favoring a more grounded, psychological horror approach. It’s a decision that almost feels as much of a budgetary choice as a storytelling choice, but I do genuinely believe that everyone involved wanted to make this as scary and intense a film as it could possibly be.
In most of the Lake Placid sequels, especially the crossover movie, the series had sort of been defined by SyFy’s traditional unashamedly bad CGI creatures. Yes, the first movie had had its share of CGI as well, but it had balanced that with some truly phenomenal practical FX. With Legacy, the decision was definitely made to step back from the overt CGI crocodiles in broad daylight of the previous few movies, to instead opt for not really showing much of the crocodile at all. This is a decision that’s obviously meant to reflect Jaws, but it doesn’t work at all for a couple of different reasons. The first is that this is this is the sixth movie in the franchise, so it’s a weird time to decide to hold off from seeing the monster.
The other problem is that as soon as the crocodile is revealed, it’s just the same haphazard CGI we’ve become accustomed to. While it attempts to try and recapture the tension of Jaws, it instead winds up feeling much more similar to the later Howling sequels. And to be honest, these are the moments when Lake Placid: Legacy is at its best. When it’s a cheesy, later DTV sequel that knows it’s the sixth in a franchise about a killer crocodile in Maine. When it sees the characters descend into a darkened, abandoned military compound that screams of Carnosaur 2, that’s when Lake Placid: Legacy is truly enjoyable.
The highlight of the movie is definitely the late, late appearance by Joe Pantoliano as a mad scientist attempting to justify his reasons for creating a bunch of genetically engineered killer crocodiles so that he could examine their DNA to produce vaccines. It’s utter nonsense exposition, but Pantoliano delivers it with a weird mix of sincerity and total aloofness.
While there are moments meant to echo greats like Jaws and Predator, Lake Placid: Legacy never rises beyond its SyFy Original roots despite its best efforts. It’s still totally and completely what it is and I feel like the only issue with that is that it so clearly doesn’t want to be. Had the film embraced its inherent cheesiness, I’m not sure it would be any better, but it would definitely be more fun.
There are still things to enjoy in Lake Placed: Legacy but when neither the characters nor the crocodile are doing much to keep the viewer engaged, it’s tough to truly recommend the film for any but the die-hard fans of the franchise, who can at least appreciate the further exploration of the series’ mythology.
Lake Placid: Legacy is now available on Blu-Ray/DVD and Digital.
WICKED RATING: 4.5/10
Director: Darrell Roodt
Writer: Jonathan Walker
Stars: Katherine Barrell, Tim Rozon, Joe Pantoliano
Release date: September 4th, 2018
Studio/Production Co: Out of Africa Entertainment, SyFy, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Length: 90 minutes
Subgenre: Animal Attack