There was once a place called a grindhouse where one could go to watch “B” movies. Ever since Hollywood co-opted the “B” movie and renamed it “the summer tent pole” movie, the grindhouse has moved into the living room. That’s right, the only place to check out truly fun, low budget grindhouse movies is on your DVD player (and no, the Tarantino/Rodgriquez effort wasn’t true grindhouse fare, there was simply too much money involved.) So, as a lover of trash cinema, I wind up watching a shitload of straight-to-DVD movies. Most of them are unwatchable “DIY” features shot on home video cameras by amateurs who have no idea how to turn a shoestring budget into an entertaining story (and they also have no idea what it means to show instead of tell as these movies generally feature terrible and unattractive actors explaining to each other about what is happening/going to happen while the hapless audience slowly sinks into their throw pillows praying for a quick and painless end.) There are exceptions, of course, such as Satan’s Little Helper, a wonderful heap of crap totally aware of its own limitations–a very funny horror picture. These days, however, there are lots of higher-budgeted low budget pictures being dumped straight-to-video that can be quite watchable (usually these are NOT sequels to theatrically released movies.) In fact, judging by what I’ve seen in the theaters this year, I would say certainly the best horror movies are coming out directly to video (and sometimes after a very brief, contractually obligated run at a single arthouse theater in some randomly chosen city.)
I, being the kind of dedicated geek who watches every horror show that comes down the pike, thought I’d start this new little Film Pigs feature to highlight these mostly unseen entertainments. I’ve decided to start with a wonderful double feature I experienced just days ago, two killer crocodile movies out of Australia.
The first is called Black Water, and is the superior of the two although it had a much smaller budget. This movie is about three hapless tourists (aren’t they always?) stuck up a tree in a swamp, trapped by an aggressive and bloodthirsty croc. Sound like a knock off of Open Water? Well, if it is, it delivers on all the empty promise of that alleged shark movie. The characters don’t simply tread water and bicker at each other while waiting to be eaten. They are–get this–proactive. For the most part, actually trying to survive leads to quite the opposite, but goddamnit if it isn’t refreshing to see characters try to figure their way out of a bad situation instead of just crying about it. Granted, there are several different roads I personally would have gone down that these characters didn’t, but who am I to judge? Maybe I too would overlook some obvious concepts (like making spears out of tree branches) if I were in such a state of shock or panic. The most impressive element of this little movie is the special effects: you can’t see ’em! Wow, what a novel concept. They used footage of real crocodiles and married it with the photography of the actors, which means not once was I taken out of the story because of looking at what is clearly a cartoon. Damn! Hollywood, take note. CGI crocodiles suck.
Well, not completely. In Rogue, our terrorizing croc is in fact a big, fat cartoon, but the movie is a bit more tongue-in-cheek than Black Water, opting for stock horror characters that always act like complete assholes before getting eaten, so it gets away with it. The gore effects are fun, the acting is pretty solid, and the proceedings are a lot of fun in a Lake Placid and Alligator sort of way. I recommend checking it out if you are the kind of monster movie junkie that I am (and if you do the double feature, make sure to watch Black Water first so it doesn’t lose its punch.)
And yes, I know there are many more croc movies out there, mostly produced for the Sci-Fi Channel. Word of advice: avoid Sci-Fi Channel DVD’s at all costs. Unlike the fluid animation of Rogue, Sci-Fi Channel CGI is choppy and unconvincing, and always makes it unclear to the viewer why they didn’t just opt for a man in a rubber suit.
Enjoy the Aussie crocs, if you dare.