I was a bit surprised at some of the comments I came across back when Scream Factory announced that they’d be releasing a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of 1999’s immensely entertaining killer croc flick Lake Placid. It seems that while many enjoy the film for the goofily entertaining throwback to 70s man-vs-nature shlockfests, there were just as many who lashed out at Scream Factory for not “sticking to their 80s horror roots”, and were far from excited to see the film make its Blu-ray debut. Sure, Lake Placid isn’t a genre classic, but it’s more than worthy of a spot in Scream’s vaunted collection.
The tranquility of an idyllic Maine town is shattered after federal wildlife officer is literally bitten in half by an unseen creature in nearby Black Lake, prompting an investigation by both the local authorities – led by Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) – and Fish and Game officer, Jack Wells (Bill Pullman). The investigation soon becomes something of a circus, however, with the arrival big city paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda), and rock-star-professor /crocodile fetishist Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) – the latter of which suspects that the creature the Sheriff and Wells are looking for is something that couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) exist in their neck of the woods; a giant saltwater crocodile.
While Wells and Sheriff Keough find Cyr both certifiable and intensely annoying, Kelly is fascinated by the man and, judging by the evidence she discovers on her own, fairly convinced that he’s on to something. After several bizarre incidents and yet another grisly death, Cyr’s theory is proven correct, and, when the beast of Black Lake reveals itself, it’s something the likes of which even the crocodile-obsessed Cyr couldn’t possibly imagine.
What Frank Marshall’s Arachnaphobia is to creepy-crawly flicks, Steve Miner’s (Halloween H2O) Lake Placid is to the killer croc/gator genre. Like Marshall’s film, the emphasis is on comedy and character-building, but there’s still a lot of room for the occasional jump scare and gross-out moment. Miner does a great job of developing prolific television writer/creator David E. Kelley’s (Ally McBeal/The Practice) characters and their complex relationships (with the highlight being the bromance that gradually forms between Keough and Cyr) while still managing to wrangle up enough thrills and chills to satisfy monster movie fans, making this a great “date movie” for those of us looking for gateway material for our less than genre-savvy partners. It’s not without its share of problems – most glaring of which is a rushed second act that sort of takes the air out of the otherwise rousing finale – but, in a time where most movies like this end up as SyFy channel CGI-laden rubbish, Lake Placid is a glossy, competently made reminder of monster movies done right.
Presented in a crisp 2.36:1 1080p transfer, Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray presentation of Lake Placid looks quite good, with lots of subtle detail, a nice sheen of filmic grain, and a faithful recreation of the film’s golden-hued color scheme. Overall, it’s a very “warm” image, and, while not particularly vibrant, it’s in keeping with Miner’s chosen aesthete, although I did a quick A/B and found that my old barebones DVD version has a slightly cooler tone. I also noticed a touch of artifacting in the darker underwater scenes (most noticeable in the scene where Kate finds herself tangled up in some sunken brush), but it’s a minor nitpick and I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it were I not viewing the film with a critical eye.
We’re given a choice of two audio tracks – a 2.0 DTS HD MA track as well as a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio offering While both tracks are mostly concentrated on the center speakers, the 5.1 track sports more assertive bass and a much more dynamic mix in terms of directional cues and surround effects. However, if you’re looking to watch the film at a more subdued volume (which comes in handy when you’ve three sleeping children down the hall) I found that the 2.0 mix’s dialogue is a bit crisper and will certainly do in a pinch.
Bonus features are a hallmark of the Collector’s Edition series, and while Lake Placid doesn’t is no exception, it’s not quite the haul we’re used to from Scream Factory. We’re given a very entertaining retrospective featurette entitled Making of Lake Placid (HD) that features interviews with much of the cast and crew (including Pullman and Miner) interspersed with some behind-the-scenes stills and footage. Croc Test Footage (HD) is a short-but-sweet look at the Stan Winston-designed beasties’ first frolic in the water, showcasing the arsenal of controls and manpower needed to run the huge practical effect. Rounding out the extras are a vintage (circa 1999) EPK (HD), the film’s original trailer and television spots(HD), and a stills gallery (HD).
While it seemed like Scream Factory’s fanbase was divided over the announcement of the release of Lake Placid, I have a sneaking suspicion that even the most vocal of its detractors will still be picking it up to keep their “collections” complete, and they’d be well served in doing so as this is a quality release of a better-than-average monster flick. Scream Factory’s done its usual bang-up job bringing this one up to HD-era snuff, and while it’s not quite as feature-packed as their other Collector’s Edition sets, the bonus goodies included here are top-notch. Bottom line; if you like laughs and screams in equal doses, Lake Placid will more than satisfy, and Scream Factory’s newest addition to their collector’s series comes highly recommended.