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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Crocodile (1979) Blu-ray Review




Synapse Films

Blu-ray Release: July 9, 2024

Video: 2.35:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (integral cut only)

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 91:48

Director: Sompote Sands and Lee Won-se


There is a giant crocodile on the loose! Mutating and getting larger, possibly because of an atomic explosion, the crocodile's thirst for blood also grows as it rampages through a small quiet beach town, devouring anything in its path. Dr. Akom and Dr. Stromm are on a perfect family vacation, but it takes a tragic turn when three of their loved ones suddenly disappear. When the bodies are found, the two doctors conduct a thorough examination of the remains and discover a killer crocodile is the culprit. Teaming up with Tanaka, a tough and rugged fisherman, Akom and Stromm head out to dangerous open waters to find and destroy the beast once and for all! (From Synapse’s official synopsis)



Movies about rampaging crocodilia are among the nadir of the eco-horror and killer animal genres, in large part because they have no equivalent to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) to legitimize their existence in the eyes of snobs. Cult fans know better, of course, having witnessed Tobe Hooper’s bayou-boiled Eaten Alive (aka: Death Trap, 1976) and the glorious combination of horror and comedy that is Lewis Teague’s Alligator (1980) so great. Plenty of us will also go to bat for Arch Nicholson’s Dark Age (1987) and Steve Miner’s Lake Placid (1999), but there was definite a period after Jaws where less scrupulous filmmakers looked at Spielberg’s movie and thought, “Hmm, I bet they couldn’t sue us for copyright infringement if we changed the shark to a crocodile…”


Released in 1979, the same year as two D-grade Italian entries, Sergio Martino’s The Great Alligator (Italian: Il fiume del grande caimano) and Fabrizio De Angelis’ Killer Crocodile (Italian: Il fiume del grande caimano), Sompote Sands’ Crocodile rather blatantly replaces the shark with a croc (obviously) and transports the plot from coastal Massachuesets to urban and rural areas of Thailand. The film started life as a different Jaws rip-off called Crocodile Fangs (Korean: Agowa gongpo, 1978) from South Korean director Lee Won-se, a little-known, but, if this film is any indication, relatively talented filmmaker, who brings a certain degree of visual sophistication to what is an otherwise junky cash-in with the tiniest fraction of Spielberg’s budget (noting that, theoretically, additional scenes may have been shot by an uncredited Hong Kong crew). But, as much as I’d like to compare and contrast versions, this isn’t a review of Crocodile Fangs – and shameless thievery on a shoestring is just the beginning of our story.



Crocodile Fangs was picked up by Sands (full name Sompote Saengduenchai), the founder of Chaiyo Productions in Thailand, who re-edited the film and reportedly added new footage. Sands’ cut was handed off to American hullabaloo champion Dick Randall – the man who brought everything from cheap Italian gialli and Bruceploitation flicks to Juan Piquer Simón’s Pieces (Spanish: Mil gritos tiene la noche, 1982) and Extra Terrestrial Visitors (Spanish: Los nuevos extraterrestres, 1983) to grindhouses across the world. Randall edited the footage further and inserted shots from other Chaiyo films for the international release, then sold to another famous B-movie titan, Herman Cohen, producer of William Beaudine’s Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952), Herbert L. Strock’s I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), and Arthur Crabtree’s Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), who further edited the footage for its eventual US release.


As a result of passing through the hands three of the period’s most notorious exploitation peddlers, Cohen’s final version is a charming hodgepodge of stolen plot points, other clichés, stock footage inserts, and familial melodrama. It’s easy fodder for the Mystery Science Theater crowd, but, thanks in large part to the gung-ho attitude of the original crew and genuine dynamism of Lee’s camerawork, it’s still more enjoyable than the typical stiff and undercooked Jaws rip-off. I really enjoy the adorable model work, in particular. The effects, including the creature props, aren’t exactly convincing, but they have a lot of character, similar to some of the lower-rung Godzilla movies. And, while the croc attacks aren’t exactly scary, they are bloody and feature some at least conceptually disturbing images, such as a sequence where the monster creates a whirlpool that sucks up the little people models into a vortex of death.


Content warning: There is footage from an actual crocodile slaughter that appears to be some kind of Thai tourist trap thing. 



Video

The US cut of Crocodile was originally released on North American home video via clamshell VHS tape from Thorn EMI. The first stateside DVD was a non-anamorphic, barebones disc from VCI in 2002 and, like that tape and this Blu-ray, featured the US cut. I don’t believe the 1978 Thai cut has ever had an official video release outside of the country. As they tend to do, Synapse first put out a limited edition with a special slipcover back in June of 2023 (though they actually announced it back in June of 2019). This standard edition features the same 2.35:1, 1080p transfer, which the company lists as being restored from a 2K scan of the original 35mm negative.


Given how many editors took a pass at what became the US cut of the film, the footage is consistently inconsistent, but that’s part of the fun of this type of exploitation mash-up. The transfer is natural in that this is what the movie looked like when it premiered in theaters. A full 4K scan and 2160p might have juiced a bit more texture, sharpened the grain, and de-mushed a few wide-angle details, but I doubt there’s a lot more to be done with this particularly gritty negative. There are discoloration issues, but, again, these appear to be part of the source material, either slightly misaligned stips, chromatic aberration, or a touch of chemical bleed between hues (everything skews pinkish). To my eye, this is largely natural stuff, including the significant deterioration of the occasional stock footage inserts, and there are few problems with compression or digital artifacts. 



Audio

Because this disc specifically features the US Crocodile cut of the film, Synapse has only included an English language dub option. The pastiche nature of the mix can be strange at times – some sequences are practically silent or only feature dubbed dialogue – but the uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is as aurally consistent as we can expect from the material. There isn’t a credited composer on this print, though I assume they reused at least some of Jeong Min-seob’s Crocodile Fangs music. Whether its an original score or mash-up of library sources, the music adds a strange and sinister vibe to otherwise innocuous scenes, which, intended or not, makes the whole film feel a little bit more intense.



Extras

  • Commentary with Lee Gambin – The critic and author of Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film (Midnight Marquee Press, 2012), who tragically passed away only months ago, explores the film largely from the context of its place in the larger killer animal canon, which includes discussion of themes, comparisons to Jaws, special effects, and a bit about the cast & crew. He also does his best to unravel the complex behind-the-scenes story, but acknowledges that most of the things we supposedly know about Crocodile are basically hearsay.

  • Interview with Crocodile Fangs director, Won-se Lee (31:44, HD) – Lee does his best to remember the making of the original film, including the challenges of a multi-country production, working with an international cast & crew, meeting with Sands, being unaware that Sands tends to be credited as director (he’s not happy about it, but it’s still unclear how much input Sands had in the Crocodile Fangs cut), the American cut (which he hasn’t seen), censorship, and special effects. He’s also pleasantly surprised that people in the US still watch the film.

  • Deleted/alternate scenes (varying video quality):

  • Original Thai ending (2:37)

  • The monkey and the little boy (4:41)

  • Extended town attack (5:50)

  • Crocodile cruelty (1:16)

  • Alternate Spanish release ending (3:32)

  • Alternate international opening (4:15)

  • Original red band trailer



The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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