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When a fish and wildlife officer turns up bitten in half by something in the dark waters of Black Lake in Aroostook County, Maine, Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) calls in fellow Fish and Game officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman) to check things out, along with American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda), and a mythology professor named Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) who has a thing for predators of the water. Thus begins a series of increasingly bizarre events that lead the team to believe the lake may be home to something monstrous in the dark. That’s confirmed when Hank and the eccentric Hector (with Jack and Kelly watching) are about to have a scuffle on the water’s edge when a large brown bear erupts from the trees and rears up as if to attack but is swept into the lake by an enormous crocodile that leaps from the water and drags the much smaller ursine to the depths in its toothy maw.
That’s shocking enough, but not too long later, Jack, Hank, and Kelly discover the chewed off head of Deputy Burke (Jed Rees) along the riverbank and realize that this monster is a true threat. It’s then that they see, across a small bay, elderly, quiet, good-natured widow Delores Bickerman (Betty White), one of the few people living on the lake, escorting a blindfolded heifer along her property to the water, joyfully humming as she goes. Just off shore looms the crocodile, its head above the surface appearing to be waiting. Dolores leads the cow closer, seeing the beast in the shallows and smacks the cow’s hindquarters shouting, “Come an get it,” as the croc edges near and swoops in for a free meal, taking the cow to it watery death.
When questioned, she confesses that she’s been feeding the crocodile for years after it followed her husband home one day and eventually ate him. She’s put under house arrest (she had earlier lied to police) and famously tells the sheriff of her displeasure, making a remark concerning a certain male anatomical feature and her demand for him to suck it.
Directed by Steve Minor, Lake Placid is a comedy/horror film that ultimately is a mixed bag and enjoyment will only come on how you approach it. As a campy creature feature it has some good moments and as a spoof of said films, also hits a few right marks, but is a bit bland and puts all its eggs in the crocodile basket rather than with characters. This moment however has become iconic, with the popular and well-known ‘good-girl’ White, who made a career out of being polite, innocent and charming, turning the tables and giving us a funny shock as the super foul-mouthed farmer with a razor-sharp attitude. It’s a far cry from what we expect of her and therefore works best, becoming the most memorable moment in the movie, which is kind of a letdown considering the potential for a bus-sized crocodile.
Dolores’ importance in the story is crucial in maintaining one factor for why the saltwater crocodile lives in the lake and has grown to such a size. But even more so, she provides the movie with the anti-hero, one who we know is doing something wrong but still side with because her story and actions are so compelling. She’s lost her husband to the crocodile and now, ironically, feeds it to keep it alive, knowing full well of the mounting danger the animal represents. The question is why? After her husband is killed, she doesn’t inform authorities but instead decides to treat the monster that ate him like a kind of pet, or so we are meant to think. But in truth Lake Placid actually, quite cleverly, sneaks in a nod to big monster movies of the past, painting the crocodile as a demigod that demands sacrifice, a common trope in that genre. Reverent of its power, Dolores delivers to it a gift of food, to which it silently agrees to leave her alone (or perhaps in her mind, protection from encroaching water worshipers on the lake). It’s a nice bit of homage and hidden well under the unexpected appearance of White who steers it into black comedy.
David E. Kelley
Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson, Betty White