Lake Placid was not a big hit dur­ing its the­atri­cal run but attract­ed some fans via home video and tele­vi­sion screen­ings.  However, its approach to hor­ror has also attract­ed a cer­tain amount of detrac­tors in the genre’s fan­base: said view­ers con­sid­er it too overt­ly jokey and not com­mit­ted enough to the “hor­ror” por­tion of its hor­ror com­e­dy approach.  It also gets a cer­tain amount of rib­bing for its strong echoes of both Jaws and Alligator.  Ultimately, one’s enjoy­ment of the film will most­ly come down to a mat­ter of per­son­al LakePlac-postaste — but Lake Placid is too sin­cere in its crowd-pleaser ambi­tions to be shrugged off entire­ly.

Lake Placid was penned by David Kelley, a writer and pro­duc­er bet­ter known for cre­at­ing shows like Ally McBeal and Boston Legal.  It all begins on a lake in Maine, where Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson) wit­ness­es a fast-mov­ing under­sea preda­tor bite a Fish & Game employ­ee in half.  Fish & Game chief Jack Wells (Bill Pullman) is called in to work with Keough and the two try to fig­ure out what is lurk­ing beneath the waves.

LakePlac-01When an appar­ent­ly pre­his­toric tooth is found in a bite mark on the corpse, pale­on­tol­o­gist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) is called in from New York to assist.  She’s a neu­rotic type smart­ing from a love affair gone wrong.  Gonzo, wealthy rep­tile expert Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt) makes the team a quar­tet when he sud­den­ly shows up to con­tribute both gad­gets and weirdo the­o­ries about the crea­ture.  Cue a mix­ture of mon­ster attacks and wise­cracks as the quar­tet real­ize they are con­tend­ing with a giant croc­o­dile.

Lake Placid has a lot work­ing for it.  The cast is excel­lent and every­one hooks into the film’s know­ing­ly campy vibe: Fonda comes on like a screw­ball com­e­dy hero­ine and Platt hams it up in an engag­ing way while Pullman and Gleeson play it dead­pan, act­ing as sly­ly fun­ny straight men LakePlac-02to Fonda and Platt ‘s showier work.  Kelley’s script is built for speed, offer­ing a fast-paced bar­rage of snap­py pat­ter and peri­od­ic crea­ture attacks.  Director Steve Miner, who cut his teeth direct­ing Friday The 13th sequels, brings a nice widescreen gloss to the action and main­tains an ener­get­ic pace that com­ple­ments Kelley’s script.

However, Lake Placid also has ele­ments that hor­ror purists will have trou­ble with.  Kelley’s approach to his tale favors the com­e­dy over the hor­ror, right down to a cli­max that gets warm and fuzzy when you might be expect­ing it to go in for the kill.  A notable exam­ple of this com­e­dyLakePlac-03-heavy style is sub­plot involv­ing Betty White as an old-timer who knows more about the croc than she lets on: she’s pri­mar­i­ly there to make foul-mouthed wise­cracks.  Despite its R-rat­ing and the occa­sion­al dol­lop of gore, this is def­i­nite­ly “lite hor­ror” that is aimed more at a gen­er­al mul­ti­plex crowd rather than gen­re diehards.

That said, tak­ing Lake Placid too seri­ous­ly is a mis­take because it’s obvi­ous that the film­mak­ers didn’t intend for you to do so.  It’s clear­ly a lark of a film that those involved made for the fun of mak­ing a goof­ball crea­ture-fea­ture.  If you can appre­ci­ate that approach, it’s a genial lit­tle time-killer that is suit­ed nice­ly to the small screen.