We’ve got the dinosaurs of Jurassic World: Dominion in theatres soon, the dragons of House of the Dragon arriving on HBO Max this fall, and as everyone knows, every day is Godzilla Day. But with this list, we’re celebrating the reptilian subgenre of “crocodile horror,” in honour of scaly twin terrors Alligator and Alligator II: The Mutation arriving on Shudder starting June 2.
Side note: Before anyone gets tangled up in the use of “alligator” versus “crocodile,” we’re including movies featuring both kinds of animals here. (Honestly, it’s mostly crocodiles.) They’re similar enough — including that shared trait of having an alarming array of teeth — and none of these movies are exactly aiming for scientific accuracy anyway.
There’s nothing mutated or supernatural about this one. But Crawl — about a young woman and her father trapped in his Florida home during a hurricane, a situation made infinitely worse by the fact that floodwaters bring in dozens of furious alligators — has the kind of “this could actually happen in some nightmare version of real life” creepiness you’d expect from director Alexandre Aja, who also made High Tension, Piranha 3D, and The Hills Have Eyes remake.
Eaten Alive (1976)
Tobe Hooper’s first film after 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was this swampy Psycho-meets-Jaws riff about a deranged motel owner (veteran actor Neville Brand) who disposes of his customers-turned-victims by feeding them to his pet crocodile. The rest of Eaten Alive’s cast features Texas Chainsaw final girl Marilyn Burns, as well as Carolyn “Morticia Addams” Burns, Kyle Richards (who’s in the original Halloween and Halloween Kills, and is also now a stalwart of Bravo’s Real Housewives series), Hollywood legend Mel Ferrer, and current Stranger Things co-star Robert Englund, years before he became better known as Freddy Krueger.
Lake Placid (1999)
If an idyllic Maine lake seems like an unlikely place for killer crocs to strike, you can thank the sweet yet foul-mouthed and decidedly batty old dame (the late, great Betty White) who’s been feeding the local population for years. Lake Placid — directed by horror luminary Steve Miner (Friday the 13th parts two and three, House, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later) and written by TV veteran David E. Kelley — has a familiar story and isn’t a bit scary. But White and the rest of the cast, including Brendan Gleeson as the local sheriff, Bill Pullman as a Fish and Game officer, Bridget Fonda as a persnickety paleontologist, and Oliver Platt as a rich guy/croc-worshipper, help make Lake Placid (which spawned five made-for-TV sequels!) an entertaining creature feature.
This “inspired by a true story” yarn about Gustauve, an actual crocodile that has achieved folk-beast status for being ancient, cunning, enormous, and possibly the killer of hundreds of people, follows a team of journalists (including Legends of Tomorrow’s Dominic Purcell and American Gods’ Orlando Jones) who head to war-torn Burundi in pursuit of the toothiest scoop of their careers. The “war-torn” aspect complicates things, but the ultimate lesson ends up being “the giant-arse reptile will always come out on top.”
Not the more recent Rogue in which Megan Fox plays a mercenary battling lions in Africa. This is the Rogue written and directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) that follows a doomed river cruise in the wilds of Northern Australia. (Next time, avoid passing through the hunting ground of a hungry, giant crocodile!) Rogue is way more intense than Lake Placid, but it does have a similarly entertaining ensemble cast: Michael Vartan (Alias) as a journalist, Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Silent Hill) as a wildlife expert, Sam Worthington (Avatar) as an ill-fated local, and a young Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak) as one of the travellers.
Killer Crocodile (1989)
Fabrizio de Angelis — who has producing credits on some of Italian cult horror master Lucio Fulci’s finest, including Zombi 2, The Beyond, and The House by the Cemetery — directed this tale of a crocodile who grows to enormous proportions thanks to toxic waste, then gets its revenge on humankind… including some unfortunate environmentalists who are investigating said toxic waste. It’s a schlocky Jaws rip-off with exceedingly iffy special effects, but Killer Crocodile delivers what its title promises with shriek-filled relish.
The Great Alligator River (1979)
Notable giallo director Sergio Martino (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, All the Colours of the Dark, Torso) helmed this particular schlocky Jaws rip-off, which has a slightly more cosmic element (the killer croc is a god in disguise, taking revenge on land-invading tourists) and a more well-known cast, including Bond girl Barbara Bach and Eaten Alive’s Mel Ferrer.
What if spring break was interrupted by a giant, furious, overprotective crocodile who’d really rather not have a bunch of partying teens on a houseboat anywhere near her nest? The straight-to-video Crocodile is most notable because it’s directed by Tobe Hooper, marking his second venture into croco-horror nearly 25 years after Eaten Alive.
Black Water (2007)
An Australian swamp tour turns deadly when you-know-what makes its ferocious presence known, and a married couple, along with the woman’s sister, must fight for survival. Unlike the last few entries on this list, Black Water prioritises suspense and a sense of genuine peril, making it more in line with Crawl than, say, Killer Crocodile, despite the fact that it’s also about a killer crocodile.
Dark Age (1987)
Australia again! A Jaws homage again! This time, John Jarratt (star of Rogue director Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek) plays a ranger caught between his job (hunting down the killer croc that’s been attacking people) and the beliefs of the local Aboriginal community — including a character played by Australian acting legend David Gulpilil (Rabbit-Proof Fence) — who don’t want the animal to be harmed for spiritual reasons. Quentin Tarantino is apparently a fan of this one, which is information that could inform your decision to watch it either way.
The Alligator People (1959)
It might be slightly cheating to include this Lon Chaney Jr.-starring sci-fi horror film on this list, but its plot does involve some seriously weird science that turns humans into… well, see the title.
Blood Surf (2000)
“Blood surfing,” which according to this movie is the extreme-extreme-extreme sport of flinging chum in the water so that one can surf alongside frenzied sharks, already sounds like a bad idea… even before the gory smorgasbord attracts the interests of a giant crocodile who also happens to be lurking in the area. Just saying.
Alligator (1980) and Alligator II: The Mutation (1991)
Shudder is bringing both of these films to streaming video on demand for the first time on June 2, scanned “from stunning new prints scanned from the original camera negatives,” according to a press release. The first film, directed by Cujo’s Lewis Teague and written by future Oscar nominee John Sayles, runs delightfully wild with the “alligator in the sewer” urban legend, with Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Twin Peaks: The Return) playing a Chicago detective trying to puzzle out the strange new serial killer in his midst. The in-name-only sequel isn’t quite its equal, but it’s still worth your while, not least because it stars the likes of Steve Railsback (Lifeforce), Dee Wallace (The Howling, Cujo, E.T. the Extraterrestrial), and Kane “Jason Voorhees” Hodder.
Bonus: The X-Files, “Quagmire”
This season-three X-Files episode sees Mulder and Scully head to Georgia to investigate a local legend nicknamed “Big Blue” that’s apparently vaulted out of legendary status and started taking human victims. Unfortunately for Mulder, it turns out not to be a cryptid, but rather a wayward alligator. Unfortunately for Scully, her dog gets eaten by the beast — very likely a knowing wink to what’s a common trope in animal-attack horror (think the dog in Jaws), as well as an expectation that gets pleasantly subverted from time to time (like the resilient dog in Crawl).
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