A group of idealistic young environmentalists arrive at a faraway tropical delta determined to find out who is polluting the river. Led by ruggedly humourless Kevin (Anthony Crenna), cheery photographer Mark (Pietro Genuardi), comely bubble-permed Pam (Sherrie Rose), scientist Jennifer (Ann Douglas), nondescript Bob (John Harper) and pretty native guide Conchita (Amilcar Martins) unearth barrels of what analysis confirms is "not your typical toxic waste." Or as Bob puts it "More like leftovers from Hiroshima." Oh, Bob. What our band of eco-heroes don't know is the toxic chemicals have created a giant mutant crocodile. It already ate one sexy skinny-dipping tourist and goes onto gnaw poor unfortunate Conchita along with her cute lil' dog Candy. Aw. Unable to find Conchita's body, the gang head home and attempt to alert the locals. Yet their efforts are thwarted by the crotchety Judge (Van Johnson), secretly in cahoots with a polluting industrialist named Foley (Bill Wohrman). When the crazed croc goes on a killer rampage around the village, macho hunter Joe (Ennio Girolami) enters the fray, determined to slay the beast, mano-a-mano.
Italian exploitation producer Fabrizio De Angelis was usually quick to cash-in on a trend. Along with cult director Lucio Fulci, he launched Italy's Dawn of the Dead-imitating zombie cycle of the late Seventies and early Eighties. After parting ways with the volatile Fulci, De Angelis segued into directing action movies with Thunder Warrior (1983), a Rambo rip-off that sired two sequels, and Karate Warrior (1987), a Karate Kid rip-off that spawned a whopping five sequels along with a TV series. He was even savvy enough to cash-in on the female-led The Next Karate Kid (1994) with The Iron Girl (1994). With Killer Crocodile De Angelis was strangely late to the game. Sergio Martino got there first with The Great Alligator (1979). What is more the nature gone amuck horror sub-genre was less of a box-office draw in the late Eighties than it was during the heyday of Jaws (1975). Nevertheless, De Angelis evidently wanted to make an eco-horror movie about a giant murderous crocodile and did exactly that.
Without Fulci's creative input De Angelis' productions generally lack the gothic delirium and visceral intensity likely to entice horror fans. Here, directing under the Americanized pseudonym of Larry Ludman, his slapdash attempts at suspense fall flat. Sluggish pacing and an indecisive plot cripple what could have been a modest, unpretentious monster romp. Killer Crocodile only comes alive in rare moments of typically tasteless Italian exploitation: e.g. the grisly autopsy on Conchita performed right in front of her friends (!) or the croc chomping multiple unfortunates that attempt to rescue an imperiled little girl. The film unwisely relies on its animatronic croc for shock effect. Gianetto De Rossi, who designed the seminal gore effects for Zombie 2 (1979), created the creature which never looks like anything but what it is: a puppet. Alongside the mutant crocodile the film also includes human villains in the eccentrically cast form of former MGM star Van Johnson and one-time pro-footballer, coach, teacher and Porky's (1981) veteran Bill Wohrman. Johnson, who had a surprisingly enduring second career in Italian exploitation (e.g. Eagles Over London (1969), From Corleone to Brooklyn (1979), The Scorpion with Two Tails (1982), Down There in the Jungle (1988)), looks ill at ease as the belligerent Judge. Saddled with an unnecessarily vague he barks his lines and bickers nonsensically with the right-on young environmentalists before making an undignified exit.
Co-written by De Angelis and genre veteran Dardano Sacchetti, the script offers a very muddled take on ecological issues presenting the environmentalists as technically in the right but misguided, foolhardy and so inconsistent (they go from wanting to protect the rare species even though it killed their friend to suddenly wanting it dead) viewers lose all patience. While Anthony Crenna (son of Hollywood actor Richard Crenna) and Pietro Genuardi struggle to make sense of characters whose motives and behaviour veer all over the shop, De Angelis eventually settles on Ennio Girolami, brother of cult director Enzo G. Castellari, as Joe as a reactionary Eighties audience's grumpy identification figure ("You guys are into ecology and all that shit, right?"). Yet Joe comes across even more ridiculous. Theorizing the crocodile is out to get him (why?), he justifies insults hurled the reptile's way with an absurd line ("Crocodiles are very sensitive. They get awfully upset when you insult them") and towards the finale even rides the beast, trying frantically to pierce its scaly hide. Mustering barely enough energy to tie together its sloppy set-pieces, criminal conspiracy subplot and halfhearted eco-themes, Killer Crocodile eventually settles on a typically Italian message as Kevin sets principles aside and embraces his inner macho, culminating in a literal if no less absurd baptism of blood that is at least kind of fun. The film was evidently successful enough so that De Angelis handed directing duties to Gianetto De Rossi for Killer Crocodile 2 (1990). Music by Riz Ortolani doing his best John Williams.