I can think of no reason for Lake Placid 3, a made-for-Syfy movie from 2010, to be the best Lake Placid movie up to that point; I can think even less of a reason for it to any good at all. And yet.

Now, is it really three-stars good, as I have indicated on yonder sidebar? Is it simply the beneficiary of low expectations? I mean, probably yes. It's trivially easy to point at flaws, including a real humdinger of a continuity error, when a woman who has been on the wrong side of a crocodile attack goes from having her left arm mangled to her right arm, and back. It's obviously just a matter of having flipped the footage to preserve screen direction, but this really just kicks the problem from the editing room to the set, when the got the wrong footage in the first place. And of course, there's always the low-hanging fruit of observing that yep, the CGI is pretty damn lousy here. Though it is at least a skosh better than the CGI in Lake Placid 2. And it's worth keeping in mind that this is, after all, made for Syfy (which had just been given that insanely bad new name a few months prior), and bad CGI was baked in a long time before they ever got around to actually rendering it. Indeed. by the standards of Syfy originals, the effects in Lake Placid 3 are pretty damn good: the crocodiles look reasonably well-textured and realistically designed, and they don't have the godawful floating quality of truly terrible visual effects.

The action picks up a year after the last film: the late Sadie Bickerman, second of her family to feed the saltwater crocodiles improbably living in Black Lake, Maine, and first to do so by murdering other humans, has left her lakeside cabin to her nephew Nathan (Colin Ferguson) and his wife Susan (Kirsty Mitchell), and they don't really want it. They didn't have very good memories of the place to begin with, and the violent fate that befell Sadie has quite ruined any lingering sentimentality around the place. So they've actually come just to clean the place out and put it on the market. Only the intervention of Sheriff Tony Willinger (Michael Ironside), who for unclear reasons that probably are sentimental seems anxious to make sure a Bickerman continues in he Bickerman place. While the adults are sorting this out, Nathan and Susan's son Connor (Jordan Grehs) has come up with his own reason for wanting to stay: he's stumbled upon the juvenile crocodiles who survived the last culling, and is delighted to have a few new pets.

Flashforward a couple of years, and Connor has gotten into the habit of stealing meat by the backpackful from the tiny local grocery store owned by the irritable Dimitri (Velizar Binev) to keep his now much-larger friends fed. Nathan has kept himself busy with the work of being a naturalist, and is lately trying to figure out what the hell is behind the recent spate of severed elk heads that have been showing up in the woods. He assumes it's to do with the uncouth hunter Reba (Yancy Butler), who is herself currently preparing a backwoods trip with three clients: Jonas (Atanas Srebrev), Walt (Donald Anderson), and Brett (Mark Evans). The last of these is clearly no hunter: he has hitched himself to Reba in the hopes of finding his girlfriend, Ellie (Kacey Clarke), who has come into the woods with a few other kids from whatever college they all attend. Those being her best friend Tara (Angelica Penn), the aggressively sleazy Charlie (Brian Landon, and the more insidiously sleazy Aaron (Nils Hognestad), who orchestrated a fight between Ellie and Brett for the purpose of convincing her to join him out in the wilderness. All told, that gives us plenty of potential victims for Connor's crocs, including his resentful babysitter Vica (Bianca Ilich), and once it has gotten all of them into the woods and near the water, Lake Placid 3 wastes no time in making sure they all get good and menaced.

Writer David Reed has given us a thoroughly formulaic screenplay, but the trick is that it's not a killer animal formula that he's borrowing. Rather, Lake Placid is a practically perfect version of a slasher movie, and has been ever since its prologue, which introduces two characters, April (Roxanne Pallett) and Jason (James Marchant) who immediately tear off their clothes and screw on the beach (we see much more of this in the unrated cut than the one that aired on television, of course, including a very dumb oral sex joke that, to my shame, made me laugh a little), before being interrupted by a killer croc that has no use at all for premarital sex. The bulk of the movie involves nothing more than groups of people bumbling into the wrong part of the woods and seeing their numbers decrease by one, before the next group bumbles into a different place, and so on. Eventually, the crocodiles get a bit saucy, and go all the way on land, first attacking the Bickerman cabin, and then chasing the remaining humans all the way into the nearby small town.

There is nothing fancy about plugging crocodiles into a slasher framework and then setting them lose on the two locations that establish the town; so it's honestly a little bit miraculous how well they serve to make Lake Placid 3 feel fresh and lively. There's ultimately not all that much that a killer animal movie needs to do to justify itself, and director Griff Furst doesn't have the ingenuity to go beyond those basics, but there's something perfectly satisfying about this the way that there generally isn't in genre films of such meager resources and direct-to-video ambitions. The plotting is snug and free of any egregious stupidity: the different plot strands interlock well enough, and the insertions of nudity in the unrated cut are quite cleverly done to be extractable without murdering the story, but organic enough that it doesn't have the hilariously tacky quality of the same insertions in Lake Placid 2. The right people die; the ones we mildly like die discreetly and quickly, the ones we hate get good, wet gory deaths (limited, of course, by the slick artifice of CGI blood). I am maybe most impressed with the crocodiles themselves, which in a wildly twist not just for this franchise, but for this entire genre, are entirely within the size range typical of their species in the wild.

Those are a whole lot of things that aren't actually "good", and in a reasonable world would simply count as the thing you expect movies to do. So the subplots fit together? Well, no shit. As the fan of killer animal movies learns extremely quickly, however, expecting basic competence from this genre is even more foolish than it is for most horror movies. To get something that's simply as well-built as Lake Placid 3 is a nice little treat: it makes modest promises, and it delivers on them, and not every movie with a giant man-eating animal can say the same.

Even so, this probably wouldn't be enough to shove the film over gulf separating 'better than I expected" from "actually good", except that Lake Placid 3 has a secret weapon: Reba. She is a great character, and Butler does a great  job of bringing her to life with withering, sarcastic attitude. "Great" in a relative sense, of course, but she's a real delight, tart and tough, with just enough hammy bigness to keep things in the realm of B-movie camp but not so much that it feels like she's looking down on the material. She's one of the better variations on Quint from Jaws that I've seen, not least because Butler is playing the the same rhythms that Robert Shaw was: self-righteous annoyance at the humans around her, and a relationship to the crocodiles that's based more in frustration that she has to deal with this shit than fear about being devoured. She even gets a Quint-esque "keep stabbing the monster while it's trying to eat you" scene. The whole film understands what elements of this genre are appealing, but it's never more celebratory of the form than in this character. Lake Placid 3 is proficient enough that it would always be an enjoyable distraction; with Reba giving it a jolt of personality, it becomes actively pleasurable.

Reviews in this series
Lake Placid (Miner, 1999)
Lake Placid 2 (Flores, 2007)
Lake Placid 3 (Furst, 2010)
Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (Paul, 2012)
Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (Stone, 2015)
Lake Placid: Legacy (Roodt, 2018)