To begin with, the title of the 2015 made-for-Syfy epic Lake Placid vs. Anaconda gets the hierarchy exactly right: this is very much a Lake Placid sequel in which an Anaconda sequel makes a substantial guest appearance, not the other way around. Given the uniform superiority of the first three Lake Placid sequels to the three Anaconda sequels, this is certainly the right choice, though the film ends up splitting the difference between the franchises: it is the worst Lake Placid film since the first one, and the best Anaconda film since the first one of those.

(Also, it is technically about anacondas fighting crocodiles, not fighting the lake itself, but I think the right thing to do is let that pass).

The film builds directly on the scenario presented by Lake Placid: The "Final" Chapter: having gotten sick and tired of all these motherfucking crocodiles in their motherfucking lake, the powers-that-be around Black Lake, Maine built a fence around the entire thing, with all the people on one side, and all the crocs on the other. This has apparently led to three years of uneasy peace in the nearby town of Lake Placid, though not so much that the latest in the unending cycle of sheriffs feels anything but constant low-grade panic. As well she should, given that that the sheriff at this time is our good friend Reba (Yancy Butler) having completed the unlikely journey from poacher to EPA agent to local law enforcement; having been at the center of the last two crocodile outbreaks are apparently enough to overcome a very weird outlaw past. At any rate, Butler settles in the part of irritated, put-upon cop well enough; she's better, and the character's better, than in The Final Chapter, where she was just plugged in to serve as tart-tongued comic relief. Here, she's more like the exasperated mom of a whole town full of idiots who assume that just because the crocs are behind a fence, that means that we don't need to worry about getting eaten by them. And that mode encourages her to be much authentically salty than the generic jokester she was last time.

Also, she's quite right, of course, since we wouldn't be here if a hole wasn't about to show up in that fence. In this case, Jim Bickerman (Robert Englund), who's doing quite well for a man who got eaten by a crocodile last time we saw him, has returned to his poaching ways, helping a merc-looking fellow named Beach (Stephen Billington) and some scientists capture a crocodile in the film's opening scene. They and their high-tech science trailer are all in the employ of Wexel Hall, the pharmaceutical company that has decided that experimenting on mutant anacondas injected with Blood Orchid serum is the way to find the Fountain of Youth; apparently the Black Lake crocodiles have something in their DNA that will help with this quest, since CEO Sarah Murdoch (Annabel Wright), daughter of the late J.D. Murdoch, has put in a request for one. And the science trailer just so happens to have three (ordinary-looking) anacondas on hand, so the experimenting can start in earnest. Unfortunately, the crocodile wakes up ahead of schedule, managing in its thrashing to explode the trailer along with itself, and the scientists. Bickerman, Beach, and the snakes all escape, and Murodoch furiously decided to fly in from New York to take care of this herself.

The film's next hour is very much a game of going through the motions, in a film rather too similar to The Final Chapter for its own good. We again have a croc-infested beach occupied by a whole bunch of nubile young ladies who enjoy wearing bikinis (or not wearing bikinis, as the case may be), in this case a sorority pledge group on the shores of Clear Lake (where the crocodiles have fled, looking for a food supply, what with having exhausted Black Lake). Once again, Reba is teamed up with the parent of one of the only "good" girls, in this case U.S. Fish & Wildlife officer Will "Tully" Tull (Corin Nemec), whose daughter Bethany (Skye Lourie) decided to rush the sorority as a way of honoring her long-dead mother, and regretted it the instant that mean girl Tiffani (Laura Dale) - still with mean girls named Tiffani, all the way in 2015? Okay - makes it clear that the whole thing is just her way of punishing the pledges for her own petty joy. Later, Tiffani will shove fellow mean girl Amber (Sophia Lorenti) directly in front of a crocodile, ostensibly to enable her own escape, but it really looks like it's just for the pleasure of committing murder, so we're meant to understand that Tiffani isn't just vapid and selfish, but actively evil. Familiarity is a small problem, though one would have to be a holy fool to expect something called Lake Placid vs. Anaconda to provide us with any surprises. The bigger problem is the incredible quantity of screen time devoted to the sorority girls just fucking around. Or just fucking, when some boys from their brother fraternity come around. These characters are brutally uninteresintg - Tiffani is colorfully awful, but Bethany has no personality besides being reserved, and the fellow anti-sorority girl she hangs out with, a goth psych major doing field research named Margo (Ali Eagle), is such a bundle of trite and out-of-date clichés that I somehow ended up liking her even less than the sociopathic murderess.

Trim out all of this material, and honestly, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda would be kind of okay. It would also reduce the 92-minute film to something like an hour, which speaks to the real motivation for including this subplot, even more than the way it allows the unrated DVD cut to have several pairs of naked breasts. But what's left is satisfying enough mostly because this is the film that realises that Yancy Butler is the best thing it has going for it, so better just make Reba the actual main character already. I mean, who else is it going to be? Corin fucking Nemec? This mostly works out for the film, with Butler's irritably puzzled facial expressions helping to add some personality to stock situations, though there are at least a couple of scenes that work without her: a couple have sex on a bed as a crocodile hides beneath it, with their vigorous bouncing knocking it on the head to its visible annoyance, is a fun bit.

Eventually, to its great benefit, an Anaconda film slithers into this Lake Placid, a bit later than 60-minute mark. Two important things happen here: one is that Wright starts to appear more often than just an isolated scene every now and then, and she's a bitchy wonder of a villain, snarling her way with imperialist confidence in her own authority, and grinning a marvelously toothy smile of feral dominance. For the first time since Jon Voight slurred his way through the 1997 Anaconda, there's finally an actor in this franchise (even both of these franchises, honestly) who understands the important of self-satisfied hammy acting in a bad movie.

Second, of course, this is when we finally have Lake Placid vs. anacondas. As it were. The film is generally better off when it limits its reptilian stars' screentime; the CGI crocs look far worse than in any other Lake Placid movie (although, conversely, these are the best CGI snakes in all five Anacondas, not least because they are designed to look like actual real-world animals), and it saves the film some embarrassment to spent too much time with them. Still, that titular "vs." makes certain definite promises, and the film is happy to pay them off when the time comes. There are only two croc/anaconda fights to speak off, and a couple of other snake/human sequences, but they are satisfactory and both are happy to throw plenty of computer-generated blood at the screen. The latter also includes a couple of good unexpected gags, one of which leaves Wright splattered with blood as she smiles her befanged smile, which does a whole lot to complete the look.

Still, a good final act notwithstanding, this is pretty damn boring. It could be worse - one need look only to Anaconda 3: Offspring and Anacondas: Trail of Blood to see just much worse. Still, I would not want low expectations to make me an apologist for Lake Placid vs. Anaconda: that sorority subplot murders its rhythm, and for as much as the Butler/Wright/Englund trifecta is happily chewing the scenery, there's an awful lot of Nemec to go around, as well. This is still, to be as clear as possible, a gimmicky made-for-cable, shot-in-Bulgaria genre film, and it's not threatening to hit the ceiling on how good such a production could be. But it doesn't fall into the basement, either.

Reviews in this series
Anaconda (Llosa, 1997)
Lake Placid (Miner, 1999)
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (Little, 2004)
Lake Placid 2 (Flores, 2007)
Anaconda 3: Offspring (FauntLeRoy, 2008)
Anacondas: Trail of Blood (FauntLeRoy, 2009)
Lake Placid 3 (Furst, 2010)
Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (Paul, 2012)
Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (Stone, 2015)
Lake Placid: Legacy (Roodt, 2018)