If you’re an avid watcher of The Last Drive-In, you know that when animals go bad, they can go really bad.
There’s just something primal and terrifying about being out in the middle of the woods, tundra, ocean, prairie, taiga, archipelago, mountains and running into something that lives there that doesn’t take too kindly to you being there.
Nature can be cruel. Just watch anything Sir David Attenborough narrates or Shark Week. Same thing.
And then, welp, if the whatever-it-is-that-you’ve-run-afoul-of ends up being hungry – that’s another problem. You better hope that you’ve done enough aerobic conditioning so you can run, snowshoe, swim, bicycle, sled, row or climb faster than whatever it is that’s taken an interest in you.
Or, as the joke goes, at least be faster than the person who’s there next to you.
Jaws set the cinematic bar pretty high with the nature-run-amok flick back in 1975 and its influence did not end with the flick. The book was actually a big best-selling beach read, but it did not change the environment of popular culture until that great cover and poster by Roger Kastel showing poor skinny-dipping Chrissy Watkins about to become a Great White entrée got plastered everywhere.
We all know what happened next – nature got really p.o.ed really fast.
You had horror books coming out about killer rats, bats, cats, dog, bees and slugs. (A lot of em were British).
And after the books came out, you had horror movies coming out based on the books, also featuring killer rats, bats, cats, dogs , bees and slugs. (Most of those were American).
Because if there’s one thing movie producers like, it’s a tried-and-financially successful formula that they don’t have to have the writer think about too much.
Joe Bob went into it pretty well in the intro to Alligator, the first feature that’s probably in the top three flicks if you’re ranking the first-gen Jaws ripoff subgenre — Piranha and The Car being the other two in my mind.
But for all you screenwriters/novelists, the formula has to have:
- A creature run amok that kills somebody gruesomely in an initial attack.
- A law-enforcement person who is brought in after the creature gets its first kill.
- The grizzled nature expert guy.
- The fresher-faced expert who is at odds with the grizzled expert so they can make faces at each other.
- The authority person who doesn’t listen to reason when the law enforcement because, you know, money.
- The imperiled citizens who have at least one scene where they have the crap scared of them by the creature and another scene where they all go out in a mob to kill the threat. It’s the “Evil dies tonight” clause.
- The main people go out to hunt the creature after an I-told-you-so realization by the authority. Not all of them make it.
- With apologies to SCTV, the creature has to blow up real good.
Plot-wise, the first third of the flick deals with getting the characters together while the killings continue. The second third is the conflict with the authority figure before the big Mobilization for the Hunt. And then the last part is the hunt.
Heck, even Amsterdamned, if you look at it again, follows the formula. Just substitute a skin diver. It’s easy to follow. I even wrote a Jaws ripoff back when I was 12 that also ripped off Alligator cause I set it in a sewer called the Sewer Killer. It involved a giant Plecostomus catfish (I had one in my aquarium) that ate some toxic waster, then latched onto people who went into the sewer and drained them of their blood. I think I had the hero blow it up with dynamite.
The big challenge with a formula such as this is what sort of paint job you put on the chassis, including setting, actors and everything else. Of the pair, if you look at the totals, Alligator did it better…
Now as for Grizzly, they botched it with the TV movie soundtrack a bit. But, and this is a big but, it used a dang bazooka in the finale. You can’t get more cinematic and final than a character actor like Christopher George busting out with a shoulder rocket and then blasting that grizzly into furry bits.
It’s been a journey, and even though it’s been nine weeks gone for our time at the trailer watching flicks on The Last Drive-In, we end up where we started genre-wise. We’re concluding with another high-quality Zombierama Week as we hit the season finale. Time is a flat circle or something.
A bunch of you have already predicted what we’re showing, so no added clues from me this week.