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10 Alligator and Crocodile Horror Movies to Activate Your Water Phobia

Killer crocodiles and alligators are lurking beneath these swampy waters.

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  • Photo Credit: IMDB

Since the moment Peter Benchley’s iconic great white terrorized the idyllic beach community of Amity Island and demonstrated the Sherriff’s obvious need for a bigger boat, one ravenous beast has dominated the list of what we’re afraid of being in the water when we can’t see under the surface. The Jaws movies still command a serious spotlight, even decades later. That spotlight casts shadows, though, and in those shadows hide more underwater killers: alligators and crocodiles.

Silently stalking unsuspecting horror fans swimming through internet streams, nostrils just poking up in search results, are dinosaurs of the bayou and dragons of the deep waiting eagerly for their prey to stumble into places people do not belong.

These 10 reptilian reminders of our precarious position in the food chain swim fast, bite hard, and death-roll their way into any true horror fan’s canonical collection.

Eaten Alive (1976)

Eaten Alive has all the classic b-horror cliches: disturbed hotel proprietors, social deviants, high society treading where it doesn’t belong, and a monster ready to consume them all. Neville Brand’s Judd keeps a pet crocodile behind the dilapidated hotel he owns deep in Rural Texas, to which he feeds those unlucky enough to be trapped in the hotel rooms. It’s quickly unclear who the real monster is, in that Judd’s body count is far higher than his pet croc’s through the entire film. In fact, Judd’s scythe is far more menacing than any of the jump-scare crocodile attacks, despite the animal’s brutal violence.

The uncertainty of who the true antagonist might be is satisfying, though, because each option delivers plenty of reason to stay out of the water, out of the hotel, and for that matter all the way out of Texas. Eaten Alive is a benchmark of camp and gore whose legacy is quite long in the tooth; director Tobe Hooper (of later Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame) launched his career in part with this film.

Alligator (1980)

In Detective David Madison’s (Robert Forster) jurisdiction, pets disappear and body parts wash up in sewer treatment plants. Pet store owners sell puppies to science labs, growth hormones are pumped into sewers, and baby alligators bought on Florida vacations to kitschy tourist traps are summarily flushed down the toilet. This is exactly the kind of place a chemically enhanced gator should rampage, and rampage he does. In what might have been the inspiration for an explosively popular media franchise featuring slightly different sewer-dwelling, ooze-boosted reptiles, a mutant alligator terrorizes Chicago’s sewage and drainage system in a series of genre-defining sequences featuring tight spaces and satisfying kills.

The monster has a taste for the most irritating humans in the film, making for both emotionally and physically satisfying kills. Sure, Detective Madison has a few laughable sub-plot issues and they have their time on screen, but when Alligator focuses on the alligator the film tips the scales into good-time horror.

Dark Age (1988)

In this Australian tale of a massive crocodile terrorizing a community, Wildlife Ranger Steve Harris (John Jarratt) must contend with his moral compulsion to protect dwindling crocodile populations from hunters while also protecting remaining natives of the area from their own disappearance at the hands, or jaws, rather, of the croc’s attacks. While local hunters have no problem with the idea of just destroying the animal, the Aboriginal community in which the crocodile hunts believe it contains the spirit of their ancestors.

Dark Age pits animalistic survival against humanistic preservation, and in the blood bath that plays out on screen homages to Jaws in plot and cinematic framing abound. Dark Age is smart in its philosophical approach to conservation and terrifying in its head-on take on underwater attacks. It’s a how-to manual for animal attacks and the sensory barrage that follows, and any horror fan looking for a good shock steeped in great context should swim fast toward this beast.

Lake Placid (1999)

When a massive crocodile starts eating locals in and around Lake Black, a normally placid lake in the woods of Maine, the result is anything but. The ensemble cast of Bill Pullman’s Game Warden, Brendan Gleeson’s Sherriff, Bridget Fonda’s Paleontologist, Oliver Platt’s Irreverent Professor, and Betty White essentially as herself work mostly in conflict to navigate the human interest of survival while also promoting a kind of environmental conservation. The result is predictable but delightful in its comedic horror, granting fabulous feats of foreshadowing like Brendan Gleeson devouring Twinkies in less than two bites and Bill Pullman’s perpetual glower as though he knows nothing good is ever going to come from, well, anything.

The film is rife with competent suspense and satisfying scares, offering just enough blood and bone to add horror to hilarity. Culminating in a final scene that demonstrates we won’t ever truly survive nature as long as we’re trying to lord over it, Lake Placid is all the killer camp and comedy it should be.

Crocodile (2000)

This straight-to-video romp is director Tobe Hooper’s second entry in the killer reptile genre. A Southern California Spring Break getaway for eight teenagers lands them square in the territory of a legendary crocodile, Flat Dog, whose exploits are well-known by locals. When the Spring Breakers find a nest of crocodile eggs, they break one and steal another in an inadvertent but blatant invitation for Flat Dog to destroy them. And destroy most of them she does. What mother wouldn’t? Hooper’s penchant for jump scares and campy fun combines with the joy of watching awful characters endure deservedly awful deaths.

While it’s obvious throughout why Crocodile never directly attacked a theatrical release, its ridiculousness is as much part of its charm as the joy of watching people win the stupid prizes for the stupid games they play—like messing with a momma croc’s nest. This film is the cinematic embodiment of “eff around, and find out.”

Black Water (2007)

Hitchcock himself would have shuddered at the near-perfect suspense and dread Black Water conjures in its first act. After an ill-fated fishing tour goes belly up, a pregnant woman, her boyfriend, and the woman’s sister find themselves stranded in a tree smack in the middle of an Australian mangrove swamp. While telltale ripples in the murky water hint at violence lurking just under the surface and flash-fast glimpses of the animal in action let us know there’s something to fear, it’s the anxious potential of harm, the not seeing the crocodile that terrorizes Lee (Maeve Dermody), Grace (Diana Glenn), and Adam (Andy Rodereda) until the final confrontation with the killer croc splatters across the screen.

The pacing is terse and sweat-inducing, the “monster reveals” are brilliantly escalated, and even the more predictable horror tropes—sneaking around trying to avoid the villain in the strobe effect of a lightning storm—conjure the kind of dread great horror is made of. The film’s climax drives viewers' hearts to both hammering and breaking at the same time, a result that is compounded exponentially when considering the devastating events inspired by a tragic true story. Black Water is the real deal.

Rogue (2007)

Rogue is part Western, part Nature Film, part Slasher, and entirely suspenseful. Sent to Australia’s Northern Territory to write about a crocodile-watching tour, American travel writer Pete (Michael Vartan) finds himself a stranger in a saloon, a scene that might as well have come straight from the cutting room floor of the Man with No Name series of Westerns. That nod to a genre whose core themes are humanity’s expansion conflicting with the wildness of nature and the desperation of white society to tame everything it doesn’t understand weaves through the rest of the film, which is cinematically beautiful and frames humans as stains on an otherwise gorgeous canvas.

When the tour Pete has chosen wanders into a crocodile’s territory and is attacked, the tourists are stranded on an island doomed to be swallowed by the rising tide—putting them all underwater and at the crocodile’s mercy. Their tour guide, Kate (Rhada Mitchell), works with Pete to try to keep the group focused on a solution but as fate would have it (and the theme demands) individual people screw it all up for the rest of them. The result is a ticking-clock slasher in which the surviving characters are forced into closer and closer quarters with the killer crocodile. The film’s climax serves as a stern warning to those who might forget there are places on the earth that simply will not be tamed.

Primeval (2007)

As any good monster movie should, Primeval opens with the brutal killing of someone helpless to defend themselves against the attack, setting the tone for what’s to come. The fact that there are two monsters at work in the African Republic of Burundi doesn’t deter journalist Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell) from chasing down the story a 25-foot man-eating crocodile might generate. What he finds is an equally murderous warlord terrorizing the area perhaps more brutally than the crocodile would, putting Tim and his team in immediate survival mode as his companions and the local residents help them fall one by one to both the giant crocodile and the warlord in turn.

Perhaps a bit on the snout with a moral message about humanity’s capability to create our own monsters, the film wrestles with nature and nurture as foundations of evil. Meanwhile, audiences shriek their way through a tense ninety-minute barrage of blood proving evil can only be slowed, but never truly stopped.

Freshwater (2016)

Where some of these films pay respect to the animals and settings in which they take place, Freshwater replaces “respect” with “ridiculousness.” Almost an homage, this film hilariously combines as many familiar elements of teen horror romps as possible: unrequited romance, careless partygoers, rich kids being rich, mean girls being mean, a big-city Sherriff getting used to small-town life where “nothing is ever going to happen,” and a comically awful CGI monster terrorizing them all. Spring Break, an apparently popular time for reptile attacks, is a tough week for alligator expert Brenda (Zoe Bell) and Sherriff Jones (Joe Lando), whose romp around the small town of Helena, Alabama turns up body parts, alligator tracks, and a clear disregard for each other’s ideologies.

Their investigation focuses on whatever might be attacking people in town, including a group of college students on Spring Break who have clearly never seen Scream. They split up, drink a bunch, and die off one by one as they make their mistakes. The culprit? A near Disney-esque animated albino crocodile easily thirty feet long. This film’s choices seem to indicate a desire to satirize the genre by highlighting everything that could be terrible about a slasher and a creature feature.  Though it’s not clear that was the intent, taking in the film through that lens results in a gory and hilarious alligator adventure thoroughly enjoyable because it’s so laughably poorly crafted. 

Crawl (2019)

When the world is tearing itself apart above your head and alligators invade the tiny space in which you’re forced to hide, you get the shiver-inducing spectacle that is Crawl. On her way out of the state of Florida to evade a category five hurricane, Haley (Kaya Scodelario) detours to see if she can save her father, Dave (Barry Pepper) before the hurricane destroys their flood-prone family home. She, her father, and their family dog become the targets of the only alligators on this list that invade human space rather than the other way around, but the film still questions whether any natural spaces in which raging storms and ravenous beasts can converge will ever truly be human spaces.

Banking on solid visual effects, the disorienting presence of gators swimming a hidden slalom through submerged gas pumps and parked cars on main roads, and a heavy and effective dose of claustrophobia, the natural horror that ensues is violative and visceral. The film traps its protagonists, and its audience along with them, in the crawl space of their home while waters rise and alligators rage. The result is enough to terrify anyone smart enough to know we should be running away from infested waters and not directly into them.

Featured still from "Black Water" via IMDB