A discussion of the release of “Primeval” on DVD, including an interview with director Michael Katleman.
BY KEVIN CARR
Over the past few years, horror movies have not been systematically cordoned off into the Halloween season. With “Black Christmas” and “Wolf Creek” opening on the past two Christmas Days, it seems that no release date is off limit for scary movies.
This January saw the release of the thriller “Primeval.” The film, billed as a serial killer movie but featuring the murderous exploits of a giant African crocodile, scared up a little more than $10 million on its domestic haul.
Still, a movie like this is primed (pardon the pun) for a new life on DVD. After all, what jittery high school teenager doesn’t want to watch a scary movie with his or her friends on a Friday night? That was a staple of my childhood. (Sure, I wasn’t much of a party-goer, but horror movies always played well with the girls.)
TV show veteran Michael Katleman directed the film, which was inspired by a real crocodile named Gustave that still hunts along the river in Burundi. “I first heard about Gustave when I read the script,” Katleman says about his introduction to the lead of his film. “I was immediately intrigued that this kind of predator could exist in the everyday lives of the people of Burundi.”
Although the real Gustave isn’t as big as the one in the film, he poses a great danger to those living in the region. “Obviously, in our film, he is a supercroc,” Katleman says. “But in reality, once he got the taste of human blood and realized that humans move a lot slower than other animals, I think he simply realized that it would take a lot less effort to snack on humans at will. He has been shot at, stabbed, but it just seems there is no way to take him down.”
Fortunately for the cast and crew, the film was shot in South African, not Burundi, so there was no chance of a Gustave sighting on set. “I did see many a crocodile,” Katleman adds. “Not even close to the size of Gustave. They scared the hell out of me.”
The giant killer something has been a staple of horror movies, and Katleman says that the original “Jaws” was a huge influence and inspiration for his film. “I still remember the first time I saw that film, and I basically grew up in the water surfing all my life,” Katleman says. “Even I have to admit that I was afraid to get back in the ocean after that film.”
Of course, with films like this, along with “Blood Diamond,” “Tears of the Sun” and “Shooter,” it’s not hard to make people a little afraid to go into the African wilderness. Still, the real villain in “Primeval” isn’t just a killer croc. It’s the violent warlords that run amuck in African today.
The only wrinkle that Katleman felt in the filmmaking process was a strange marketing campaign that didn’t reveal the killer to be a crocodile. This would have been a clever strategy if the crocodile’s existence was a surprise in the film. However, the first death was obviously caused by an animal, and the opening credit sequence contained many references to the real-life Gustave.
Some have suggested that the “Primeval” marketing strategy was to cash in on recent horror films with human monsters, like “Hostel” and “Saw.” However, this didn’t sit well with the director.
“I’ll be honest, I wasn’t crazy about it,” Katleman says. “In a film like this, the croc is the star, and I think that the fans of films of this genre want to know going into it that they are going to see a killer croc movie. Unfortunately, it caused a lot of frustration with the fans, and at the end of the day, they felt deceived.”
Probably one of the more notable things about “Primeval” was its extensive use of CGI. In other giant killer animal movies like “Jaws” and “Anaconda,” there is often a mix of CGI and practical effects. However, Katleman went exclusively for CGI. “We started out with an animatronic croc, in hopes of shooting as much with it as possible,” Katleman explains. “But, once we got the animatronic in the water in Africa, it just didn’t look that scary or believable, so we made a last minute change to not use it at all.”
This CGI process resulted in a scarier crocodile, at least as its image goes. “The jumping off point was Gustave,” Katleman explains. “From that point, I set out to create a leaner, meaner croc. When you look at the real Gustave, he is sort of big and fat. I tried to make a scarier version of this killing machine.”