We’re goin’ to a land down under where John Jarrat and crocs rumble. Can’t you hear Arch Nicholson tell Nikki Coghill cut? You better run, I better get started.
Oh yes, it’s time to return to Australia for one of the most well liked Ozploitation horror adventures! This week, I’m talking about Arch Nicholson’s 1987 giant crocodile flick Dark Age. Now, check it out, this was part of a two-picture deal with the recently resurrected RKO Pictures. RKO was a golden age of cinema studio. Their biggest claim to fame? Motherfuckin’ King Kong, of course. RKO dissolved at the very end of the 50s and returned in 1981 and collaborated with some of the major studios.
I’m gonna guess this and the partner movie in the deal with RKO, The Lighthorseman, were products of the post-Crocodile Dundee Australia hysteria that not only gave us a bunch of Paul Hogan stuff and Yahoo Serious. I think we know who won in that deal. Also, we had lots of Mel Gibson stuff in the late 80s, as he was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood at that time too. So, yeah, I can see RKO wanting in on that action.
So, here we are! I guess.
This movie stars John Jarrat. Jarrat was a stalwart of Australian cinema. Prior to this, he was in the incredible thrillers Picnic at Hanging Rock and Next of Kin (the 1982 one, not the Patrick Swayze one). He’s worked pretty consistently for 50 years. The saucy blonde next to him on the box is Nikki Coghill. She’s mostly done TV in Australia, but knowing she’s Australian and blonde, I’m more looking forward to her than I am the giant crocodile.
Also starring in this is a giant crocodile! I’m guessing this is still trading on the decade-old killer beast thing that became its own genre after Jaws became one of the biggest movies to ever movie. Now, this one is slightly different, though. I’m gonna guess this giant croc is gonna fuck up some people, but this is a little bit more of a preservation sort of thing. Jarrat is playing Steve. He’s a ranger who is trying to protect the local population of crocodiles from hunters who are “hell-bent on the destruction of the species.” So he’s trying to move the croc out of harm’s way and far away from the hunters, but the hunters are pretty insistent on getting that goddamn croc. I’m gonna guess Jarrat and Coghill are gonna kill some of the guys. I’m gonna guess one of the bad guys is gonna try to kidnap or assault Nikki Coghill. I’m gonna guess that croc is gonna get a belly full o’ bad guys. I’m looking forward to it!
Let’s dive right into some Australian croc action!
We get a bit of a history lesson to kick things off. We learn that Australian Aborigines have a special relationship with the land – much like what we hear over here about Native Americans having a connection to their land and everything on it. They deem many animals as sacred. It’s the “Numunwari”, or giant salt water crocodile, that has the honor of being the most dangerous and awesome of all the sacred animals. And, as it turns out, this may very well be true. An Aborigine cattle man has taken a herd to a stop for the day, and, as the horse he rode gets water, the stream is disturbed by a Numunwari. Just then, it begins to storm sending all the cattle guys to seek shelter. So whether or not this giant croc is a symbol of bad omens or not is not entirely clear, but it’s apparently not great when one shows up.
Elsewhere, the storm interrupts friendly wildlife ranger Steve (Jarrat) as he is out measuring young crocodiles in the river. The storm has also caused him to get stuck in the river. Unknown to him, there are potentially unsavory characters watching him as he radios back to home base to say he’ll be stuck for a bit until the water level goes down. Are these characters Aborigines or are they bad guys?
They are actually seemingly friendly Aborigines who offer Steve a place to stay until the storm passes. They even help get his truck unstuck. However, we are soon introduced to the real bad guys – a group of hunters who are hanging out in their own little clubhouse where they drink beer and hang out and throw darts. Their leader, Jack Besser, tells them it’s a good time to go out on the hunt. With the water high after the storm, it will be a good time to find something to bag. The native cowpoke from earlier, Adjaral, warns against the guys going on the hunt seeing how there’s a giant croc out there, but John just kind of mocks him and they have a good laugh over how they should have brought the cowboy along as bait.
They find a crocodile and harpoon it for their first kill of the night. After finding a few more prey, they come across a “big bugger”. Now, this big boy isn’t scared by their tactics of first shooting near the head of the crocodile to stir it for it to be harpooned by the second guy. Nope. They shoot near the snout of the giant croc, but it doesn’t move. It just… watches them.
Besser’s crew wants him to leave it behind because it will be too big for them to either kill or be able to tie to the boat as they have the others and get back to base. Besser is not to be deterred. When the boat’s motor fails, the guys’ heads turn away from the giant croc and it goes underwater to later leap out and attack. All three men are dragged underwater.
An elder Aborigine, Oondabund, wakes having sensed something wrong. He and Adjaral, go on the search for the hunters since their truck is still parked by the river. They find Besser lying next to the river. He explains that they were attacked by a big ass crocodile. This, of course, eventually gets back to Steve who is called in to investigate. He meets Oondabund, Adjaral, and Besser. Besser puts the death of his crew, who he claims were just out there “fishing” on the river, on the head of Steve as he is charged to protect the crocodile population. Steve, on the other hand, knows better. He knows that Besser and crew were out there poaching the crocs.
But enough about that, what’s more important at this moment is that Steve’s girlfriend (or likely ex-girlfriend), Cathy (Coghill) is in the village finishing her university studies. The two are glad to see each other, but it appears that her studies and his ranger gig got in between them. They seem to have not seen each other for a little while.
Oondabund and Adjaral take Steve out to investigate Besser’s story. They find not only Besser’s boat, but evidence that there was a little more than “fishing” going on because they find a rifle near the boat. Steve finds one of Besser’s men dead… and the arm of the other guy. Oondabund says they need to get out of there now. No one is going to be able to take down a Numunwari, but it will certainly be able to take them down.
Meanwhile, back at the village, Cathy is hanging out with the various Aborigine families and such on the beach. She spots what looks to be an extremely large crocodile slowly coasting toward children playing in the water. She rushes to the kids’ aid to tell them to get out of the water. All the kids except for one get the fuck out of there the moment they see what’s coming. It’s up to Cathy to try to save the kid before the croc attacks.
So, yeah… Cathy didn’t make it in time. Nor did Steve, Oondabund, or Adjaral. They arrive back at the village as the aftermath unfolds. Cathy is upset. The town is in full on panicked grief. Steve needs to find this fuckin’ croc – and fast.
It’s a little more than that, though. Cathy is REALLY upset about what happened. In fact, she’s kind of pissed at Steve for not shooting the croc. Steve, rightfully, says that he’ll deal with the problem the right way when he can find it. That’s to say he went out, didn’t find it, and shouldn’t be blamed for that croc doubling back toward the village when he went out to investigate. He also makes a point that isn’t often stated in these types of movies. “You can’t judge them like people. They don’t know kids are off limits,” he says. Of course Cathy kind of shoves that back into his face by saying he should explain that to the boy’s mother, but both have decent points to make. Normally, you just hear the human side of wanting to take solace in hunting down the creature that killed one of us, but we don’t often get the measured response of it being a wild animal doing what an animal would do – looking for attainable food. Obviously, Steve will do what is needed, but he can’t do anything until he is in the same place as the croc.
Now, I suppose, there are times in which we see people who take the position Steve is in, but they are often portrayed as hostile jerks and not seemingly reasonable and left to make a tough decision like Steve appears to be.
We also learn a little bit about why Steve and Cathy split ways previously. She thinks he doesn’t care about the boy who was killed. He refutes that claim, but she fires back that he never wanted children, to which he says that is different. He storms off saying that nothing between them have changed at all. He goes to Oondabund and asks for help to kill the croc. That giant croc threatens all of the sanctuary. Cathy joins in on the conversation saying that the little boy did nothing to hurt anyone so they must deal with the monster that killed him. Oondabund rationalizes why the croc “chose” the boy. You see, that kid was unwell all his life. In fact, he had been in and out of hospitals with breathing problems. Cathy isn’t pleased with that rationale. Oondabund says that the Numunwari probably went far away after being scared by the hubbub at the town after he killed the boy.
Steve calls in reinforcements from the wildlife rangers. Steve seeks more answers from Oondabund as to why the giant croc left his billabong to journey out where others may live now. Oondabund tells Steve that they won’t be able to kill the Numunwari. It’s too smart and it will know that he is friends with Aborigines by simply looking into his eyes.
The rangers set out to hunt the giant croc. Steve is not surprised to find that Besser and his men have come along for the hunt as well. I guess it is going to be a race between the good guys and the poachers for whoever can get to the Numunwari first. Of course, Besser’s crew is just going in and killing everything. Steve checks back in with his superior and has to say that, after four days and having covered the length of the river, he’s not found the crocodile. Worse, Besser’s men killed just about everything else they encountered. Steve’s boss doesn’t like it when Steve explains that the Aborigines don’t want the croc killed because it is sacred to them. His boss gets a tad bit racist over how often the Aborigines claim something is sacred and can’t be touched.
When Steve returns to his hut at the village, Cathy is waiting for him. She is in quite high spirits having brought him a painting from 1908 of a depiction of a giant crocodile. She believes it is the same one they are looking for today. She also learned why Oondabund doesn’t want the Numunwari killed. He’s the keeper of the creature. Like his father before him and generations before that. The Numunwari was given two bones from Oondabund’s father when he passed. It’s so that the Numunwari can keep the spirits of the tribe with it. That’s why it’s sacred.
Now, despite seeing two of the last three scenes in which Steve and Cathy weren’t getting along at all, they decide to go on a dinner date where Steve plans to explain how things went wrong between them. Cathy says she knows why things went south, but Steve claims what she thinks isn’t really what the situation is at all. Each time he’s about to launch into his whole pitch about what happened between them, they get interrupted. First, by one of the other rangers Steve is working with and that guy’s wife. Second, by the waiter who has come to take their order. It’s kind of a nice lighthearted bit of awkwardness.
Steven decides suddenly to leave claiming he isn’t hungry. Cathy goes with him. They pass an old bum who apparently knows Steve. The bum gets hassled by some punks as the croc stalks about in the water. While that poor old guy gets the shit kicked out of him, Steve and Cathy go back to his place and just go to town on each other. That’s a great way to resolve your relationship problems – especially after Cathy called him he’s a lousy fuck.
And… now stick with me here… if you ever see this movie, allow me to just say I REALLY liked how Nikki Coghill says “lousy fuck” in this.
Anyway, back to the other action in this movie. The thug that looks like Kiefer Sutherland from Lost Boys is messing with the old bum, and gets eaten but good by the giant croc. So Lousy Fuc… er I mean Steve is pulled out of bed to go hunt the harbor in town. As word spreads, Besser catches wind that the croc has made it to town so he wants to go there now.
So the pressure is now mounting. Steve can’t find the giant killer croc. He’s getting pressure from his boss. He’s dealing with Besser wanting to come in and run wild over everything in the ecosystem. He probably just wants to get back in the sack with Cathy. The press is everywhere. It’s a mess. On top of that, it’s probably fair to say he’s somewhat conflicted over whether or not to even kill the crocodile.
Steve’s boss makes things worse by announcing to the press that he’ll give a not insignificant reward for the death of the croc. This will create a frenzy among gun-toting yahoos. On top of that, it immediately reverses the plan to keep people away from the water’s edge. Steve goes to Oondabund to try to talk some sense into how the wildlife rangers are handling this situation. Oondabund goes to Steve’s boss, but the guy is unmoved, causing Oondabund to storm out and warn Steve that if he continues to hunt the Numunwari, it will get him. Steve begs for assistance, but the old man is just not willing to help.
Finally, Steve asks Oondabund what HE thinks they should do. He says they should catch him and transport him to somewhere safe and where it will be kept hidden and safe. Steve goes back to his boss and makes the case for them to attempt to capture the crocodile, and place it in the old breeding pen that is secure, completely unknown to the public, and it can be publicized that it has been killed, but in fact, it is in seclusion somewhere it can’t be harmed and no one else can harm it. Begrudgingly, the boss accepts this.
The moment Steve writes out a binding contract that the Numunwari is Oondabund’s property, he claims to know where the creature is. Cathy is upset that Steve is going to capture the creature and not kill it. She thinks that doing things the Aboriginal way is not going to work. Steve thinks the white man’s way hasn’t really done much for them either. So our intrepid heroes are off to find and capture the Numunwari. Meanwhile, Besser and his men are camped out with a net and a plan to kill pretty much anything and everything – including the giant croc.
What they don’t realize is that the giant croc is already near the camp and it plans to toy with Besser and his goon. The goon is quite concerned that they are in the presence of this giant croc. Besser is real excited about getting that $5000 reward. Like a real moron, Besser plans to kill the beast with a hatchet instead of letting it drown in the net. He goes to kill the croc with the hatchet, Numunwari moves, makes Besser miss, and then Besser falls in and gets a little bit nipped off him.
By the time Steve, Oondabund, and Adjaral arrive where Besser and his guy were, it sure looks like Besser has beat cheeks, or got his cheeks eat(en) by the Numunwari. They find the croc and Oondabund is able to harpoon it to remain tethered to it as it swims around. They attempt to shoot him with a tranquillizer dart, but Steve appears to miss. Numunwari attacks the boat and causes Adjaral to fall in, but it’s only a diversion for Numunwari to escape the harpoon.
The next morning, they are able to harpoon him again. They spot a gash on the the croc from Besser’s hatchet. Not only are they able to successfully harpoon him, but they also drug him with the tranquilizer gun and tie his snout to subdue him. Adjaral and Steve return to their boat and Steve’s boss is there to say that the croc will need to be killed because of Besser being attacked and losing an arm. Steve is pissed, but his boss says there was no real deal made as he completely and totally reneges on the whole thing. Steve says that if they want that croc dead, he better get permission from Oondabund as it is rightfully his property.
They transport him to a pin, but they are hardly there before Oondabund says they need to move it now to its proper home. Steve is concerned about moving it too much and how it might die from it, but Oondabund says they have to move now. Cathy hears some ruckus by where the pin was, and it’s Besser and his men come to literally kill every croc in the pin. Besser asks Cathy where Steve went but she doesn’t claim to know. Besser figures out on his own that there is only one place he could have gone.
Steve stops at a weigh station because he’s obsessed to find out how much the croc weighs. This allows Besser to catch up a little bit to Steve, Oondabund, and Anjaral. Cathy is able to catch up as well and meets with our heroes to help them get the croc to a safe place. Meanwhile, Besser is not looking too good. I’m guessing it’s part that a bunch of his arm is off, and that he probably didn’t get properly checked out of the hospital. So he looks like he’s about to die any minute.
Despite Steve getting Numunwari to its home, they wreck the truck. As Numunwari crawls toward the water, Besser and his men arrive. Steve and Anjaral try to fight them off as best they can, but they aren’t able to hold them off long enough. Besser starts trying to hack at Numunwari, but Oondabund comes out with spears trying to protect him. He kills one of Besser’s guys, but he’s shot in the stomach and killed. Anjaral spears Besser in the leg, which allows for Numunwari to finish Besser off. Later, Anjaral delivers two of Oondabund’s bones to Numunwari to continue on the tradition of keeping the spirit of the Aborigines alive.
It’s a pretty wild ending that has more action in about 10 minutes than the rest of the movie had aggregate. But this is a pretty good movie. There is most definitely a Jaws feel to this movie with local fervor over trying to get revenge against a natural beast trying to eat people and a nervous guy worried about how it is going to affect the local economy for vacationers and an incoming resort being built by Japanese businessmen. But I also appreciate some level of not wanting to kill the beast, but just get it back to where it belongs. As I said, that’s often overlooked or flat out ignored in these types of nature vs. humans style movies.
John Jarrat and Nikki Coghill have a fun relationship in this movie. Plus, Burnham Burnham, who plays Oondabund, is pretty great in this movie. Our villains in this movie, whether it be Besser or Steve’s boss, Garret, are appropriately cartoonish to the point that you need to root against them. What’s funny is that this came out in 1987, the same year as Jaws: The Revenge, and Dark Age is full on more in line with Jaws than Jaws’ own sequel. Regardless, this is a fun monster croc movie with a really great creature that looks and feels real.
But we aren’t done with monsters with native connections! Oh no, because next week, we’re going to Arizona to meet a bunch of European people in search of yetiglanchi in 1995’s Werewolf! If you don’t think this isn’t one of my all time favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, then get back, Jack. You just need to watch that episode… Or don’t. Wait until after you read next week’s B-Movie Enema article!
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I… I think that came out the way I wanted it to. Anyway, until next week my Enemaniacs!