The Wisdom of Crocodiles

UK 1998

Reviewed by Liese Spencer


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

The body of a woman is found after a car crash. She is the ex-girlfriend of vampire Steven Grlscz. Later, Grlscz sees a woman, Maria Vaughan, about to throw herself under a train on the underground. He saves her and over the following weeks sets about seducing her. When he is convinced she has fallen in love with him, Grlscz takes her to bed and bites her neck, killing her. Grlscz drives to the sea and dumps her body.

When Maria's body is discovered, Grlscz goes to the police, pretending to help with their investigation. His helpfulness and lack of motive persuade Inspector Healey of his innocence, but hot-headed Sergeant Roche remains suspicious. As the police continue their enquiries, Grlscz meets structural engineer Anne Levels. They begin seeing each other, but Anne remains cautious about their relationship.

When Inspector Healey is mugged by a gang of thugs, Grlscz saves him and they strike up a friendship. Grlscz has an argument with Anne and doesn't see her for days. After phoning his apartment, Anne eventually visits Grlscz to find that he is sick. He tells Anne that he is a vampire and can only survive by drinking the blood of women who love him. He believes that if he can find the perfect love he will be cured. Anne nurses Grlscz, but as he gets weaker he tries to kill her. She escapes and Grlscz dies.


As Channel 4's recent vampire series Ultraviolet proved, updating ancient horror myths is a tricky business. At its best the process lends a new resonance and ironic humour to old stories (think of Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark or John Landis' An American Werewolf in London). At its worst, modernisation can mean the suggestive power of metaphysical fantasy is replaced by bathos.

The Wisdom of Crocodiles falls into this second category. Nominally set in London, the film's bland locations make up an anonymous cityscape. If this is supposed to lend a universal 'timelessness' to events, then the designers fail immediately, by giving both Steven and Anne excruciatingly fashionable apartments (of the kind that only very rich or very unreal Londoners seem to possess). Moving between these over-dressed sets, minimalist restaurants and concrete car parks, the film lacks atmosphere and looks resolutely artificial.

Thanks to a lamentable script and flat direction from Po Chih Leong (hitherto Hong Kong based, but also director of the British-set Ping Pong), Jude Law's vampire remains equally implausible. Whether cataloguing his victims in a series of beautifully bound scrapbooks or placing phials of their crystallised emotions (yes, it's that literal) into what look like tiny cutlery trays, Steven just isn't sinister. Supernaturally polite and well spoken, Law's charming predator should be chilling, but fails to convince either as man or monster.

Which is a shame since Law, with his perfect features, has just the right Dorian Gray beauty to suggest inner corruption. Elina Löwensohn struggles equally hard to breathe life into her structural engineer, while Timothy Spall mugs from beneath a pair of beetling eyebrows as the plodding policeman turned father confessor. He even engages Steven in ponderous conversations about good and evil while wandering, with heavy symbolism, through a cemetery.

Entirely lacking in suspense, the film drags from one contrived scene to another, Paul Hoffman's script swinging between the pretentious ("the line that cuts through good and evil cuts through every human heart") and the downright banal. ("There's one problem about the way I am," Steven tells Anne. "It doesn't work.") And it's no surprise to find that the plot's clumsy contingencies (when Steven is made to go for a police line-up he's suddenly endowed with the power to mesmerise the witness) come crashing down at the movie's climax when Steven, after letting Anne nurse him for several days, suddenly jumps up and begins chasing her around his apartment. Hammer's cod-Victoriana may have been overenamoured with lace cuffs, capes and crucifixes, but at least their stories bothered to make sense and provided a few cheap thrills along the way. The Wisdom of Crocodiles is far too silly and self-important for either.


David Lascelles
Carolyn Choa
Paul Hoffman
Director of Photography
Oliver Curtis
Robin Sales
Production Designer
Andy Harris
John Lunn
Orlando Gough
©Zenith Productions Limited
Production Companies
Goldwyn Films International/Film Foundry Partners/Entertainment Film Distributors/Zenith Productions in association with The Arts Council of England present a Zenith film
Developed in association with Robert Jones
Supported by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England
Developed with the support of the European Script Fund
Executive Producers
Scott Meek
Dorothy Berwin
Nigel Stafford-Clark
Line Producer
Laura Julian
Production Executive
Chris Catterall
Production Co-ordinator
Kora McNulty
Unit Manager
Claire Tovey
Location Manager
Jeremy Johns
Assistant Directors
Simon Hinkly
Sarah Dibsdall
Carlos Fidel
Script Supervisor
Sarah Garner
Michelle Guish
David Rubin
Additional Crew Directors of Photography
Graham Frake
Paul Wheeler
Camera Operators
Jeremy Gee
Additional Crew:
Graham Frake
Paul Wheeler
Steadicam Operators
Alf Tramontin
Simon Harding
Digital Visual Effects
The Film Factory at VTR
Digital Effects Producer/Supervisor:
Simon Giles
Special Effects
Stuart Brisdon
Ian Lowe
Mike Tilley
Mark Haddenham
Art Director
Ben Scott
Original Paintings
James Gemmill
Diane Howse
Scenic Artist
James Gemmill
Storyboard Artist
John Greaves

Costume Designer
Anna Sheppard
Chief Artist:
Pat Hay
Additional Crew:
Anne Oldham
Stephen Rose
Title Design
Chris Allies
Optical Effects
General Screen Enterprises
Music Mixer
Paul Golding
Sound Recording
Colin Nicolson
Sound Mixer
Additional Crew:
Bill Dodkin
Dubbing Mixers
Aad Wirtz
John Falcini
Supervising Sound Editor
John Downer
Dialogue Editors
Howard Eaves
Jeremy Child
Footsteps Editor
Rodney Glenn
Medical Advisers
Carlton Jarvis
Dennis Choa
Stunt Co-ordinator
Nick Powell
Jude Law
Steven Grlscz
Elina Löwensohn
Anne Levels
Timothy Spall
Inspector Healey
Kerry Fox
Maria Vaughan
Jack Davenport
Sergeant Roche
Colin Salmon
Stuart Bowman
C.J. December
car crash mechanics
Nick Lamont
toll bridge attendant
Joseph O'Conor
Mr Nancarrow
Hitler Wong
Noodles Chan
Anastasia Hille
Ashley Artus
gang leader
Tom Wu
Hon Ping Tang
Antony Cotton
Richard Mylan
Carlton Headley
Neran Persaud
gang members
Julia Davies
girl in operating theatre
Rupert Farley
Diane Howse
Mrs Healey
Cliff Parisi
Vincent Keane
injured workman
Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd
8,876 feet
98 minutes 37 seconds
Dolby digital
Colour by
DeLuxe London
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011