- Directed by Lewis Teague
- November 14, 1980 (LA) / June 5, 1981 (NYC)
A baby alligator is flushed into the sewers only to grow massive and wreak havoc on the streets of a city.
Of all the nature revenge films that I have ever seen, Alligator is quite possibly my favorite. I vaguely recall seeing this as a child on television and remember enjoying it, but I was hard-pressed to recall any details about the story other than the scene when the titular alligator bursts through the sidewalk and onto the city streets. I am not calling this forgettable but once or twice 40 years ago is not a good way to build a memory. Yet the enjoyment I felt-if not the memory of the story-stayed with me and I guess that says something good about the movie.
Going into this you need to be willing to leave your brain a bit at the door. It is a bit of a goof on the nature revenge genre it is a part of as well as being just ridiculous. This is aimed more at entertaining than being a very serious production. That doesn’t make it bad. In fact, that’s a strong point in Alligator’s favor. They set out to entertain and in doing so made a good movie.
The story is built a bit around the urban legend of crocodiles living in sewers. You flush the thing down and it grows huge. Exactly how with very little to choose from to eat I’m not sure but they solve that problem here. If this were your normal sized alligator this movie would not be nearly as interesting but with a little help from science-fiction and the inconsiderate corporation we get a monster of an alligator.
Robert Forster stars as your typical 80s cop Det. David Madison. Considering though when this came out, I guess you could call him your proto 80s cop. Plenty of side swagger and plenty of manliness. And he’s burdened by guilt from the past. In this case he has a dead partner and that’s why he finds himself in the city he’s currently in.
Speaking of the city, I will be damned if I know what city it is. It is never noted but the film was made in Los Angeles. However there are indications from signs to the license plates of the cop cars that the movie is set somewhere in Missouri. Adding to the confusion is some reference material saying it is set in Chicago. Anywho…
Robin Riker plays Marissa Kendall whom I am assuming is a doctor as she is one of the country’s leading herpetologists. She never gets addressed with a title though because I guess her good looks speak for themselves. At least they do with Madison as he is immediately drawn to her in a way that could only be done effectively in this particular era. The banter and the chemistry between the actors comes easy and not creepy as it would be delivered if it was done today. Two horny people that just want to boink cannot have casual sexy banter like this today.
Henry Silva is one of the great character actors of film. Here he plays Col. Brock who is brought in to deal with the alligator menace. He is an overzealous macho hunter who creepily hits on a reporter that’s interviewing him. His character comes and goes pretty quickly in the film but anything with Henry Silva is a treat.
As a nature revenge story all those connected to the environment harming bad guys get their just desserts on screen. There are a few off screen victims though but if you ever watch these movies the people that tend to die off screen are innocent victims with on screen deaths being those of the truly evil. CEO Slade (the ever-elderly Dean Jagger) of the company that developed the synthetic hormone that caused the problems, Slade’s intended son-in-law and the developer of the hormone Helms (James Ingersoll), the corrupt mayor (Jack Carter), crooked pet store owner Luke Gutchel (Sydney Lassick), and tabloid reporter Thomas Kemp (Bart Braverman) all get chomped. Kemp is not part of the company, but he is a needless dick.
Alligator was done in the days before CGI, so this is a combination of a puppet (which looks rather realistic) and an actual alligator moving about on a set. The footage is cut together seamlessly to the point you are never quite sure if you are watching the alligator or the puppet or a guy in a costume. Ramón The Alligator, the name of the alligator before it gets flushed away, is played in costume by the legendary Kane Hodder in an uncredited part. Just a fun fact I learned.
In a step above other films like this the acting is pretty good and the script itself is better than most. Nobody makes a really stupid decision here in the context of the universe they create. Yeah you know the cocky guy is going to die but he doesn’t die because of his own stupidity. The alligator is just able to get him before he can get out. And that is just one example.
But in the end Alligator is just silly fun. As I said earlier it’s meant to entertain, and it does just that very well. If there is a message to be had in it, it’s the same one you find an all environmental revenge flicks and that’s be good to the environment or it will strike back. The problems here are brought on by shortsightedness of a parent as well as a corporation. It’s their greed and disregard for safety which in the end gets everyone killed.
Alligator is a great nature revenge flick. Robert Forester is in top form here but overall everyone and everything about this film is fantastic. If you like a little cheese with your movies this is definitely a must see!