1980, US, Directed by Lewis Teague
Colour, Running Time: 87 minutes
Review Source: DVD, R2, Anchor Bay; Video: Anamorphic 1.78:1, Audio: DTS
The potentially lethal ferocity of the alligator is displayed to us in the opening scenes when a public show turns to disaster as one of the participants is gorged by the creature in front of a horrified crowd (sort of akin to that scene from Faces of Death but more realistic…). A little girl there is bought a baby version of the reptile as a ‘pet’ - what they were intending to do with it once it grew up is unclear but her father is a touch narked about it and flushes the poor thing down the toilet. A couple of decades later severed limbs start turning up in the local water system and cynical cop (is there any other kind?) David Madison discovers that there’s an unfeasibly large alligator roaming around the subterranean tunnels. At first nobody believes him, including the little girl who’s now grown up into rather hot herpetologist Marisa Kendall. That is, until an irritating reporter takes bravery to new limits by heading down into the sewers - alone - armed with nothing more than a camera to catch the scoop of a lifetime. That’s exactly what happens too, as he’s quickly devoured by the creature while his camera accidentally catches several shots of it. This is all the proof Marsden needs as the recovered body and camera results in front page photos that awaken Chicago to a state of initially passive fear. As the authorities attempt to wipe the monster out with a strategy designed to corner it they inadvertently force it to break out on to the streets and a once passive fear becomes very active as the human-hungry alligator, mutated by the waste from experiments at a nearby institution, proves to be more difficult to track and kill than imagined.
Taking the Roger Corman approach to cinema the film-makers here have mixed Starsky & Hutch with Jaws - so obviously outlined by the music when the oversized alligator approaches some of its victims. Cop Madison is hard-bitten, down on his luck, ridiculed by his workmates after he tries to convince the world of the threat from below, and pushed to the sidelines by a strapping game-hunter when everybody finally does believe him, then kicked off the force altogether - there may be no end to this man’s bad luck, but alas he’s set to bag the girl and become a hero by the film’s end. Of course there’s not a great deal to be considered original about Alligator but execution is of a surprisingly high standard: special effects (varying techniques according to shot requirements) hold up nowadays for the most part and they’re strengthened by efficient cutting so that belief in what’s happening is facilitated as much as it can be. Sometimes labelled as a horror-comedy it is, almost to the contrary, played pretty straight for much of the time, adopting a semi-serious tone with intermittent humour that avoids any jarring effect. Having been cut on its original UK theatrical run to obtain a lower certificate this uncut restoration reveals a pretty gory movie, though not particularly shocking in today’s climate (it only has a 15 certificate), although it’s surprising to see them refrain from holding back when it comes to a young child being chomped to death (off screen in this case). There’s an injection of ecological awareness here too - scientific experimentation and illegal disposal of waste are the very factors that bring about the mutation of the reptile to the point of excessive growth. The scientists are apparently attempting to solve the world’s food problem by increasing the size of live stock but as usual they cause more harm than good when many of the city’s inhabitants become food themselves. The best way to approach such material as this is to knock the old brain into stand-by and sit back devoid of expectation - you’ll have a reasonably good time.
While once released in the UK on DVD by Digital Entertainment, that was a monster of a disc for the wrong reasons - extra-free with an ugly fullframe transfer, unrestored and thoroughly boring. Anchor Bay corrected that in spades - the newer disc is anamorphically enhanced widescreen (not 1.85:1 as some sources suggest - definitely 1.78:1) with various surround options that aren’t entirely successful but at least they’re there to choose from. Plus a commentary and an entire movie (Alligator 2) on a second disc . A recent Region 1 DVD had the commentary, some trailers, and a seventeen minute interview section but didn’t include the sequel. The Anchor Bay transfer of Alligator is stellar; incredibly vivid colours and balanced contrast with visual information you’ve probably never been aware of in this film, while digital grain is minimal - highly commendable. For an old-fashioned monster bash that pulls many of the right strings you can’t go too far wrong with Alligator, and this is a near superlative presentation.