Thursday, October 6, 2016

Alligator

Spoilers!

As far as creature features go, 1980's ALLIGATOR isn't too shabby.   The movie could likewise be classified under the "Nature Runs Amok" category, though the former is a better designation as the amphibian of the title is more a product of human folly than evolution, Intelligent Design, or whatever your bent.  The story begins in the late 1960s with a young girl convincing her parents to bring home a cute baby gator.  But one day dad in a (drunken?) rage decides the flush the little guy down the toilet.

Twelve years later, strange things begin happening in the unnamed (though apparently Midwestern) metropolis.  Dogs disappear.  Then people get eaten when they (for various reasons) investigate the catacombs of the city's sewer system.  Jaded cop David Madison (Robert Forster) investigates and finds a link to a company developing growth formulas for livestock - they experiment on dogs and then discard the carcasses in the sewers.  Over time, baby gator is there to feed on them and will grow to enormous proportions.

Of course, no one, including a cute reptile expert/potential love interest named Marisa Kendall (Robin Riker), believes Madison until an obnoxious reporter is devoured, leaving behind a roll of film he shot at the time of death showing rows of the teeth of the 36' beast.   The city in a panic, an arrogant big game hunter named Colonel Brock (Henry Silva, really hamming it up), who likes to flirt with TV reporters, is called in to bag the predator.  The finale involves a disrupted wedding reception and later, dynamite.

ALLIGATOR hits all of the expected cliches, courtesy of screenwriter John Sayles, who also penned another JAWS rip-off called PIRAHNA a few years earlier.  Both films are distinguished by a sly sense of humor, at every moment ribbing the horror genre.  Sayles wrote a number of low budget features in the late '70s and early '80s, allowing him to finance his own far more serious and personal films.  He was clearly having fun with ALLIGATOR, particularly with Silva's character, who buys beer for underage youths in exchange for their intimate knowledge of the 'hood.  When they refuse to follow him into an alley, he inquires - "No backbone? Must be the environment." Also, Marisa's talkative mother asks Madison which of her eyes are evil (which look like one of the many close-ups of the alligator's irises).  Another clever Sayles touch - that concluding graffiti.

B-movie vet director Lewis Teague does good work with creating a creepy atmosphere, especially in the sewer scenes.  The reception massacre is also well staged and brutal (nice use of that long tail!).  I could've done without the young child walking the plank scene, though, a moment that very likely would not be done today.  The cast is also game, with special mention of Michael V. Gazzo as the police chief.  His distinctive vocal delivery is quite hilarious.  The animatronic gator, similar to Bruce the shark from JAWS in more than one way I assume, also delivers a noteworthy performance, especially when he bursts up through a sidewalk.

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