STUDIO: Lionsgate
MSRP: $14.98
RUNNING TIME: 90 Minutes

  • John Sayles Interview
  • Commentary by Lewis Teague
  • Remastered Picture & Audio
  • Man-Eating Reptile

The Pitch

A baby alligator is flushed down the shitter, goes into the sewer, eats contaminated experiment dogs, becomes huge and pissed and wreaks havoc upon New York City. Robert Forster does not approve.

The Humans

Director: Lewis "I tamed Cujo" Teague.

Platonic Alligator Friends: Robert Forster. Robin Riker. Michael Gazzo. Perry Lang.

Quint Wannabe: Henry Silva.

Alligator Trivia:

  • All Alligators are Capricorns.

  • Alligators are racist towards Crocodiles worse than Japanese people are racist towards Chinese people.

  • In reality, when an alligator is flushed down a New York toilet like everything else that goes into a toilet it is relocated to Shea Stadium.

  • Alligators, despite their impressive wings, cannot fly.

The Nutshell

Note: I’ve been corrected that this takes place in Chicago. Regardless, pretend it takes place in NYC so my Shea Stadium bash above can continue to bash that horrid place.

I have made millions of mistakes in my life but none of them resulted in a pet of mine eating a town. Because of that I continue to own pets and live within driving distance of a town. The hoary premise of the John Sayles/Lewis Teague joint Alligator begs us to believe that a creature can survive the journey from an apartment’s asspipe all the way to the sewer system underneath the city without getting caught by a filter, net, or choked to stinky death on a Coney Island bratwurst turd. Whether or not the concept is bought by the audience hinges not on the idea of a giant reptile bursting through the pavement but whether they can believe said animal can be outwitted by the 70’s model of Robert Forster. Once that conceit is no longer an issue the world crushing importance of the movie can stand on its own unmolested.

Oops, I accidentally got a screen grab from Hidden Eater: The Movie.

The Lowdown

As a totally hamstrung Jaws wannabe Alligator succeeds at feeling more like an actual film than exploitation and that’s as much thanks to the fact it’s totally character driven and competently made as anything else. It certainly didn’t have the right to be interesting at the time since John Sayles was an unknown commodity [he made the seminal Return of the Seacaucus Seven shortly therafter] but any killer reptile film which recalls The Third Man can’t be all bad.

Despite its cash and grab origins, I loved this movie to death as a boy.

As is typically the case on films I loved as a kid it just isn’t as funny, cool, or atmospheric as I remembered. After the titular eater is released into the methane infused wild, we discover that a nefarious laboratory is illegally using stray dogs to test their hormone products, which results in the canines being both large and dead in a world where either one is considered gauche.

Not to be outdone by his partner, Siegfried made himself emotionally and physically available to his employee Mr. Devourer.

Enter wisecracking balding cop David Madison (Robert Forster, realizing that he’s got a long stretch until Jackie Brown), a guy who has already lost one partner to the Grim Reaper. When his sewer search for the remains of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest‘s Cheswick results in another 70’s cop a few heartbeats short of a pulse he becomes a laughingstock… until the largened alligator begins to make his presence known by eating anyone who shows up in his neck of the woods and by woods I mean the shitstained world beneath New York City.

That’s pretty much the premise, though like many other animal on the prowl films or slasher pics (and this does feel like a slasher pic at times), it’s all about the scares and the monster and despite its budget the hero beast of the film does come across as pretty damn cool. There was a time when minimalism worked [actually it still does, it just requires a deft hand] and its amazing how much mileage the filmmakers get from a close-up of an eye or a whipping tail or jaws munching down on man flesh. There aren’t many full shots of the title character and whether it’s a baby alligator amidst tiny props or the one mechanical hero alligator they made for the movie, it’s pretty effective.

It was tartar that killed the beast.

The film has aged worse than Keith Richards but it’s still quite charming. It’s one of those situations where the brain has implanted so much cool shit that the fun in watching the movie becomes more about little moments. Seeing Henry Silva try to be Quint or weirder yet…. sexy. Watching the admittedly great Robert Forster trudge through a police procedural not really knowing if the title creature is going to be silly or horrifying. He treats the role with a nice mixture of seriousness and black comedy and it’d almost be fun to see a series of films with this character. One where he gets at least two of his partners killed, ala the Spinal Tap drumming crew. Alas, it was not meant to be.

The logic of the film comes in a distant second to those great little moments. Seeing a little kid get pushed by his friends into a pool where he is promptly eaten by the lurking gator. The beast’s romp through an outdoor wedding and the resulting shots of stuntmen flying into cakes and bushes and collapsing tables. It’s those little joys that make this utterly 70’s horror flick shine bright enough to not feel like a waste of time. It’s just too hard to hate thanks to the little things.

Plus, the alligator is a brilliant beast apparently, solving the case of its enlarged and hungry state quicker and without trial by jury. It
is amazing how the alligator knows which wedding to crash in the
climactic gnaw-fest. It’s the wedding of the scientist who made the
beast’s enormous girth possible through his cruel and dog-hating
experiments! It’s called synergy and John Sayles isn’t afraid to walk
the tightrope between class and cheese with this, his most famous
killer alligator film.

The press junket for Primevil was uneventful.

All of that said, the era and the trapping of the budget keep Alligator from being as classy and fun as I remembered.

But you still should buy it.

"Well one of us is goddamned beautiful to the point of being unfair and I’ll give you a hint. He’s a brunette."

The Package

The DVD isn’t loaded per se, but it has two features that really make it a worthwhile endeavor. First and foremost is a commentary track with the director and star of the film where they discuss the road from idea to screen and the subsequel cult fandom for their movie. It’s a laid back track but both guys are old pros and it’s fun to listen to them chat. It’s not unlike the Carpenter/Russell commentary tracks where you don’t exactly get a filmmaking tutorial but a nice audience with two folks who made a fun old flick. They really didn’t have the hindsight back then of knowing that making a cult film was a good long-term business deal but were rather pawns in the post-Jaws gold rush. It’s a fun track and it definitely adds value to the DVD.

Additionally there’s a short but substantial interview with John Sayles where he discusses the events which led to the film happening and what he tried to invest in it. Now, I am a huge fan of the man and there’s pretty few folks in the business with as much integrity and moxie and bullheaded smarts as him and it warms my heart to see him spend a little time discussing a film his peers must consider way beneath him and seriously uncool. The guys who came out of the Corman factory and the other low budget horror worlds of the late 70’s and early 80’s are a special blue-collar breed and this is a nice resounding pat on the back to their work and the fans which kept films like this alive, if not on the fringe.

A nice two-puch of stuff.

7.5 out of 10