Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.
Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: Alligator II: The Mutation
Genre: When Animals Attack
Tagline: The balance of nature has been tipped… to terror.
Released by: New Line Home Video
Director: Jon Hess
Plot: A giant alligator goes on a rampage after being mutated by experimental chemicals discarded by an evil real estate tycoon.
Thoughts: There were a LOT of Jaws rip-offs back in the day, but none was more awesome than the original Alligator (1980), which was penned by the brilliant John Sayles, who was also responsible for writing the second best Jaws rip-off, Joe Dante’s classic Piranha. Alligator is such a kick-ass movie; it created its own subgenre of killer crocodile flicks, yet it still remains unrivaled in pure cinematic reptilian rampage greatness. Maybe that’s why it took over a decade for someone to attempt a sequel, because by then it had earned the status of a classic from home video rentals and non-stop late night viewings on cable TV.
In a lot of ways, Alligator II: The Mutation is a perfect late night cable monster movie in that it’s just ridiculous enough to keep you from falling asleep, which is how I first saw it back when I was a kid. It’s a silly, by-the-numbers plot about a greedy real estate developer named Vincent Brown (played with zero restraint by Steve Railsback) who wants to force out the poor Latino residents of a lakeside community so that he can sell his new condos and homes to rich yuppies. He also has a deal with a company working with experimental chemicals that allows them to dump their poisons into the local sewage system, which of course connects to the lake. These chemicals have caused yet another flushed baby alligator to grow into an enormous monster with a voracious appetite only this one is indestructible.
As the locals start getting gobbled up, police detective David Hodges (Joseph Bologna) is on the case and before long he’s warning everyone who’ll listen about the mutant croc, but Brown’s got Mayor Anderson (comic actor Bill Daily) and police chief Speed (Brock Peters) under his thumb. Hodges wants the upcoming lake carnival to be cancelled, but instead Brown has the Mayor hire a ragged group of Cajun ‘gator hunters, led by none other than B-movie acting legend Richard Fucking Lynch, to hunt the creature down and destroy it. Of course, the exact opposite happens and Hodges must join forces with Richard Lynch, his new rookie partner, the Mayor’s hot daughter, and his chemistry professor wife (Dee Wallace Stone) to kill the alligator and save the people.
Unfortunately, the chemicals have given the croc super strength, making it virtually impervious to bullets, grenades and even dynamite. Hodges rigs a powerful bomb to destroy the beast, but the ‘gator eats it and deactivates the detonator. As the pissed off monster croc rips the carnival a new asshole and kills dozens of people, Hodges and his partner make one last attempt to destroy the mutant by firing a couple of rocket launchers at it, where Bologna delivers the one-liner, “Come to daddy!” right before he blows the thing to pieces.
I have to applaud this movie for going with the notion that if you’re going to make an Alligator sequel over eleven years later, even if you miss you might as well shoot for the fences, which this film does on both counts. First off, this movie defies the Jaws rule of not showing too much of the monster too soon by showing way too much of it from start to finish. It’s a sad mixture of alligator footage from the first movie combined with a terrible looking animatronic croc puppet with Day-Glo yellow eyes. The filmmakers employ the classic shot of the gator tail swiping its victim into the air so many times you could make a drinking game out of it. That and the constant use of the gator’s POV shot are utilized to an exhausting extent throughout.
The cast is a B-movie WTF? list if I’ve ever seen one. First, you’ve got the truly bizarre choice of Joseph Bologna as the action star leading man, whose frequent attempts at tension relieving humor come off very out of place and odd. He’s a poor substitute for Robert Forster. Then, you’ve got the uber-intense Steve Railsback playing the shit out of one of the most ridiculously written bad guys I’ve ever seen. To make things even more insane he’s partnered up with comic actor Bill Daily from The Bob Newhart Show who’s playing it straight as the corrupt Mayor. He goes along with the plan until he is later shot by Railsback for daring to question it, while the two are on a ferris wheel in the middle of the lake carnival surrounded by witnesses. It’s a fucking incredible scene to watch at 2:00 A.M., let me tell ya. But wait, there’s the incredibly talented Dee Wallace Stone trying to do her absolute best here as the cop wife that gets mixed up in the plot because she teaches chemistry at the university, but just wants to give her husband his birthday sex. It looks like she wants to be in any other movie than the one she’s in every moment on screen, yet she still delivers a pro performance. Finally, there’s the incredible B-movie icon Richard Lynch chewing the fucking shit out of every scene he’s in just like the ‘gator he’s huntin’ as the crazy Cajun croc-killer Hawk Hawkins.
Alligator II: The Mutation really has absolutely nothing to do with the original Alligator other than it’s about an alligator that gets big in the sewers and eats people in an urban setting. It’s a fun, completely goofy, totally unnecessary sequel to a great B-movie that was a rip-off to a truly great A-movie. There’s a residual 80’s action aesthetic here that is especially prevalent in the amount of firepower that is employed to kill this thing, as it takes more guns, bombs and ammunition than all four Rambo movies combined to finish it off.
This film kind of reminds me of the footage I’ve seen on YouTube of the never completed 1987 Grizzly sequel, Grizzly II: The Predator aka Grizzly II: The Concert, that starred Charlie Sheen, George Clooney and Deborah Foreman, and was about a grizzly that attacks an outdoor concert in the woods. If that film had been finished, it would have made an amazing drive-in double feature with Alligator II: The Mutation. Ah, woulda, coulda, shoulda.