I needed to find a lesser known but still classic 80s horror movie to review. Forget Netflix and On Demand. No more video stores means no more local video store horror aisles to creep through. My only recourse, the one sacred place where I was guaranteed to find a film worth reviewing: the DVD case in our bedroom, filled full up with who’s who of 70s and 80s horror. Multiple copies of John Carpenter’s Halloween rest comfortably alongside Jaws, Dawn of the Dead (78, of course), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A Nightmare on Elm Street shares a shelf with Black Christmas, The Exorcist, and Hellraiser. Now these are all excellent choices, but they’ve been reviewed countless times by those much smarter (but nowhere near as handsome) reviewers as yours truly. There, just there on the bottom shelf, wedged between Reservoir Dogs and my wife’s copy of Fringe: Season One. The perfect choice.
One of the surfeit of animal-attack movies inspired by the huge success of Jaws, while Alligator doesn’t approach the critical or commercial success of Spielberg’s blockbuster, it’s spin on the urban legend of alligators loose in the sewer system proves a decent thriller in it’s own right.
A young girl returns from a Florida vacation with a baby gator named Ramon. Her father, after finding a couple of fresh turds around the house, proceeds to flush it down the toilet. Twelve years on, Detective David Madison investigates human remains discovered in a wastewater treatment plant. Madison, played by veteran actor Robert Forster, is new to the force after a transfer from St. Louis, where an accident led to the death of a fellow officer. His reputation for being unlucky for partners is only bolstered after a search of the sewers leaves a rookie cop dead and Madison’s claims that an alligator is to blame dismissed as hysteria. After a tabloid reporter bites the dust in the same sewer and his left-behind camera footage proves the existence of a gigantic alligator, Madison is placed at the head of a police task force charged with smoking out and destroying the predator. Just how the gator got so huge involves some missing neighborhood dogs and genetic engineering company owned by the scheming Mr. Slade (no…not Fred Flintstone’s boss; that’s Mr. Slate). Soon the alligator breaks free, and mayhem and carnage spread across Chicago (at least I think it was supposed to be Chicago). Can Madison and crew stop it before it devours the entire city? Well, I won’t spoil it even though I every right to do so. The movie came out over 30 years ago so the spoiler statute of limitations has long since passed.
I can say that the film holds up surprisingly well. Some of the effects are a bit cheesy, there are several glaringly obvious takes of a normal-sized alligator walking amongst miniature cars and buildings, and a scene involving a police boat chase features an obvious rubber gator model. This is a 1980 budget ripoff horror film, after all.
The sewer search scenes are very effective, especially the low angle shots from the alligator’s perspective, and the movie definitely earns it R-rating. People are munched and chomped with abandon, and the little boy that falls into the pool where the alligator is hiding…oh yeah, they go there. Also, if there is a large, man-eating gator on the loose, a fancy backyard wedding is the last place you want to be – I have to admit that I took preserve glee in watching the sniveling mayor become lunch. A prosthetics salesman would have made a fortune with all the people left legless by the time it’s all over.
So, yes: I liked the movie, and a lot of that is due to Forster. He really sells it here, playing it straight enough to relay the danger, sprinkling in just enough humor to remind us that these movies are supposed to be fun. This is the guy who anchored Jackie Brown and went toe-to-toe with Bryan Cranston in the final episodes of Breaking Bad. He knows his stuff and his performance is the glue that holds Alligator together. The rest of the cast is fine, but not spectacular. One stand out is Michael Gazzo, aka Frank Pentangali in The Godfather Part II, who plays the police chief, pitch perfect when barking out orders to Madison or bitching about the press. I couldn’t help expecting him to start complaining about the Rosato brothers, however.
So get on Amazon, shell out your hard-earned money for the DVD, and if you’re not satisfied…wait, I’m not guaranteeing anything. I don’t know you, you might be weird. But if you’re looking for a nice piece of pure 80’s horror schlock, check out Alligator. Just make sure to keep one eye on the sewers next time you’re out for a walk. You just never know what people flush down the toilet.
About the Author:
Joseph A. Polega lives in Michigan with his wife and kids. He is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and his work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies including Midnight Movie Creature Feature, Sowing the Seeds of Horror, Necrotic Tissue, and Splatter: An Anthology of Horror.