Tuesday, April 26, 2011

E-reptile dysfunction: Alligator(1980)

Seems like there are so many horror movies on the market featuring menacing, and often over-sized reptiles, that even a dedicated horror movie fan like myself can lose track of them. Just about every decade starting with the 1960's has seen movies produced to capitalize on rampaging lizards, snakes and other reptilian mutations. Films that come to mind include The Alligator people(1959), Hammer Film's The Reptile, The Giant Gila Monster(1959), Anaconda(1997) and Crocodile(2000).

Two of my personal favorite horror films featuring ravenous reptiles are the 1976, Tobe Hooper directed Eaten Alive, which features a grubby bayou motel owner who has this nasty habit of feeding his guests to his pet alligator...and Alligator, directed by Lewis Teague and originally released in theaters back in 1980.

The film's story:  a small, pet alligator named "Ramon" is unceremoniously flushed down the toilet by the Kendall family after being deemed a nuisance, the unwanted reptile ending up in a Chicago, Illinois sewer where the small creature, feeding on discarded and experimental laboratory dog carcasses(part of some experiments with hormones), not only survives but grows to a colossal length of thirty six(36) feet and two thousand pounds. The hungry, monster sized gator, to satisfy its hunger dines on homeless people and other vagrants. When body parts begin turning up in a public, man made city lake, a local cop named "David Madison"(played by Robert Forster) and a reptile expert named "Marisa Kendall"(played by Robin Riker) team up to investigate who, or what is doing the killing. Madison, a good guy and veteran cop with a tragic past, is predictably under the gun to find the killer by his caustic boss, Chief Clark...who also rejects the cop's claim the killer may be an animal of some kind.

The alligator eventually decides to tour the city and blasts through the street, literally, beginning a murderous, bloody rampage as it devours numerous locals who happen to get too close to its enormous and powerful jaws. The police try to kill the huge animal and fail. To that end  a renowned and equally arrogant, surly big game hunter, "Colonel Brock"(played by Henry Silva) has arrived in town to kill the giant alligator. The climax of the movie features the cop and his lady scientist pal taking on the huge gator in one last ditch effort to stop the creature. (no other spoilers)

Observations: this film's effects are obviously dated by today's standards but the effects used to render the giant gator, including close up shots, are quite decent. Director Lewis Teague allows for some suspense before revealing the enormous creature from head to tail. Robert Forster is effective as a cop who, when not fretting about his receding hairline, displays real guts and determination in stopping the giant gator. Henry Silva's character, the big game hunter, is easy to despise: smug, conceited and brusque, he arrogantly presumes he will easily kill the huge alligator(which he doesn't by the way). The film obviously includes violence and some gore but not what I would call an excessive amount of gore. More attention seems to be focused by the director on the victims' sheer terror in the moments leading up to their being consumed by the giant gator as opposed to simply showcasing the blood, body parts and carnage. That doesn't mean there aren't numerous scenes of what I refer to as "meatball effects" because there are, you can be certain of that. The climax of the film, while not spectacular, is a satisfying conclusion to the movie, for me anyway. The highlight of this movie, from an effects perspective, might be the sequence where the monster sized alligator literally crashes an outdoor party attended by many local VIPs, the garden party quickly becoming a human stock yard of blood and flying bodies and body parts. The ensuing chaos and carnage caused by the arrival of the enormous alligator is well rendered as people scatter in terror, tables are upended, some of the party's attendees are trampled and of course there are those who become victims of the giant reptile.

The film's trailer:

Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released Alligator to quality R1 DVD(remastered picture and audio), the film presented in its original 1:78.1 widescreen aspect ratio and 5.1 digital audio. DVD extras include an audio commentary with director Lewis Teague and actor Robert Forster, an interview with writer John Sayles, English closed caption option and English/Spanish subtitles option.

The movie for sale on R1 DVD(Lionsgate) at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Alligator-Robert-Forster/dp/B000SQFBZA/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1303852893&sr=1-1
(or click the title of this blog entry to see the DVD for sale at Amazon)