Alligator 1 & 2 (1980/1991)
By: Mr Intolerance on August 12, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Anchor Bay (UK). Region 2, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0, English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1. 179 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Lewis Teague; Jon Hess
Starring: Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael Gazzo, Jack Carter, Dean Jagger, Sidney Lassick, Perry Lang, Sue Lyon, Angel Tompkins, Henry Silva/Joseph Bologna, Dee Wallace-Stone, Richard Lynch, Woody Brown, Holly Gagnier, Bill Dailey, Steve Railsback, Brock Peters
Screenplay: John Sayles; Curt Allen
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB YouTube
Alligator - Y'know, Ramon isn't having such a good day. Life for a ten inch long baby alligator probably isn't all sweetness and light at the best of times, but it's really gotta suck when you get flushed down the john just for exercising your God-given right to act like an animal – it's what alligators do, you fuckin' Nimrods! And so poor old Ramon goes swirling round the S-bend, disposed of by the Kendall family, who probably just weren't thinking what they were doing when they bought the cute little tyke on a family vacation to Florida. And so what's a poor gator to do, except hang out in the sewers, probably none too pleased at this turn of events. God knows I'd be pissed off…

So then, Ramon gets a royal flush, and then we head 12 years down the line to 1980 (i.e. the present). That's a long time for an annoyed alligator to grow, and grow he does.

Dogs are going missing in the neighbourhood – lots of dogs. It's not what you're thinking, not immediately, although the presence of a human arm in a tank at the sewage treatment plant might make you think otherwise! Detective David Madison (Robert Forster) is a dog-lover, having had one of his own stolen recently, and is not going to be best pleased when he finds out that all these cute little pooches are being used for. That's right – our old 80s boogey-man, genetic experimentation! That's right, some real arse-holes are experimenting with puppies, doing things to their hormones that are making them grow to an extraordinary size, and then when they are no longer of use, the poor mutts get vivisected and thrown into the sewers to dispose of the evidence.

Wait…the sewers? But isn't that where…oh dear… Now if Ramon has been scarfing down the hormonally altered Lassies and Fidos (and you'd better believe he has), what's that going to do to his own system? As the tagline gleefully roars at you from the front cover: "It lives 30 feet beneath the city, it's 36 feet long, weighs 2000 pounds… and it's about to break out!" Yikes! That's a big motherfuckin' reptile right there. To put that into perspective that's more than 6 times the length of an average human male, and over ten times as heavy. Ramon weighs twice as much as your average Buick. Eeek!

Madison goes calling on the scientists looking for clues, on the red herring trail that maybe the grisly murders are the work of the overgrown dogs, and the chief scientist couldn't act more suspiciously if he tried. We also find out that Madison, like all good cops in these kind of films, is a guy with a past, and the press (always depicted in cop-centric movies as sleazy parasites, as they are here), personified here by slimy opportunistic journalist Kemp, won't let him forget it, Madison having lost a partner in the line of duty – an event he still has nightmares about. Could we be any more sympathetic to this guy? A nice fella who loves small animals, is dedicated to his job and is actually a sensitive bloke with a brain and a conscience, Madison is definitely our hero.

And so Madison decides to venture into the sewers. Now, we've already seen some of Ramon's…ummm…"handiwork" (mouthy-work" just didn't sound right), so the tension starts to mount right about now, as Madison and objectionable rookie cop Kelly start poking their noses into where they might just get them bitten off. Needless to say, things don't go as planned, but at least Madison knows what's doing the murders, but in classic horror movie style, do you think anyone will believe him? After all the whole premise of this film does tend to be based on an urban legend I'm sure we're all familiar with – god, it was even referenced in E.T, for crissakes!

Kemp goes down into the sewers on a hunch, and, well, let's just say he finds what he was looking for. And he gets some pictures which irrefutably back up Madison's story. Quick – it's time to send in the SWAT team and the National Guard! If only they'd had Peter and Roger from Dawn of the Dead with them… Well, they do have a lot of high-powered weaponry regardless. Just who is issuing regular coppers with bazookas, is my question? Anyway, the boys try pushing the big fella out of the sewers and into the open, which is not the greatest plan they could ever have had, in retrospect (for some reason, I keep thinking of the old 50s giant ant story Them! at this point – I guess it was the sewers. I'm surprised I didn't start channelling C.H.U.D., given that logic).

Madison at this point is aided and abetted by Dr Marisa Kendall, the little girl who bought Ramon all those years ago, and who now has grown up to be an expert herpetologist (there's that 50s sci-fi horror logic again – this is becoming more and more like a creature feature of old – it's a good thing) – what a coincidence.

And that's where the synopsis ends. Otherwise there'd be no point to your watching this eminently enjoyable 80 odd minutes of fun. The final reel ups the entertainment factor significantly. Cheesy? Sure it is, but so what? Cheese is good, and this is a tasty bastard right here. There's a lot more about to happen than you might think…including the entrance of arch-sleazoid Henry Silva! So much poetic justice gets handed out during this film…you'll love it!

Alligator is one of the many real-life monster films that followed hot on the heels of Spielberg's still scary-as-fuck Jaws. In some ways you could almost think of it as Jaws-with-legs. It has a lighter tone than that film (mainly due to a slyly funny script), but boasts some admirable carnage (which starts right from the outset – oh, those wacky gator wrestlers…) and an excellent performance by the always dependable Robert Forster. Highly entertaining, and never taking itself too seriously, Alligator is a great popcorn muncher. You never have to exert yourself too much mentally, just sit back and enjoy the ride, eco-horror "look what we're doing to nature, isn't-science-evil" message and all (the final scene should get a few eyeballs rolling). Sure, the special effects are a little hokey (nice use of miniatures with a real gator, though), and there's a decided lack of seriousness, but this is a hell of a lot of fun. I was worried that writing this, I'd just descend into nostalgia, but I think this is a pretty good flick which has dated a little, but still has a lot to recommend it. Have a look and find out for yourself.

Alligator 2: The Mutation - And say hello to our old friend toxic waste as the catalyst for our gator to start doing some especially unnatural things. Vincent Brown (the always dependable Steve Railsback in unlikeable bastard-mode, giving a bit of much-needed gravitas to this obviously much lower-budget sequel – it has the look of straight-to-video, if not made-for-TV about it) is a right bastard, a property developer (they're never nice people – remember James Karen in a similar role in Poltergeist?) pumping toxic waste and experimental chemicals into the sewers near the lakeside properties he's trying to sell to the local yokels. You can already see where this is heading, and that's our opening scene!

Again, it doesn't take too long for the red, red krovvy to start to flow (about 3 minutes, by my reckoning) and it's pretty darned obvious what's responsible – mind you, the clue was in the title. Some local fishermen get chomped, just so as we know that there's danger about. Also, I guess to let us know that this sequel has teeth (sorry, sorry, couldn't resist).

Good guy detective David Hodges is busy working nights and on his birthday, after playing a video where his wife Christine (horror veteran Dee Wallace-Stone; The Howling, The Hills Have Eyes) and his kid JJ bemoan the fact that he's never around, we get to see a severed leg float gently into shore. Guess who's going to have to solve that one? Yes, it's that kind of film – similar tactics to the first, but oddly devoid of the same charm. I'm putting that down to the film stock used and the lack of Robert Forster in the lead role. This new fella just doesn't have the charisma that powered the original flick.

Similarly, the idea of corrupt authority figures is spelt out for the dummies right from the get-go. Come on, sing along, it's got a good beat and you can dance to it – and you all know the words: the fat cats are raking in the clams at the expense of the little people and those too gullible to know better in the property market. Nope, never heard that one before… And when folks start dying? Well, you know how the big boys will react. Can you spell 'cover-up'?

The whole "no-one wants to pal-up with the hero" thing is also re-established from the first movie, although apart from the reference to the infinitely superior parent film, I fail to see why. I mean, it's not like it's adding anything special to the mix, just re-hashing a rather trite piece of plotting, without adding anything new, and mainly, it would appear, solely being for comic effect that never really pays off.

Dee Wallace-Stone adds a bit of class to this film that the male lead can never hope to equal, relying on mugging and trying to imitate Forster's original role, and of course, looking like Harvey Keitel's younger brother… This is a perfect example of casting gone awry. It jars you out of the picture.

We manage to work out pretty quickly that something like an alligator is responsible for the rather gruesome deaths of a bunch of derelicts and the two fellas we saw night-fishing (like we hadn't worked that out already…), but like with the first film, do you think anyone will believe our hero? No, nope and njet. Still, off goes Hodges to investigate – first stop, Vincent Brown's country club.

So anyway, Hodges walks in to the spectacle of a wrestling match between Tokyo George and The Mad Russian. What?! Is this how the rich and shameless spend their time? I thought it was all cognac and croquet – sophistication and all. I've obviously been labouring under some serious misapprehensions. An example of the corruption of the rich a la Roman decadence, maybe? Who knows. It was just another part of this flick that just didn't seem to sit right – too over the top. And the wrestling just kept on going. I have no problem with that, but everything in its place, for gawd's sake – this isn't an El Santo movie. Plus, I'm here for the alligator, not the wrestling (one of the wrestlers is named Ramon, after the alligator from the first film – how original and so oh-so-delightfully postmodern…yawn). There's nowhere near enough monster action here for me.

This film recycles far too many ideas from the original, and doesn't really add anything to it. Storylines repeating to little effect – in some regards this appears to be more (and oh god I feel dirty saying this) a re-envisioning of the original rather than a sequel. When the head-honcho bad-guy from Ruggero Deodato's truly execrable and plotlessly nonsensical Cut and Run turned up, I knew I was in for badness – and yes, he was reprising Henry Silva's role from the first film as a rogue big-game hunter, this time called Hawkins rather than Brock (Richard Lynch). Oh, another repeated idea, how interesting.

And so, the inevitable hunt for the big lizard goes on with interference from the big nobs, despite the warnings of our perennially un-listened to good guys. And due to the awful, awful direction, we never really give a shit. These are characters we couldn't give a rat's arse as whether they lived or died. Yawn.

And so, as we move into the final act of the film, we find ourselves looking at a carnival waterside which may well turn into a slaughterhouse (shades of Humanoids From The Deep, anyone?). Hodges has joined forces with Hawkins the big-game hunter to eradicate the monster, but we all know what's going to happen before the whole enchilada winds to a close…

Well, the acting is generally-speaking appalling (Wallace-Stone and Railsback aside), the special effects laughable (honestly, the head of the monster is a sad mock-up on a trolley with someone working a pump to keep the jaws going up and down to a regular beat; the tail is obviously operated independently by a bunch of teamsters, waving a tail-on-a-stick; I kept thinking of the monster octopus from Bride of the Monster – Ed Wood get jealous!) and the whole thing appears to have had a budget of about 10 bucks – the monster is kept off-screen for a stupid amount of time (you see bits and pieces of it, but never the whole thing until near the end). This lacks any kind of tension or interest. I've had more fascinating times picking lint out of my navel, to put it mildly.
Video
Alligator is looking good. The transfer is sharp and clear, and presents the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. A bright, colourful picture, it all adds to the EC comic book meets Universal/AIP creature-feature feel of the film.

Alligator 2
, also presneted in a 16:9 enhanced 1.85: aspect ratio, is not looking so good. It looks low budget and it detracts from the viewing pleasure, making it look more amateur than it should, given it's a sequel to a respectable film. Low budget and independent don't necessarily always mean bad, but they do here.
Audio
A good score complements the creepy nature of the tension-raising moments of Alligator, not to mention the boo-scares. The sewer-moments are especially eerie, and the soundtrack makes it work, admirably. Your choice of 5.1, DTS, or stero options.

Alligator 2 has the same audio options, which is something I guess, given the complete absence of extras on the second disc. Or interest. Oooh, did I say that, or just think it?
Extra Features
For Alligator, we get the a commentary Track with Director Lewis Teague and star Robert Forster, trailers for Alligator and Alligator 2 (complete yes, but hardly essential, as you have both of the films…), Film Notes (interesting, if rather brief, reading), and biographies of Robert Forster, John Sayle and Lewis Teague (text, of course, and oddly sans filmographies). This is not a bad package, as extras go, and the two-fer nature of the disc makes it a tempting buy , especially for those like me who remember seeing the original film back in the 80s as a kid.

Alligator 2
has no extras. This gets a resounding raspberry from me. Surely there must have been something they could have added? Something to explain the awfulness…
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Alligator is a great fun flick, with its 50s sensibilities and 80s social commentary (you just watch who gets chomped…). No, it's not Citizen Kane, but would you watch it if it was? And besides, given the name, what were you expecting? Alligator 2 you can live without – too heavy-handed, too unsubtle, too poorly directed, too amateur – in terms of quality, this barely scrapes past Children of the Living Dead. Still, this pack is worth it for the first film – you won't regret it.

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