Today, my “Water Foul” series on the worst aquatic-themed horror movies continues with 1980’s Alligator.
Alligator was directed by Lewis Teague, who went on to direct the Stephen King film adaptations of Cujo and Cat’s Eye, as well as the Jay Leno and Pat Morita buddy cop comedy, Collision Course.
Alligator was written by John Sayles (Piranha, The Howling, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Brother From Another Planet) and Frank Ray Perilli (Laserblast), though the latter apparently only wrote the almost entirely scrapped first draft.
The cinematographer on Alligator was Joseph Mangine, who also shot Albert Pyun’s The Sword and The Sorcerer, Mother’s Day, and Alligator 2: The Mutation.
Alligator featured two primary editors: Larry Bock (Final Justice, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, The Mighty Ducks, Bring It On) and Ron Medico (Death Bed: The Bed That Eats).
The music for Alligator was composed by Craig Huxley, who also contributed scores to the television show Walker, Texas Ranger and the Meat Loaf musical movie, Roadie.
The producers for Alligator included Mark L. Rosen (Spice World, The Sword and The Sorcerer), Tom Jacobson (The Ladykillers, Flashdance), Brandon Chase (Alligator 2: The Mutation, UFO’s Are Real), and Robert Bremson (Over The Edge, Obsession).
The special effects team for Alligator included Robert Short (Chopping Mall, Piranha), Richard Helmer (Apocalypse Now, Airplane!, Child’s Play), William Shourt (Serenity, Minority Report), John Ramsey (U-571), Pete Gerard (Ghostbusters, Terminator 2, Batman & Robin), David Beasley (Inspector Gadget, Stargate, The Blob), and David Bartholomew (Ghost Dad, Never Say Never Again).
The cast of Alligator is composed of Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Vigilante), Robin Riker (The Bold and The Beautiful), Michael Gazzo (Last Action Hero, Cannonball Run II, The Godfather Part II), Dean Jagger (Game of Death, Elmer Gantry, King Creole), Sydney Lassick (Carrie, Cool as Ice), and an early, uncredited appearance by Kane Hodder (Jason X, Friday the 13th Part VIII).
The story of the film centers around a series of mysterious killings in the sewers of Chicago. The investigation ultimately reveals that an over-sized alligator, which had lived off of discarded animal corpses and experimental lab rats after being flushed as a baby, is hunting beneath the busy streets, and killing off countless unsuspecting locals. The police force then has to hunt down and destroy the beast, while the local government tries to cover up the sinister origins of the creature.
Apparently, the original script by Ray Perilli had the story taking place in Milwaukee, and outlandishly explained that the alligator grew massive in the sewers due to runoff from beer production. John Sayles reportedly scrapped the entire draft and started over from scratch, though Perilli was still ultimately given a writing credit on the movie.
According to IMDb, the buggy animatronic alligator used in the film was donated to the University of Florida to act as an unofficial mascot for the Florida Gators, though I wasn’t able to confirm its current location.
Alligator ultimately received a sequel in the form of Alligator II: The Mutation in 1991, a whole 11 years after the film’s initial release in 1980. Unfortunately, it was not received well, meaning I will likely give it a look here on the blog sooner or later.
Astoundingly, Alligator spawned a popular tie-in children’s board game made by the Ideal Toy Company. The commercial for it is up on YouTube, and provides one hell of a flashback to a time when children’s toys were made from R-rated movies.
The reception to Alligator was generally mixed: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 67% (critics) and 48% (audiences), with an IMDb rating of 5.9. However, the movie was ultimately quite profitable in its theatrical run, grossing $6.5 million on an estimated $1.75 million budget.
All in all, the alligator itself doesn’t look half bad in this movie. Apparently it didn’t work very well, much like Bruce (the shark from Jaws), so the crew had to be a little creative in how they shot it. I think it worked out pretty well considering, as the gator looks genuinely intimidating. They aren’t particularly hyperactive animals to start with, so it isn’t like they needed a whole lot of action shots of the creature doing gymnastics. In my opinion, the large, lumbering gait of the beast seemed to drive home how little fear it had for humans during its limited time on screen, which I think contrasts pretty greatly to the Lake Placid crocodiles, who always struck me as being a bit too nimble.
There is an odd comedic tone to Alligator that is laced into the characters and the dialogue in the film. It is clearly self aware about what it is, and mocks itself lightly while not ruining the genuine monster movie tone. It never drifts so far as to become outright parody, which is a good thing in my opinion. This is a movie that hits right on the nose of the tropes and characteristic of a Jaws-era monster thriller, and it plays with them well.
I, like most people of my generation, only know Robert Forster as a distinctive-looking older character actor. Apart from some clips from William Lustig’s Vigilante, I had never seen any films from the earlier part of his career before this one, and it is almost surreal to see him so young. It reminded me a little bit of Sam Elliott in Frogs, in that he is almost unrecognizable as a younger man.
Overall, this isn’t all that bad of a monster flick. It has unfortunately been mostly forgotten, as the legacy of Crocodilian horror seems to be dominated by Lake Placid. That said, this is a flick that is worth checking out just for the novelty of it. There are some cheap effects strewn throughout the movie, but the plot is just darkly humorous enough to keep most b-movie lovers invested in the story through to the end. If you are craving an off the wall monster movie with some 1980s grit, Alligator can certainly provide.