Iíve always liked this witty
and intense monster movie from 1980, surely the finest killer gator flick ever,
and a clear triumph of inspiration and enthusiasm over a low budget.
ALLIGATOR appears to have been conceived as one of the innumerable JAWS
wannabes that appeared in the wake of that Steven Spielberg blockbuster, but it
was created by two extremely skilled moviemakers: writer John Sayles and
director Lewis Teague.
John Sayles is one of Americaís most respected independent filmmakers (with
acclaimed films like MATEWAN, LONE STAR and PASSION FISH to his credit), but
back in 1980 he was a prolific genre screenwriter. His writing credits included
PIRAHNA (another above-average JAWS knock-off), THE HOWLING, BATTLE BEYOND THE
STARS and THE LADY IN RED for ALLIGATORíS director Lewis Teague.
THE LADY IN RED, executive produced by
Roger Corman, was Teagueís
directorial debut, and ALLIGATOR his extremely accomplished sophomore effort.
For it he reportedly solicited advice from JAWS editor Verna Fields, and used it
well. Subsequent Teague projects include the Stephen King adapted CUJO and
CATíS EYE, along with THE JEWEL OF THE NILE and NAVY SEALS.
ALLIGATOR was incidentally based on an urban legend popular in the
seventies positing that alligators sold as kidsí pets during the previous decade
were flushed down toilets by outraged parents, consigning the critters to city
sewers--where they allegedly remain!
Back in the
sixties young Marisa is given a baby alligator as a pet. Her a-hole father,
however, doesnít want the thing in the house and flushes it down the toilet.
The gator ends up in the city sewers, where it ingests mounds of experimental
hormones secreted by a local animal experimentation clinic--which cause it to
grow into a forty foot monstrosity!
David is a distraught police inspector investigating a rash of sewer
killings. He gets far more than he bargained for upon spotting the giant
alligator, which promptly chomps Davidís rookie partner.
The police set up a vast search party to comb the sewers. This inspires
the gator to burst up through a city sidewalk and rampage through the city,
devouring a cop, a young boy and a fisherman before making its way to a posh
wedding party held by the corrupt head of the research clinic responsible for
the gatorís condition--and whoís dispatched in the nastiest and most memorable
of all the filmís killings.
David in the meantime starts up a relationship with the now grown-up Marisa
(completely unaware that itís her pet alligator causing all the strife). The
two concoct a plan to put an end to the gatorís deadly doings--but is it too
In a film like this one tone is all-important. Any movie about a killer
alligator is likely to be goofy from the get-go, yet it doesnít pay to be too
silly (as proven by the more recent LAKE PLACID). Lewis Teague keeps the
proceedings reasonably light, but with moments of seriousness and some
delightfully over-the-top gator carnage.
John Saylesí script contains all the elements that made him one of the top
names in the business, including solid characterizations, a well-rounded
narrative and quite a few imaginative touches (such as making the female lead
the unwitting instigator of the madness--it might have been interesting, come to
think of it, to somehow make the character aware of that fact, but oh well...).
Credit must also go to the excellent cast, rounded out with sharp
supporting players like Henry Silva, playwright/actor Michael Gazzo, LOLITAís
Sue Lyon and the underrated Robin Riker. And then thereís the great Robert
Forster in the lead, whose gruff, world-weary presence--on display in films like
MEDIUM COOL, JACKIE BROWN and many others--has never been better utilized.
Director: Lewis Teague
Producer: Brandon Chase
Screenplay: John Sayles
Cinematography: Joseph Mangine
Editing: Larry Bock, Ronald Medico
Cast: Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael Gazzo, Jack Carter, Dean Jagger,
Henry Silva, Sidney Lassick, Perry Lang, Sue Lyon, Bart Braverman, John Lisbon
Wood, James Ingersoll, Robert Doyle, Patti Jerome, Angel Tompkins