Just when you thought it was safe to
go back into the sewers...
Back in the late seventies and early eighties it seemed like every animal on God's green Earth had it in for humanity. The trend was popularized by Jaws, but most of the films that followed in Jaws' wake insisted on having the rampaging monster be a product of man monkeying with nature. Oh, the irony.
Alligator certainly never pretends to be much more than an Jaws rip-off, with just a dash of an environmental message. Luckily, the filmmakers, and writer John Sayles in particular, didn't lay on the message too heavily. Instead, Alligator is an amusing and occasionally scary entry into the "killer beasts" genre.
The film opens in 1968 as the Kendall family from Chicago, on vacation in Florida, take in a gator wrestling show. The show ends abruptly when a gator gores one of the handlers. Impressed by this, the parents buy a baby gator for their young daughter Marisa. But once they get back to Chicago, the alligator, named Ramon by the little girl, gets flushed down the toilet.
In a typically bourgeois turn of events,
the hired help gets eaten first.
The movie then skips forward to 1980, as dismembered body parts begin showing up in the output from the Chicago sewer system. At first the body parts are considered evidence of murder, and that brings in homicide detective David Madison (Robert Forster, who can milk a line of dialogue like no one else). Madison is a Cop With A History, in particular the fact that he lost a partner during a raid on a hotel. Is it any wonder none of the other policemen want to buddy up to him?
Soon Madison is tromping around the sewers with a rookie cop named Officer Worm Meat. No, that's not really the rookie's name, but it may as well be. Officer Worm Meat volunteers to go with Madison and he is rewarded for his kindness with death by alligator, and Madison is powerless to do anything but watch as he loses another partner.
The alligator is presumably Ramon, grown to monstrous proportions by feeding on the experimental cast-offs from a local lab which is trying to perfect growth hormones. See, we told you there was a message. Once Madison knows that he is up against an alligator, he seeks out an alligator expert. The biggest expert in the area is Marisa Kendall, all growed up and still playing with reptiles. Kendall and Madison end up in love and on the run as they try to kill her hormone-enhanced pet.
Robert Forster: not the next James Bond.
Luckily, this movie, unlike nearly every movie of its type, doesn't waste any time with scenes in which our hero has to convince skeptical authorities that there really is an alligator. No, Madison has the good fortune to run into a Nosy Reporter, who quickly gets himself killed by the gator in the sewers, but not before he takes the essential pictures of himself being eaten by what is clearly a giant alligator.
The authorities instantly go into reptile killing mode. They try various methods. First they give him his own show on CBS, Everybody Loves Ramon. That doesn't work. Then they try to drive Ramon out of the sewers by banging on the sewer walls with pots and pans, and yelling "Here comes Adam Sandler!" Sadly, this only drives Ramon into the suburbs. Of course, in the end, Kendall and Madison are the only people smart enough to kill him.
Sayles, a talented and eccentric writer/director, penned the screenplay for this and a couple of other pseudo-horror films, including Piranha and The Howling. But the story credit for Alligator goes to Frank Ray Perilli, the man who brought us the script for Zoltan, Hound of Dracula. At the helm is director Lewis Teague, the man responsible for utter crap like Navy Seals and the reprehensible Rutger Hauer vehicle, Deadlock. Quite a pedigree for a movie, don't you think? Somehow, however, all of the elements come together pretty well. Given that the expectations for beast movies are pretty low to begin with, even films with the modest merits of Alligator are a pleasant surprise. There are only a few minutes in which the film drags, mostly during the thrown-together romance plot, which frankly could have been jettisoned to tighten things up.
If only the alligator had gotten to
Lewis Teague before he could make The Dukes of Hazzard Reunion.
Unfortunately, what got jettisoned in our copy of the film was the profanity, and if we're not mistaken, some of the violence. Did we somehow rent the network television version? In the copy we rented, the invectives were replaced by tamer words with some obvious dubs*, and some hurried scenes of alligator attacks made us suspect that we weren't getting the whole picture when it came to the gator carnage. Why haven't the guys at Anchor Bay gotten their hands on this one? And where's our DVD with commentary by Sayles?
All griping about our print aside, Alligator is a pretty neat flick, miles ahead of its contemporaries like Tentacles. If only the endless supply of similar films (recent examples include Anaconda and Relic) had as much going for them as this film, we would all be up to our ears in rampaging animal heaven. Killer beast devotees should definitely pick this up, if only to prepare for the on-again/off-again sequel that Sayles is writing, Alligatropolis.
* The most obvious ones involve people saying the "eye" when you clearly see them mouthing "ass." There's also a substitution of the words "eyes" when Madison is complimenting a certain feature of Kendall's anatomy. The writers of Heavy Metal would be proud.Go back!