Lewis Teague, 1980
Starring: Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael Gazzo
"Beneath Those Manholes, A Man-Eater Is Waiting..."
After Grizzly and Piranha, Alligator stands as one of the absolute best animals attack films and Jaws rip offs of all time. Like Piranha, this is clearly a labor of love from cast and crew alike and it is impossible to watch this movie and not have a good time. A girl’s father flushes her pet alligator, Ramón, down the toilet at their home in Chicago. Fortunately little Ramón doesn’t die, he winds up in the sewer system. Years later, after accidentally ingesting pets drugged with an experimental growth hormone, Ramón expands to an enormous size and develops a taste for man flesh. He soon frees himself from the sewer and goes on a rampage through the city. A disgruntled, down on his luck cop, David, is partnered with a reptile expert, Marisa, to stop the gargantuan crocodilian before he eats the entire city.
Let this be a lesson to you: don’t flush pets down the toilet. In a delightful yet ridiculous twist, the girl whose beloved Ramón got flushed down the toilet winds up being the herpetologist Marisa, all grown up and ready to be the main love interest. What are the odds? There is an understandable stereotype about how sexy leading ladies playing scientists is ridiculous, but I think I saw Alligator at a young enough age to believe it. Plus I really, really wanted to be a herpetologist from ages 10 to 13, right after my paleontologist phase. Robin Riker is a rare example of an un-obnoxious female lead in a '70s horror film. I don’t think she’s a true equal for Robert Forster’s character, but she carries her role believably.
There are two stars in this film. The first is the wonderful Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), who brings seriousness, humor and emotion to his role as the unfortunate, balding cop. Supposedly the hair loss jokes were going to be taken out, but they’re a perfect example of why this film works when so many other similar horror films fail. Forster is absolutely the reason to see this film and I don't understand why he isn't more well known.
Ramón, the titular alligator, is the other star. He lurks about for the beginning of the film, but when he makes an entrance by busting out of the sewer system, the action becomes incredible and non-stop. His path of destruction is relatively gory and there’s a high body count. He rips off limbs, chews people up, swallows a few whole, and creates all around devastation. Ramón even gleefully feasts on a child, a few cops, businessmen, a wedding party, etc. He also coincidentally makes his way across the city for the sole purpose of destroying the lab responsible for the growth hormone. The effects used to create Ramón are a combination of a real alligator on a miniaturized set, a mechanical alligator, and some clever camera work. I particularly love the alligator P.O.V. shots and the numerous scenes of him blinking.
Director Lewis Teague (Cujo, The Jewel of the Nile) really gives it his all and does an excellent job with Alligator. The script by John Sayles (who worked with Joe Dante and wrote Piranha and The Howling) comes close to spoofing the animals attack genre, but in the most loving way possible. The characters are likable and even the alligator is endearing. There is also a nice mixture of suspense and violence, despite the light-hearted tone of the film.
This beloved movie comes highly recommended and is the perfect thing to watch when you want an ‘80s horror film that doesn't take itself very seriously, but manages to be charming and charismatic. There’s a basic DVD from Lion’s Gate. I would have to say that this is a purchase, not a rental, but for the love of all that is holy, do not watch the direct-to-video sequel, Alligator II: The Mutation. It has nothing to do with the first film other than completely ripping off the plot. But in a bad, non-entertaining sort of way. Just don't watch it.