Sergio Martino, 1979
Starring: Barbara Bach, Mel Ferrer, Claudio Cassinelli
The first thing that has to be addressed with The Great Alligator aka The Big Alligator River aka Il fiume del grande caimano is that there is no alligator in the movie. It’s a damn crocodile. I don’t know what idiot American decided to put “alligator” in the English title, but it’s not an alligator. The film was shot in Asia and Sri Lanka. There are no alligators there, only CROCODILES. (Ok, there are some alligators in China, but we are clearly not in the jungles of China.)
Anyway, The Great Alligator is very similar to Jaws. Daniel, a photographer travels to an isolated resort in the jungle to take promotional pictures for the owner, Joshua. Soon his model disappears after a nighttime tryst with one of the local tribesman and he and Ali, an anthropologist working at the hotel, go in search of her. They learn that Kruna, a crocodile god worshipped by the local Kuma tribe, is getting revenge on the tourists and eating his way through a smorgasbord of guests and natives alike. Joshua doesn’t believe them and refuses to shut down; he goes a step further and tries to have Daniel and Ali “removed.” Kruna makes a grand appearance and Daniel, Ali and the hotel guests have to run for their lives from his giant, gnashing jaws.
This action-adventure-animals attack film is director Sergio Martino’s attempt to cash in on the Jaws phenomenon. Martino is one of my favorite Italian directors. I recently finished a zine dedicated to his career. Early on, Martino made some great giallo films: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, All the Colors of the Dark, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, and so on. Soon after he switched to exploitation with films like The Great Alligator, 2019: After the Fall of New York, Island of the Fishmen, Mountain of the Cannibal God, etc. And make no mistake, The Great Alligator is more of an action/exploitation film than it is a horror movie. For starters, it is incredibly racist. The jungle natives are portrayed in a manner pretty typical of Italian exploitation. To Martino’s credit, most of the characters are unlikable savages, whether they are greedy white tourists or loin cloth-clad natives. This, of course, makes the Kruna, the giant crocodile god that begins to massacre everyone in sight, the most likable character.
The acting is decent and everyone tries to be as serious as possible, despite their often ridiculous dialogue. Martino-regular Claudio Cassinelli is great as the photographer and is a capable leading man, even though the crocodile upstages him for the second half of the film. Bond girl Barbara Bach is lovely as always. Mel Ferrer provides some credibility, though it’s hard to believe he has fallen this low. He and Bach also appeared in Martino’s more ridiculous Island of the Fishmen, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Horror fans take note: Bobby Rhodes of Demons and Demons 2 also appears in a small role, though lacking the stellar dialogue from Demons. “Holy shit, she’s a friend of mine!”
The simple, direct script for The Great Alligator had a lot of contributors. In addition to Sergio Martino and the wonderful Ernesto Gastaldi, Martino’s long time collaborator, credit also go to one of my favorite actors and exploitation writers, George Eastman (also responsible for Porno Holocaust), as well as Cesare Frugoni (Rabid Dogs). There are some unnecessary side plots and extraneous characters, which only makes it more satisfying when they wind up as fodder for Kruna.
The effects are appalling, but Martino makes the most of the limited budget and beautiful surroundings. The cinematography from Giancarlo Ferrando, another Martino collaborator is lovely. The alligator/crocodile looks like a plastic log most of the time, though he is fortunately not shown very often. In addition to the crocodile’s gleeful scenes of destruction, there is some resort-related humor, namely a disco dancing party and a little girl (Sylvia Collatina from House by the Cemetery) who calls her mother out on having an affair with one of the other guests.
The Great Alligator comes recommended, simply for being so much fun despite itself. The only thing I genuinely dislike about this film is the insanely repetitive score from Stelvio Cipriani. The first ten minutes, it’s outrageous and kind of likable. The second ten minutes, it’s hilarious. By 30 minutes into the film I wanted to burst into flame. The Great Alligator is not one of Martino’s most accessible films (I mean in terms of availability, not content), but it is out on DVD. I wish someone would release a box set of his giallo films and a second set with his best exploitation efforts, this included. For Martino fans who can get to Ohio in April, he is going to make an appearance at Cinema Wasteland this year!!!