Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Always feeling nostalgic, the other day I decided to go through Netflix to see if I could find some horror gems from the 1980s. Sometimes I get lucky and find something worth watching that contains some good acting with a nice evocative look of the decade in question. Like a few years back, when I decided to check out Chopping Mall for the first time, noticing a few familiar faces as well as seeing the famous Galleria Mall featured in famous movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Terminator 2. It was a campy and cheesy film, but it was fun to watch. If you decide to watch this treasure, a little warning…even though the title contains the word, “chopping,” it has no serial killer slicing or dicing the victims in this one.
Other times, I find a bomb that’s not even worth going 20 minutes into; I won’t even bother listing off the titles of those flicks.
With Alligator, however, I found quite an entertaining movie that never bored me throughout.

The story is simple enough, opening with a little girl watching a local stunt show, featuring some redneck messing with an alligator, never really doing anything but circling the critter. But as he circles one last time, he gets his foot stuck between a small log and some rock and falls in the water, having the alligator pounce on him. The gator bites him pretty good on the leg, but some fellow rednecks save him and pull him out of warm’s way. After the show, the little girl’s mom allows her to buy a baby alligator to take home and care for in a dry aquarium. The father gets angry when he finds out and flushes it down the toilet.

Years later, a shady pet store owner (played by the creepy Sydney Lassick) is selling dogs, including strays that he finds, to some genetic lab which is doing research on making cattle, and other types of animals used for food consumption, grow bigger. The “used” and deceased dogs are then disposed of, by the same shady pet store owner, in the city’s sewer system. After his latest disposal of some dogs, he becomes the victim of the alligator that was flushed years ago—now as big as a car.

Local police detective, David (played by Robert Forster), has been in charge of the latest discoveries of body parts found in the sewer system, thinking it’s the work of some serial killer. Later on, he takes a rookie cop to search around the sewers for any other evidence related to the body parts. The men see the gator emerge from the darkness and come after them, making them run for their lives. They find a passage way up to a manhole, but Detective David has trouble opening it, leaving the rookie’s legs exposed in the sewer tunnel, subsequently being attacked and torn apart by the giant alligator. Chief Clark (played by the great Michael V. Gazzo from The Godfather Part II), doesn’t believe him, thinking he must’ve been seeing things and advises him to take some time off. In fact, the whole department talks about him and makes light about it (leaving rubber alligators in his locker). He meets a reptile expert (Robin Riker), who happens to be the same girl that had the gator as a pet, ad they end up working together (with a romantic involvement—go figure), to find the creature and try to destroy it.

I had my reservations about seeing this flick, especially after seeing movies these days like Lake Placid, where CGI is used heavily yet accordingly, but I decided to give it a try after seeing a shot of the film in Terror in the Aisles (which was an extra on the recent Halloween II Blu-Ray release).

Being that Alligator was made in 1980, I knew we’d be seeing a lot of fake looking gator shots, moving mechanically and not realistically—either that or we wouldn’t see much of it at all. But although you do see some fake mechanical shots, it’s easily forgiven as a few scenes are shown of an alligator roaming through a miniature set looking very practical.

The whole story was taken seriously enough, with no campiness to it or anything that would make the whole premise seem ridiculous. It’s a straight forward tale of an alligator that was flushed down the toilet and lived in a sewer for years, living on the tested dogs that were full of genetic treatment, making it grow to the size of an automobile.

It’s implied, early on, that Detective David has a past that he relives day after day after losing a partner to which he feels responsible. Losing the rookie cop to the gator makes those feelings of guilt even stronger and he feels he needs to redeem himself by taking on the gator on his own.

The film is very entertaining and you’ll have a good time watching this and feeling some longing for the 1980s…I know I did.

My final “bit” on Alligator? The movie seemed like it was riding on the coattails of Jaws, but Jaws came out in 1975, so I thought they were a little late on that. But then I realized that Jaws 2 was released in 1979, so the filmmakers of this flick probably saw the potential with another “creature in the water” type of horror film and thought about another eating machine that lives in the water. The music composer of the film even went as far as to make a close copy of the impending doom music cue when the gator attacks its victims. Yes, this is a good film that’ll take you back to pre-CGI movies of yore, which used practical effects to scare you…and it still works.