Lionsgate // 1980 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 19th, 2007
Beneath those manholes a man-eater is waiting.
What do you get when your cross a baby alligator with discarded growth hormone fluid? Heaven on Earth, friends. Heaven. On. Earth.
When a family returns to New York City from their Florida vacation with a pet alligator, they had no idea the chaos they would bring to the streets of the Big Apple. The father flushes the reptile down the toilet and sheer prehistoric terror with sharp teeth and a long snout is born.
Fast-forward a few years and mysterious killings are plaguing the city. Severed body parts have been found floating through the water-works and Detective David Madison (Robert Forster) has been assigned to investigate the malfeasance.
Alongside comely researcher Marisa Kendall (Robin Riker), Madison takes the fight to the alligator, even after the relentless carnivore breaks free from the sewer and goes on an all-you-can-eat buffet rampage.
Yep, Alligator is a shameless Jaws knock-off, but it's a fun knock-off with lots of fools getting their legs bitten off by a big-ass sack of scales and teeth.
Start with that plot, ripped straight from urban legend mythology. Flushing the baby alligator down the toilet -- filmed in all its brutal swirling detail! -- where it lands in the sewer and eventually grows to a megaton monster thanks to a steady diet of experimental growth hormone. That's prime B-movie grist and director Lewis Teague and writer John Sayles wring every bit of awesome camp out of it.
And screw character development when there are humans that need eating. Following a stretch of buildup and the briefest of introductions to our heroes, we're knee-deep in man-eating. Teague follows the creature feature playbook by doling out tiny glimpses of his monstrosity, but at about the halfway point, all bets are off and the alligator emerges and then it's a second half devoted solely to eating and chewing and bleeding and screaming. Forster is pretty cool though, clad in a jet-black Members Only jacket, rebuffing authority and talking trash about how he's going to kick the alligator's ass.
But the real star is the alligator and frankly I was surprised how well-executed the creature effects were. It's no Jurassic Park but it's also no Deep Blue Sea either. Through the combined use of a practical puppet housing a couple of sweaty guys pulling levers, a real alligator running around a miniature set and some clever camera work, Teague managed to create a believable creature. I love these kinds of old-school effects. No matter how primitive the technology may be, I'll take a creature with real, tactile presence in a film versus half-baked CGI work.
Teague doesn't shy away from throwing around the red stuff either. When victims get their chomp on, Karo syrup sprays liberally. The gore stops short of flesh being ripped apart, but more than a few folks emerge with missing limbs. The reptilian havoc crests with the film's action centerpiece, when the alligator tears through a wedding reception, smacking attendees with its giant tale and pummeling a limousine. Good stuff!
For a 27-year-old B-movie, Lions Gate has put together a nice little release. The video quality (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen) is good, and the remastered picture holds up well considering the film's age. It's a clean-looking transfer with decent color work from top to bottom. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is disappointing however, coming out entirely too front-loaded. Two extras here: a candid audio commentary with Teague and Forster and a 10-minute interview/retrospect with Sayles.
I whole-heartedly slap a recommendation on this killer croc saga. No shortage of toothy mayhem and a wacky plot make for a fun night.
Not guilty. Chow down!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (Spanish)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director and Actor Commentary
* John Sayles Interview