Guest Post by Dave Rokita (Malevolent Dave) from malevolentdark.com
Something about the 80s makes everything from that era feel nostalgic. During that time, cinema just learned the power of marketing to children. Star Wars (1977) had broken the seal on major motion picture licensing of toys. Alligator joined the ranks of Alien (1979) and Jaws when it saw the release of its very own table-top game. While the game itself presented a complete and total rip off of the Jaws (1975) table top game, the movie they based it off of actually turned out to be pretty darn good in its own right. Alligator was directed by Lewis Teague and released in 1980.
While is seems largely forgotten by today’s audiences, it knocked the socks off of 80s kids. Alligator recently received a 4K restoration from The Shout! Factory. Considering the relative high-quality of the special effects in this one, this release should lead to the discovery of this film by younger audiences.
Attack of the Mutant Animals
Back in the 80s, the exploitation of animals for cinematic profit was off the charts. A mutant bear terrorized scientist in The Prophecy (1979). A mother Killer Whale hell bent on revenge come looking for the killers of her baby in Orca (1977). Piranha, sharks and killer worms inundated American theaters. In this story, a family attends an Alligator wrestling show while on vacation. The little girls takes a baby alligator home with her and in a moment of sheer brilliance, names it Ramón. In a fit of rage, her father decides to rid himself of the animal by flushing down the toilet.
In the sewer, it finds the remains of animals being disposed of by a medical facility working with animal growth hormones. You’ll never guess what happens next!
Looking back at this craze, it perfectly summarized the American public’s state of mind at the time. People were finally becoming tuned in to the reality of environmental issues and the terrible biological consequences that it could have. Then of course, the crippling fear of nuclear radiation gripped everyone at the time. Furthermore, technology had just experienced a massive breakthrough as silicon transistors brought computing power normally reserved for governments to desktops in American homes. These films demonstrate both or embrace and revulsion to technological advance.
Not to be 80’s woke, but Alligator also touches on the topic of animal abuse, as the whole starts with the sale of a living being to a child as if it were a toy.
Classic Faces, Familiar Clichés
Alligator stars some familiar 80s character actors. Robert Forster play the role of Detective David Madison on the hunt for the giant gator. He also gets a familiar backdrop as an out-of-control cop that is a danger to himself and everyone else. Yeah, it’s pretty boilerplate, but for a movie about a giant Alligator, it’s admirable character development. Actor Henry Silva takes the helm of big-game hunter Colonel Brock. With nothing to lose, they bring Brock in to do what seemingly nobody else can do.
Robin Ryker takes the female lead of reptile expert, Marissa Kendall. This role eventually develops into David’s love interest. All together, they manage enough professional chemistry to make their burgeoning relationship a welcome addition to the story. Throughout they provide a splash of color through nuggets of black comedy and interpersonal sparks.
In a wicked twist of fate, Marissa Kendall is actually the young girl purchased Ramón all those years ago before her father disposed of him. It is the reptilian version of the story about a lost puppy adventuring across country to find its way home. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Making The Magic Happen
Malevolent Dark may be a bit biased in its opinion on 80s era mutant animal flicks. Despite the general feeling that Hollywood exploited this storyline one too many times, films like these defined an era of horror movie fiends. This one in particular hold a special place in my heart because the special effects in this film rank among the best. Arguably, the special effects rival a little movie about sharks directed by Steven Spielberg. Steven respected the film enough to have Gertie talk about “Alligators in the sewers” in his classic, E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial in 1982.
Proud of their work, the alligator spends a ton of time on screen in full view. Considering the state of practical effects at the time, it’s rather impressive to watch it demolish a wedding party while devouring the guests. Apparently Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” worked on the effects units responsible for laying out the gators innards when it finally meets its demise.
Apart from the dazzling effects, Lewis Teague and write John Sayles provide a literal gut punch by feeding a child to a hungry gator at the bottom of a swimming pool. Something about that scene makes everything feel more authentic when it happens. By combining a few bits of familiar schtick, fantastic special effects and an endearing cast of characters, Lewis Teague and his production team created a sleeper classic in the mutant animal sub-genre.
Shout Out to the Shout Factory
These guys are quickly ascending the ranks of Malevolent Dark’s favorite companies. They keep dusting off old classics and re-releasing them in stellar fashion on bleeding edge formats. The 4K release of Alligator is no exception. In fact, it looks better than any other transfer of the film that I have seen. However, it should be noted, the last time I saw this flick it was on a 32″ Zenith console T.V. Regardless, many wonderful nostalgic curios like Alligator continue to wither and die of neglect. The fact the Shout Factory sees the value in these gems is commendable. The new format is perfect for new viewers and the clarity and punch of the colors do not disappoint.
Emerging From The Depths of the City Sewers
Let’s be totally honest, the world needs a film about a giant alligators growing uncontrollably from consuming hormone fed dog carcasses. Do not miss your chance. The Shout Factory dug deep in the crates to bring this one back to the forefront, and you owe it to yourself to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s quirky, it’s fun, and it’s everything great about growing up in the 1980’s.