Alligator (1980)

Director: Lewis Teague

Starring: Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael Gazzo

“I’m gonna go out there, I’m gonna find that alligator, and I’m gonna kick its ass.” (David, Alligator)

Here’s a top tip – if your young daughter does something that annoys you, don’t flush her pet baby alligator down the toilet to punish her. Chances are, twelve years later the alligator will still be living in the sewers and will have mutated into a huge beast by eating genetically modified dogs. Oh, and according to Alligator, your daughter will also mysteriously age about 20 years and become a redhead.

Alligator is a fun creature feature that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It follows David Madison, a Chicago cop investigating a number of body parts that have mysteriously been turning up in the city’s water filtration systems. It soon emerges that there’s an alligator living in the sewers, one much bigger than any other alligator known to man.

Well, if you're going to get out of your car like a dick that's the risk you take

You see, a local pharmaceutical company has been experimenting with hormones. They’ve been illegally acquiring dogs, injecting them with a serum that makes them grow quickly, then dumping them into the sewer when they’re finished with them. The gator’s then been eating them, hence its ridiculous size. After going into the sewers and seeing the gator eat one of his partners, David has to convince his fellow cops – as well as an alligator specialist (who’s the little girl grown up) – what they’re dealing with. 

The monster effects in Alligator are handled in two different ways depending on the scene. Sometimes they seemingly used a real alligator and made it walk through a miniaturised set (which is blatantly obvious at some points, such as the moment it brushes past a clearly cardboard bench and it slides out of the way). At other times the film makes use of a large mechanical alligator, much like the mechanical shark featured in Jaws. This makes for a few great moments where victims are actually lying inside the gator’s jaws, struggling to escape. You just can’t do that convincingly with CGI these days.

"Frankly, I've never been so offended. I spent ages making this binbag jacket, how dare you mock my creation"

It’s actually surprising how dark Alligator gets at times for a film that’s clearly meant to be taken less seriously than Jaws and others of its ilk. Various legs are bitten off, people are swallowed whole, an old man is trapped in a car while the gator smashes it and crushes him to death, and it even breaks that classic taboo by killing a young child. It’s never shocking because Alligator is pretty tame these days, so rather than feeling offended or disturbed you’ll just find yourself chuckling that they had the balls to take it that far.

"O HAI GUYZ I WAS JUST LOOKIN TO CHEW ON SOME LEGZ PLZ"

While it’s a good laugh, Alligator does miss a few tricks along the way. While it’s made clear through the opening credits that the alligator in the sewer is definitely the one dropped in the toilet twelve years prior, and while it’s pointed out in a throwaway line later on that the female scientist helping out David is the same young child from that opening sequence, they never make the connection in the film that this is her alligator all grown up.

Perhaps if the gator had some distinctive markings or something so she could have said “oh shit, it’s RAMON” then that could have added a little something to proceedings, as it is it just feels like an odd coincidence with no real closure.

That’s nitpicking though. Alligator is one of the better examples of the slew of cheapo creature features released in the years following Jaws, so if you’re after cheese featuring a massive alligator (and who wouldn’t be), ignore all the SyFy pish that’s doing the rounds just now – I’m looking at you, Mega Python Vs Gatoroid – and hunt this bastard down instead.

WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
Anchor Bay UK released a lovely little two-disc DVD featuring both Alligator and its sequel, Alligator 2: The Mutation (even though the first one was a mutation already). You can get it for about a fiver right here. In the US it’s a solo DVD affair, and you can get it here.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more, here’s a complete list of reviews on That Was A Bit Mental.

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2 thoughts on “Alligator (1980)

  1. Aw, this was my first horror movie! Also contains classic quotable line if you get backchatted; “I’m not a kid!”/ “Anyone younger’n me’s a kid.” Works a treat on cheeky whippersnappers.

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