Alligator (1980)

AUGUST 13, 2008


I guess it’s just an odd coincidence that Blockbuster shipped Alligator the same day I rented Rogue. I never look at my queue; with an occasional exception, most of the movies I get were queued up ages ago. Part of the fun is not knowing what I’m gonna get! But even stranger, Alligator had a scene in which a snake is forced to shoot its venom in order for someone to study it, a scene that also occurred in yesterday’s Stanley. Take that, Quint!

Alligator is a shitload of fun, too. It’s great to see Robert Forster in a lead role. I know he was pretty big in the 70s (hence why Tarantino gave him a good role in Jackie Brown) but most of the time I see him he's just in small roles in garbage like Dragon Wars and Rise: Blood Hunter. He’s kind of a big ol’ softy in the film; he buys a puppy, yells at a dude for exploiting animals, and gets butthurt whenever someone points out that he’s going bald. Even when he gets the standard “You’re off the force!” scene, he puts up very little resistance. He doesn’t even pound his fist into his locker or whatever; he just takes his stuff out quietly and even removes his name off the door, which I’m sure his replacement will appreciate. Since John Sayles wrote the movie, you get some better character development and dialogue than you’d usually find in a monster movie like this, and Forster gets the best stuff.

There’s actually a lot of stuff you don’t often get in a movie, if ever. The ‘gator kills a kid quite bloodily; it makes Alex Kinter’s death look downright bloodless. The animal also carries out a Jaws: The Revenge style vendetta against the evil lab who inadvertently created him, as it skips across half the city to take out the scientists at a wedding. Also, a nosy reporter, who you expect to dog our hero throughout the film, gets it early on, and his camera not only gets photos of the creature, but it’s pretty much believed by everyone who sees them. Usually you get a skeptical asshole who will say the photos are faked or whatever, but not here.

Also, an early scene where a mad bomber threatens the police station contains what HAS to be a first. In any countdown/bomb sequence, those of you counting along will notice that the clock runs pretty goddamn slow. The one in Armageddon when they disable the nuke is my all time favorite – they have like 45 seconds left, and Willis sits down and delivers a teary speech, THEN they disarm the bomb, and each closeup of the clock reveals it’s only down a second at most from the shot before (at one point they cut in two shots of a fraction of one second!), despite several seconds, and clock BEEPS, in between. Anyway, in Alligator, we can tell from the dialogue that there aren’t any jump cuts in time, but the clock goes down like 20 seconds in about 5. I guess it’s sort of making up for all the other movies.

Like Rogue, this movie is not for dog lovers. Forster’s pooch is thankfully spared, but the evil lab makes it a point to test only on puppies (“How about a stray cat?” the animal supplier asks. “No. PUPPIES,” Doctor Evil Jerkass replies). Nothing onscreen, but we get a horrible shot of the supplier putting garbage bags with dead pups in a pile. Then we see the supplier dump them into the sewer. Terrible. The supplier is played by that one nebbish-y guy from Cuckoo’s Nest (“Piss on your fucking rules!”), so it’s good to see his ass get chomped. I looked him up on IMDb, and he’s dead now, so that’s sad. He’s a fun presence.

I also love the captain in the movie, played by Godfather II's (and several other mob movies') Michael Gazzo. I never caught his name, so I just called him Captain Growl Face. This is because he delivers all his lines in a hoarse shout, like Uncle Paulie in one of his more drunken moments. He never actually DOES anything in the movie, but I like that he backs up Forster for most of the film, even if he despises Forster’s lack of shaving skills and such. He’s dead now too.

Blockbuster’s DVD kept freezing and skipping, so don’t rent it from their online service if you live in LA (I can’t imagine they have more than one copy). But the DVD is from Lionsgate for some reason, so I cannot condone purchasing it either (don’t give those fucking bastards a single cent!). So if you find it used, or trust your rental service, definitely check it out!

What say you?


  1. I love this movie, my uncle Jimmy plays the "Mad Scientist" that develops the growth hormone. I've been hoping you'd review this one :-)

  2. I'm delighted to see that this one popped up in your reviews. Alligator is (and will always be) one of my favorite monster animal movies. Sayles' dialog and characters are more interesting and well developed than most b movies could dream of. Its campy but doesn't lose a certain dangerous edge. My favorite part, though would have to be all the unexpected deaths. The hunter's especially, that guy's an utter douche bag. Can't beat it. Plus, for low budget, the alligator doesn't look completely cheesy (it helps when it's shown relatively sparingly - hint hint low budgeteers - at least if you're trying to be remotely scary, that is).

  3. Great movie, I love this one. The scene with the pirate kids is one of the great "Did they just do that?!?" scenes of all time, much like the girl at the beginning of Assault on Precinct 13 or Samuel Jackson in Deep Blue. My buddy has put together an mini drive-in in his backyard, we're going to have a double-bill of this and Frogs as soon as there's a weekend without rain (hooray, Ohio). Feel free to swing by if you're in the neighborhood. You know, 3000 miles away.

  4. Great review. I haven't seen this one in years, but I really enjoy it every time I see it. Classic "regular animal becomes mutant/giant" movies. Could that be a genre.

    Have you seen Alligator 2, is that any good?

  5. Great flicks. One of the classic "regular animal becomes large and bloodthirsty" flicks. Is that it's on genre? I would agree with Jim that the kids in the walk the plank scene is classic. Haunting when I was little.

  6. Fiji Mermaid: "Alligator II: The Mutation" is terrible! Though it features Richard Lynch, it's a far cry from the greatness of the original. Still, it is fun to watch after a few beers...

  7. Robert Forester is awesome! I didn't even know he was in this when I popped it in last night. Yay! This has some surprisingly wonderful characters for was I assumed to be a 3rd rate Jaws knock-off. Turns out it's a 2nd rate Jaws knock-off (there's no such thing as a 1st rate, so this is as close as it gets).

    It was hilarious when the alligator begins batting countless folks across the party. How many people did the special effects team have to toss fer cryin' out loud?! Sounds like a pretty dangerous effect. Good thing they came up with the tossing gag because the gator ate so many people already that he could not have fit any more.

    I loved that this was based upon the urban myth about what happens when one flushes an alligator down the shitter. Unfortunately, they couldn't continue the riff by exploring what happens when the alligator comes back up. I haven't seen the sequel, but it should have the alligator have babies in the sewer in then have them find their way back up. How awesome would that have been?

  8. This is the film that started my obsession with horror. I first saw it when I was seven or eight and it scared the absolute shitter out of me. Nightmares for weeks following!!!

    Looking back I'm always excited to find that my introduction to horror was a great monster movie.


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