The Alligator People (1959)

DECEMBER 15, 2010


Despite having a title that sounds like it was made up for a parody of such films, The Alligator People is shockingly straight-laced for the most part, spending more time on the toll having an alligator person for a husband has taken on poor Beverly Garland than of alligator people running around, doing whatever alligator people do. It’s not until the end that we see what we wanted: a human body with an alligator head, and he doesn’t even get to do much.

It’s also NOT a Roger Corman movie, which I suspected at first, especially when the opening scene depicted a young woman being hypnotized into telling the story, a framing device Corman used in The Undead, two years prior. The title, again, also sounds much like one of his pictures. No, the auteur is Roy Del Ruth, who helmed a number of comedies and musicals in the 30s and 40s, and was eventually reduced to this, an independent movie that FOX apparently bought just so they could have a cinemascope B-movie to play with Return Of The Fly.

Which I found interesting, because the scope imagery seemed odd to me – most horror films of the time were still full frame, with a few 1.66s or 1.85s every now and then. And Ruth didn’t really do much with it – there’s not a lot of action, the bulk of the film takes place in a house, etc. So I guess it was just dumb luck that they shot it that way, otherwise it probably would have faded into obscurity and/or ended up on a Mill Creek boxed set.

Luckily it’s not all that bad. It’s pretty short (75 minutes), and features a delightful Lon Chaney, Jr. performance. Chaney plays a handyman of some sort that is missing a hand due to an alligator attack, and now he has a hook in its place, which doesn’t keep him from shooting at gators and drinking seemingly 24/7. But the funny thing is he kind of sucks at killing his sworn enemies (which he says is his favorite thing to do, or something along those lines), because every time we see him shooting, he misses by a country mile. Hell, he even fails to run one over with his car! He hits the thing but then they cut to it crawling back into the water, seemingly not even injured. Even with his handicap, you’d think he’d be better at this by now.

I also liked how it’s one of those movies where everyone besides the hero (or heroine, in this case) is privy to some vital information and thus shares knowing looks at one another without the heroine ever noticing. She asks for her husband, and when she says his name the other people in the room are noticeably taken aback, and share nervous glances with one another. Yet Garland does nothing. I’d be like “What was that look for? You DO know something, don’t you!” Hilariously, once Garland knows what’s going on she is instantly the best friend of the main “secret-keeper” (who turns out to be her mother in law), as if the two hadn’t exchanged “How DARE you!?” type confrontations a few hours earlier.

The makeup’s also pretty decent, which should be no surprise since it’s the work of none other than Dick Smith, on one of his first credited feature films. They cut corners every now and then, but I loved the look of the guy who had normal skin on one side and gator skin on the other. I was also impressed with the gator head that our hero sports for the final 5-10 minutes of the film, which appeared to be a mask of some sort but yet didn’t reveal the actor’s head at all.

I just wish it was in the movie more. I know that no 50s monster movie is going to be mistaken for an early Michael Bay effort, but even for the period this one’s way too light on action. Hell, there’s only 12 minutes to go before the scientist explains what he was trying to do when her husband got transformed. THEN everything really goes wrong (Chaney’s fault, in case you didn’t see it coming), and gator-man causes two folks to faint before running outside, fighting a real alligator, and drowning. That’s about it; the title’s not really a lie, there ARE a few other “people”, but we just see them in passing and they never do anything.

In lieu of the usual Youtube thing, I have embedded the trailer for the film via Trailers From Hell, in which Joe Dante and a revolving series of guest stars (Eli Roth, Darren Bousman, etc) provide an intro and a commentary to trailers of their choice. Joe doesn’t seem to think too much of the film either, but you get to see him wearing a hook hand, so there’s something. Check the site out if you can – great way to lose a few hours of your day!

What say you?


  1. I enjoyed this film when I first saw it more for the MST3K type moments it has more than an entertaining story.

    One particular one which I still quote incessantly is a moment of exposition when the scientist drives his swamp buggy to the house, gets out, walks in the door and then seems to say to the person "I'm the swamp doctor... this is my swamp buggy... I use it to get around." Fantastic.

  2. I haven't seen Alligator People. The plot could have been scary way back then, so, it probably scared the living daylights out of moviegoers. Nobody makes movies about people mutating into alligators now. Zombies are usually the 'in' thing.

  3. Many films shot in scope, some expertly, still found their way on to Mill Creek boxed sets. They just ened up with the sides chopped off. ;)


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