Retro Review: ‘Alligator’

One thing I love is when an older movie is discovered by a brand new audience several years down the road giving it new life and new appreciation. It seems recently one such movie experiencing a solid resurgence is the 1980 creature feature Alligator. Playing on the infamous urban legends of alligators in the sewer, this cult classic ended up being a far better film than it had any right to be.

While on vacation a young girl decides to bring a baby alligator back to the big with as her pet, only to have it flushed down the toilet by her cranky father. Twelve years later mutilated corpses start popping up around the city’s sewer system and it falls on grizzled detective David Madison, to figure it out. As the film’s title implies he finds the culprit in the form of a giant alligator. Dwelling beneath the city for all those years, this former baby gator lived on a diet of animals that had been the subject of science experiments causing the reptile to become very large and very vicious. Not long after being introduced to the world the alligator sets out to terrorize the populace. This means Detective Madison has to put aside the difference he has with herpetologist Marissa Kendall to stop this scaly beast.

As a silly bearded man I have always held the opinion that alligators are flippin’ awesome. In the evolutionary timeline all the other dinosaurs were like “hey, let’s become birds!” but gators were like “nah, we’ll get smaller but other than that we’re good.” If you can not see how cool that is then you probably have a problem (or maybe I’m the one with the problem. I digress). As we learned from the 1999 masterpiece Lake Placid, if a regular alligator is great a giant monster alligator is even better. And this incredible film has a particularly fantastic giant monster alligator. It is massive, mean and leaves a trail of bodies in its wake.

Like Frogs, Piranha, Blood Beach and countless other killer monster animal flicks spawned by the success of Jaws, many elements of this movie are undoubtedly familiar to movie fans. What separates Alligator from the pack is the skill of director Lewis Teague. He brings a cool urban style to the feature and is unafraid of embracing the inherent humor which comes from making a movie like this. The screenplay from John Sayles gives Teague the perfect blend of horror and humor to play with along with some snappy dialogue. It also helps the film immensely that lead actors Robert Forster, Robin Riker, and Michael V Gazzo nail their performances knowing just how serious to take what is going on. Playing things straight but with a certain self-aware wink to the audience.

Fast-paced and fun Alligator is well-deserving of the Renaissance in popularity it is currently enjoying among horror and cult film fans. It hits the perfect notes with the scares and the humor leading to an absolute blast of a film.