The horror film genre prides itself with taking folklore and urban legends and morphing them into scary movies or just solid tales to entertain audiences, well screenwriter John Sayles (Piranha [1978]) did that with Frank Ray Perilli’s (Laserblast [1978]) story.  Its concerns the story of how pet gators are flushed down a toilet and then survive in the sewers, well using the tale which went on for decades finally crawled up and bite into people’s nightmares. Needless to say, the filmmakers were making it impressively scary for the audience and in this case, it was a long flat beast, not the enormous size of a Godzilla lizard, enhance the bellowing breathing, and capturing the pearly teeth made for a terrorizing monster. Hence, the monster movies did suffer a bit in the seventies, as zombies and slashers replaced them, however there was always a place for them, both with The Giant Spider Invasion [1975] and Food of the Gods [1976], although the latter movie included perhaps a tighter association to this film, those who know their horror history understand the relation. Another aspect which plagues the film and one that director Lewis Teague (Cujo [1983]) had to fend-off after the release was some consider it a rip-off of Jaws [1975], just like Grizzly [1976] because it attempted to capitalize off the success of that film, which is truly a common trait in the cinematic world, just think of slashers often using themes and styles in Psycho [1960] or Halloween [1978]. Before I continue onward one should note that this flick will offend PETA and is definitely not for dog lovers.

John Sayler used the story’s premise of the creature, which is a common focal point in horror films, it’s the job of the writer and then cast to make it seem believable, allowing the audience to switch off the rational portion of the mind and feed the entertainment side while munching on popcorn and clutching the person next to them. Therefore, he used an economic ladder of public safety versus profits, yep similar to Jaws, the alligator starts at a cheap rundown gator farm, then later washed down into sewerage. As it feeds and its survival overcoming many hurdles, it breaks through into a poor city area and moves out to the suburbs with the middle class before heading to a wealthy mansion, once there no one can ignore the problem.

If one thinks about the species of alligators it’s a truly beast, strong jaws, armor back, speedy on the ground, weaponize tail, able to grip their victim pulling down and death roll them, inflicting severe trauma. Most cinema fans were introduced to the animal through Crocodile Dundee [1986] but that was a croc, still deadly, but not an alligator. This animal has dotted the landscape of horror with most recently Crawl [2019], Alligator Alley [2013], Lake Placid [1999], and finally The Alligator People [1959]. In addition, when mentioning sewers, they are dirty, scuzzy locations that already conjure unpleasant for viewers, some likely note It [2017] but if you like this location in horror there are far better examples of its usage such C.H.U.D. [1984] and The X-Files “The Host” episode featuring the Flukeman.

 

Recall for a moment that in the 1950s the monsters grew larger due to radiation and atomic bomb testing, now genetics plays factor and hormone therapies to increase body size and mass to all in the so-call humanity effort to feed the needy. Teague’s film is scattered with many bit players, making for a colorful cast of characters, and I will try to omit some key detail points as not spoiler it for those unaware of this flick. The first initial act sets the story ride in motion, with a young Marisa at a gator wrestling backwoods zoo, after a family member buys her a baby alligator; however once home her lousy father flushes it down the toilet (we learn he’s disposed of other pets previously when she’s at school). It’s here when it really all begins, we see a close-up of this little animal lost and confused. Ah… Well at a sewer treatment plant, it appears there’s a victim named Edward Norton, a reference to The Honeymooners (1955), where Ed worked in the sewers, a police detective David (Robert Forster (Satan’s Princess [1989])) is on the case and find bits and pieces. Meanwhile he stops by a pet store picking up a scruffy dog, the owner Gutchel, is none other than Sydney Lassick (Carrie [1976]) who has deeper nefarious connection to both David and some others. As David discusses the case with his superior Chief Clark (Michael Gazzo (from The Godfather, Part II (1974), fame)) who really doesn’t buy any of his theories, just wants simple arrests, clearing cases.  David heads in the sewer but brings along a young officer Kelly (Perry Lane (The Hearse [1980])) but their hunt finds them hunted, things go from bad to worse. Once discovering what they are up against, then a reporter, named Kemp (Bart Braverman (20 Million Miles to Earth [1957])) gets the headline he’s always wanted and it brings, Dr. Marisa (Robin Riker (The Stoneman [2002])) back into the storyline, who of course becomes a love interest for David. The police deploy SWAT teams to enter and flush out this predator, but he is relocated to a downtrodden part of the city and from there is on a terrorizing trip through the streets. Then there’s that really unpredictable scene that shocks the audience, immediately conveying no one is safe. The Mayor – no name, just a title (Jack Carter (Mercy [2014]) is in cahoots with a powerful individual name Slade (Dean Jagger (Evil Town [1977]) hires a loony big-game hunter Brook (Henry Silva (Day of Resurrection [1980])) who has some of the most comedic scenes. Simply there’s a lot of chopping occurring in various forms in this flick.

Los Angeles River (a portion of it)

Let’s first discuss ‘Ramon’ he shared a common trait with ‘Bruce’ from Jaws, they both were malfunctioning animatronic creatures, therefore faced with this dilemma, Teague deployed usage of a real one for some scenes with miniature backdrop sets and even Kane Hodder as one then extremely fast-cutting editing of scenes and made it all look seemingly wonderful. The crew and even cast members used personal connections in the business to obtain who or what they need for this low budget flick. Joseph Mangine, who served as the cinematographer knew how to unnerve the audience with regard to the sewer scenes, thick fog-gas dark corridors, and the horrific swimming pool; after all he worked on the creepy crawler movie Squirm [1976] learning to provide that loaded powerful scenes. This film shares a great and quite famous location with another monster flick called Them! [1954], that is the Los Angeles River, the picture above perhaps doesn’t do enough justice but clearly this place factors into so many movies over all the genres available. Although the film originally emerges with a theatrical release by Group 1 International Distribution and receive a heavy rotation in 1981 thanks to HBO, then three separate opportunities on VHS, and quick blip on DVD in 2007 from Lionsgate, but never a proper Blu-ray release. Lastly for those into collecting an Alligator Game which was a tabletop version from Ideal Toy Company in 1980 and the posters have been increasing difficult to located, remembering they are all folded, however I do own a Japanese pressbook pictures below are from it.

 

 

Now some critics, fault the movie with David and his partner trudging noisily through the water, as it rises and fall depending exactly where they are in the tunnel, but the alligator silently moves. I must have missed something in understanding predators in nature, especially this variety, stealthy moves allow it to hunt in a perfect mode, it is dark in color and the water is a hideous black, aided by grimy tunnel walls. Aside from some heavy breathing echoing in the confine space, alligators are very good swimmers and can quickly move on land too. In addition, others point to the critical overthinking of no one reporting a 30 to 40 foot long (including tail) alligator prowling the streets. Let’s leave the entertainment world for a moment and enter to rational thinking, you call the police and tell them what you saw and where you live, and you know the response. Sheesh!

I think it’s clear to say I really like this movie, it’s not a classic, but it distinguishes itself from the pack, by respecting the intelligence of the audience, some believability points, aiding by clever editing. Is it a classic no, but there’s something about it – no discrimination of who dies, it takes everything with a matter-of-fact mode, as if its possibility, by blatantly asking what lives in the depths of the murky world? Many urban explorers who have traveled, explored, and ventured into the depths of forgotten tunnels can tell truths and tall tales, but one thing is likely most true no one wants to be on the menu for an Alligator. In 1991, a sequel was released as a direct-to-video called Alligator II: The Mutation, that’s something you don’t need to see.

TAGLINES:

  • Beneath those manholes, a man-eater is waiting …
  • He’s up from the sewers and nobody’s safe …
  • At first, no one believed. But now, no one will ever forget!
  • It lives 50 feet beneath the city. It’s 36 feet long. It weighs 2,000 pounds…And it’s about to break out!
  • It lives 50 feet beneath the streets. It weighs over 2,000 pounds. It’s killed five people already…And it’s about to break out!
  • It’s 36 feet long, weighs 2000 pounds, lives 50 feet below the city. Nobody knows it’s down there except the people it eats.

 

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080354/

IMDb Rating: 6.0/10

Baron’s Rating: 6.5/10

 

***Note: I previously mentioned that I had obtained an original Japanese pressbook of this movie, which was purchased at the Barrington Movie Poster and Book Shop in Barrington, NJ. Here is their link:

https://www.ebay.com/str/movieposterandbookshop

 

Followed by:

Alligator II: The Mutation (1991)

 

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