Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!
The release of Jaws changed a lot of things in the movie world. It largely created the summer blockbuster. It simultaneously created a world where a lot of film execs didn’t realize that what made Jaws great wasn’t the shark but the direction of Spielberg and the top-tier cast. Regardless, in the years after Jaws there were a number of man vs. animal movies of varying quality. One that straddles a very interesting line is Alligator. It’s actually a pretty good movie, but it’s a direct rip-off of Spielberg’s killer shark in a lot of clear and obvious ways.
There is a legend of alligators in the New York sewers, and this is a film that is going to use that myth to good effect, although it’s going to relocate the gator in question to the sewer under Chicago. We’re going to start with getting the alligator to the Windy City by introducing us to a young girl who bring home a baby alligator from Florida as a pet. Shortly thereafter, we see her angry father flush the baby gator down the toilet and we get a “12 years later” title card. That dozen years is going to give us a big ol’ gator that is going to cause a lot of mayhem.
Bodies, or more accurately, parts of bodies start showing up at the water treatment plant. What the folks in charge don’t know but we figure out quickly is that there is a pharmaceutical company in the vicinity doing tests of a growth hormone on dogs. The dogs that die eventually are illegally dumped in the sewer, and our alligator has been eating them…and has been affected by the growth hormones. Soon enough, people going down in the sewer for whatever reason are turning up in pieces.
Our main investigator is police officer David Madison (Robert Forster), who starts looking into what are possible murders with dismembered victims—after all, no one would suspect a giant reptile in the Chicago sewers. He is soon joined by herpetologist Marisa Kendall (Robin Riker), who we eventually learn is the young girl from the start of the film, meaning that the rampant alligator was once her pet (although this never pays off). Madison loses a partner in the sewers, but no one believes him when he tells them the culprit. It’s not until a nosy reporter (Bart Braverman) is killed by the alligator, but his camera with pictures survives, that anyone takes Madison seriously.
But there’s trouble ahead. Jaws had the mayor and the townspeople who needed the summer dollars, and Alligator has Slade (Dean Jagger), the owner of the pharmaceutical company and the crooked mayor (Jack Carter) who has ties to Slade. With millions on the line, Madison is seen as a problem, so he is kicked off the force. Of course, that allows him the freedom to hunt the alligator himself, something that becomes more imperative due to the horrible failure of Colonel Brock (Henry Silva) to corral the beast. Eventually, the alligator comes up to the surface and causes havoc all over the city until the final frames. You know at least vaguely how this is going to end, after all—it’s the getting there that is going to be in question.
The biggest problem with Alligator is just how much it copies Jaws in almost everything it does. Oddly, though, this is also one of the film’s strengths. But, beat for beat, these are very similar films. We have the main hunter being a cop, assisted by a knowledgeable scientist and having a hunter assist them initially only to be killed. Both see the local mayor as one of the main impediments to keeping the local population safe. Both creatures spend most of their time in the water, eat insatiably (this is potentially a problem), and even have deaths that are similar in a lot of ways.
The constant eating of the alligator is something of a problem. In this film, the alligator goes on wild rampages, nipping off a leg here or an arm there, and at one point actually swallowing someone whole. In reality, alligators feed about once per week, and while they might hunt a little more often, they also tend to store food in places and come back to it. This alligator, though, seems to kill for the sport of it, and that seems very much against their actual nature.
And yet, it’s not a bad movie. The characters are likeable in the main, and while it’s predictable, it's also fun.
To be truthful, killer alligator/crocodile movies are surprisingly common--Black Water, Rogue, Crawl, and Lake Placid just to mention the ones I have watched for this blog. And, for a wonder, they’re all pretty good, or at least watchable. Alligator may not be the best of them, but it’s far from the worst.
Why to watch Alligator: For Jaws rip-offs, this one is better than you’d expect.
Why not to watch: It really is just a Jaws rip-off.
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