I realize that you're probably depressed due to the fact that it's Monday; however, you'll be delighted to know that everything will be fine! Why? Because it's Monster Monday, of course! That means it's time for another endeavor into the wonderful world of monsters! Today, we'll be looking at the creature feature from 1980 known as "ALLIGATOR"! So, get out of the water (or sewer), strap yourself in and enjoy the ride!
A baby alligator is flushed down a Chicago toilet and survives by eating discarded laboratory rats injected with growth hormones. The small reptile grows gigantic, escapes the city sewers, and goes on a rampage. Now the locals must fight for their lives as the monstrous, primordial beast roams the streets for its next meal.
Having made my way through 15 previous Monster Mondays (and, similarly, 15 different movies), it was only a matter of time before I made my way into killer animal territory. Luckily for all of you, that time has finally come. And, what better way to endeavor in the sub-genre than with the beloved 1980 classic Alligator? One of the most famous killer animal movies, Alligator did for sewers what Jaws did for the water (okay, that might be a stretch… But still, this movie scared the hell out of a lot of us as kids, let’s face it). Featuring magnificent creature effects and quite relevant social commentary, the movie serves as a superb entry into the sub-genre while broadly providing a memorable viewing experience for any fan of 80s horror.
Alligator and I do have some history. When I was younger, my grandparents lived in a somewhat secluded cabin about two hours north of where I resided. About every other week in the summer, my family would visit the cabin and spend our weekends there. The cabin was built right above a river, which would serve as a sort of fun zone on hot summer days. I have a lot of fond memories of that place (including horror-related ones!), but there were downsides, too. For instance: no cable. My grandparents were sort of minimalists in that regard. I remember we could get about 4 channels, none of which provided very much content. While at home I’d be sure to watch “USA Up All Night” or “Monstervision,” at the cabin, I had no such luxury. As such, I was forced to find alternative methods to get my horror fix.
One such method involved heading to the local video store and checking out some tapes. I remember there being two video stores: one was an actual rental place which had a decent selection and the other was one of these grocery store hybrid places that had about 50 -100 tapes to rent. Since it was closer, we’d often go to the grocery store place. One of the movies I remember renting from the place was Alligator. Indeed, I remember it well because I rented it on numerous occasions. Part of this had to do with the fact that the movie was really good. The other part had to do with a contextual fascination with Alligators at the time. On the river in which the cabin was located, we’d often go canoeing… On our canoe trips, there was a place in the river where someone had built fake alligators sticking out of the water with a sign which read “look out for alligators!” Being young and naïve, my imagination got the best of me and, when swimming, I’d start getting paranoid about the possibility that the alligators were going to attack me. What better way to cope with a childhood fear than by renting a horror movie where that fear became realized to an extreme extent? What can I say? I had a morbid imagination.
Anyway, that’s my history with Alligator. Irrelevant, you say? Too bad! Monster Monday’s are as much about nostalgia and memories as they are about critical analysis, so back off. Speaking of critical analysis, though – this movie is awesome. I think this is the case for several reasons. Firstly, I really like the idea of an urban legend. The historical manifestations and the meme-like qualities of such things are really fascinating. Alligator handles its urban legend wonderfully, too. Most of us have heard stories about reptiles and discarded pets living in the sewers and, especially as children, the consequent of this legend inspires great intrigue. To further build on the legend, the movie implements some clever commentary ranging from things like environmental ethics and pollution to animal welfare and even class warfare (dat party scene). Clever and entertaining as hell, the movie provides great creature fun for kids and horror fans while never falling into irreverence and always maintaining a sense of relevance.
Speaking of creature fun, the movie is full of it. In all honesty, I’d be willing to argue that the alligator is amongst the greatest killer animal monsters in the sub-genres history (matched perhaps only by Jaws). The thing seriously looks monstrous in size and scope and, rather than simply pointing and laughing at it (like you might do with the snake in Anaconda, for example), you feel more inclined to watch in awe. The creature effects are to notch. Whether in the sewer or on the streets and whether snarling or taking a giant bite out of someone, the gator always looks ferocious and intimidating. Made well before the advent of CGI, the movie relies solely on authentic effects and cinematographic ingenuity to create its antagonist, and does so wonderfully.
Most memorable of all is the aforementioned magnificently orchestrated (and infamous) party scene, where the alligator is released upon a large group of upper class socialites. The result is a total delight, as the ensuing bourgeois chaos leaves both the viewer and the alligator satisfied and no longer hungry for more. This scene is especially interesting due to the fact that it provides that ever so rewarding feeling of karma (in this case, bad guys in power getting what they deserve). And, related to this fact, the movie does a nice job of raising ambiguities regarding who the antagonist actually is. Ultimately, while the creature itself seems to be the obvious target, it is implied that, in fact, it is those faceless corporate types behind the scenes who hold the brunt of the responsibility.
In addition to the social commentary and top notch effects, the movie provides a general good time. Never taking itself too seriously but also never straying too far into the land of cheese, Alligator find a nice balance between offbeat and serious. Its characters are, for the most, interesting and in some cases eccentric, and fit well with the overarching atmosphere of the movie. While Robert Forester does a good job playing the lead detective, it’s the often over the top role of Colonel Brock (played by Henry Silva) who remains most memorable for me. Providing the ever so often utilized trope of “man vs. beast,” this showdown serves to manifest a number of tense (but also hilarious) comical scenes.
Now more than ever, I think Alligator is relevant. Thanks to the ever declining-in-quality sci-fi network, the killer animal/creature subgenre is being driven to utter absurdity and computer generated nonsense. From the Sharknado movies to the random “insert-creature-name” vs. “insert-creature-name” movies, the subgenre is quickly losing its once firm footing and falling further and further away from classics like Jaws or Alligator. While there were a handful of other reptile-headed creature features since Alligator (see Crocodile, Dark Age in the 80s, and the Lake Placid movies as well as Rogue after the 80s), Alligator continues to prove itself as being the best of the bunch. If you haven’t seen the movie, be sure to check it out ASAP.