Thursday, June 6, 2024

Angry Animal Watch: Alligator (1980)

Watched:  06/06/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Lewis Teague

I very much remember, sometime in elementary school, a week or so when Alligator (1980) was going to show as a movie on TV.  Possibly even just late after I was going to bed.  But the commercials looked terrifying, and I found out about the urban myth of the sewer alligator.  

Anyway, somehow, I'd never seen this one.  Which is odd.  Y'all know alligators eating people is a favorite theme around here.  And this is maybe one of the first all-alligators/ all-human buffet movies.  

If you're me, you'll also be delighted to learn John Sayles wrote this.  Like, John Sayles...   you mad genius.  (I currently have a shiny new copy of Lone Star sitting on my table waiting to be watched.)

Director Lewis Teague has a checkered history of films, but this is from one of his better periods, and launched him from TV to features for a bit, where he'd go on to do Cujo and other pics before returning to TV and TV movies.

This movie *is* a horror film, but it also knows: this is insane, let's treat it that way.  It occasionally delves into comedy and camp, and even moments of "terror" are pretty wacky (thinking of our scaly pal bursting out of the sewer into the game of stickball).  The only scare I got out of the film was when Forester and his partner go into the sewers and a flashlight falls briefly on the giant croc in what was a shadow.  Like - man, that worked.  

The cast on this thing is bananas.  Robert Forester is *great*.  This is the schlub cop everyone else wishes they were playing.  Robin Riker is the sexy scientist who appears early but inserts herself at the half-way point when the entire vibe of the movie changes to accommodate the sex the two leads would rather be having than chasing alligators.

But it's got Michael Gazzo - who apparently has just the one mode you know from The Godfather.  There's old Hollywood stalwart Dean Jagger playing the crooked industrialist.  Henry Silva appears as the "great white hunter" here to take down the alligator (it goes badly).  Character actor Sydney Lassick plays a key role.  Sue Lyon plays a roving reporter.  "That Guy" actor Royce Applegate is briefly in the film.  And mid-century tough-guy Mike Mazurki is there for a couple of minutes, which blew my mind.

The FX are all over the place, but Kane Hdlder is listed as playing the actual alligator, which explains a few shots, as there's a mix of practical footage, puppets, costumes, forced perspective, and one shot with a giant-ass alligator puppet that was just really good, even if it seemed like the victims would have to throw themselves into the mouth of the beast.

And I was absolutely dying at the last minutes as Forester gets trapped in his own trap because someone's mom won't move her car and Riker needs to shove the lady out of the way.  And, yes, if you thought everyone didn't notice spending this much time in the sewers has a certain Third Man appeal, the last moments wink right at you.

But, yeah, it's a good time, this movie.  It's not winning any awards, but if you want to see an alligator rampage across LA, which this movie keeps insisting is the Midwest, when it is clear this is LA, this is the movie for you.

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