Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Alligator (1980)

John Sayles has a lot of great movies in his filmography, both as a writer and as a director, but I still seem to have the most affection for his creature features. Back in the '70s and '80s he was the man responsible for giving us The Howling, Piranha and this film. This may be the weakest of those three, but it's still a fantastically entertaining movie.

An alligator living in the sewers of Chicago has grown to an enormous size after feasting on numerous lab specimens. It's up to a cop (David, played by Robert Forster) and a herpotologist (Marisa, played by Robin Riker) to come up with a plan that will stop the big beast from eating any more citizens. Ironically, the alligator once belonged to Marisa when she was a small girl, but it was her father who flushed it down the toilet one day while she was out of the house.

Directed by Lewis Teague, Alligator shouldn't really be as much fun as it is, but it is. That's down to the sharp script by Sayles, the great leads in the form of Forster and Riker and the creative thinking required to make a legitimate threat from a mechanical, giant alligator that was often malfunctioning (a la Jaws). It may not be tension-filled from start to finish, but there are plenty of great scenes throughout and the whole thing has a layer of quirkiness to it that adds to its charm.

Forster, in particular, makes for a charming yet atypical "hero". When he's not busy being brave enough to do what needs done (without being in any hurry to throw himself on any swords) he is worrying about his hair loss and/or making a bit of a hash of things while trying to charm the leading lady. Speaking of the leading lady, Riker is a nice mix of beauty and attitude and her work with Forster produces a nice, sparky dynamic that lifts the entire second half of the film.

There are also a lot of familiar and vaguely familiar faces making the supporting cast a bit of a pleasure. Sydney Lassick plays an unscrupulous pet shop owner, Michael V. Gazzo is a police chief, Dean Jagger, Jack Carter and Perry Lang (you'll probably know their faces if you've watched enough movies and TV from the '70s and '80s) all have a role to play and even the mighty Henry Silva gets in on the action, stealing a couple of scenes as a confident big game hunter named Brock.

I used to absolutely love Alligator, thinking of it as an endearing creature feature on a par with Piranha. While I may not still think of it as being quite THAT good I still highly recommend it to b-movie and creature feature fans and I still think of it as a great slice of entertainment.


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