Alligator is often cited as one of the last great exploitation films. Coming late in the cycle, it covers about all the basic tenets of the genre. Huge lapses of bad taste, gore, a fading star in the lead role, and an over qualified professional behind the scenes (In this case John Sayles).
Alligator is of course about an Alligator (Ramon to you). This particular reptile has the misfortune to be flushed down to the sewers of Los Angeles (Doubling for Chicago). There in, thanks to a hormone experiment (Radioactivity was so passé by that point. And Genetic Engineering had yet to rear its head) done by mad scientists who for some reason flush their results down into the sewer system, grows and grows. This produces a forty foot long alligator. Who after munching on utility workers, corrupt pet store owners (really), and young rookie cops on their “first week of the job.” The Alligator gets ambitious, and bursts to the surface, eating as many Angelinos as he can get his jaws on.
The Alligator himself is impressive, in the way all cheap animatronics look impressive in the CGI era. He might not look “real” but damn’d if they didn’t get it to look like a forty foot alligator wasn’t booking down Van Nuys Boulevard.
Robert Forester, plays the Alligator’s human counterpart. A hard bitten, balding cop whom the movie delights of stripping of his dignity, while forcing him to keep a straight face. Forester as always is a likable, easy going presence. He’s backed by an eccentric supporting cast, including “Frank Pentangilla as Forester’s commanding officer, and Henry Silva, doing a wicked parody of Quint from Jaws. In a performance described by one critic “As if they replaced Robert Shaw In Jaws with The Shark.”
The movie also gains frisson from the gleeful willingness with which it crosses all the lines it can reach. I mean where to start? The opening scene in which a preteen girl gets an up close and personal view of an Alligator munching on an unfortunate carny? Or the later scene in which a seven year old tot is forced to “walk the plank” into the waiting hungry maw of the titular giant beastie?
Just to give you a quick (and Spoileriffic) example of how Alligator is a smarter film then it has to be. There comes a scene where The Alligator, sociable fellow that he is, stops by a soiree of the uptown swells. This is exploitation cinema, the cinema of the proletariat’s desires. We all know how this goes, time to kick back and watch the Alligator dine on some bigwigs.
Except its not. Never fear, the alligator does eventually get to dine on the rich and famous. The first part of its attack is spent dining on the maids, waiters, gardeners, and other assorted poor son of a bitches who just happen to be there. Its one thing for a giant mutant Alligator to munch on someone at a garden party. Its quite another for him to munch someone whose being paid below minimum wage to be there. There in my friends lie the horror.