Jaws inspired a ton of copycat aquatic creature thrillers that were strung out for nearly a decade. Piranha, Tentacles, and Orca are just a few of them. In a class by itself is Alligator, which has the distinction of being the best-reviewed. And for good reason, too. With its script by John Sayles – who would go on to become a legendary American independent filmmaker – the movie is smart and self-aware. That elevates it beyond the vast majority of other Jaws wannabes. Scream Factory brings this 1980 cult favorite to Blu-ray in a 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo pack collector's edition on February 22.
The movie opens with a prologue in which an angry father flushes his daughter's pet baby alligator down the toilet. Twenty years later, the thing is still in the sewers. It's been feeding on animal carcasses that are laced with an experimental growth drug. The scientists working on perfecting that drug have been dumping those dead animals into the sewer system. Now at massive size, the alligator decides its time to start feeding on humans.
Robert Forster plays David Madison, the cop looking into the mysterious deaths of sewer workers and a reporter who went poking around. He comes to believe the people were attacked by a giant alligator, but no one believes him, including his superior officer (The Godfather's Michael V. Gazzo). Madison joins forces with reptile expert Marissa Kendall (Robin Riker) to investigate further. Meanwhile, the alligator bursts through the sidewalk and goes on a rampage.
Thanks to Sayles' screenplay and Lewis Teague's direction, which knows when to go scary and when to go tongue-in-cheek, Alligator ends up being much smarter than one would expect. Scenes where Madison goes into the sewers are eerie because it's not obvious where the alligator is hiding, so we don't know when it will pop up. At the same time, sequences like the one where the creature, now above ground, invades an outdoor wedding combine gore with humor very effectively – almost as if the film is making fun of the absurd lengths a story of this type needs to go to.
Forster gives a delightfully droll performance as Madison. He looks like he's having a good time making this movie, without breaking character. (The late actor has gone on record saying he did love making it.) As a result, he hits every note just right, taking his character seriously without tipping into the kind of melodramatic acting that's par for the course in creature features. Riker follows him in hitting that balance. She works up a nice chemistry with her co-star.
Added to those qualities is the excellent fake alligator used onscreen. The effects team did a phenomenal job making it look real and not like a rubber prop. Even in some of the movie's more intentionally ludicrous moments, it's convincing. All the way around, Alligator is a prime example of B-movie entertainment.
Scream Factory's release is a 3-disc set. Disc one contains a new 4K scan from the original camera negative, as well as audio commentary from Teague and Forster. Disc three, meanwhile, presents the slightly longer television version of Alligator, also with a new 4K scan.
That brings us to disc two, a Blu-ray with a 4K scan of the theatrical version of the movie and tons of outstanding bonus features. They are:
“Gator Guts, The Great River, and Bob” - Actor Bryan Cranston spends 22 captivating minutes discussing his time as a production assistant – and later a special effects worker – on Alligator. (This, of course, was before he became famous.) He's got humorous stories about helping to make the blood for the climactic scene in which the titular creature explodes. After that, Cranston talks about what a down-to-earth person Robert Forster was, and how the veteran actor served as a role model for his own career. This is a really touching piece.
“Everybody in the Pool” - Actress Robin Riker reminisces about making Alligator and working with Forster. She, too, has funny behind-the-scenes stories to share, and her pleasure over how the film turned out is apparent.
“Wild in the Streets” - Director Lewis Teague gives us the lowdown on making the movie, from casting Robert Forster to some of the challenges that came with trying to make it seem like an impossibly big alligator was terrorizing a city. He offers up lots of amusing anecdotes.
“It Walks Among Us” and “Alligator Author” - Two separate features in which writer John Sayles good-naturedly reflects on penning the script, particularly trying to create an internal logic for a premise that was inherently illogical. He additionally takes great pride in working in a scene involving alligator dung.
“Luck of the Gator” - Special Makeup Effects Artist Robert Short walks us through several of the movie's most gruesome sequences, revealing how they were accomplished.
Also on the disc are additional scenes from the TV version, the teaser and theatrical trailers, filmmaker Karen Kusama's “Trailers from Hell” commentary on Alligator, TV spots (including an ad for the ill-advised children's game based on the movie), a newspaper ad gallery, and a still gallery.
Scream Factory is known for putting together excellent collector's editions, and this one is yet another jewel in their crown.
To purchase Alligator on Amazon, click here.
Alligator is rated R for bloody creature violence, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.