By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Reptile in the sewer.
In 1968 a young girl (Leslie Brown) brings home a baby alligator, which she stores in her small aquarium, but her father decides to flush the thing down the toilet where in the sewer it feeds off the carcasses of dead animals which were given an experimental growth formula from a nearby clinic. 12 years later the alligator having ingested this formula for years has grown to massive lengths and escapes from the sewer where he now terrorizes the citizens of the city.
The screenplay was written by John Sayles and has a nice blend of comedy and scares. In most other horror films there are usually some long boring segments in between the shocks that get filled with awkward drama or banal dialogue, but here these same segments convey a playful sense of the absurd and are some of the best moments in the movie including showing all the street vendors who come out and try to cash in on the alligator scare by selling alligator related merchandise at the river where the police are searching for the beast. I also enjoyed the ad-libbed lines by the supporting characters mentioning Robert Forster’s receding hairline, which become the movie’s running joke.
The scares are still present and for the most part effective although the scenes inside the sewer work best. I liked the way the beams from the flashlights reflected off of the tunnel walls and created a surreal look as well as how quiet it would get when the police and S.W.A.T. went into the underground caverns, which helped accentuate the tension.
When the gator breaks out of the sewer is when the thing starts to go south especially when it attacks guests at a dinner party, which is too graphic and ghoulish and destroys the film’s otherwise playful tone. I also didn’t like when the alligator breaks through sidewalk having the camera shake, which is something directors would do in old movies to create an earthquake-like visual effect, but comes-off as quite tacky looking. Having the gator roam the city for as long as it does and not get caught seemed implausible as something that big would attract lots of attention no matter where it went and most likely would get cornered by the authorities a hell of a lot sooner than it does.
The film also suffers by not effectively conveying the size of the beast visually. We see a lot of quick shots involving its open mouth, but not much else. An animatronic one was built, but it malfunctioned and was little used and then later donated to the Florida Gators as their mascot. An actual gator got used in some shots, which they superimposed onto a miniature set to make it look bigger, but the final result of this looks awkward.
The truth is alligators are by nature very timid towards humans and will usually swim away if approached by one and only attack if they feel threatened. They prefer much smaller prey that they can eat with one gulp and thus avoid people altogether. It’s actually the crocodile that is much more dangerous and in fact the saltwater and nile crocodile kills hundreds of people each year, which for the sake of accuracy should’ve been the species that got used.
I also thought it was a bit bizarre that someone could keep an alligator as a pet like the young girl does at the beginning. Now don’t get me wrong watching them flush the baby gator down a toilet is one of the best parts of the movie, but what would’ve happened had the gator been allowed to grow into an adult? How would they be able to house or control him, which only makes the father, who gets portrayed here as being obnoxious, look smart by getting rid of it when it was small and he still could.
The cast though still makes it worth watching. Forster is great in the lead as he plays against his stoic tough guy image by conveying vulnerabilities with his finest moment being the horrified expression on his face when his partner gets attacked and he’s unable to save him. I also liked Jack Carter as the corrupt Mayor and Dean Jagger, in his last film role, as the nefarious animal clinic owner. Angel Tompkins can be seen briefly as a news reporter as well as Sue Lyon in her last film appearance to date.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: November 14, 1980
Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes
Director: Lewis Teague
Studio: Group 1 International