Fright Fest Review #21: Alligator (1980)

That's not gatorade...
That’s not Gatorade…

Subgenre:  Killer Animal

Summary:  A giant mutated alligator wreaks havoc in Chicago.

Review:  Alligator may seem like a Jaws rip-off on the surface (and to some extent, it is), but it makes an effort to be more than just a carbon copy.  While investigating a series of half-eaten bodies, police officer David Madison (played by classic that guy Robert Forster), eventually comes face to face with the culprit: a massive sewer-dwelling alligator.  As he tries to convince his superiors of what he saw, the beast continues to snack on the city’s residents.

For its first half, Alligator is more police procedural than monster movie, and strangely enough, the merging of genres works.  The movie indulges in all the classic cop movie clichés: the perpetually flustered chief, the renegade cop who’s fired for investigating the wrong people, and a city-wide conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.  These would be tiresome if Alligator were a cop movie, but since it isn’t, they come across as playfully knowing.

Though Alligator is lighthearted at its core, it’s also darker than one might expect.  Neither animals nor children, two of film’s traditionally safe groups, are off the menu.  The antagonists, a group of animal-testing scientists, are utterly vile.  Showing villains harming innocent pets may be a cheap way of creating audience hatred, but that doesn’t make their third-act comeuppance any less satisfying.

The Verdict:  Entertaining, technically solid, and smarter than you’d think, Alligator is a must for any fan of creature features.  I give it seven-and-a-half ravenous reptiles out of ten.

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