Alligator Collector's Edition 4K UHD/Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

Directed by Lewis Teague
Written by John Sayles
1980, 91 minutes, Rated R
Released on February 22nd, 2022

Starring:
Robert Forster as Det. David Madison
Robin Riker as Dr. Marisa Kendall
Michael V. Gazzo as Chief Clark
Dean Jagger as Slade
Sidney Lassick as Gutchel
Henry Silva as Col. Brock
Perry Lang as Kelly

 

Review:

The police have their hands full with a daily slate of various crimes and other disturbances throughout the city, but there is something far more deadly preparing to strike. Something is lurking. Something is stalking. Something is hungry. Down below street level, somewhere in the sewer system, a monster is on the prowl. When body parts turn up in a local water processing plant, Det. David Madison is assigned to the case. Joined by a rookie cop, he checks out the drainage system only to come face to face with a giant alligator! Despite coming back alone, nobody takes him seriously. He teams with herpetologist Dr. Marisa Kendall and together they track the creature and its origins. Once the alligator breaks through a city sidewalk wreaking havoc, there is no question that something has to be done quickly or we are all gator bait!

Have you heard the urban legend about all those kids in the 1970s flushing baby alligators down the toilet, only to have the reptiles grow into giant monsters roaming the sewers? Well, it’s true! I know someone whose cousin’s friend actually saw one once. Okay, that may not be entirely true but can you imagine?! Luckily director Lewis Teague (Cujo, Cat’s Eye) can and he does a spectacular job of bringing this nightmare scenario to life in Alligator. Teague accepted the job on the condition he could fix the miserable script by bringing in John Sayles (The Howling, Piranha) for a full rewrite. What on the surface could be dismissed as just another Jaws rip-off is actually a surprisingly thoughtful and intelligent tribute to old-fashioned creature features loaded with biting social commentary and pitch-black humor.

The late, great Robert Forster (Vigilante, Supernova) stars as David Madison, a streetwise detective haunted by the death of his old partner, now faced with a menace nobody believes is real. He is more than just a typical heroic figure, as he is thoughtful and sensitive and is quick to ask for help in his investigation. Forster had a problem with thinning hair and asked if the script could address it directly with a series of running jokes that add additional humanity to the character. If you look at this movie as a Jaws riff, then the Hooper character is now Dr. Marisa Kendall, played by Robin Riker (Stepmonster). She is smart, confident and resourceful and has no time for bullshit. Riker and Forster work well together and when the inevitable romantic angle is introduced, they manage to sell it – in spite of being in the middle of an emergency.

 

The supporting cast is filled with familiar character actors, most notably Michael Gazzo (The Godfather Part II) as Chief Clark, who is firmly in Madison’s corner and gives him all the support he needs. Henry Silva (Sharky’s Machine) plays Brock, a big-game hunter brought in by the mayor to kill the creature. Silva is brilliant as the misogynist, cocky macho type who is at his best in dangerous situations. The always-welcome Sidney Lassick (Carrie, Pandemonium) plays Gutchel, the sleazy pet shop owner secretly abducting animals for shady science experiments. Dean Jagger (Evil Town, White Christmas) is Mr. Slade, the head of the sinister pharmaceutical company dumping chemical waste into the sewers. Perry Lang (The Hearse, Spring Break) is instantly likeable in the role of doomed Officer Kelly, and John Lisbon Wood (Darkman, The Eleventh Commandment) brings a touch of levity to the story as a would-be bomber. IMDB lists stuntman/actor Kane Hodder (the Friday the 13th franchise) as one of the alligator performers.

As for the titular beast, a mixture of giant animatronics mixed with real baby alligators on miniature sets brings the creature to life. Much of this movie takes place around the immediately recognizable L.A. River and its storm drain system, despite the story being set in an unnamed Midwestern city (likely Chicago). The sewer sequences are a real highlight and beautifully shot by cinematographer Joseph Mangine (Alone in the Dark, Squirm). Alligator doesn’t shy away when it comes to bloodshed and the over-the-top finale really delivers. The film also manages to break a few Hollywood taboos, including killing a kid in one of the more nightmare-inducing sequences. This film is an easy recommendation for genre fans of all ages as it is both humorous and chilling, but above all – fun… just don’t watch it before you go swimming!

 

Video and Audio:

Scream Factory knocks it out of the park with this stunning new 4K scan of the original camera negative. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, image quality has never been stronger. This transfer brings out a surprising amount of detail and depth missing from all previous releases. Colors are robust and really pop while black levels are deeply saturated.

A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track preserves the original mono audio recordings and has been remastered bringing renewed clarity to dialogue levels and music cues. There are some effective sound effects cues deep inside the sewer tunnels and during the alligator’s rampage at the end.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

 

Special Features:

Disc 1: (4K UHD) Theatrical Version (91 minutes)

An archival audio commentary featuring a relaxed and insightful conversation between director Lewis Teague and actor Robert Forster is highly entertaining and well worth a listen.

Disc 2: (Blu-ray) Theatrical Version
The same audio commentary accompanies the film on this disc.

Teague sits for the newly-recorded interview segment Wild in the Streets (2021. 25 minutes) in which he remembers how the project came together, starting by teaming up with John Sayles and Forster. He goes on to discuss filming in the L.A. River storm drain system and highlights his cinematographer’s lighting trick involving flashlights. Early designs for the alligator animatronics and use of live baby alligators on miniature sets are also discussed. He concludes with a heartfelt story of how film production helped him overcome a substance abuse problem.

The most interesting featurette is Gator Guts, The Great River and Bob (2021, 22 minutes), a new interview with actor Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). The piece gives him time to reflect on one of his first jobs working as a production assistant on this film. He graduated from a tedious office position to a more exciting spot as a low-level assistant in the special effects department prepping guts for the explosive finale. His production stories are a lot of fun and he closes with a fantastic tale about Robert Forster’s kindness and decency.

In the archival interview Alligator Author (2007, 17 minutes), screenwriter John Sayles tells of connecting with Teague and his approach to rewriting a terrible script. He points to the progression of the alligator’s trajectory as it eats its way up the economic food chain from inner city areas into the neighborhoods of the upper class. He continues with his memories of the cast, particularly Forster and Henry Silva. He also talks about the importance of tone when it comes to showing blood and violence.

It Walks Among Us (2021, 10 minutes) finds Sayles once again remembering this project and the influence of classic giant monster movies and popular urban legends. Most of the information is a repeat from the early interview, but he does go into a bit more detail making it worth a look.

Actress Robin Riker remembers working on this, her first film, in Everybody in the Pool (2021, 8 minutes). She has fond memories of the experience, particularly of her time with Forster. She also talks about working in the sewer and facing “Ramon” the giant alligator as well as the film’s legacy.

In Luck of the Gator (2021, 12 minutes), special make-up effects artist Robert Short tells of his time making bloody body parts (some left over from Piranha). He didn’t work on the animatronic creature, but he does have stories about it and also filming with a real alligator in an early scene.

When aired on network television, Alligator included additional scenes to extend the running time for a two-hour time slot. These scenes (8 minutes) are presented separately but are not very exciting.

The theatrical trailer, a teaser trailer and four TV spots (all receiving new 2K scans) are included. One of the TV spots offers feedback from “real audience members” – but two of them are genre actresses Lynn Lowry (Shivers) and Eileen Davidson (House on Sorority Row).

Trailers from Hell features filmmaker Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body), who shares her thoughts on the movie.

A fun commercial for the Alligator game is also included.

There are two still galleries, the first featuring a slideshow of newspaper ads (3 minutes). The second gallery (272 images) provides a wide selection of international movie stills, poster art, lobby cards, behind-the-scenes photos and video artwork. This is an exhaustive collection and there are some doubles.

Disc 3: (Blu-ray) Extended Television Cut (98 minutes)

This cut is presented for the first time in HD, remastered from the original camera negative with additional footage scanned from an internegative.

 

Grades:

Movie: Cover
Cover
Video:
Audio:
Features:
Overall: 4.5 Star Rating

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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