Horror Review: Alligator (1980)

A baby alligator is flushed down a toilet and survives by eating discarded lab animals that have been injected with growth hormones.

A film about a sewer ‘gator, what’s not to love?!

I would’ve done a review of this 80’s classic a long time ago but in all honesty I thought I had already done one! It was only whilst recently re-watching the film and doing a search on the blog itself that I realised I hadn’t, well now is the time to rectify this situation and get word back out there about this creature feature.

Growing up in a smallish town in Northern England, the concept that an alligator could be loose in my local sewers was one that should’ve been too far fetched. Well, a child’s imagination is not one to be undermined, rumours of a huge Alligator in our local reservoir were commonplace amongst us local kids and I could’ve sworn I heard it once.

It had been quite a while since I last watched this feature and I was happy to see that it hadn’t lost any of it’s charm, sure it’s aged but it’s aged well and it still manages to pack a punch with it’s witty script, fast pacing, great action scenes and plenty of tense moments. I had also forgot how great the Alligator looked, especially for the time it was made.

Director Lewis Teague did an amazing job, it’s no surprise his next couple of jobs were Stephen King’s “Cujo” and “Cat’s Eye”. Robert Forster is absolutely amazing as the lead role and he plays the gritty downbeat yet good cop to perfection, it maybe a character role we’ve seen a lot of but when done properly it is so damn entertaining.

I highly recommend you to seek out “Alligator” whether it’s to revisit it or to give it a first viewing, it’s such a fun flick that I think is ripe for a resurgence in fanfare.

If you want to see the “Alligator” trailer then just click on the video below:

Miscellaneous facts about the film:

“Ramon,” the often-malfunctioning animatronic alligator used in the film, was later donated to the Florida Gators of the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL as a team mascot. Ramon made several appearances before games and during halftime.

Robert Forster improvised the jokes in regard to his receding hairline, which a delighted John Sayles wrote into the script during shooting for the other characters.

Bryan Cranston worked on the film as a production assistant for the Special Effects department.

John Sayles read Frank Ray Perilli’s script for the film once and then totally scrapped it. Sayles said it was set in Milwaukee and explained that the alligator grew gigantic because of beer from a brewery going into the sewers.

The shot of the SWAT team emerging from the sewers in the film looked so real that people actually thought they were terrorists and some even called the police.

According to director Lewis Teague, the film was supposed to be scored by James Horner, who actually wrote a full score for it. However, due to a strike he could not record his score so he was replaced by another composer.

The giant alligator’s first victim is a sewer worker named Edward Norton. This is an homage to The Honeymooners (1955), in which one of the four main characters is a sewer worker named Ed Norton.

This film was inspired by Jaws (1975) and, like that film, the mechanical “villain” often malfunctioned. Much like Steven Spielberg had to on Jaws, director Lewis Teague either shot around the alligator to build suspense or shot a normal-sized alligator on miniature sets (which is plainly obvious in some shots).

On the film’s DVD commentary, Robert Forster states that he was friends with painter Ramon Santiago and he suggested they include a painting of his on the wall in his character’s home.

In the prologue showing the young Marisa and her pet baby alligator Ramon at home, in order to set the time period, news on the radio mentions riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, which took place in 1968. Robert Forster starred in the film Medium Cool (1969), which centered on those same riots.

Robert Forster was recovering from a case of spinal meningitis when principal filming began.

Joe Dante was offered the job of director for the film, but turned it down.

Screenwriter John Sayles also wrote Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), released in 1980, the same year as this film. During this period, Sayles also wrote the first draft of a script for Steven Spielberg known as “Night Skies,” which was never made but helped inspire E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) (which includes a mention about “alligators in the sewers”).

The first of two films where Robert Forster’s character mentions his hair loss and how he is making up for it; the second being Jackie Brown (1997). In both films, someone else points it out and Forster explains further. The two characters are Sydney Lassick and Pam Grier, respectively.

After Robert Forster’s death, Breaking Bad (2008) star Bryan Cranston tweeted that he and Forster, who also worked on Breaking Bad, first met on the set of this film, where Cranston was a PA. (see other trivia)

The proceeds that John Sayles earned from his screenwriting duties for this film were used to finance the film Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980).

The graffiti on the sewer walls at the end of the film is a reference to Orson Welles’ character in the film The Third Man (1949).

Cues from Jerry Goldsmith’s music score from “The Twilight Zone” episode ‘The Invaders’ were used throughout the film.

The basic premise of this film was”inspired” by a popular urban legend from the 1960s, when a mail order company which advertised in comic books sold thousands of baby alligators to kids whose parents often flushed them down the family toilet.

The final film of both Dean Jagger and Sue Lyon.

Sue Lyon (in her final film role) is credited as an ABC newscaster. However, the letters NBC are visible on her microphone, along with the famous NBC Peacock logo. In her scene, she interviews the vastly older Henry Silva, who flirts with her by doing an impression of an alligator’s mating call. Lyon began her career in Stanley Kubrick’s film Lolita (1962), about a young girl that older men are crazy about.

This is not only a Jaws (1975) clone for involving a deadly creature that is larger than usual, but the three main characters are similar: Robert Forster is a cop and the hero of the film, like Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody; Robin Riker is a scientific expert like Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper; and Henry Silva is a tough and experienced hunter like Robert Shaw’s Quint. Also similar is Perry Lang as a naive rookie cop like Jeffrey Kramer’s Hendricks, and Murray Hamilton’s Mayor is a cross between this film’s mayor Jack Carter and villain/instigator Dean Jagger (who shares attributes with Joseph Mascolo in Jaws 2 (1978)).

Although set in Chicago Illinois, most of the license plates are from Missouri. The license plate of the family car returning from the alligator farm has the 1979 Missouri color pattern, even though the year should be between 1967 to 1969. The license plate found in the sewer is from Missouri, David Madison’s truck is a Missouri plate as do is most license plates seen.

The film debuts of both Micole Mercurio and Robin Riker.

Kelly (played by Perry Lang), the young police officer who follows David through the sewers, is always seen with chewing tobacco in his mouth.

Col. Brock’s rifle is a Remington Model 7600 with a telescopic sight.

David’s revolver is a stainless steel snub-nosed Smith & Wesson .38.

When as a child Marissa gets a baby alligator she names it Ramon. When David is first shown in his apartment the word Ramon is visible on a poster for Ramon Santiago located over his shoulder.

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