Lewis Teague’s satirical meditation on the infamous urban legend shines in 4k
Easily my second favorite film in the animal attack sub-genre is Lewis Teague’s satirical meditation on the infamous urban legend, Alligator. Growing up I sought this film out whenever it played on the Philly local WTAF-TV 29, where it was a regular in the 8pm time slot. The film just hit 4K UHD thanks to Scream Factory and as odd as it may sound, there is more than a nugget of truth to this story, given that you could order a gator from the back of a funny paper in the early 1930s for a mere $1.50. Thanks to this there were numerous confirmed reports of alligators found in New York City sewers, with an 8 foot gator one of the largest reportedly found. But given the success of Jaws, it made sense that the filmmakers were going to go bigger with both the creature and the story, which was very much inspired by the blockbuster.
Alligator stars the incomparable Robert Forster as broody flatfoot David Madison, who is your stereotypical movie homicide detective, investigating a strange case of severed human remains found in the sewers beneath Chicago in 1980. Of course, a giant alligator is behind the murders, and at first no one believes Madison. A company doing genetic research to solve world hunger by making things “bigger” turns out to be behind the abnormal size of the creature. The test animals used in these growth hormone experiments are then dumped in the sewer, where they become gator chow, which explains why our titular gator is 36 feet long with a nasty disposition.
When Madison is taken off the case, a famous big game hunter (Henry Silva) is called in to take care of the beast, and it goes about how’d you expect. It’s then up to Madison to clean up the hunter’s mess and take out the gator, who ends up at the mayor’s outdoor gala looking for a quick bite to go. Forster is pretty great here as the troubled everyman, forced to convince those around him that a giant alligator is eating folks in the sewers while still trying to get the girl. He’s opposite Robin Riker as Marisa Kendall, who definitely gives the sexy female scientist trope some real weight with her take on the reptile expert, who doesn’t believe Madison either.
Alligator is surprisingly tense, and the love story adds a welcome human element to the giant monster storyline. There isn’t much of a mystery here—more of a question of when will we get to see the gator? And who will make it to the end? The one thing I was originally a bit apprehensive about when I hit play was the practical effects in the film—would they still hold up? I really hadn’t seen this thing in two decades and I happily admit that surprisingly the effects still hold up, even in 4K. Even though Alligator is a bit of a farce because the cast is playing it straight, they do so without going over the top and the film stands up pretty well while echoing some of the themes of that giant shark movie.
The film is presented here in a new pristine 4K scan from the original camera negative and this presentation is nothing short of reference quality. Given that the majority of the film takes place in darkened sewers, I was curious how the transfer would fare. But those worries were unfounded as the scan here is simply sublime. The contrast is used to perfectly keep things visible and keep the blacks inky and the colors vibrant, no doubt thanks to the HDR. There appears to be light restoration work, yet the grain appears intact and it still retains a film-like appearance. The soundtrack here is a bit more understated than expected, and it relishes in the quieter moments. The accompanying extras you can see below definitely allow fans of this film to really dig in. I really enjoyed the commentary with Teague and Forster, who look back on Alligator fondly as they discuss filming and share some heartfelt anecdotes on the production.
Watching this film all these years later, it surprised me just how well it holds up. Alligator is a fun, tense little flick that still manages to surprise in how it pulls off its rather ambitiously pulpy premise without descending into camp. Forster is a real treat here in a rather stereotypical role that might have fallen flat in lesser hands, but he imbues it with some real pathos. Thanks to Scream Factory’s presentation, the film doesn’t lose any of its edge, even thought it is still very much a product of its time. I can honestly say you’ve never seen Alligator like this, and if you’re like me and have fond memories of this film, it’s definitely worthy of a revisit on this set.
- Disc One (4K UHD — Theatrical Version):
- New 4K scan from the original camera negative
- Audio commentary with director Lewis Teague and cctor Robert Forster
- Disc Two (Blu-ray — Theatrical Version):
- New 4K scan from the original camera negative
- Everybody in the Pool — An interview with actress Robin Riker
- Wild in the Streets — An interview with director Lewis Teague
- It Walks Among Us — An interview with screenwriter John Sayles
- Luck of the Gator — An interview with special makeup effects artist Robert Short
- Gator Guts, the Great River, and Bob — An interview with production assistant (now famous actor/director/producer) Bryan Cranston
- Audio commentary with Teague and Forster
- Alligator Author — An interview with screenwriter John Sayles
- Additional scenes from the TV version
- Teaser trailer (new 2K scan)
- Theatrical trailer (new 2K scan)
- Trailers from Hell — Filmmaker Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body) on Alligator
- TV spots (new 2K scan)
- Alligator game TV commercial
- Newspaper ad still gallery by Drive-In Asylum
- Still Gallery (movie stills, posters and lobby cards, and behind-the-scenes photos)
- Disc Three (Blu-ray — Television Version)
- Extended TV Version in HD for the first time with new 4K scan from the original camera negative with additional footage scanned from an internegative)