Starring Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer, Bobby Rhodes
Directed by Sergio Martino
Distributed by Mya Communication
Sergio Martino is a prolific filmmaker. Having made some of the best gialli throughout the 1970s (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Torso), his career isn’t exclusively defined by black-gloved killers, J & B Scotch or scantily clad models. He’s dabbled in comedy, post-apocalyptic actioners and cannibal exploitation – all successfully. Then there’s this inept Jaws variation, a delightfully awkward creature feature set deep within the African jungles.
Alligator (also known as Great Alligator and Big Alligator River) comes equipped with everything you could want in an Italian Jaws knockoff. You’ve got an unscrupulous businessman (Mel Ferrer) whose only interest is in his three million dollar investment, a fancy resort called Paradise House. He clashes with photographer Claudio Cassinelli who begins suspecting something is amiss once a beautiful model disappears into the brush (the audience knows she was devoured by the our resident monster). Cassinelli teams with the resort coordinator Barbara Bach to search for the missing model amongst the indigenous population of the jungle. What they discover is that the carnivorous crocodilian isn’t simply another hungry alligator. It happens to be the reincarnation of a native god, Kroona, and it turns out he’s plenty pissed off about the presence of invading infidels.
Considering the source, Alligator is surprisingly tame when it comes to exploitation. The creature attacks aren’t terribly graphic (or realistic) while Martino skimps on the expected doses of nudity usually found in these parts. The story takes a long time to get underway and, once Kroona begins laying waste to the inhabitants of Paradise House, the special effects leave a lot to be desired. The alligator almost always looks fake (his limbs can’t even be bothered to move) and the climactic disaster setpiece looks to have been staged with toy cars and shoddy model making. To his credit, Martino musters some effective alligator POV shots that, even when culled directly from Spielberg’s film, do succeed in giving the proceedings a sense of foreboding.
There’s nothing particularly outrageous about Alligator, though. Perhaps because its producers were going after the same PG market that gave Jaws is blockbuster box office take. But now that the dust has settled and this film has been largely forgotten, it’s a shame it didn’t strive for some of the jaw-dropping moments that made Martino’s previous effort (the spectacular Mountain of the Cannibal God) such a winner. What we’re left with feels a little bland at times.
And yet there is some fun to be had here. Made in 1979, the film is refreshingly un-PC. Mel Ferrer’s character isn’t above making dehumanizing and racist comments toward the natives. He’s the villain everyone loves to hate and Ferrer’s one-track motivation (protect the resort above all else) reaches some shamelessly nonsensical levels. That the film bothers to touch upon this culture-clash is unexpected, yet interesting. Ferrer’s right-hand man is Bobby Rhodes (best remembered from both Demons films as a pimp and then a weightlifter, respectively), who goes sorely underused but manages an enjoyable screen presence regardless. Former Bond girl Barbara Bach looks absolutely stunning, as always, even though she’s stuck in a largely reactionary role with precious little to do.
Beyond some amusing character actors and beautiful women, it needs to be noted that the film looks great. For all the ineffective special effects, the jungle locales are fantastic, lending Alligator some lush atmosphere though beautiful and exotic locales. This seems to have been a quick stop in the career of Sergio Martino, but it gets the job done if you know what to expect.
Mya Communication releases Alligator in a pretty clean transfer: strong colors and natural flesh tones look fairly impressive for standard definition, and the jungle setting is both lush and detailed. Black levels are as inky as SD can be, and the underwater photography looks mint. No Shame Films previously released this title under the banner Big Alligator River, and the image quality between the two releases appears to be very similar. If you never got the previous release, Mya is offering a very respectable way for fans to see this film.
One of my favorite aspects of Mya is their frequent inclusion of multiple audio mixes. Alligator offers a few of them: Dolby Digital Mono (English) and Dolby Digital Mono (Italian). These tracks are almost identical to one another, but you’re getting a more ‘serious’ version of the film with the Italian audio (and English subtitles, of course). More companies specializing in European horror need to take a page from Mya and include the original language audio along with English subs for us purists.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of goodies on this release: two trailers, an English-language version of the opening credits along with an image gallery for good measure.
Alligator isn’t top-tier Italian horror, but nobody makes this stuff quite like them. It may not be good, but it entertains. Mya have reissued Alligator in a good little package with strong picture and audio presentations. Those of you into this sort of thing should go ahead and pick this sucker up. I liked it enough to throw it a recommendation, as long as you know what you’re getting into.
3 out of 5
1 out of 5
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