Review Date: October 16, 2007
Released by: Lionsgate
Release date: 09/18/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
John Sayles is known as one of the premier indie dramatists, with great dramas like Return of the Secaucus 7
¸ Lone Star
and Eight Men Out
to his credit. Yet despite his Oscar nominations, he’s probably got more impressive horror titles to his credit than most full-time horror writers. Sayles wrote The Howling
, and even Alligator
before becoming a writer-director in his own right. Alligator
was notable for being director Lewis Teague’s ticket into making two acclaimed Stephen King pictures, Cujo
and Cat’s Eye
. Along with Cujo
has finally been revived on DVD thanks to Lionsgate. Let’s scale through this reptile feature.
Want a new pet? How about an Alligator
? These cute, cuddly little reptiles live in hollowed out aquariums and eat small little finger foods…that is until they grow the size of a bus and view you as their next victim. Alligator
begins with a little animal lover purchasing a baby alligator (a custom practice through much of the seventies in America). She’s fascinated by the creature, but before she can show the love her angry father flushes it down the toilet. He’s presumed dead, and we flash forward several years and there have been some mysterious disappearances in the sewer systems. Maverick cop David Madison (Robert Forster
) is brought in to investigate…are these vicious decapitations the product of a serial killer or a disposed house pet? Betcha can’t guess.
How did this tiny house pet grow to sizes never seen before in the species? It turns out it has had a steady diet of disposed lab animals injected with experimental drugs. The government has been doing it for years, and when one of their silent partners turns up in the sewers dead after a botched dumping, the higher ups start to squirm. This carnivorous reptile isn’t just making humanity his prey – he’s going after big business!
Whenever David makes headway on the case, he’s either held back by bureaucracy or the demons of losing his previous partner. When he sees yet another partner (Spring Break
’s Perry Lang
) torn apart by the titular creature before his eyes, he contemplates quitting altogether. Yet a zealous zoologist, Marissa Kendall (Robin Riker
), believes in him, and will help him peel away at the case. It turns out, too, that Marissa was that little girl in the prologue whose baby alligator was prematurely flushed. She’ll do anything to help David defeat this creature who has now moved from the sewers to the New York streets. Even if he’s balding a little.
is a fun little monster movie that works both as a lighthearted celebration of the genre and as political commentary. That it has political qualities is a given, considering writer John Sayles’ history as a critic of the American government (most recently seen in Silver City
). What’s surprising, though, is how effortlessly it fits into this story of a mutated alligator. There’s no “Who are the real cannibals” seriousness here, but there’s still great fun, and great politics, in seeing the corrupt New York government mauled en mass at a yuppie outside gathering by one of the beings that proverbially “slipped through the cracks”. Sayles has that rare touch of injecting his stories with weighty observations about humanity, yet at the same time keeping his characters perfectly human.
Forster’s David Madison is one of the great humanist genre heroes, a man with as much flaws has he has character. Much of it is in the script – the dialogue Sayles gives him really sells him as more than just the tough cop who lost his partner stereotype. Yet it’s what Forester himself brings to the role that makes it truly standout. There’s the cute and obvious running joke towards his receding hairline that he notoriously added to the story himself. It gels with the tone of the film, and exposes the man as a vulnerable and real character. Yet it’s the less obvious devotion to the character that really stands out. More than just a major actor slumming in genre for cash (as is so often the case), it’s clear here that Forster throws himself into the role. Even when he’s reading a piece of paper or putting on his shirt, he does it with a sort of nuance that feels authentic. His character is so sure of himself that we in tune feel assured by him. When he’s in the sewers it’s all the more intense because we see him as a person in danger, not an actor with a giant prosthetic alligator head hurtled his way amidst a flurry of set lights.
Forster’s performance really is one of the genre’s standouts, and to that we owe tribute of course to John Sayles and his script, but also the underrated director, Lewis Teague. He started out editing great films for Monte Hellman and Jonathan Demme, and then eventually went on to direct several of his own. His sole three horror ventures, Alligator
, Cat’s Eye
were all greatly appreciated upon release, but it seems now have been forgotten by the sands of time. It’s unfortunate that he never made another horror film, choosing instead the more lucrative route of high profile Hollywood sequels (The Jewel of the Nile
) or war flicks (Navy Seals
). Yet the legacy he’s left with those three pictures has given horror a humanist side that the genre rarely sees. Whether he’s following Dee Wallace’s emotional hardships trapped inside a vehicle in Cujo
or encapsulating the mindset of a child with Drew Barrymore’s turn in Cat’s Eye
, he’s a director drawn to expressing the personality of his subjects. That’s he’s been able to do that and still keep with the high style the genre demands is a commendable feat. While his later horror films would show more polish, there’s no more personality than that found in Alligator
was shot on a shoe string, and while not entirely mastered on one here, it still looks its age. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this transfer has some grain and most noticeably some inconsistent blacks. During all those dark descents into the sewers, there’s some light yellow fading on the top of the screen, which can be distracting. There’s some slight pixel dancing in those black areas too, although it is mostly minimal. The new transfer does benefit from some added detail though, and for the most part some nice color saturation. There’s an interesting blue/red aesthetic that shows up in the sewer scenes, and thankfully they do look pretty vibrant here. Dirt and debris have been almost fully cleaned up from the print as well. Still, this is a 27 year old film, and it looks its age, despite a worthwhile cleanup by Lionsgate.
This is a slight missed opportunity, considering Lionsgate went to the trouble of offering a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. The original mono is included too, and other than a slightly opened up soundscape (mostly of indistinct room tones and the occasional bit of music), the tracks aren’t too different. Everything sounds clear, although the mono mix at times gets dominated by sound effects over the dialogue. Considering how atmospheric the sewers in this film are, it would have been pretty easy to push sounds like water dripping or calls from people in different pipes to the rears, but sadly there is none of that here. Not a bad track, but it could have been a lot more.
The acclaimed DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau may have been brought in for the Cujo
supplements, but Alligator
’s DVD owes itself more to genre fans, namely ex-Anchor Bay figurehead, Michael Felsher. While the featurette included here is not nearly as exhaustive as the one found on Cujo
, Felsher’s interview with John Sayles is still a memorable one. Sayles talks with no condescention towards the genre, instead really getting into the history of Alligator
and how he helped shape it. He was brought in to write a new script after Teague was brought in to direct (he had written Teague’s previous film, The Lady in Red
). He talks about his inspirations for the script, some of the changes to screen and even throws in some other interesting Alligator
related tidbits. Who knew that the mechanical alligator used in the film became the Florida Gators mascot?
The other extra is a commentary with Robert Forester, Lewis Teague and a moderator. The moderator is really annoying, constantly asking stupid, condescending questions towards the genre he’s supposedly schooled in. The participants just sort of ignore him and strike up their own interesting conversations. They talk quite a bit about Forester’s character, and the things he brought to his performance. The mysteries behind all the “bald” jokes are finally debunked, and the two have great fun doing so. The two both remember a plethora of anecdotes from the film, and they share the information in a fun and informative manner. It’s rare to see an actor really lay claim to a performance like Forster does here, and for a performance this good, it’s a blessing!
The original theatrical trailer is included too, and it’s in tune with the exploitation way of marketing. Definitely a nice array of extras to complement an equally accomplished film.
The title and concept scream cheap, yet Alligator
is a surprisingly solid monster movie. Credit that to a light script with political undertones by John Sayles, at times tense direction by Lewis Teague and an awesomely natural performance from Robert Forster. The gator’s pretty cool, too. The image and sound are good considering the age of the film, but still leave a little to be desired. The extras, though, are very nice, with a good interview with Sayles and a great commentary with Teague and Forster. If you’re looking for a quality animal attack film, scale your stores for this!
Movie - B+
Image Quality - B
Sound - B
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 30 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English mono
- English subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- English closed captions
- Audio commentary with Lewis Teague and Robert Forster
- Interview with John Sayles
- Theatrical trailer