Review Date: September 20, 2005
Released by: NoShame Films
Release date: 9/27/2005
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
As much as we’d like to hold up the Italian filmmakers on a pedestal declaring them great auteurs with an unwavering horrific vision, the truth of the matter was that by trade all of them were artisans. Workers for hire rather than unrestrained artists, Italian filmmakers very much had to move with whatever sub-genre was fashionable within the exploitation market of the seventies. When the giallo market of the early-seventies began to subside, the Italians found themselves running like rats to their next genre safety – the animal attack film. The worldwide success of Blow-up
in 1965 may have birthed the giallo, but the animal attack film was conceived ten years later with Spielberg’s Jaws
. So with the new boom, giallo directors like Enzo Castellari (Cold Eyes of Fear
), Lamberto Bava (A Blade in the Dark
), and Antonio Margheriti (Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye
) found themselves battling sharks, crocs and other amphibious life forms.
One of the giallo’s most prominent figures, Sergio Martino, even made the trek down animal waters with 1979’s The Island of the Fishmen
and The Big Alligator River
. Despite featuring a double dose of Bond girl Barbara Bach, both haven’t been able to tread water amongst the crowded animal attack genre. Thanks to NoShame, The Big Alligator River
is getting new publicity as yet another of their Sergio Martino Collection films. Martino proved master of the giallo, how does he fare with animals?
Paradise House is a resort that has it all. Scenic landscapes of rain forest, smiling servants, five star hotel accommodations, untouched wildlife, and a huge fucking alligator. The film begins with Daniel Nessel (Claudio Cassinelli
) traveling by boat out to the African resort. He’s a photographer with an eye for detail, and finds his crosshairs set upon the beautiful Alice Brandt (Barbara Bach
). Alice is a translator working with the native Kuma tribe, and returns Daniel’s lusting glances. They spend time together, and she tells them of the Kuma tribe, and how they are able to coexist with the civilized man, despite the continual destruction of their forest for greater commercial exploits.
The natives are fine with the imperial motives of Paradise House and its owner, Joshua (Mel Ferrer
), that is until one of their tribe members turns up dead. Apparently man’s continual toying with nature has made one alligator particularly mad. This is not just any alligator however, it is Kroona, the God of the river. Under his wrath, no body of water is safe, and slowly he makes his way from the native waters to those of the resort, where hundreds of vacationers become his victims. It’s up to Daniel and Alice to stop the oversized beast, but with the natives suddenly hostile to the rest of the vacationers, they have more than a vicious gator to worry about.
The Big Alligator River
possess none of the style, story or performances that made Martino’s previous gialli such a delight. For a man who made violence such an exciting exploit in his gialli, Martino certainly left a lot to be desired in Alligator
. The film remains bloodless for most of its runtime, and even during the massive attack at the finale, it looks like buckets of corn syrup rather than buckets of energy. Gore is nonexistent, as apparently when one gets bitten by a gator they simply dissolve into a fuzzy mass of red liquid. Even when people get impaled by spears or spikes, Martino amateurly cuts from a shot of the spike to a shot of someone falling to a final shot of someone with a spike poking out of their clothes with a dabble of blood around the wound. It looks more like a National Geographic reenactment than a film by the guy who made vice a proper name with the likes of The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
Even more pedestrian than the blood and gore are the gator effects, which basically consist of either close-ups of some large alligator head puppet or a miniature pool floaty shot in murky waters. Martino gets little to no coverage of the attack, and there is never any gratification in seeing someone chomped. The funniest moments are when we see the full body miniature attacking the ship, as it stiffly rams the ship as if a small child were playing with the toy in the bathtub. There is never any urgency to the attacks, since it is so distractingly obvious the alligator is nothing but a lifeless puppet. You’d think at the very least Martino would have sprung for some insert shots of a real gator every so often. Of course, lines like “He’s not an animal…he’s a demon!” do not help in developing fear of the green beast.
The film is in fact filled with terrible dialogue, whether it be a dining couple noting that “Young people today only want to shake their bottoms!” or a hip young teenager notifying her boyfriend “I feel so groovy!” This was penned by Martino’s giallo partner in crime Ernesto Gastaldi, and the script is an equal step down his previous scripts as the direction is from Martino’s previous films. The film starts off addressing third-world imperialism, showing fleeting tribes running from the construction explosions of their land. In the way the film follows a Caucasian outsider into the world of exploitation, one gathers that Gastaldi was taking pages right out of a Lenzi cannibal film. If it were not released before Cannibal Holocaust
one would swear it was a huge rip-off, right down to a shot of a piglet being mistreated several times over. Gastaldi sets up plenty of social subtext regarding imperialism and even Daniel’s capitalist sell out of taking pictures for advertisers rather than for art. Nothing comes of this though, as the film slowly sulks into each successively clunky gator attack.
The most depressing thing about the film is how devoid of visual flourish the film is. Martino’s gialli were bred from an eye with a passion to experiment, to transform even the most rudimentary dialogue scene into one of flashy camera work. Sergio got lazy this time around, basically just plopping the camera down for each new boring composition. The film is shot in scope but it is of great wonder why it wasn’t just done matted. He makes no creative use of the frame, cutting background extras off down their bodies or framing his subjects far too close together in the center of the frame. One imagines he chose the wide aspect ratio to showcase the length of the alligator, but considering it is almost completely presented in drab close-up, the choice is an even greater waste.
At only 89 minutes the film still seems overly long, as it takes forever to set-up the gator as the main adversary, not even showing it until the 25-minute mark. It is just such a total step down in all respects from Martino’s previous work that there really is nothing to recommend the film for. Even casual animal attack fans would be bored to tears by this, as the attacks are so poorly staged and the suspense nonexistent. Tepid and boring, The Big Alligator River
drowns the viewer in a river of boredom.
Like the film, this transfer is a disappointment. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the whole print seems soft and not nearly as clear as some of Martino’s other NoShame releases. Grain is prominent throughout, and small specs pop-up from time to time. The day for night photography employed for the first attack is mastered with extremely strong blacks, where it becomes very tough to see what is going on. Then on the opposite side of the spectrum, scene with Bach and Cassinelli on the boat seem washed out and poorly colored. Cassinelli’s face has a pinkish saturation, while Bach looked almost over-exposed. Looking at the included trailers for the film, it is obvious some restoration work has been done, but this transfer is a far ways from pristine. The film is such a snoozer though, the mediocre transfer likely won’t entice anyone to start up any petitions. Not bad, but not up to the same standard that NoShame has become known for.
Like the previous Martino films, both English and Italian mono tracks are included with optional English subtitles. Both sound fairly flat and unflattering, but there isn’t really much that could be done to these tracks. At least the gialli had some great scores by Bruno Nicolai to liven the sound stage a bit. The proceedings here are comparatively boring.
All the Sergio Martino DVDs have featured an interview with the director as the main extra, and The Big Alligator River
features the longest interview yet at 35 minutes. With only two participants, Martino and production designer M. Antonello Geleng, the doc seems a bit long and lacks variety. Martino does what he does best: talk about how good his films are and all the talent he was able to assemble for them, and it is kind of fun watching him give himself hot air for such a long period of time. Also fun is seeing Martino angrily look over his shoulder at a couple loudmouths talking on a balcony a few stories below him. He does say a few interesting things too, like how after Jaws
the Italian film industry could no longer compete with the Americans, and how that was the reason why he turned to comedy through much of the eighties. He doesn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about The Big Alligator River
, which is a blessing, and fans of his will likely enjoy all the tidbits he has to say about Barbara Bach, his career and his career.
Also included are two trailers, one in English and one in Italian for The Big Alligator River
. If you can make it through the three minute trailers without fast forwarding, then you might just enjoy the film. A one minute poster gallery is also included to the soundtrack from the film. Lastly, there is a nice booklet included as well that provides bios for Martino, Bach, Cassinelli and Ferrer, as well as a summary of the film and another of the animal revenge genre. It is a good read.
The Big Alligator River
is a big hulking bore. Shot without any of the shock, style or script that Martino made a name for himself for with his gialli, there really is nothing going for this tame and tepid gator garbage. The image quality is mediocre at best, and the sound is in boring mono, although the language selection is a nice plus. The featurette is long-winded but informative, and will please all five fans of the film. Those looking for good animal attack movies should check out Orca, Spasms or even the recent DTV flick Crocodile 2 over this tripe. Those looking for good Sergio Martino needn’t look any further than the simultaneously released Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
Movie - D
Image Quality - C
Sound - B
Supplements - B
- Running Time - 1 hour 29 minutes [the DVD cover says 86 minutes]
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Italian mono
- English subtitles
- "In the Croc's nest" featurette
- Poster gallery
- Theatrical trailers