Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Little Sensitive on the Subject

In the audio commentary for THE HOWLING, director Joe Dante mentions that John Sayles was writing the scripts for both his film and ALLIGATOR at the same time. Both films contain dream sequences where the lead character is haunted by a recent trauma and Dante wonders if maybe one of the ALLIGATOR dreams accidentally wound up in his film or vice versa. Since the sequences in THE HOWLING seem to fit with the movie better, I’m going to guess that ALLIGATOR is the film that got the extra scene.

Released in 1980 and now on DVD, Lewis Teague’s ALLIGATOR is a deliberately old-school monster movie that tells the story of a baby alligator flushed down a toilet, just like the urban legend, which reemerges years later much, much bigger after being exposed to an experimental growth formula which has gotten down there due to illegal dumping. When human body parts begin turning up in the sewer system of an unnamed Midwestern city, Police Detective David Madison (Robert Forster) begins investigating, not realizing that he will have to deal with the alligator himself.

I like ALLIGATOR, but wish I liked it more than I do. Sporting some pattern baldness up top which is so evident that it gets worked into dialogue, Forster is the best thing about the movie. He’d just come off THE BLACK HOLE at this point, which I’m guessing couldn’t have been the most satisfying production and here he seems to be fully embracing how he gets to play a somewhat real character, even in the context of a monster movie. The hair thing (which is also mentioned much later in Tarantino’s JACKIE BROWN—an intentional reference?) just makes him more likable and the film wouldn’t have whatever endearing qualities it has without Forster to ground it.

The evil-corporation subplot in the film fits in well with Dante’s earlier PIRANHA, which Sayles also co-wrote, but while ALLIGATOR is probably a “better” film, PIRANHA, even with its wildly varying tone, still feels more enjoyable. This one has a supporting cast equal to the Dante films, but the difference is that he seems to really enjoy coming up with ways to use them—just look at what Dick Miller does in any of those movies. ALLIGATOR offers Michael V. Gazzo, Dean Jagger, Jack Carter, Sydney Lassick and Perry Lang but at times I wondered why Lewis Teague wasn’t really taking advantage of them. The most amusing person in the cast is Henry Silva as the Great White Hunter brought in by the city to deal with the alligator. Funny stuff, I just wish there were more done with him.

But hey, the movie’s called ALLIGATOR and the good news is that the enormous title creature is fun to watch and well handled in how it’s shot. Teague never really brings the personality that Dante brought to his films (especially THE HOWLING), but the movie is honestly fun to watch. A lot of the credit has to go to John Sayles for his script, with his maverick tone providing a fast and funny update on the standard monster movie plotline. The most shocking scene, taking place in a swimming pool, is pretty effective and things do pay off well on all points once we hit the climax. It might not be everything I want it to be, but the truth is that it’s hard not to get some enjoyment out of Robert Forster going up against a giant alligator. If you can’t, then I really don’t know what to say.


Nostalgia Kinky said...

I have been looking for this disc everytime I go out but haven't been able to find it. I need to just order it online but I thought it would be one that would pop up in the local Halloween racks...my memories of it are good, but I am sure a re-viewing of it would reinforce that Forster is the best part of it.
What an incredible talent this guy is. He is one of those guys that brings so much to every film he is in. When he does get a great part (like JACKIE BROWN, easily one of my favorites from the nineties, or MEDIUM COOL or VIGILANTE) he just knocks it out of the park...Forster is a real favorite...I hope to get this disc soon...

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Yeah, Forster's terrific, isn't he? It's a nice disc--there's a commentary with Forster and Teague and a fifteen-minute interview with Sayles. It's worth checking out if you can find it.