THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Directed by Lewis Teague
"It's playful. It’s goofy. It’s gory. It’s entertaining."
Between the Black Sheep and Test of Time, in the past few weeks I've examined the giant monsters of cinema: King Kong and Godzilla. Those very large and very angry individuals can obviously inflect some major damage since they're well…big. And since they are so big that makes them scary. Who wouldn’t be afraid of a ten story beast lumbering through a city devastating everything he touches? That would suck.
However, monsters don't always have to massive. Hell, they don't even have to be mythical creatures. Sometimes a "normal" creature - the kind any dummy can spot at the zoo - can be just as frightening and just as deadly. Think of Hitchcock’s The Birds or Piranha or Cujo. It’s the normal things that’ll most likely kill us all anyway. But there is one zoo beast that does scare any sane person: the alligator. It just sits around, waiting in water to strike with big ass jaws and too many damn teeth. That’s scary shit.
Now 1980's Alligator isn't a classic to the regular folks out there, but it’s a great example of a near-perfect B movie for a few different reasons. It's playful. It’s goofy. It’s gory. It’s entertaining. And most of all, it knows what it is. B-horror is always a tricky sub-genre. Movies either try too hard or don’t try hard enough to hit that g-spot of horror camp without ending up stupid goofy (ala Troma) or no fun to watch (Deathrace). But Alligator pulls off that balance with ease.
The story starts when a pissed off dad flushes his little girl’s pet alligator Ramon down the toilet. Years later, after a steady diet of hormone induced lab animal experiments (don’t ask), it’s grown into a real problem. Things start a little slow with Ramon eating people only here and there, but when he gets pissed, he isn’t shy. He bursts out of the sewer a few times to kill a lot people. The best comes during the final act, when he takes down an entire wedding party like he's at one of those overstocked buffets with a stupid amount of choices.
More than anything, Robert Forster is really damn good as a lead. It’s easy to see why 17 years later Quentin Tarantino plucked the man back out of near obscurity as Max Cherry for the classic Jackie Brown. Here, he plays Detective David Madison, a cop with a past as he keeps letting his partners get dead. The movie doesn't dwell on it too much, but enough to establish some sort of past for the character. Even more, he's game to allow a lot of receding hairline jokes which adds more character development that anything else in the film. Forster doesn’t ham things up but doesn’t take it too seriously either. He must have known this was a shit picture, but everyone involved looked in on the joke. Everyone (included stock actor Michael V. Gazzo – look him up, you’ll know him) brings it.
Director Lewis Teague, who seemed to have a thing for animals with Cujo and Cat's Eye, (along with Jewel of the Nile and Jay Leno's tour de force Collision Course!) interjects the right amount of humor, story, and gore to not only keep the movie's pace moving, but make it all...fun. By the time the credits roll, you won't even realize 90 minutes just flew by. Alligator is a senselessly brutal flick that never plays it safe as the beast chomps down on women, children, old men, hunters, and I believe even a groom without blinking that big eye too much.