Release Date(s)1980 (February 22, 2022)
Studio(s)Group 1 International/Alligator Associates (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A+
The list of films that were spawned in the wake of Jaws is endless. Even Roger Corman and Joe Dante had found box office success with the deadly underwater creature recipe in Piranha, which had been written by John Sayles. He would go on to write other genre satires, most prominently The Howling, before being tapped by relative newcomer Lewis Teague (whom he had just worked with on The Lady in Red) to rewrite the script for his upcoming film Alligator. The final product drew upon not just Jaws, but the now archaic urban legend that alligators were being flushed into the sewers and could possibly survive down there, feeding on garbage and vermin. More importantly, Alligator managed to balance the scales of taking its plot seriously enough, but never forgetting that it’s also a humorous spin on a formula set forth by an oversized man-eating fish five years prior.
Released in November of 1980, Alligator managed to eke out a decent profit and receive surprisingly good critical reviews, particularly at a time when horror films were just beginning to head into slasher territory, an era in which critics eviscerated most of the horror films that were being released. Almost Larry Cohen-ish in its approach (unintentionally, of course), Alligator is fully cognizant of what it is and where it gets its inspiration from. It has a witty satirical edge to it, giving it a bit more than most monster movies of its ilk. It also focuses on character development while delivering exactly what you would want from a film about a giant alligator. It pulls no punches when it comes to who it kills either. Victims of the rampaging reptile range from the very young to the very old. Even main characters are eaten up before getting much screen time.
One of the film’s best attributes is Robert Forster (always a welcome face), giving the lead character a cool, calm, and collected sensibility. His own suggestion to incorporate jokes about his hair loss was also taken full advantage of by Sayles, which further added to the film’s facetious flavor. Henry Silva popping up halfway through as a Quint type character, fully intent on hunting and killing the animal, also adds to the absurdity, especially during a scene in which he describes to a reporter (Sue Lyon, of all people) the mating call of the male alligator. A horrific and, at times, gory film, Alligator’s undercurrent of self-awareness and environmental commentary mixed with trope-ish characters and situations help make it one of the finest monster movies ever made.
Alligator was shot by director of photography Joseph Mangine on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35-II series cameras and spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented theatrically in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Scream Factory debuts Alligator on Ultra HD with a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included). In a word, Alligator in UHD is gorgeous. The only real flaws are the optically-produced transitions and titles, which are inherently soft. Otherwise, this is a lush and organic presentation with a high bit rate and dimensionality like you’ve never seen in this film before. Grain is incredibly well managed, with higher levels of detail both above ground and below. The shadowy sewer environments feature deep blacks and excellent contrast, while detail on costumes and objects in straight daylight is greatly boosted. The HDR grade offers additional color depth and refinement, bursting with bold reds, greens, and blues. It blows the gamut wide open during street scenes, the upper class party towards the end, and the interiors of the police station. The image is stable and clean, with nary a speck of damage leftover, nor is there any evidence of digital enhancements or pixelation. The Blu-ray that’s included in this package looks great on its own, but its 4K counterpart represents the best that the film has ever looked, bar none.
The audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a solid single channel track that’s both clean and vibrant, particularly when it comes to Craig Hundley’s score. Dialogue exchanges are clear and discernible and sound effects are given about as much push as a mono track can offer without distorting them. A Dolby Atmos track that widened the original mono elements without altering them or adding additional support could have been interesting. Regardless, this is a satisfying track.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition 4K Ultra HD release of Alligator also includes two Blu-rays of the film in 1080p with the same audio and subtitle options. One features the theatrical version of the film with a set of extras, and the other includes the TV version, which has been assembled using the new 4K scan of the original camera negative with additional footage taken from a scan of an interpositive. The additional footage matches the new scan quite well, though the extended scene in the bedroom between Robert Forster and Robin Riker is the most obvious patch-up. Each disc includes the following extras:
DISC ONE: THEATRICAL VERSION (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Lewis Teague, Robert Forster, and Del Howison
DISC TWO: THEATRICAL VERSION (BD)
- Audio Commentary with Lewis Teague, Robert Forster, and Del Howison
- Gator Guts, The Great River, and Bob with Bryan Cranston (HD – 22:17)
- Everybody in the Pool: Actress Robin Riker on Alligator (HD – 7:33)
- Wild in the Streets: Director Lewis Teague on Alligator (HD – 24:32)
- Luck of the Gator: Special Effects Makeup Artist Robert Short on Alligator (HD – 12:28)
- It Walks Among Us: Writer John Sayles on Alligator (HD – 9:35)
- Alligator Author (Upscaled SD – 17:19)
- TV Cut Additional Scenes (Upscaled SD – 12 in all – 8:01)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:12)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:35)
- TV Spots (HD – 4 in all – 1:56)
- Trailers from Hell with Karyn Kusama (HD – 1:24)
- Newsprint Ad Gallery (HD – 27 in all – 3:19)
- Still Gallery (HD – 269 in all – 22:38)
- Easter Egg (SD – :31)
DISC THREE: TV VERSION (BD)
Nearly everything has been newly-created for this release. The audio commentary featuring director Lewis Teague, actor Robert Forster, and Dark Delicacies’ Del Howison has been carried over from the previous Lionsgate DVD release. The three men have a mostly enjoyable conversation that occasionally slips into Howison asking the Teague and Forster questions when they run out of steam, which rarely happens. They go quiet a few times, but everything flows pretty well and they never seem to run out of topics. Teague tends to dominate the conversation.
In Gator Guts, Bryan Cranston gives an excellent interview in which he talks about taking a job as a lowly production assistant in the special effects department on the film while being a struggling actor in the early 1980s. He details what he would do for the production, specifically preparing and loading the blood into the alligator for its explosion at the end. He also discusses the experience of being around the actors, specifically Robert Forster, whom he spoke to briefly, but it left an enormous impression on him that he carried through with him in his career. In Everybody in the Pool, actress Robin Riker discusses her character, working with Robert Forster and the other actors, the various versions of “Ramon”, the effects and locations, and the appeal of the film. In Wild in the Streets, director Lewis Teague talks about rewriting the script with John Sayles, getting Robert Forster, dealing with the alligator effects and making the film more of a comedy, working the locations, the cinematography, the pool scene with the kids, screening the film for Vincent Canby, the sequel, his thoughts on the film today, and (in a surprisingly candid moment) how it helped him get over his substance abuse. In Luck of the Gator, special effects makeup artist Robert Short describes his duties on the film, details about the oversized alligator costume, appearing in the film, various gore effects, and dealing with a real alligator. In It Walks Among Us, writer John Sayles (via Skype/Zoom) talks about how he was hired to re-write the film, being influenced by other monster movies, other inspirations for ideas in the story, and aspects of the final film that he likes. Alligator Author is a vintage extra, which was also included on the aforementioned Lionsgate DVD release. It also features an interview with John Sayles, discussing much of the same subject matter. It also appears to have been processed a bit to smooth out its lower resolution qualities.
The TV Cut Additional Scenes features low resolution versions of a couple of deleted and extended scenes, and alternate pieces of dialogue to cover for language (all of which are presented in higher quality on Disc Three). Next are the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers, a set of TV spots, and a Trailers from Hell commentary on the teaser trailer by filmmaker and fan Karyn Kusama. The Newsprint Gallery features 27 images taken from the film’s various theatrical releases and TV airings. The Still Gallery features 269 images of publicity stills, behind-the-scenes photos, posters, lobby cards, newspaper clippings, home video artwork, promotional items, and the board game. The Easter Egg can be found after watching the TV Spots, which prompts a hidden bonus: a commercial for the Alligator kids game.
The three discs sit inside a black amaray case with double-sided artwork, featuring new artwork by Joel Robinson on the front and the original US poster artwork on the reverse. Everything is housed within a slipcover featuring the same new artwork.
Alligator is easily one of Scream Factory’s finest 4K Ultra HD releases to date, partly due to the film’s limited availability over the years, but also because of the sheer quality it offers. The film has always been a personal favorite of mine, and this UHD release breathes new life into it by offering the finest presentation possible with a cavalcade of great extras. Snap this one up immediately. It’s highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons