Color, 1979, 88 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Sergio Martino
Starring Barbara Bach, Claudio Casinelli, Mel Ferrer, Richard Johnson, Romano Puppo, Geneve Hutton
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), NoShame, Mya Communications (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), X-Rated Kult (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The Great Alligator

The Great AlligatorIn 1979, busy director Sergio Martino was in full-on exotic horror mode when he shot two movies back to back with the same four actors: Island of the Fishmen, which was transformed by New World Pictures into the gory Screamers, and this belated Jaws knockoff (with a little De Laurentiis King Kong) about a tropical paradise invaded by the titular reptile. A hot property at the time thanks to her starring role in 1978's The Spy Who Loved Me, Bach was making films left and right at the time (including a third Italian film, The Humanoid),

At an upscale resort called Paradise House in the middle of the jungle, professional photographer Daniel Nessel (Cassinelli, previously in Martino's Mountain of the Cannibal God) arrives with his star model, Sheena (Hutton), to do some layout shots of the property to bring in new investors and customers for its developer, Joshua (Ferrer). Sheena's disappearance while getting some moonlight action outdoors leads our hero to team up with property manager / executive assistant Ali (Bach), with whom he discovers that the nearby Kuma tribe claims that Kruna, "the great god of the river," has been awakened by all the construction and people setting off dynamite all over the place. Now, according to them, Kruna has taken the form of a giant, ticked-off reptile with a taste for tourists, and despite Joshua's selfish efforts to avoid a panic at any costs, no one is safe.The Great AlligatorThe Great Alligator

Extremely amusing and daffy enough to set itself apart from the wave of nature attack films that crowded drive-ins in the '70s, The Great Alligator features some notoriously unconvincing special effects including a stiff full-size croc head, toy trucks, halfhearted models, and other bargain basement tactics that end up being pretty charming when the gory mayhem kicks in after the one-hour mark. Before that the film sticks to traditional monster movie structure by moving as slowly as possible for the first two acts, but it's always fun to watch Bach strut her stuff and you even get a hilariously crazed turn by Richard Johnson (Zombie) in a wild wig and fake beard as the local traumatized crackpot who's been stuck in a cave since his fellow missionaries fell afoul of the beast's sharp teeth. Also on hand as sort-of comic relief is little Silvia Collatina, who would go on to play the spooky redheaded kid Mae in House by the Cemetery a couple of years later. Incredibly, Martino co-wrote the film with a fleet of other scribes including prolific giallo scribe Ernesto Gastaldi and George Eastman, which makes one wonder what those writing sessions felt like if they were The Great Alligatorall working on it at the same time. Not to be overlooked is the ridiculous percussive, pop-influenced score by Stelvio Cipriani, an infectious piece of work on its own with track titles like "Alligator Boogie-Woogie" and "Dance Your Fear Away." (Keep an ear out during that senior citizen dance scene for his pop song "Spend the Night with You," which pops up in other films like La supplente va in città.)

The Great AlligatorThe first DVD release of this film came early in the format's history as a clamshell-case edition from X-Rated Kult in Germany, which featured an annoying disclaimer subtitle that popped up on the screen if you watched it in English. In addition to a quick bit of superfluous bonus footage, the trailer, and the Italian credits, it's mainly of interest for including the German Super-8 version (Der fluss der Morderkrokodile). In 2005, the now-defunct NoShame released a pretty nice transfer of the film for the time as The Big Alligator River, including the standard English track (which dubs Bach with the woman who voiced Janet Agren in City of the Living Dead, for some reason) and the Italian dub with optional subs if you feel so inclined-- though the English track works just fine and at least has Ferrer and Johnson's real vocal performances. Martino pops up for "In the Croc's Nest" (34m55s), a video interview about shooting the film in Sri Lanka and working with his stars on multiple projects, with a brief appearance by production designer Antonello Geleng as well. Also included are the English-language and Italian international trailers, a gallery of poster art, and liner notes featuring a not-very-serious essay by Richard Harland Smith and cast bios. The same configuration minus the featurette was reissued in 2010 from Mya Communications under the title Alligator. (Weirdly, everyone refers to the creature as a crocodile in the actual film, but close enough apparently.)

The Great AlligatorThe Great Alligator made its inevitable leap to Blu-ray in 2017 from Code Red, sold via Ronin Flix. The new HD transfer looks The Great Alligatorpretty solid, with strong colors, a natural fine film grain appearance, and deep blacks; it's not a film that will be demo material any time soon, but it's a nice upgrade. Note that some second unit water shots have always had scratches baked in; that's not a flaw of the transfer. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is included, and the "In the Croc's Nest" and Italian trailer have been ported over, with bonus trailers included for Cry of a Prostitute, Almost Human, After the Fall of New York, and Jungle Holocaust. However, you also get three new featurettes from Freak-o-Rama kicking off with "3 Friends and an Alligator" (15m55s) with Geleng, cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando, and special effects supervisor Paolo Ricci chatting at a table with the remains of the main alligator model as they chat about shooting this within a string of Martino films. This one also may hold the record for the largest number of burned-in English subtitles on screen at once with the three men frequently talking at the same time. In "Alligator Rock" (16ms30s), camera operator Claudio Morabito goes into detail about the challenges of shooting in Sri Lanka and being disappointed in how the several crocodiles used for the film didn't quite come off correctly. (Choice line: "This movie is probably the worst one made by Sergio but it's interesting anyway.") Underwater camera operator Gianlorenzo Battaglia turns up last in "Shooting Underwater" (7m18s), discussing how the below-water scenes were done in the same "dirty pool" at De Paolis Studios used later for Phenomena.


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Reviewed on July 28, 2017.