Alligator II Review

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week’s journey can be blamed on the new movie Crawl which left me with a hankering for more alligator fun.)

This past weekend saw the wide-release arrival of a creature feature, and we’re all better off for it. All. Of. Us. They’re good fun and a nice break for horror fans from the ghost stories that typically make it to theaters. Crawl is a killer alligator flick, and a pretty great one at that, but while it’s the latest it’s far from the first.

Sergio Martino’s The Great Alligator (1979) probably has that honor, but it’s 1980’s Alligator that set a high bar for gator fun. It’s one of the best stabs at piggy-backing on the Jaws (1975) formula, and as is befitting of its greatness the film earned a sequel. Unfortunately, but necessarily for the purpose of this column, Alligator II: The Mutation went straight to DVD.

Did it deserve a better fate, or does it belong in the sewers? Keep reading as this week’s descent into the world of direct-to-video sequels pits a modern-day dinosaur against Joseph Bologna.

The Beginning

Alligator opens as a family visits an alligator park on vacation, and after seeing one of the beasts take a chunk out of an animal handler’s leg they decide to take a baby gator home as a pet. Obviously. It’s not long before the dad flushes the animal down the toilet out of spite, and twelve years later that act of cruelty comes home to roost. People start disappearing, body parts begin appearing, and a local detective worried about his receding hairline quickly discovers the culprit is a hungry, limo-sized alligator. His investigation reveals the gator isn’t the only – or even the worst – monster either as a heartless scientist, a millionaire profiting off animal testing, and spineless politicians get in the way of stopping the creature. Luckily, the detective is a badass who won’t take no for an answer.

The DTV Plot

The sequel picks up eleven years later, and a California town is about to face a similar problem. Remnants of the same experimental growth hormone and chemical compounds from the first film are once again leaked into the sewers, and now a giant crocodile is once again snacking on the populace. The only thing standing between it and its next human buffet is a determined detective with a rocket launcher and an inability to park his car legally. He gets zero support, though, as his chief answers to a mayor who’s in deep with an unscrupulous businessman, and he’s forced to fight the beast his way. With the aforementioned rocket launcher.

Talent Shift

Alligator is directed by Lewis Teague, and while it was his third feature it was his first stab at animal horror. He’s better known for Cujo (1983), of course, but does a terrific job with this lighter-toned creature feature. Writer John Sayles took the opposite route having previously written 1978’s Piranha, and he brings a similar sense of satirical humor to this one. Robert Forster takes the lead as the cop fighting City Hall and male-pattern baldness, and he’s every bit as charming as you expect. Familiar faces make up the supporting cast including Dean Jagger, Jack Carter, and the great Henry Silva as a cocky big game hunter. The scene where he hires three young black men off the Chicago streets to be his “native” guides should be cringe-worthy, but Silva sells his own assholery so damn well.

Alligator II: The Mutation doesn’t quite have that same level of recognizable quality among its cast and crew, but it still fares a bit better than DTV sequels typically do. Director Jon Hess previously adapted Dean Koontz’s Watchers (1988), and as a sucker for Koontz adaptations I’m inclined to give him a break, while writer Curt Allen’s filmography is five movies long with this being his last. Make of that what you will. Neither man seems inclined to infuse the film with a similar humor to the first, and they instead settle for some basic gags. Cast-wise, while the always terrific Dee Wallace co-stars, most of our time is spent with Joseph Bologna who, it must be said, is no Robert Forster. Toss in Steve Railsback as a slick developer and Richard Lynch as a big game hunter named – wait for it – Hawk Hawkins, and the film is just shy of being a waste of your time.

How the Sequel Respects the Original

The ideal sequel continues a story while adding its own elements into the mix. This is not that sequel, but it does offer several nods to its superior predecessor in the form of Xeroxed beats and elements. It’s the same cause behind the gator’s growth, the carnage starts in the sewers, a businessman once again poses an existential threat greater than the one brought on by the gator itself, the cop gets his badge revoked for pushing too far against powerful elites, and a professional hunter fails leaving the rogue detective to step up to the scaly plate. On second thought, these are all negatives.

How the Sequel Shits on the Original

While the original is a fun Jaws riff, this is a tired one. Where Teague and Sayles personalized their cautionary tale inspired by an urban legend – pet reptiles flushed alive can grow up in the sewers – with satirical humor and personality, The Mutation seems content simply copying narrative beats while adding little new to the experience. Big gator due to careless waste disposal? Check. Rogue cop no one believes? Check. Political higher-ups beholden to financial influencers? Check. Big game hunter who fails at hunting big game? Check. Third-act carnage as the gator finally goes public and wreaks havoc through a crowd? Check.

The only real change here is with the human villain. While the first film’s wealthy businessman was a bad guy, the harm he caused was a result of his greed and indifference. Vincent Brown follows a similar path at first, but the back half of the film sees him suddenly become a full-on murderer! He runs a cop off the road, he shoots the mayor, and it’s a lazy attempt to make him a really, really bad guy. Which, of course, is redundant as he’s played by the wonderfully icky Steve Railsback.

Worst of all, though, while the first film has the grim cojones to toss a child into a swimming pool where the big gator is resting – kids are playing pirates and make their friend walk the diving board plank to his doom – the sequel only kills off full-grown adults. Even then, far too much of the gator violence is simply the beast’s tail knocking people around. The PG-13 rating was a death knell.

Conclusion

Alligator II: The Mutation is a bit better than many of the DTV flicks I’ve covered here in part because it features real actors and zero CG. (You’d be surprised how often these cheap sequels rely on CG for their shenanigans.) That doesn’t make it a good movie, though, as it’s a lazy, mostly unfunny retread that’s devoid of thrills and pales beside the 1980 original. Watch it if you’re a completist, I guess, but your better bet is double featuring-Alligator and Crawl and then calling it a night.

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