Saturday, September 2, 2017

Alligator, John Sayles

The 1980 film Alligator is one in a line of pop-horror films made to capitalize off of the success of Jaws (1975).  Grizzly (1976), Orca (1977), and Piranha (1978, also written by Sayles) are other examples. And while it is a fun B-film, Sayles is a smart writer and his cleverness shows through the tropes of the genre. Here are a few quick notes and reflections:

Quick plot summary: a baby alligator is flushed down the toilet by a little girl's father who doesn't want the pet around any more. In the sewers the beast is exposed to hormones and other chemicals from a medical lab and these cause the alligator to grow to the size of a car and have a huge appetite (mainly for dogs and humans). After killing a number of folks, a cop (recently fired from the force for his 'crazy' ideas about an alligator in the sewers) finds the beast and destroys it (while winning the female biologist love interest).

Things to note: 
- Like radioactive boar and radioactive rabbits, this is about a return of the repressed. Even John Oliver is talking about radioactive alligators
- The whole film is anti-authority. Father who naively flushes the baby alligator down the toilet is shown to be wrong (it doesn't die), expert hunter is killed, cops are killed, owner of the medical establishment that created the beast-enhancing hormones is killed, etc. 
- More anti-authority. The film is set in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention (briefly mentioned over the radio toward the beginning of the film). Rather than convention riots, we get the alligator! The alligator is anti-police, not the rioters. He is the riot! and more importantly, he is anti-human and like the monstrous body for a riot, the violence of the animal is chaotic. 
- More on violence. It is chaotic but with a moral feel that the 'bad guys' in the movie get what they deserve. The film has it both ways... indiscriminate violence of animality and moral killings.
- What is in our water? The alligator is a stand-in for the toxins he absorbs and that are the slow mutations of contaminated public water. Medicines are in our water. This is the return of the repressed. "Discarded Drugs May Contaminate 40 Million Americans' Drinking Water" as Scientific America reports. 
- The end of the film. A manhole cover is placed over the viewer. We are stuck in the sewer--to be eaten or to become the alligator. A small baby alligator is flushed into the sewer. The story will repeat.

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