Monster Movie Monday: The Great Alligator (1979)
Dubbing and dialogue4
Matthew Turner | On 02, Nov 2020
Director: Sergio Martino
Cast: Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer, Richard Johnson, Romano Puppo, Anny Papa, Enzo Fisichella
Watch The Great Alligator online in the UK: Amazon Prime
In the mood for a creature feature? Amazon Prime has a veritable menagerie of monster movies, so we’re working our way through them, one killer beastie at a time. Welcome to Monster Movie Mondays.
Directed by genre maestro Sergio Martino (known for his giallo movies), The Great Alligator has a number of other titles, including Il Fiume del Grande Caimano (its original Italian title), The Big Caimano River (the direct translation of its original title), Alligators, The Great Alligator River and Big Alligator River. A blatant Jaws rip-off, the film is pretty much all over the place, but it does offer a modicum of crocsploitation fun amongst the chaos.
The film begins with photographer Daniel (Claudio Cassinelli) and African-American model Sheena (Geneve Hutton) being helicoptered to jungle tourist resort Paradise Island, accompanied by Joshua (Mel Ferrer), the monstrously rich owner, developer and promoter of said resort. Upon landing, Daniel quickly forms an attraction to Ali Brandt (former Bond girl Barbara Bach, but dubbed by Susan Spafford), the resort’s hotel manager, who also happens to have a degree in anthropology.
When Sheena disappears during a midnight canoe trip with a local, the indigenous tribe get severely spooked, saying that “the great god of the river has been aroused” and is punishing the tribe for having contact with the Westerners. It turns out this “great god” is an enormous alligator and sure enough, it begins chomping its way through a smorgasbord of fresh-off-the-boat tourists, while Joshua ignores the warnings from Daniel and Ali in true mayor-from-Jaws fashion.
The great alligator itself is easily the best thing about The Great Alligator, even if there’s an argument to be had over whether it’s actually a crocodile – the resort has locations named things like Crocodile Bridge, and there’s a single line of dialogue to the effect of “alligators aren’t native to this region”. Also, it totally looks like a crocodile.
Either way, the monster effects are impressive. Martino is careful to build up to the full effect, initially only showing bits and pieces of the creature in its first attack, which, pleasingly, happens just 25 minutes into the film. Thereafter, it’s shown in more detail, with a huge, creepy eye and the film’s pièce de résistance, a spectacular, tooth-filled chomping jaw effect. It’s clear that the effects team spent all their budget on that head piece, because you never see the creature out of the water and the full body shots are… well, they’re not as impressive, although there is a good bit where it bites into a VW van and thrashes it about.
The undoubted highlight of the film is the action-packed climax, which features the giant alligator having a right old feast. It goes on much longer than attack sequences usually do in this sort of film and, at one point, it seems like every single extra is given their chomped-by-an-alligator moment. There are a couple of other set-pieces too, but they pale into comparison with the climax – let’s just say it’s worth waiting for and that the film really kicks up a notch once all the supporting characters hop aboard “Tarzan’s Raft”.
The film has a couple of other things going for it too. In particular, some of the production design is imaginative and striking, most notably the statues erected by the natives to worship the river god, and an alligator effigy that’s been carved out of rock by Father Jonathan (Richard Jameson), a crazy old recluse – he lives in a a cave behind a waterfall and has gone full Robinson Crusoe – who’s apparently the only living white man to have seen the giant alligator and lived. The bass-driven, slightly synthy score is also a lot of fun, something that The Great Alligator has in common with other films in the genre, such as Tentacles.
Unfortunately, the bad bits of the film are really quite bad indeed. The dialogue is either nonsensical or borderline incomprehensible, and that’s before you factor in the frankly atrocious dubbing. Notable clunkers include a party-goer yelling “Come on in! Even if you shit on yourself, no-one is going to see it in here!” as he jumps in the water and Daniel’s did-he-really-just-say-that flirtation technique, leaning in to Ali and whispering: “Feel like getting off with me?” (She declines.)
The camerawork is frequently poor too – several shots are seemingly over-exposed and there’s some deeply irritating slow-motion stuff that serves no discernible purpose other than to literally slow the pace right down to nothing. The film doesn’t even have any fun with its alligator-eye-view gimmick.
On top of that, Martino blatantly reuses animal and jungle stock footage from previous Italian exploitation movies, although that’s unlikely to bother you unless you’re fully clued up on which animals come from which regions.
There are other, more pressing problems. During the admittedly fun climax, the islanders decide they need to appease the alligator and start slaughtering the tourists and resort employees themselves. If there’s one thing you can say about a creature feature, it’s that the creature shouldn’t be the second scariest thing in the film and that’s what happens here. Worse, the character that most deserves to meet his end at the hands of an alligator chomping gets offed by natives instead, which feels like a cheat.
As for the acting, it’s mostly woeful, although it’s hard to be sure because the dubbing is so awful. The film also makes a half-hearted stab at some tittilation, but the best it can manage is the occasionally topless extra, a leering close-up of a bikini-clad bottom and a frustratingly under-developed sequence where a scantily clad Barbara Bach is tied to a sinking raft (offscreen), with the natives intending to sacrifice her to the angry alligator-slash-river god.
The only other thing to say is that the actual climax is both extremely lazy and decidedly familiar, as if the producers just went: ‘You know what? It’s been four years since Jaws, let’s just do that.’ There are also some questions regarding proximity to explosions, but this column is already far too long as it is.
The Great Alligator (1979) is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.