The Alligator People

June 6, 2010 at 5:24 am (8 Heads, Alligator People) (, , , , )

The Alligator People – 1959 – United States

The Alligator People is a horror/sci-fi flick with pathos. Opening with a shot of murky swampland, the credits roll and the tone is set: mysterious and sinister. Receiving a strange telegram on his wedding night, a man flees his new wife, never to return. Distraught, the wife searches his school records, tracking him to his childhood home—an isolated manor in the bayou. Visiting, the wife is shunned by the manor’s lady, a shifty widow who denies knowing the husband. Meanwhile, deep in the swamp, men are fused with alligators in a hidden laboratory. I’ll stop there—I’d hate to spoil it, especially the ending, which doesn’t pull any punches, but you genre-heads can probably figure what goes down.

The Alligator People greatly benefits from its moody setting. The moment the heroine arrives at Bayou Landing (“I was the only passenger to get off. Strangely, there wasn’t another soul to be seen.”), the swamp is oppressive and ominous—emphasized by lots of atmospheric location shots: gnarled trees, murky pools, and clinging vines. Next to my homeland (the Haitian jungles), the bayou is the eeriest place on Earth. Plus, there are lots of gators and snakes slinking about, and a sequence with two dudes gator wrangling. Let’s not discount the manor either, lit by stained glass windows and cluttered with antiques.

Completing this sinister setup is a cast of brooding characters, particularly Lon Chaney Jr. as an insane swamp rat with a hook hand and a vendetta against gators. His scenes are the best in the movie as he runs over a gator with his truck, gets crazy on moonshine (“Made it myself!”), and tries to rape the heroine. The prim old widow and gentle southern doctor add their share of dubiousness too. And as you can guess, there’s alligator men lurking in the swamp. They’re a fun bunch.

The Alligator People is a competent B film made with love. It’s cheap, but without obvious corner cutting. Even with a multitude of gator shots, there are no crappy puppets or stock footage. The acting is good and the heroine is a little cutie, the lighting and photography demonstrate genre experience, and the script (overlooking clichés and mad science gibberish) is compelling.

Rating: 8/10 Shrunken Heads. The Alligator People is entertaining and somewhat thought provoking. The reason we watch hundreds of lame 50s cheapies is to periodically stumble on one like this.

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