The post from which this was excerpted was originally published on Swampflix.com as part of that site’s “Movie of the Month” feature, in which one contributor makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before, and the staff discusses it afterwards. For June 2016, Britnee made me and Brandon watch Alligator (1980).
I don’t know that I would call this a camp film, actually. It has its fair share of campy ideas, but the general seriousness of the situation and the brutality of the onscreen deaths (particularly that of the child who is killed at some kind of costume party) make up for the sillier elements. There are certainly some deranged elements that threaten to push the film over the edge into full on camp, like Marisa’s excitable and possibly crazy mother and the archetypal irascible police chief’s Mentat-style eyebrows, but Alligator has something that a lot of genre satires don’t: respect for the source material that is being referenced. The Jaws parallels mentioned above are the most obvious, as the film is unabashedly aping that film’s style and plotline right down to mayoral corruption, here the result of the unnamed mayor’s relationship with the pharmaceutical chief whose company’s experiments indirectly led to the alligator’s mutation rather than an attempt to preserve the summer tourism economy boom. There’s a lot here that’s played for laughs, but the film manages to do so without irrevocably breaking the tension, which is a refreshing change of pace from other pastiche parodies. Even if we disregard contemporary rubbish parodies like Date Movie or Meet the Spartans and only consider genre classics, great movies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun don’t really work as legitimate examples of disaster film or cop drama when divested of their parodic elements; in contrast, even if you were to somehow never seen or heard of Jaws, Alligator would still hold up as a surprisingly decent example of the “giant animal” horror subgenre.