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Big Alligator River, The

NoShame Films // Unrated // September 27, 2005
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted September 29, 2005 | E-mail the Author
A feeble Jaws wannabe with little to recommend it, The Big Alligator River (Il Fiume del grande caimano, 1979) nonetheless gets a fine DVD presentation with both an excellent transfer and good extras courtesy NoShame Films. After Steven Spielberg's 1975 powerhouse, Italian filmmakers especially rushed to imitate its thrills, but this Johnny-come-lately is a tired, unenthusiastic effort, lacking even the goofy appeal of even worse films like the all-star Tentacles (Tentacoli, 1977). Despite some picturesque locations, The Big Alligator River is dull with inept effects.

The film is basically Jaws with Sri Lankan beaches - the same beaches overwhelmed by the December 2004 tsunami - substituting for Amity Island in Spielberg's film (from Peter Benchley's novel). In both stories, vacationers are threatened by a man-eating menace, but an authority figure with both eyes on all the money at stake stalls safety measures until it's too late. In this case, Joshua (Mel Ferrer) has sunk $3 million into a dream resort called Paradise House, a proto-Jurassic Park where tourists can get up close with dangerous wildlife. When Paradise worker Gina (Geneve Hutton) disappears after a late-night tryst with a local native, free-lance photographer Daniel Nessel (Claudio Cassinelli) and hotel manager / anthropologist Alice Brandt (Barbara Bach) soon realize an alligator - a very BIG alligator - is lurking about the waters, gobbling up everything in its sight.

The film's one novelty is that thrown into the mix is a King Kong-like subplot involving the local natives, who at first helped build Paradise House (and were crassly rewarded with blue jeans and Coca-Cola), but after the big alligator appears they blame the white invaders for waking their sleeping god. (Spolier Alert) Alice is kidnapped and like Ann Darrow tied to a sacrificial altar (actually, it's more like a bamboo bed frame laid at water-level) and offered up to the scaly creature. When that doesn't work, the natives take their vengeance out on the tourists and resort workers, who in the film's best sequence swim for their lives from the gator's giant jaws only to be skewered by flaming arrows on the beach.

Less successful but certainly novel is the unexpected appearance of British actor Richard Johnson as a bearded missionary driven to madness and a hermit like existence in a remote cave, where he's carved a life-size effigy of the big reptile. Why, in late 20th century Asia a British clergyman would mistake an overgrown alligator for a demon god of savage natives is never explained.

Otherwise, the picture is depressingly mechanical, with none of the characters or their situations generating any interest at all, and the alligator scenes unimaginatively filmed in the same style as Jaws, with lots of underwater and water-level point-of-view shots. Making matters worse is that both the full-size alligator prop and the outrageously phony miniature used for wide-angle underwater shots are stiff and lifeless, with a lot of Bert I. Gordon-like camera shaking in a vain attempt to hide their fakery. A few underwater shots at the very end almost work, but they come too late and follow even worse miniature work of a fast-spreading fire, in one of the worst tabletop miniatures ever.

Video & Audio

For a picture as bad as The Big Alligator River, its 16:9 transfer to DVD looks quite nice, preserving its original 'scope aspect ratio. (The IMDb credits Techniscope, but this seems wrong.) The image is bright and sharp, and the original Italian credits are used. Viewers can select the original Italian mono audio (with optional English subtitles) or a mono English-dubbed track. Given the American origins of two of its three leads, and the fact that most everyone else mouths their lines in English on camera, the English audio option is not inappropriate.

Extra Features

In the manner of Anchor Bay, Mondo Macabro, and Blue Underground, NoShame has assembled a nice collection of extras, the main supplement being In the Croc's Nest, which is billed as an interview with director Sergio Martino, but of which more than half consists of an interview with production designer M. Antonello Geleng. Martino seems slightly embarrassed by the picture; he keeps deflecting the conversation into other areas that, in the end, are much more interesting anyway. The interviews run 35 minutes and are 16:9 also.

Also enhanced are two Original Theatrical Trailers, one in English (of export sales, one imagines), the other in Italian. There's also a modest Poster Gallery.

Parting Thoughts

Until its lively climax, The Big Alligator River is a tame and mostly boring Jaws rip-off, which its makers freely admit. Fans of such pictures won't be disappointed with NoShame's loving care, however, something even the worst films deserve.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.

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