Welcome back to Terror Tapes. The weekly feature where I trudge through the celluloid sewer trying hard to stay at least moderately dry. So far I have stepped foolishly into piles of rancid video tape but I am confident there is something of incalculable value floating among the waste. The movies I watch for this column are typically the ones that never made the leap to DVD; for one glaringly obvious reason or another. An alarming commonality with horror films, both presently and in the heyday of my beloved format, is the in-name-only sequel.
Basically a movie is released in theaters that resonates with audiences, even the grindhouse or midnight movie set, and studios get greedy. Suddenly, or in this particular case 11 years later, a sequel is released that has little to nothing to do with the original in the hopes that enough of its fans will be duped into paying admission. I love Alligator (1980) so I was thrilled to come across a VHS of the follow-up Alligator II: The Mutation (1991) and even more thrilled to discover that finding it on DVD is as feasible as finding an actual alligator in a New York sewer.
I don't even feel like delving into the "plot" of Alligator II, because it is frustratingly commonplace. You could easily make the argument that the creature-beneath-the-city conceit of Alligator is extremely conventional, but at least it lends itself nicely to fantastic entertainment. The convention mined by the sequel is the slimy-land-developer-cares-more-about-money-than-humanity. How many horror films out there have at least a subplot about some sort of big wig ignoring supernatural dangers because acknowledging them would curb profitability? Jaws, Poltergeist, Alien, The Last Winter, and Jaws 2 just to name a few, all hit on this topic. When done right, it's extremely interesting. But Alligator II flippantly plays with it and actually focuses on it more than the giant freaking alligator!
What we end up with is a movie that's paced like a map being refolded; it takes way too long, it's hard to figure out how it all fits together, and ultimately you're just aggravated to the point of anger. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of stale line reads and expository dialogue. When we do see the alligator, gone is the impressive miniature work of its predecessor and it is replaced with stock nature footage of a painfully average-sized alligator. They try to compensate by overselling the fear induced by the creature; my favorite being the hardened crocodile hunter who all but shrieks when he sees it. I at least expected halfway decent kills to make up for the lacking monster, but then I am often naive. The kills are horribly sub-par and we are forced to spend upwards of forty minutes between them. This movie almost matched the 53 minute record between kills in Final Exam.
Oddly enough the "giant" alligator is not the least believable part of this film. The sleazy land developer, played by a stretch-faced Steve Railsbeck, gets away with murder left and right. I am not speaking euphemistically, he kills the chief of police in broad daylight and if that's not enough, he shoots the goddamn mayor on a Ferris wheel in the middle of a carnival! Really? I buy that. Or how about the fact that our "hero" can sneak up on a vicious alligator while in the water and stab it with a spear? Sure. The major offense to my intelligence was the idea that Joseph Bologna is one tenth as interesting an actor as Robert Forster. In fact, this film is populated by scores of weird, rubbery-faced male actors; as if a cadre of muppets suddenly transsubstantiated and forgot how to act.
There is nothing to like about this film. I am an avid fan of the original so I accept that my opinions are colored by my geek crush. But the fact is Alligator II is not even a shadow of the original and it does everything it can to cement that fact in our minds. It goes so far as to insert seminal scenes from Alligator into this trash pie; the staccato editing doing nothing to mask these shenanigans. If you are a completionist who simply must see every offshoot of every film you enjoy, see this movie. If you like so-bad-it's-good horror, rent anything else on the shelf because there is nothing halfway enjoyable about this thing. Sigh.
This film does technically exist on DVD. The UK put out a combo DVD of Alligator and Alligator II. But for all intents and purposes, unless you have region-free player, it's only available on glorious Cannon VHS.