Director: Sergio Martino
NoShame Films

Why, Sergio Martino, why?! After directing some of the very best gialli ever made, Martino’s late 70s output is kind of embarrassing considering the high standards he set with earlier productions. Produced as an obvious cash-in on JAWS (1975), this killer-reptile schlocker is actually better-written and photographed than one would expect. It’s strange that NoShame wouldn’t release this under its American title, THE GREAT ALLIGATOR. But that’s the title it’s best known under, so I will address it throughout in this review as GREAT ALLIGATOR. Under any title, it’s not one of Martino’s best, but followers of low-budget Italian horror of the late 70s and early 80s should enjoy it.

A greedy land developer has targeted a beautiful island paradise as the next spot for his chain of island resorts for the rich and famous. However, he didn’t count on incurring the wrath of a local alligator god, Kroona! The plentiful dynamite blasts, destruction of the jungle, and exploitation of the natives results in a giant alligator running amok, determined to stop the developers from imposing on sacred ground. Magazine photographer Daniel and his gal pal Alice must figure out a way to stop the blood-spurting rampage of the goring gator before they are all eaten!

Short on story, but long on travelogue photography, silly dialogue, and an outrageous monster, GREAT ALLIGATOR was a mom-and-pop video store favorite for years and has, like many killer-animal films, developed a strong cult following. The film excels over most other JAWS rip-offs by at least attempting a different approach. Instead of just some pissed-off water creature going man-hungry for no reason, the theme of Third World exploitation and pro-environmental concerns is big thinking for an exploitation film! It’s interesting to think that the filmmakers were trying to inject social commentary with their cheesy fake reptile yarn… Nah, it’s still an exploitation film, just with a semi-intelligent script. Those looking for lots of gory deaths will be disappointed, because other than some red water shots, this could be rated PG. The most disturbing scene is of fishermen throwing live piglets into the water and letting alligators eat them! Thankfully this potential Mondo moment never reaches the “punchline”! Shot on-location in Sri Lanka and like most Eurofilms shot in Asia and South America, there is wonderful atmosphere used to the film’s advantage.

Barbara Bach plays the gorgeous heroine well enough, considering she was definitely not an actress. Mel Ferrer, as in his other Italian exploitation films (EATEN ALIVE, NIGHTMARE CITY, ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN), looks pretty embarrassed at having to appear in a killer alligator film, but late great leading man Claudio Cassinelli is more likable and believable as the hot shot photographer hero. It’s very hard to believe that Richard Johnson, who shot ZOMBIE the same year for Fulci on another tropical island, took the cameo role of a bearded hermit living in a cave who rambles on about the danger of angering Kroona. Quite a long way from THE HAUNTING, aren’t we, Richard? He was probably thrown in after playing the lead in ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN for Martino around the same time. The supporting cast also includes a few familiar Eurocult faces: Sylvia Collatina, the ghost girl in Fulci’s HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, plays sharp-tongued little tourist Minou, Bobby Rhodes (DEMONS 1 & 2) is Mel Ferrer’s right-hand man, Italian action star Romano Puppo (THE BIG RACKET, CONTRABAND) is another sleazy land developer, and beautiful black model Geneve Hutton is an early victim after posing for multiple publicity shots. Another fun fact: this was co-written by “George Eastman” aka Luigi Montefiori! I guess he should be at least a tad prouder of this than his work in EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD and PORNO HOLOCAUST! Wonder if he wrote some of the great dialogue, like “You don’t act like an idiot, so please don’t talk like one!” or the hilarious disco-dancing scene, which opens with a close-up of a girl’s ass and features a hard-of-hearing granny getting up and shaking her fanny! In other off-camera duties, Stelvio Cipriani should be thoroughly embarrassed with his score for this film (in fact, most of his 70s and 80s scores are just ridiculous). But cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando (TORSO)’s 2.35:1 photography is just gorgeous and defies the film’s probably extremely low budget.

X-Rated Kult DVD issued a German region 2 DVD a few years ago from what looked to be a private collector’s print. It looked decent enough, but dark night scenes were murky and when the English track was selected, a subtitle proclaiming “For sale only in Germany, Austria and Switzerland” appeared permanently over the film. Transferred from the original negative on NoShame’s disc, GREAT ALLIGATOR has never looked better than it does here! Presented at 2.35:1 with anamorphic enhancement, bright bold reds and greens are rendered beautifully, especially in the many nature scenes, dark scenes are bright and clear, and there are virtually no grain problems or blemishes to be seen. As with other NoShame discs, there are two language options: the English language dub or the original Italian mix with English subtitles. Since this film was shot in English, the English dub is preferable, but it’s good to have the choice available.

Sergio Martino returns for another video interview. After looking a little pissed at some background noise made at the start of his interview, he explains the origins of the film (after shooting CASABLANCA EXPRESS), his attempts to ape American films with unsuccessful results, shooting the special effects sequences, memories of Sri Lanke, working with famous actors on a variety of projects (including Nicole Kidman!), actresses Barbara Bach, Lory Del Santo and Anny Papa, and actor Claudio Casinelli. Attached to the end of this interview is an interview with production designer Antonello Geleng, who recalls shooting Martino’s films in Sri Lanka (ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN, MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, GREAT ALLIGATOR), including the various locations and the Italian crews adapting to the shooting conditions. Geleng is actually more fascinating than Martino, because his memories of the Asian culture and the land are quite interesting. We also get a glimpse at Geleng’s collection of souvenirs and keepsakes from his filmmaking days in Sri Lanka, including, among the various beautiful paintings, a bizarre phallic statue and a skull! Though I’m sure they wouldn’t deign to be involved with this disc, I’d love to know the memories of Barbara Bach and Mel Ferrer of this film and the second film they made for Martino around the same time, ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN (which I’d like to see get a NoShame release on a par with this one!). Two versions of the international trailer (Italian and English), an Italian posters and stills gallery, and a liner notes booklet with two essays and bios of Sergio Martino, Barbara Bach, Mel Ferrer, and Claudio Casinelli by Richard Harland Smith and Matthew Weisman are also included. (Casey Scott)