Director: Sergio Martino
Code Red Releasing

Nature strikes back Italian-style in Sergio Martino's take on JAWS with THE GREAT ALLIGATOR, on Blu-ray from Code Red Releasing.

Despite his blasting away the jungle tree by tree with dynamite, developer Joshua (Mel Ferrer, NIGHTMARE CITY) insists that the erection of Adam-and-Eve-themed resort "Paradise House" is a "conservationist's dream" with a "thorough respect for ecology," and has brought along photographer Daniel (Claudio Cassinelli, MURDEROCK) and model Sheena (Geneve Hutton) to produce some publicity photographs. Daniel is initially too enchanted by Joshua's assistant Ally (Barbara Bach, BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA) to express concern about Joshua's exploitation of the local Kroona tribe members for labor and local color, and soon enough the first party of guests arrive for the resort's inauguration. When a Kroona boy commits the taboo of spiriting Sheena away to the nearby Island of Love during a Kroona ceremony to appease their god, the two are eaten by a giant reptile and the remains of their canoe discovered the next day. With the Kroona workers having vanished from the resort, Joshua is more concerned about placating his guests than the possibility that Sheena is dead; so Daniel and Ally visit the Kroona who warn them to leave as contact with the white man has angered the great god of the river Kroona. One of the young members takes them to see mad missionary Father Jonathan (Richard Johnson, ZOMBIE) who is the only surviving white man to have seen Kroona. The effigy he has made of the beast is not a crocodile but an alligator which is foreign to the area. After Kroona attacks their raft, Daniel and Ally try to warn Joshua of the danger but he and his foreman Peter (Romano Puppo, DEATH RIDES A HORSE) are willing to go to any end to make sure things run smoothly. When the Kroona people abduct Ally as a sacrifice to appease their god, Daniel is caught between trying to save her and the guests who have boarded the floating smorgasbord that is the attraction "Tarzan's Raft."

Creatively indebted to JAWS but executed on the level of ISLAND CLAWS, THE GREAT ALLIGATOR was the third of a trilogy of Sergio Martino films shot in the jungle and featuring Claudio Cassinelli that also included MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (with which this shares plenty of stock footage) and THE ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN which also starred Bach and Johnson (while Ferrer himself would ironically show up in the film when Roger Corman decided to add a gory prologue to the U.S. release version titled SCREAMERS). The film lays it on rather thick with the Adam and Eve theme, from the gaudy resort art direction – designed by Antonello Geleng (THE STENDHAL SYNDROME) – to the transgressive Sheena ("You know, it occurs to me that Eve herself might have been black," muses Joshua, to which she replies, "All I know is that Adam was a stupid shit!") Apart from the baby piglets that Peter throws to the crocodiles to keep them coming back to "Crocodile Bridge" for the entertainment of the guests, there is less animal violence here than in MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD, but politically correct viewers may be more offended by the depiction of the Kroona natives as savages, although the film makes sure to establish the various ways in which they are exploited by Joshua, commercialized by Daniel, and fetishized by Sheena. Anthropologist Ally provides the expository justification for their actions, but it is hard to take her seriously when she is dubbed by the same performer who voiced Margit Evelyn Newton's "nude anthropologist" in HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD. The crocodile – constructed by Carlo Rambaldi-protégée Carlo de Marchis (SLUGS) – is nice-looking but incredibly immobile apart from its clamping jaws while most of the effects are blood spurting in the water. The Techniscope photography of Giancarlo Ferrando (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK) makes striking use the jungle locations and Stelvio Cipriani (THE NIGHT CHILD) provides a synth score made up of easy listening lounge music, disco, and tribal drums that largely goes against the grain apart from the opening credits track. The additional underwater photography shot in Rome was the work of future Lamberto Bava regular DP Gianlorenzo Battaglia (A BLADE IN THE DARK) and future cinematographer Daniele Nannuzzi (SANTA SANGRE), son of Armando Nannuzzi (THE DAMNED). The supporting cast includes HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY's Silvia Collatina as a precocious child and DEMONS' Bobby Rhodes as the construction foreman.

THE GREAT ALLIGATOR was not released theatrically, premiering instead as a CBS Movie of the Week in the same panned-and-scanned master that wound up on MPI's Gorgon Video clamshell. An English-friendly letterboxed version first turned up in Germany from X-Rated in one of their hardboxes but it was non-anamorphic. In 2005, NoShame released an HD-mastered anamorphic DVD from a HD master of the 2-perf Techniscope negative with English and Italian audio, English subtitles, and a featurette with Martino and Geleng. MYA followed this up with a more dodgy release in 2011 using the same master but dropping the English subtitles and the featurette while instead offering up the English-language opening and ending credits. Code Red's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is derived from a new scan "with extensive color correction done here in America" as stated on the back of the case, and the results are definitely the best the film has looked on home video. Jungle greenery and muddy browns are bold without distortion, the textures of clothing and skin complexions stand out, and the underwater shots have a clarity unlike before. The only audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 encode of the mono English dub which is free of problems and does seem to provide better delineation of the score's orchestration than before.

Code Red has collaborated with Freak-O-Rama on some new extras. "3 Friends and an Alligator" (15:55) is presumably a re-edited version or new assembly of an interview that appeared on the French Neo Publishing disc featuring effects technician Paolo Ricci (KILLER CROCODILE), production designer Geleng, and cinematographer Ferrando who discuss the trilogy of films they shot with Martino in war-torn Ceylon, the influence of JAWS, ORCA, and KING KONG, and how Italian cinema borrowed and imitated American cinema but relied on creativity over budget. Of the film, they discuss the construction of the raft which not only had to hold fifty extras but also the crew, lights, and cameras, as well as how it was easier to shoot the underwater scenes on location in Ceylon than the other shots in Italy at Lake Vico. In "Alligator Rock" (16:30), camera operator Claudio Morabito (CALIBER 9) who expresses disappointment with Martino's coverage of the crocodile model and the real crocodile used for other shots, goes into more detail than Ferrando about the glass and iron blimp they constructed to keep the camera from getting wet, while also relaying memories of Cassinelli and Bach as well as expressing amusement about actress Lory Del Santo's vanity and key grip Matteo Giordano (IRONMASTER) flirting with the female cast members.

In "Shooting Underwater" (7:18), underwater cameraman Battaglia reveals that he only worked on the underwater shots filmed back in Rome, and that the De Paolis pool they used for the shots was always filled with bacteria but was cleaner when they shot THE GREAT ALLIGATOR than when he later worked on Dario Argento's PHENOMENA during which he got sick from the water. Ported over from the NoShame disc is "In the Croc's Nest" (34:55) which is labeled as an interview with Sergio Martino but is actually a featurette featuring both Martino and Geleng. Martino starts off discussing why films like THE GREAT ALLIGATOR sold better than his comedies which were more dependent on local character, as well as the Italian genre film tendency to cast American actors whose careers were on the wane. Geleng goes into more detail here than in the other featurette about the raft, the helicopter mock-up, as well as the models and miniatures used throughout the film including the hotel for the fiery climax. The disc also includes the films' Italian theatrical trailer (2:51) and additional trailers for CRY OF A PROSTITUTE, ALMOST HUMAN, 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK, and JUNGLE HOLOCAUST. Available from Ronan Flix, Diabolik DVD and Code Red's Big Cartel. (Eric Cotenas)