The antidote to Crawl: gator flicks with Ed Norton, Burt Reynolds, and Playmate Claudia Jennings

A pet baby alligator, flushed down the toilet, grows to three times its original size before going on a killing rampage

Alligator: A gator a day keeps Forster at bay.
  • Alligator: A gator a day keeps Forster at bay.

A trio of crocodilian companions to help celebrate the opening of (or act as an antidote to) Crawl.

Alligator (1980)

Alligator trailer

Screenwriter John Sayles and director Lewis Teague drew from what they learned while working together on the Roger Corman gangster picture The Lady in Red and applied it to this fast-paced horror spoof. A pet baby alligator, flushed down the toilet by an angry dad, makes its way into the Chicago sewer system. There, it grows to three times its original size before going on a killing rampage. You know you’re in good hands when the first victim is named Ed Norton. Robert Forster — still going strong, as evidenced by his steadfast performance in last year’s What They Had — stars as a detective with a bad habit of losing partners. The jabs taken at the expense of Forster’s receding hairline were improvised by the actor during rehearsal, and eventually slithered their way into Sayles’ finished script. Watch for Jack Carter as the Mayor and Henry Silva as an arrogant Great White Hunter who recruits a trio of at-risk youth, via beer and ten-dollar bills, to join his urban safari.

Gator (1976)

Gator trailer

Before Bandit, Smokey takes to the Okefenokee in search of moonshiners for this follow-up to White Lightnin’. We open on a page from Elvis’ Kissin’ Cousins: the searsuckered agent Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston) — a “revenooer” who “sticks out like a bagel in a bucket of grits” — arrives from out of town and threatens to close daddy’s still. That is, unless ex-con Gator (Burt Reynolds, making his directorial debut) cooperates with the feds’ investigation of his corrupt pal Bama McCall (Jerry Reed). The relaxed introductory passages milk Reynolds’ ability to set the tone for the good ol’ boy naturalness to follow. The action peaks early on with a high-speed boat chase, sleekly captured by the polished lens of cinematographer William A. Fraker. (Director and DP would later reteam to spark simultaneous career highs on Sharky’s Machine.) At around the 60-minute mark, our hero attempts to show an underage prostitute the error of her ways by introducing her face to the back of his hand. Next stop on the cavalcade of self-righteous narcissism: a Mickey Finn. Reynolds slowly going down for the count is a mawkish grandstand that’s hard to unsee, no matter how hard you may try. With Lauren Hutton, on board to add a touch of greeting card romance, and Burton Gilliam as McCall’s grinning gay gunsel.

‘Gator Bait (1974)

‘Gator Bait trailer

Beverly and Ferd Sebastian, the husband and wife duo behind The Single Girls and Flesh and the Firecat, reach their exploitational pinnacle with this sleazy descent into the Louisiana Swamps. Former Playmate Claudia Jennings, the reigning Queen of B movies until a car crash claimed her life at age 29, heats up the screen as cajun-speaking alligator poacher Desiree Thibodeau. Hers is a world in which in-fighting is common among the in-bred, where there’s a time and place for everything, and that includes rape and forced incest, Also revenge, which is exactly what big-haired Desiree devotes the last third of the picture to enacting. Jennings’ refusal to remove what little clothing she wore forced the filmmakers to come up with as many surreptitious down-blouse shots of their invariably braless lead as possible. Years later, a life-threatening illness caused Ferd to put aside the smut and became a born-again Christian.

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