Sunday, 3 February 2013

Alligator People (1959)

Alligator People1Alligator People is a great example of the problems with many 1950s horror movies. There isn’t any horror. There’s a good idea and a good story and the potential was there, but they forgot to add the actual horror.

Jane Marvin (Bevery Garland) is a nurse who’s been displaying some odd symptoms under narco-hypnosis. Patients are not capable of lying under this treatment, but the story she tells defies rational belief.

Her name is really Joyce, and she is really Mrs Paul Webster. When she was married her husband left the train that was taking them to their honeymoon in strange circumstances and was never seen again. She spends the next year trying to track him down and her search eventually leads her to the bayou country of Louisiana. There she meets Paul’s mother Mrs Hawthorne and the story gets a lot stranger.

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She already knows that Paul was horribly injured in a plane crash and she’s already expressed surprise that he is totally free of scars and you’d never know he’d been in a plane crash. What she doesn’t know is the reason for this - a revolutionary treatment developed by Dr Mark Sinclair (George Macready). The treatment involves alligator hormones and it’s spectacularly successful. Unfortunately there are side-effects - a year or so after treatment the patients begin turning into reptiles.

Dr Sinclair believes he may have the answer to this problem - massive doses of radiation from Cobalt-60. As every good doctor in the 50s knew, radiation was the answer to everything.

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Paul’s mother tries to keep all this from Joyce. But Joyce persists and eventually finds out the truth. Dr Sinclair intends to go ahead with his experimental treatment, but he hasn’t counted on interference from Manon (Lon Chaney Jr). Manon works for Mrs Hawthorne and he hates alligators. He lost a hand to an alligator some years earlier and since then he’s been taking his revenge on any alligator he can find.

That’s it for the plot. There are no unexplained disappearances. There is no rampage of terror from the alligator people. The alligator people are completely harmless. Paul is completely harmless. The horrors we keep expecting fail to eventuate.

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Roy del Ruth had been a reliable director for Warner Brothers in the 30s but he clearly did not understand the horror genre. If he had, he would have insisted on major changes to Orville H. Hampton’s screenplay. It’s fairly obvious that he just did this movie for the pay cheque and filmed the script as it stood.

Beverly Garland, a fine actress, does her best to inject some life into this movie. George Macready is quite good and Lon Chaney Jr provides the only real excitement but with a dull talky script and unadventurous direction his best efforts fail to provide the chills this movie so badly needs.

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Fox’s DVD provides an excellent 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer of the Cinemascope original but lacks any extras.

Alligator People is a dull and slow-moving offering and is best avoided.

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