The Alligator People (1959)
Film review #491
Director: Roy Del Ruth
SYNOPSIS: Newly-wed couple Joyce and Paul Webster are aboard a train on the way to their honeymoon when Paul receives a telegram that disturbs him, causing him to get off at the next stop and vanish, leaving Joyce on her own. She relentlessly pursues any clues about where her husband may have gone, leading her to a plantation in Louisiana, which he once registered as his college address. There, she suspects that there may be some answers to her questions, but everyone seems to think otherwise…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Alligator People is a 1959 sci-fi horror film. In the opening, we see nurse Jane Marvin undergoing a treatment to cure her amnesia. While in a sedated state, she recalls to the supervising doctors the plot of the film: Joyce (as she was then known) had just got married, and they were on the train for their honeymoon, when Paul receives a telegram. Paul seems shaken by the contents and gets off the train at the next mail stop and disappears without explanation, leaving his new wife lost and confused about what happened. Joyce spares no effort in tracking him down, but the only clue she is able to find is an address he gave when he enrolled at college for a plantation in Louisiana, and so Joyce heads there to try and get some answers. The story of the film is honestly pretty well done: everything is contained, flows nicely, the twists are decent, and the explanations and justifications for everything that happens make sense. However, it is still a b-movie from a time when these types of films were cranked out en masse, and so it fits into a category in which things are expected to be a bit cheap and unoriginal. It’s executed better than some of the B-movies I’ve seen, but I think the problem is that it’s still not a very interesting setup. The horror element of the film doesn’t really meet expectations, as the “Alligator people” from the title turns out to be just one person, who is fairly humanised so as to not be portrayed as much of a threat.
The female lead provides a more original twist on the b-movie film, and her inquisitiveness and relentless pursuit of answers concerning her husband is one of the strong points of the film. Unfortunately, there are also moments where she becomes a more typical “damsel in distress,” and the film doesn’t seem to know how to break out of these archetype completely, and her character jumps can go between these two poles very suddenly and awkwardly. The rest of the cast have particular roles to play that, again, while they’re nothing special, fulfil their purpose well. There’s no real gaps in the story or characters which would disrupt the viewing experience, which is pretty rare in a b-movie like this.
The “alligator person,” when their face is finally exposed, is a scaly and deformed result of an experiment designed to harness the limb regeneration of alligators and apply it to humans (again, the explanation works pretty well). The makeup is okay, and not too distracting. When he finally transforms fully into an alligator human hybrid, the results are much worse, as it is clearly a guy in an alligator mask. Apart from that, the execution and production of the film are generally good, with the photography and camera setups working well, and scenes having a good level of detail. Overall, The Alligator People is a decently executed film that ties its characters and plot together well. The main problem is that it’s just not that interesting, and in terms of b-movie monsters, it’s just not as memorable or terrifying as others. It’s definitely better than many B-movies I’ve seen, but a bit of a bore.