Horror

Transformed and Tormented Are… – The Alligator People (1959)

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Joyce must be mad.  There can be no other explanation for the things that she is remembering and what she remembers is like something out of a horror movie.  It is one thing to be happily married, and for one single day she was, but married to a monster is another.  After her husband Paul disappears on the day they are set to go away on their honeymoon, Joyce is distraught.  She searches for Paul everywhere, finally finding a lead that sends her to the Cypresses Plantation down in Louisiana.  It is there that she soon discovers a startling secret, one that could drive any sane person mad and yet despite it all, Joyce still loves her husband.  But come the end of it all, are those memories real or is she losing her mind?

alligator_people21The Alligator People is that rare occasion where a B movie just gets everything right.  Roy Del Ruth directs this amazing little science-fiction and horror gem that is told in flashback and he does so without wasting a single moment of its seventy-four minute running time.  Starring the beautiful Beverly Garland in the lead role of Joyce Webster, she plays the distraught wife perfectly and she makes you believe it when you see the look on her face and hear the worry in her voice.  Garland was no stranger at being a damsel in distress, having starred in many movies previously that required her to belt out a scream here and there and as such, it almost seemed like she had been preparing for this role for many years.  The film is fairly dramatic for the most part as it involves Garland searching for her missing husband but as the tension slowly ramps up and the mystery deepens, Garland really shines in the role as everything starts to come together.

alligator_people28Richard Crane is the man who portrays the tortured Paul Webster and the man gives it his all.  He may not have a lot of screen time and even then spending most of it in costume, but the man really puts forth that tormented posture.  The film also stars Lon Chaney Jr. who is quite on-key in his role as Mannon, a man also in misery over a past incident involving an alligator who had eaten his left hand.  At times he is simply ridiculous, overacting and laying it on pretty thick, but you really have to love it as it not only adds a wee bit of comedic relief but also relays to the viewer that his character is just a little unhinged.  Between the two men it is hard to say just who is the more melodramatic of the two, Paul who just wants to hide away from the world thinking himself hideous to look upon or Mannon crying over his lost limb while shooting at alligators only a few feet away from him in the swamp and completely missing with every one. alligator_people3 Luckily Garland is there to balance out there performances with her own being a little more down-to-earth.

The film itself looks beautiful being shot in black and white Cinemascope and while the special effects could have been a bit better, for the most part they looked pretty good and conveyed what they needed to do.  With a title like The Alligator People, it only made sense to set it in a swamp of some kind and the sets were faultless in that aspect, giving you that feeling of heat, exhaustion and danger.  Swamps are mysterious things in general and as such really lent to the overall mood of the film, not to mention providing a great ending to the movie as well as our heroine finds herself running through one in a very suspenseful and climactic scene.

The script and story by Robert M. Fresco, Orville H. Hampton and Charles O’Neal was fun and it never failed to provide the actors with some good lines or the viewer with entertainment.  There are times when you have to laugh at the absurdity of it all, such as how radiation will cure anything or the fact that a man can even transform into an alligator.  The film was a little hokey at times and it will never be a movie that will make you think what you would do in a similar situation, but it is probably one of the best B films to come out of the 1950s.  At the end of the day, The Alligator People is pure camp, pure schlock and pure enjoyment from start to finish.

4 out of 5
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